Picture of Little Letters

By John Koethe b. 1945 John Koethe
I think I like this room.
The curtains and the furniture aren’t the same
Of course, but the light comes in the window as it used to   
Late in the morning, after the others had gone to work.   
You can even shave in it. On the dresser with the mirror   
Are a couple of the pictures we took one afternoon   
Last May, walking down the alley in the late sunlight.   
I remember now how we held hands for fifteen minutes

Afterwards. The words meander through the mirror
But I don’t want them now, I don’t want these abbreviations.   
What I want in poetry is a kind of abstract photography   
Of the nerves, but what I like in photography   
Is the poetry of literal pictures of the neighborhood.

The late afternoon sunlight is slanting through the window   
Again, sketching the room in vague gestures of discontent   
That roll off the mind, and then only seem to disappear.   
What am I going to do now? And how am I going to sleep tonight?

A peculiar name flickers in the mirror, and then disappears.

John Koethe, “Picture of Little Letters” from North Point North: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2002 by John Koethe. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: North Point North: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2002)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet John Koethe b. 1945

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Men & Women, Poetry & Poets, Photography & Film

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 John  Koethe


The author of several collections of poetry, including North Point North: New and Selected (2002), Ninety-fifth Street (2009), and ROTC Kills (2012), John Koethe also publishes and teaches philosophy, focusing on the philosophy of language. Koethe began writing poetry as an undergraduate at Princeton University and received his PhD from Harvard.

Critic Andrew Yaphe calls Koethe “one of our foremost Romantic poets, an inheritor . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Men & Women, Poetry & Poets, Photography & Film

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.