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What I Want by Alicia Ostriker

Posted on Jan 11, 2015 by

Gray-cheeked_Thrush_b40-2-013_l

This is a poem about slowing down and it seems like it might be just right for January, for the quiet space that can open up after the flurry of December. And about what can happen in that quiet. It follows nicely on Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Keeping Quiet,” and seems to spring from that same place. It begins:

Yes, that’s what I want right now,

Just that sensation

Of my mind’s gradual


Deceleration, as if I

Took my foot off the gas

And the Buick rolled to a stop.

I can feel that—the quiet after the engine ceases its noise.

And I love in this poem what she later suggests can emerge out of the quiet:

Let’s try to listen to the announcements

Of the inner mind

And its committee of guides.


They require silence,

They demand respect, like teachers

In a rowdy classroom—the kids


Are in the cloakroom throwing galoshes

But the teacher wants to introduce

A visitor, a foreign child who waits


With downcast eyes, lashes like brown feathers

On his flushed silk cheeks.

What does the inner mind have on its mind?

Ah, the inner mind could emerge—but it might be shy at first—and it might need to wait for the kids to quit throwing their galoshes—for them to look up and realize this visitor might have something interesting—and even important—to say.


The full poem can be found at Poetry Foundation. (It spreads over two pages so you need to navigate to the second page to see the full poem.) In a note at the end of the poem, it states that it was written at the beginning of a week-long retreat.

The photo of a gray cheeked thrush can be found at Audubon.

The bird is described on this site in this way: “All the brown-backed thrushes can be shy and hard to see, but the Gray-cheek is perhaps the most elusive. During migration it hides in dense woods, slipping away when a birder approaches. On its far northern nesting grounds it may be more easily seen, especially in late evening, when it sings from treetops.”