Shyness and Embarrassment

Poems about shyness and embarrassment


**Art: Too Early by James Tissot, 1873 (source)

“Under a ragged loincloth” by Akera Kanko (1740-1800; Japan) [tr. Burton Watson]
– from Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900

Under a ragged loincloth
some things can’t be hid—
my debts, too,
protrude through
the frayed end of the year.

“By the River” by Martin Birnbaum (1904-1986; New York, US; Yiddish Lyric poet) [originally in Hebrew, p. 48-49] – from Proletpen: America’s Rebel Yiddish Poets

(…) The old planked pier is empty. It smells
of salt, of oil and filthy water.
Against the thick post at the edge of the pier,
a man sits, leaning, and sews,
his body, pale and hunched over.

Beside him a rolled up sack,
one sees all his belongings bound up in it,
filthy shirt in his lap, his torso bare.
His nakedness cries in the damp wind
from the pain of aggravated wounds.

The warm sun has brought him here
to the lonely, ancient pier;
I’ve interrupted his solitude,
and now he looks bitter, embarrassed,
takes a torn coat to cover his nakedness.

“Woman in the Red House” by Michael Burkard (b. 1947; Rome, New York, US; creative writing professor, alcoholism counselor)
– from Last Call: Poems on Alcoholism, Addiction, & Deliverance

I did not want to kiss the famous writer.
She was standing close to the table.
I got up and kissed her on the cheek.
I felt like a fool.
I stood, almost toe to toe, and cramped by my chair.
We didn’t exchange a word, she continued talking with her friend,
and I sat down.

This is what I am like.
I am like this also: I believe in the rain which continues,
I believe the clock on the wall is a clock on the wall, although
whatever this function of time is I am not so sure.
Once I believed in lies, now I believ in the sun.
And the hissing of a dream which is famous. (…)

“Los Timidos” (The Shy Ones) by Antonio Deltoro (b. 1947; Mexico City, Mexico; professor, poetry workshop coordinator, essayist, anthologist)
– from Reversible Monuments: Contemporary Mexican Poetry

A veces prefiero la llama de la hornilla en la
estufa a un resplandor de fuego.
Los tímidos se ocultan en la niebla
pero quieren el sol solitario de una banca tranquila.
¿Dónde, en qué lugar, está su timidez más reposada?
¿En los jardines invernales o en los parques de abril?
¿Cuál es el mes de los tímidos? ¿Cuál es su hora?
Me atraen las costumbres de los tímidos,
su pisar cuidadoso, su introducirse con el cuello crispado,
su descanso a la sombra de las miradas del
prójimo, su pulcritud, su nerviosismo.
El tiempo de los hombres no vence el rubor de los tímidos.
Tropiezan por delicadeza, porque sienten todo
vivo, por exceso de escrúpulos.
Porque están enamorados del rigor son inseguros;
son los exploradores de perfil de los centímetros.

Sometimes I prefer the flame of the burner in the
Stove to a glow of fire.
The shy ones hide in the fog
But they want the solitary sun of a quiet bench.
Where, in what place, is your shyness more rested?
In the winter gardens or in the parks of April?
What is the month of the timid? What is your time?
I am attracted to the customs of the timid,
His careful step, his introduction with the twisted neck,
His rest in the shadow of the eyes of the
Neighbor, his neatness, his nervousness.
The time of men does not overcome the blushing of the timid.
They stumble because of delicacy, because they feel everything
Alive, by excess of scruples.
Because they are in love with rigor they are insecure;
Are the profile explorers of the centimeters. (…) [google translate]

“I Considered Myself” by Youssri Hassaan (b. 1964; Cairo, Egypt; magazine and newspaper editor) [tr. Moahamed Enani] J- from Angry Voices: An Anthology of the Off-Beat New Egyptian Poets

In any obscure corner
You’ll find me standing.
I can dance well
When I switch off the floor lights,
Flirt with the girl in the opposite building
Through the slit in the window shutter,
And write passionate love letters for my friends.
–What were the reasons for the French Expedition
to Egypt? An easy and quite ordinary question.
All mothers look like my mother,
All houses look like our house, (…)

“Ode 1.23: To Chloe” by Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) (65-8 BC; Venusia, Italy, Rome; soldier, scriba quaestorius, lyric poet) [tr. inomniaparata (blogger)]
– from The Oxford Book of Verse in English Translation

Vitas inuleo me similis, Chloe,
quaerenti pavidam montibus aviis
matrem non sine vano
aurarum et siluae metu.

Nam seu mobilibus veris inhorruit
adventus foliis, seu virides rubum
dimovere lacertae,
et corde et genibus tremit.

Atqui non ego te tigris ut aspera
Gaetulusve leo frangere persequor:
tandem desine matrem
tempestiva sequi viro.

You avoid me like a fawn, Chloe,
searching for its fearful mother in lonely
mountains not without an empty fear
of breezes and the forest.

For whether the arrival of spring quivers
with moving leaves, or the green lizards have
pushed aside the bramble,
and the fawn trembles with its heart and knees.

And yet I do not pursue you to crush you
as a harsh tiger or Gaetulian lion:
finally you, ripe to follow a man,
abandon your mother.

“The Honor” by Denis Johnson (b. 1949; Munich, Germany / Washington, US; novelist, short-story-writer, playwright, screenwriter, essayist)
– from Last Call: Poems on Alcoholism, Addiction, & Deliverance

At a party in a Spanish kind of tiled house
I met a woman who had won an award
for writing whose second prize
had gone to me. For years
I’d felt a kinship with her in the sharing
of this honor,
and told her how glad i was to talk with her,
my compatriot of letters,
mentioning of course this award.
But it was nothing
to her, and in fact she didn’t remember it.
I didn’t know what else to talk about.
I looked around us at a room full of hands
moving drinks in tiny, rapid circles-
you know how people do
with their drinks. (…)

“The shyness, the delay to say” by Sonnet L’Abbe (b. 1973; Toronto, Canada; creative writing professor, literary critic) – from Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets

The shyness, the delay to say
I’m thinking, I’m processing,
the silence before the words
string into coherence I can’t leave
unfilled, all my ignorance,
the mice scurrying in the maze,
please wait while the images
load, sound saying I’m not

or the coyness, the delay to say
I’m answering, when I’m processing
the first thought into a string of words
less hurtful, less assessing,
less revealing of the blunt fact
of my unkindness, all my interiority,
the scurry to hide it behind my back
please wait while I remember
your heart, sound the safety on a sharp

“Uncle” by Ellie McDonald (b. 1937; Scotland)
– from The Edinburgh Book of Twentieth-Century Scottish Poetry

Sam was a family embarrassment
in down-at-the-heel shoes and muffler,
exuding a faint aroma of fish and chips.
His infrequent visits were I suspect

vaguely connected with cash and failure
of yet another certainty at Newbury,
but to me they were something close
to magic – for who else could find

an ace of hearts behind my ear, or build
a house of cards that never fell?
No-one else’s uncle had ever held
a whole platoon of Germans in a trench (…)

“Once” by Sharon Olds (b. 1942; San Francisco, California, US)
– from The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, Vol. 2

I saw my father naked, once, I
opened the blue bathroom door
which he always locked — if it opened, it was empty —
and there, surrounded by the glistening turquoise
tile, sitting on the toilet, was my father,
all of him, and all of him
was skin. In an instant my gaze ran
in a single, swerving, unimpeded
swoop, up: toe, ankle,
knee, hip, rib, nape,
shoulder, elbow, wrist, knuckle,
my father. He looked so unprotected,
so seamless, and shy, like a girl on a toilet, (…)

“Wild Hooves” by Gary Rosenthal (San Francisco, California, US; psychotherapist)
– from What Book!?: Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop

The love poems
I want to write
had not been lived…

Embarrassed, I now want
to burn,
all evidence
of how I’ve loved before…
And the crust
that had covered
my heart?

by wild hooves
of your beauty

“Saturday Morning” by Hugo Williams (b. 1942; Windsor, Berkshire, UK; journalist, travel writer) – from Good Poems

Everyone who made love the night before
was walking around with flashing red lights
on top of their heads—white-haired old gentlemen,
a red-faced schoolboy, a pregnant woman
who smiled at me from across the street
and gave a little secret shrug,
as if the flashing red light on her head
was a small price to pay for what she knew.

“Prom” by Francine Witte (Queens, New York, US; creative writing teacher, playwright)
– from Poetry from Sojourner: A Feminist Anthology

The one you shake your head over
those mornings you stare naked
into a cold mirror
and wonder what you ever had
that held up a strapless gown.

It’s the one you went to dateless,
ashamed. That night, your mother pinned you
with an embarrassed corsage, wished you

a wonderful time. But you walked
into the high school gym like
a vaudeville clown who goes stagestruck (…)

“Why Ralph Refuses to Dance” by Carolyn D. (C. D.) Wright (1949-2016; Mountain Home, Arkansas; wrote geographic and documentary style poetry, editor and publisher for Lost Roads press, essayist) – from Contemporary American Poetry

He would have to put out his smoke.
At this time of year the snakes are slow and sorry-acting
His ice would melt. He’d lose his seat.
you don’t take chances once in a while you still see
He does not feel the beat.
a coontail tied to an aerial but don’t look
His pocket could be picked. His trousers rip.
for signs keep your black shoes on the floor
He could break a major bone.
burn every tick you pull off your head
He remember the last time he stepped out on the floor
roll a set of steel balls around in your fist
Who do you think I am, she said, a broom.
looking out at the moon’s punched-out face
No, he mumbled, saxophone.
think about Lily coming down the staircase
At the tables they whispered about him. (…)

“Acrophobia” by Nancy Means Wright (Middlebury, Vermont; novelist, teacher)
– from Poetry from Sojourner: A Feminist Anthology

Fay’s reading Virginia Woolf: how
a woman ought to have five hundred
pounds and a room of her own. Fay’s got
the room all right—six flights up and over-

looking Video King, if you lean out
the bathroom window you see a slice
of sky and sometimes the handle
on the Dipper. But Fay’s got acrophobia.

Open the window: her knees quake, belly
wheezes, blood leaks into her knuckles
and Fay collapses in a bang of bones.
Still Woolf holds something for Fay: (…)

“Monologue for Selah Bringing Spring to Whylah Falls” by George Elliott Clarke

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