The Story-Teller

NYPL Girls Club Atalanta

The Story-Teller

He talked, and as he talked
Wallpaper came alive;
Suddenly ghosts walked,
And four doors were five;

Calendars ran backward,
And maps had mouths;
Ships went tackward
In a great drowse;

Trains climbed trees,
And soon dripped down
Like honey of bees
On the cold brick town.

He had wakened a worm
In the world’s brain
And nothing stood firm
Until day again.

Mark Van Doren


I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling and poetry lately, and found this poem as I looked through a book called Potato Chips and a slice of moon. This was probably the first poetry book I ever bought, undoubtedly by way of a Scholastic book order form, when I was in grade school. I don’t have many mementos from my childhood, but this book is one I hang on to. I remember reading it a lot back then, and I still have some of the poems memorized.  I loved this one for it’s almost tactile quality – I could picture the trains dripping off the trees, almost feel their stickiness.

Mark Van Doren (1894-1972) was an American poet and academic. My favorite title from among his poems is Apple Hell. Aside from the great title, how can you not love a poem that includes the line “Time is Tarnish”? You can’t. You just can’t. That’s how.

(Image:  Rivington Street Branch Library, story Hour: A Girl’s Club Listening to a Story of Atlanta via the NY Public Library Digital Collection. No date is given, but it’s definitely from a time when boys and girls were expected to join clubs and listen to stories separately – if you look here you’ll see a group of boys being told the story of Pinocchio. My guess is that the girls in the picture got the sanitized version of the Atalanta story, but that’s a whole other rabbit hole for a whole other time.) 

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