Every day, whether it is to ferry my son to his crèche, or to go buy fresh greens for the night's dinner, I must mount one of the several sets of steep stairs that are cut into the rocky hill dividing the campus. The closest set of stairs to the faculty residence actually combines two sets that meet at the head and the foot of the slope. One is a direct route from top to bottom, sunny but roofed; the other winds through the shady leafery of hibiscus and cypress and terraces of cyclamen. My children almost always prefer this winding path, but the curious thing is that they call it "the shortcut." I don't want to spoil the fun with a Momish literalism ("Technically, sweetie, it's the long way..."). Kids like the word, shortcut, but what it evokes is not a faster route (what do kids know of utility?). It's the more interesting route, scenic or mysterious or surprising. This shortcut is perfumed, damp, with plenty of snails to observe and shells and stones to pocket and blossoms to pick. Not only will it stretch your journey, it will slow your gaze. It is endlessly distracting.

The shortcut-that-is-not-a-shortcut is, obviously, poetry: that deceptively brief lyric that you can't get to the end of the meaning of—not in brisk fashion, at least. And so, like Daisy, I'm immune to the satisfactions of a poetry book's implicit story "arc." I do, at times, read poetry books from front to back, but so slowly that the arc just breaks up anyway. I'm busy with the small thrills; and pocketing some shells.

Originally Published: April 27th, 2010

Ange Mlinko was born in Philadelphia and earned her BA from St. John's College and MFA from Brown University. She is the author of five books of poetry: Distant Mandate (2017); Marvelous Things Overheard (2013), which was selected by both the New Yorker and the Boston Globe as a best book of...