("What If You Slept" by Coleridge has always been one of my favorite poems.) 

 The other day I was listening to two of my poet-friends complain bitterly about their parents. Among other things, they talked of how they wished their folks had an interest in literature. No one in their families read books. I couldn’t join in. After all, I grew up in a house of wall-to-wall books. I will never be as literate as my parents, and I owe much of what I know about poetry to my mother who read aloud from my earliest memories. I used to frustrate her to no end, asking her to stop when I liked a line or poem, and read it again. And then again.

Not again? she’d say.

Just one more time, I’d say. And we’d go around and around.

And in my mind, later, I would play with the lines. So as a girl this poem might be:


What if you slept

And what if

In your sleep

You dreamed

And what if

In your dream

You went to heaven

And there—there was a rain shower

And when you awoke,

You were soaked to the bone . . .


And there—you discovered secret powers

And when you awoke

You could see through walls . . .


And there—your soul was made of sugar and flour

And when you awoke

You knew you were destined to be a baker . . .


And there—you climbed to the tip of God’s tower . . .

And when you awoke

You were still holding an angel by the finger . . .


I would keep going and going. This was one of the ways I passed my time. I called this game making-and-filling-in-the-blanks. I always liked games of fill-in-the-blank. My mother said if I continued in this way, I would never remember the correct versions of poems. She was right.