friday feast: hayden saunier’s the one and the other

“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” ~ Emily Dickinson


Fasten your seat belts. This one left me reeling.

via Just a Pinch Recipes


by Hayden Saunier

The child hums as he carries, too late,
his grandmother’s sugar-dusted lemon-glazed cake

down the street to the neighbor who needs to be cheered,
too late for the neighbor

who’s stepped into the air
of her silent front hall from a ladder-backed chair

her church dress just pressed, her head in a loop she tied
into the clothesline, too late

he unlatches the gate,
walks up the brick walk on his tiptoes, avoiding the cracks

toward the door she unlocked, left ajar, who knows why
or for whom, if on purpose

or not, but because he’s too late
she’s gone still when he reaches the door and because

he’s too late, as he calls out and looks, brilliant sun
burns through haze

pours through sidelights and bevels
through chandelier prisms, strikes white sparks and purples

on ceiling and walls, on the overturned chair, on her stockings
her brown and white

spectator shoes on the floor
and because he’s too late he remembers both terror and beauty

but not which came first. But enough of the one
that he ran

and enough of the other
to carefully lay down the cake at her feet.

~ posted by permission of the author, © 2011 Hayden Saunier. All rights reserved. (Rattle #36, Winter 2011)

*   *   *

Hayden: “I love the way objects, images and stories connect and find their way into a poem. An old friend had sent me an outrageous pound cake one Christmas and when I described it as ‘sugar-dusted, lemon-glazed,’ the story of the boy in this poem, told to me years earlier, came straight to mind. Everything came together through that sunny yellow circle with its center missing — dense, empty, bitter, sweet, gestures we make too late, a child’s ability to take in everything at the same moment, at once, and complete. It was all in the cake.”

*   *   *

I still hold my breath every time I read this powerful, heartbreaking poem, as though I can’t believe what is happening, wishing I could somehow call the boy back to keep him from seeing what he will see.

The escalating urgency and suspense, and the intense crackle of opposites colliding are so masterfully executed detail by detail, phrase by phrase, in just one cascading sentence.

How fine is the line between terror and exhiliration — or are they one and the same?

We are left to ponder which is the greatest tragedy — that a woman committed suicide, that a child was traumatized, or that perhaps a life could have been saved if that cake had been delivered just five minutes earlier.

“The One and the Other” won the 2011 Rattle Poetry Prize, and is included in Hayden’s brand new book, Say Luck (Big Pencil Press, 2013), winner of the 2013 Kenneth & Geraldine Gell Poetry Prize.

I first stumbled upon “The One and the Other” online a couple of months ago while innocently searching for a cake poem, and have been haunted by it ever since. Totally unsuspecting, I could never have imagined, reading those first few words — “child hums . . . grandmother’s sugar-dusted lemon glazed cake” — that this poem would be laced with such a searing kaleidoscope of fragmented anguish.

I’d like to thank Hayden for granting me permission to share her poem and for providing a little backstory. Do pick up a copy of Say Luck; I’ve been slowly savoring and enjoying each and every poem.

♥ Visit the Rattle website to hear Hayden read “The One and the Other.”

♥ Hayden reads “Say Luck” at Listen Well.

*   *   *


written by Hayden Saunier
selected by Laure-Anne Bosselaar
published by Big Pencil Press, 2013
Poetry, 94 pp.
*Foreword by Ms. Bosselaar

Hayden Saunier is a writer, actress, and teaching artist living in the Philadelphia area. She is the winner of the 2013 Gell Poetry Prize, 2011 Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize, and the 2011 Rattle Poetry Prize. She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, is a Bucks County, PA, Poet Laureate, and the 2005 Robert Fraser Poetry Award Winner. Click here to visit her Official Website.

*   *   *

poetryfriday180The lovely, talented and snickerdoodle-loving Keri Collins Lewis is hosting today’s Roundup at Keri Recommends. Check out the full menu of poetic goodies being served up in the blogosphere and enjoy the holiday weekend!


Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

49 thoughts on “friday feast: hayden saunier’s the one and the other

  1. You weren’t kidding when you said “this is a poem that stays with you, even if you don’t want it to.” Sigh. I’ve seen a few movies like that as well. The sword of words and image is not to be wielded lightly.


  2. “We are left to ponder which is the greatest tragedy — that a woman committed suicide, that a child was traumatized, or that perhaps a life could have been saved if that cake had been delivered just five minutes earlier.” — Yes. The imagery in this poem is amazing. I will seek out Say Luck.


  3. This is so disarming, the cake, the suicide, the boy who is too late, but then he would always be too late, wouldn’t he? The cadence of this poem is childlike, almost like a nursery rhyme, that we are lulled by the first few lines, and then the horror unfolds . . . powerful and unforgettable.


    1. Yes, we are definitely lulled, innocent readers, and then wow. The beauty of this poem is that it teases us into circles of thought — would it always be too late? Part of us hopes there’s a way to save this woman from herself. Who was she expecting when she left the door open? And why press her church dress beforehand?


  4. This poem has left me stunned and weepy. Such a horrendous act, such a beautiful poem.

    On another note…your pie haiga await.


    1. Yes, there is beauty in the structuring and presentation of this horror. Something so carefully ordered to depict disorder. Amazing.


  5. So many speak of doing kindness every day, yet we don’t know if it is enough, or if it will be too late. Instead of posting beautiful quotes, perhaps many should read this poem, Jama. I am glad you shared, and it will stay with me.


  6. Masterful and haunting. I hesitated to click over when I first saw your comment/link at Keri’s, because I knew whatever you’d featured might come with a staggering weight. The poem leaves us with so many questions, as do these kinds of tragedies. Thanks for introducing me to this poet.


  7. …oh.
    I think I’m stuffed full of conflicting responses – a “No! No! Don’t — !” interposed with a “No! Oh, no…”

    These endings, of life and innocence, and sweetness. Too late.

    I don’t know whether I love this, or hate it.


  8. Hi, Jama. I admire the pacing in this poem, how the author slows one moment down and how we keep hoping the door will be locked, or the child will put the cake down and play with neighborhood friends, before he makes that awful discovery.


  9. “or that perhaps a life could have been saved if that cake had been delivered just five minutes earlier.”

    Or if she had waited five minutes.
    That is what I keep thinking: in the depths of despair, we should hold on as long as possible, because the cake may be on the way.


  10. [top of head floating near window] I guess there’s a reason I call myself a general, resolute optimist…yes to all that others have said about the power of this poem, but I see in the last lines both the terror and the gift, a sugar-dusted, lemon-glazed goodbye and godspeed, all the more poignant because from a child.

    Thanks, Jama–happy to make Hayden Saunier’s acquaintance.


    1. Yes, it is a gift, was always meant to be, and it’s definitely very poignant that it came from a child who had the presence of mind to carefully set it down.


  11. Seems to me this poem really illustrates how powerful a poem can be when it contains both light and dark – the light throws more into shadow, the dark makes the light shine in a different way. On first read, the “too late” in the first line just sailed right by me – on second read, there it was, announcing the heartbreak. Masterful. I’ll definitely look for Saunier’s book – thanks, Jama!


  12. This really does just take your breath away. And then I had to go back and reread it about three times, hoping each time, I think, that something would have changed. Sooo sad.


  13. Wow. And that explanation of the symbolism of the cake…and the continued resonance of the theme that “it all depends how you tell the story” that Laura S. started us off with…wow.


    1. Yes, the hole in the middle of the cake, the sweetness of sugar, the tartness of lemon, light and dark . . .

      The way the poet chose to tell this story — as Laura said, the pacing makes the narrative so compelling, and of course the repetition of “too late” stirs up our anxiety and dread all the more.


    1. Emily’s quote came to mind the first time I read Hayden’s poem — because I did feel like it took my head off. As difficult, disturbing, and sad the subject matter is, you’re right that there’s beauty in the way it’s crafted, and as a work of art it resonates and successfully achieves its purpose.


  14. Yes, that is a poem that takes your head off. That cake at the end…I really have no words.

    Your observation “or that perhaps a life could have been saved if that cake had been delivered just five minutes earlier” also sticks with me as I often think of those five minutes…


    1. It made me realize that our lives are always in the balance — a moment, a minute or five minutes could make all the difference.


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