Friday, April 26, 2024

Poetry Friday: Impossible Questions

Do tulips know how to kiss?

April's prompt was a fun one: write a poem inspired by "an impossible question."  It came to us via Laura Purdie Salas, who was inspired while listening to Georgia Heard talk about using this prompt with kids.  I'm not sure how Heard normally uses this exercise, but we kept it simple. During our ZOOM meet-up, we brainstormed impossible questions for five minutes, and then shared the pool of questions with each other.  Then we chose one (or two or ten) and were off and writing.  

Of course, there was some discussion of what an "impossible" question was. Maybe impossible only meant "hard to find out in a reasonable time frame" how many grains of sand in sandbox, or something "highly subjective" what is love?  In the end, I don't think it matters---the whole point was to get our brains spinning in new ways.

 For me, this prompt brought up memories of my dad telling me a riddle, which began like this: Why is a bicycle?  Of course, there is no why, but he had an answer ready:  Because a vest has no sleeves.  

YUP.  I didn't get it then, and don't get it now, but still....I LIKE it.  I like it in the way I like poems that I don't fully understand.  It's absurd, but then so is life, sometimes.  So for my poem this month, I celebrate impossible questions, and their impossible answers.  (Many thanks to my fellow poets whose pool of questions led me down this road, and to my dad for the riddle.)

I want answers...

How many dandelion wishes in a summer?
Do balloons cry when they burst?
How do you hold onto a smile? 

I would tell you—
if only I knew how many 
winks in “a while.”

Why is a banana not an apple?
Do tulips know how to kiss?
Who stole the sleeves from a vest? 

I would tell you—
if only I knew which subjects
fish schools teach best. 

How far do ants travel in a month?
Do trees remember your face?
Who first tried to carry a tune? 

I would tell you— 
if only I knew where
to find East of the moon.

Do whales see themselves in the sea like a mirror?
Where does the Leap Year go on off years?
How deep is the deepest hole you can dig? 

I would tell you—
if only I knew when something
little becomes big. 

Which days do birds paint the sky? 
How long does kindness last?
How far does an echo fall?  

I would tell you—
if only I knew anything—
anything at all. 

            -----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved) 

My fellow poets impossible question poems can be found here:


  1. I love this so much -- how you mined the idea list and found a poem, how you invented your own form, and the good-humored shrug at the end!

  2. In answer to the last stanza, you know plenty. There are so many creative questions and responses here. I love it.

  3. Somehow, Sara, this has more of the feel of a joke -- the sleeves got in, and the bicycle and the feeling of knowing nonsense. You found the child's voice in the parent's, I think. What a gift.

  4. There is so much to love in this poem. I love the way you begin especially. And I really love thinking about how many dandelion wishes in a summer.

    1. Credit for that opening line goes to Tricia!

  5. I love the repetition of I would tell you/ if only... and that beautiful, wistful ending. So lovely, Sara!

  6. I'm with Laura, I love the style you chose, Sara. I read it through twice, really believe it could be a marvelous picture book, love that it feels winsome, like some story you tell your child, just like your dad with his riddle! Super!

  7. I love your thoughtful and thought-provoking questions and the answering "I would tell you— / if only.." stanzas. I laughed at "fish schools," I felt hopeful with "How long does kindness last?", and I identified with "if only I knew anything."

  8. I agree with Linda — what a lovely picture book this would be! Delightful and whimsical.

  9. Joy. Smiles. Read it again! -- a few of my heart's responses to your wonder-asks.


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