By Donald Hall b. 1928 Donald Hall
“Dead people don’t like olives,”
I told my partners in eighth grade   
dancing class, who never listened   
as we fox-trotted, one-two, one-two.   
The dead people I often consulted   
nodded their skulls in unison   
while I flung my black velvet cape   
over my shoulders and glowered   
from deep-set, burning eyes,   
walking the city streets, alone at fifteen,   
crazy for cheerleaders and poems.   
At Hamden High football games, girls   
in short pleated skirts   
pranced and kicked, and I longed   
for their memorable thighs.   
They were friendly—poets were mascots—   
but never listened when I told them   
that dead people didn’t like olives.   
Instead the poet, wearing his cape,   
continued to prowl in solitude   
intoning inscrutable stanzas   
as halfbacks and tackles   
made out, Friday nights after football,   
on sofas in dark-walled rec rooms   
with magnanimous cheerleaders.   
But, decades later, when the dead   
have stopped blathering   
about olives, obese halfbacks wheeze   
upstairs to sleep beside cheerleaders   
waiting for hip replacements,   
while a lascivious, doddering poet,   
his burning eyes deep-set   
in wrinkles, cavorts with their daughters.

Source: Poetry (July 2005).


This poem originally appeared in the July 2005 issue of Poetry magazine

View this poem in its original format

July 2005
 Donald  Hall


Donald Hall is considered one of the major American poets of his generation. His poetry explores the longing for a more bucolic past and reflects the poet’s abiding reverence for nature. Although Hall gained early success with his first collection, Exiles and Marriages (1955), his more recent poetry is generally regarded as the best of his career. Often compared favorably with such writers as James Dickey, Robert Bly, and James . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Activities, Eating & Drinking, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Humor & Satire

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

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.