“You Don’t Have to Choose” by Beth Copeland

A Lonesome Border by Carmella Dolmer, marker drawing of two shadowy figures looking down into a dark hole

Image: “A Lonesome Border” by Carmella Dolmer. “You Don’t Have to Choose” was written by Beth Copeland for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2023, and selected as an Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Beth Copeland


Between the cube and the circle,
the container or the eddying drain,
the cardboard box or the manhole,
the collapsing star or the burning house,
the fiery floor or the raspberry arch that becomes a rainbow
after a thunder storm,
the missing door or the haloed saints that hover
in the Tuscan afterglow,
the embodied self or the shadow
holding your hand,
the green selvage of the world
where everything grows—grass, kudzu, weeping willows,
or the waterless well you might mistake
for an open window.
Yes, you have free will. Yes, you have a voice.
Not choosing is also a choice.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
May 2023, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the editor, Megan O’Reilly: “I love the way this poem begins as a literal, generalized description of Carmella Dolmer’s piece—‘the cube and the circle’—and then progressively becomes more abstract and metaphorical—‘the haloed saints that hover,’ ‘the waterless well.’ Like the artwork, whose rich simplicity hints at more complex truths, ‘You Don’t Have to Choose’ seems to suggest that the cube and the circle are archetypal here, and the poet vividly and imaginatively explores this symbolism. The last stanza completely detaches from the imagistic nature of the rest of the poem to deliver objective statements, and the creative whiplash of this transition, combined with the undiluted truth of the statements themselves, renders the ending affecting and meaningful.”

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