Poetry Friday: Puzzling Through the Possibilities


Puzzling Through the Possibilities

The clue seemed so simple:

“Rossini’s William Tell and others”

Overtures even fit.

But the crosses didn’t work.

What word meaning “unprepared” begins with “nu?”

As I puzzled through the possibilities,

it occurred to me that

a writer feels this same frustration

as she reaches for the right word,

the clearest meaning,

so often just beyond her grasp.

Aren’t we all really just searching for that missing piece?

The one that clicks into place?

When we find it, it’s often a surprise.

And better than we ever dreamt.

© Catherine Flynn, 2013


The idea for this poem came from a journal entry I wrote in response to one of Corbett Harrison’s “Sacred Writing Time” prompts. When my colleagues and I were working on our writing curriculum, we began each day by writing for ten minutes. On this particular day, the slide stated that “dreamt” is the only word in the English language that ends with “mt.” As a Scrabble player and crossword puzzle lover, this intrigued me. So I wrote about filing this tidbit away, thinking it would come in handy as I was “puzzling through the possibilities” when solving a puzzle. Right away, I noticed this phrase. I loved the alliteration and the potential it contained. So I began playing with ideas. I’m still puzzling over this draft; I’m not sure the middle flows as well as it could, but I’ve had fun working on it.

By the way, the Rossini clue is from the New York Times Sunday puzzle from August 25, 2013, constructed by Victor Barocas.

Be sure to visit Laura at Author Amok for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

13 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Puzzling Through the Possibilities

  1. I am going to be trying to figure out the William Tell thing before I look it up! I do think we are looking for the missing pieces….our whole lives. And as writers, just beyond our grasp is apt. As a teacher I think this is also apt. Schooling versus education, versus knowledge versus skill versus fulfillment. What is it we are searching for, for our students and ourselves. Your poem has me seeking some possibilities already. And we all know that there is a huge puzzle out there to be deciphered: what helps all of our students become successful?


  2. I read a New Yorker article by John McPhee where he writes about this very thing, finding the just right word. He suggests using a dictionary rather than a thesaurus because you can often find the right word or phrase in the definition.
    I like your poem. I do not do crossword puzzles but my husband, my mother, and my mother-in-law all do them. I feel stupid in their presence. It’s great for your brain. I would be the “just” police and suggest cutting out that word. I feel this way about the word it, too. Sometimes it’s just right, but sometimes the poem is smoother without them.


    • Margaret, Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment. I appreciate your feedback. Of course “just” should be left out or replaced. I don’t know how I missed that! I also know what you mean about “it.” In this case, I used it to be vague enough so that the missing piece might be anything that a person was searching for: a word, a person, a career. I will puzzle over other words that I might use instead.
      Thanks for directing me to the New Yorker article. McPhee’s advice about putting boxes around questionable word choices is perfect!


  3. It is difficult indeed to be a ‘peddler of words’ and finding that which is simply the right fit to a subtlety, a nuance that one wishes to express through verse. Thank you for sharing your reflections with us.


  4. You sent me down a rabbit trail, Catherine. I wondered whether “dreamt” was really the only word that ended in “mt” and I cheated and checked Google. It is, but “dreamt” also is used to make “outdreamt,” “redreamt,” and “undreamt.” All of those words seem like they deserve a poem or two, too. How do you undream something, do you suppose?


    • That’s a great question! I’m not sure it’s possible. Forgetting a dream isn’t really the same thing, because some residual memory must be lurking in the brain somewhere. I did look the statement about “dreamt” up online, but found only “undreamt.” Thanks for letting me know about the other variations. I don’t think they’ll be getting their own poem from me any time soon. Now that school is in full swing, my writing time is very limited 😦 Thanks for stopping by!


  5. I love to find the “right” word! It’s a eureka moment! Loved your poem and all it evoked. I’m a huge Lexulous player, although I don’t do crosswords – I, too, feel dwarfed by anyone who does do them!


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