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Mat Play: On Writing and Yoga by Kathleen Kraft

Photo of author

Photo of the author

I sometimes find writing about the asanas (poses or postures) perplexing because there’s an ineffable quality in the practice, one that feels pre-linguistic. The feeling takes me back to being on a swing when I was young, rising higher and higher. A freedom balanced by the tension of holding the rope, determining the speed and height of the ascent and descent with your leg power, and the gradual slowing down to a stop.

Yoga is a great swing. Bound by gravity and rectangled off by the mat, we experience an amazing number of movements and flight, we flow between them. The mat is a poem of sorts—a long, thin, unpunctuated Merwinesque poem where meaning shifts in the enjambment. One moment we are in a standing split, with one leg high in the air and hands on the ground, then we shift the lifted hip open, stacking it on top of the rooted one and lift the arm of the same side to come into half moon pose… We were facing down, finding ground on one leg, and now we are lifting and opening to the side, further challenging the stability as we gaze skyward.

Writing a poem is like designing a yoga class as you decide what kind of arc you want, which poses to hold, when to flow, and so on. But, as mentioned above, it’s the shifting from one to pose to another that is most resonant for me as a writer and a mover. Part of this has to do with the frequent return to Downward Facing Dog pose. The pose is often used to build heat at the beginning of class but then becomes a place to return to actively cool down. It is the pose that completes the sun salutation cycle, which is itself like a poem. When we rise up in the salute, I tell my younger students, “Reach for the sky and pull some sun rays down into your hearts.” We flow through the shapes and return to Downward Dog, looking at the past upside down through our legs! Let’s face it – it’s fun turning yourself into a tunnel, inverting the order of things. It’s what happens when our writing is going well—that element of surprise, that light or dark rebellion of looking at things from a new vantage point:

Here I am again, in my dog—

upside down, igniting energetic light,
like a child barking in the pose.

Here I am—late-blossomed yogi, finding the body’s levers,
so many rough transitions—
I lunge forward and come back,

press up and back down,
breathing, rolling forward towards
length and strength,
planking smoothly to the ground
and up again to inversion,
suspension of wants—I am held—

in the V of life, quietly barking.



Photo of the Author’s Yoga Space

Much has been written about the transformative quality of yoga, how it brings a practitioner into a greater, deeper experience of themselves. Part of this has to do with the subtle psychological effects of climbing inside the different personas that the poses offer. We are warriors, moons, trees, snakes, suns…mountains. Abstract and specific, we can locate ourselves among them. In short, we play in a universe on our mats, one we create again and again. An example of one of my favorite shifts, one that I feel speaks to me as a writer: When moving from Warrior 2 to Peaceful (or Reverse) Triangle, the front leg straightens, the arms flow up and back, one after another, and the gaze travels to the sky. In Warrior 2 we are looking straight on, proud, rooted and then we unfurl, while still rooted, rolling up towards the heavens, cultivating a pose of devotion to the greatness within and around us.

Kathleen Kraft’s poems have appeared in Anderbo, Gargoyle, Pirene’s Fountain,and other journals and have been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, where she teaches writing, yoga, and creative movement to adults and children. She is working on a book on writing and yoga. (

Her poem “Sometimes Late in the Evening” appears in our recent issue.


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Best American Essays

Five Points is pleased to announce that James Rioux’s essay “Tattoos, Death Metal, Shaving, and other Ironies” has received the title of Notable Essay in the 2013 volume of The Best American Essays, edited by Cheryl Strayed! Rioux’s essay first appeared in Five Points vol. 14, no. 3. This well-crafted and heartfelt essay about loss and remembering those closest to you.


James Rioux
Tattoos, Death Metal, Shaving, and Other Ironies
“Go I.” —M.R.

I still rub at it now and again, as if it might smudge on my wrist, as if I’ve yet to fully accept its epidermal permanence. I must admit I’m pleased it’s not ornamental. God knows, I’ve had to work hard enough to establish any kind of masculine assertiveness; it doesn’t hurt to have rudimentary letters inked into my skin—letters just strange enough to possibly suggest some drunken ritual or mishap, or, better yet, a stint of long-term incarceration.

But it’s rarely exposed to others, as the inside of the wrist is mostly turned toward one’s own body, allowing even wrist-cutters a convenient anonymity. And then there’s always the long sleeve shirt. When I hide it it’s to avoid the awkward questions, or, more specifically, the potentially long and sometimes emotionally tedious answers. Go I? What does that mean?


I drove that day with a friend of mine to a tattoo parlor a couple towns over—a trip that might, on any other day, have created some anxiety. Living with severe agoraphobia is, for me at least, a constant navigation of boundaries that shift according to a complex set of variables (though, I think now, this describes the lives of most of us). On this day, nothing was stopping me from doing what I felt I had to—in this case, it meant convincing myself that my body was the place where my recently dead friend Matt was to be given a voice.

Put simply, Matt, a quadriplegic with severe cerebral palsy, was unable to speak for the thirty-six years of his life. When I met him in his early twenties, Matt was just learning to use a communication device that enabled him, with the use of an infrared head pointer, to activate icons on a screen that were programmed, when triggered in patterns, to generate a computerized voice. In another words, it allowed him some access to communicating his needs and wants. I could go on to mention how we all take this kind of activity for granted, etc. . . . but, frankly, after living so much of my life in the company of Matt, I’ve come to take such revelations for granted.


There’s something you should know about death metal. More specifically, about the way it’s recorded (at least as I’ve been told by some practitioners). Having done a lot of studio recording myself as a musician and engineer, I understand a little something about the rudimentary technical factors involved, and I’ve been able to replicate with some degree of accuracy the distinctive rumbling scream-growl that is typical to this particular genre of music. For the uninitiated, most death metal, or black metal, consists of a bed of distorted bass and pounding drums often played at a speed that requires immense strength and athleticism (I’ve tried!), layered with muscular stabbing guitar riffs, and above (or is it beneath?) it all, these guttural blasts of inarticulate vocals. Which brings us back to my point: these guttural blasts are, in fact, hoarse whispers recorded at incredibly close range with a mess of distortion and an industrial truck load of amplification. There is no other way a human voice could sustain the kind of depth and volume heard in these songs.

One of which was being played the day I walked into the tattoo parlor by a band I can only imagine had some such name as Vikings of the Apocalypse (for some reason unknown to me, the Scandinavians excel in this genre). Anyway, being a migraineur in addition to other neurological challenges, I was not pleased. This was not your typical tattoo shop, however; it lived up to the name parlor. Sleek and modern looking artwork adorned a hip waiting area with dark leather couches.

“Do you guys have an appointment?” a gangly young man with thin arms crazed with colorful animation asked my friend and me.

“No,” I said. “Is that a prob . . .” But he had walked away. I didn’t know if we should leave, and yet I was determined to get this done.

I watched the gangly young man whisper something to someone else behind a desk in front of a computer. The other young man stood, and as he got closer I saw that his arms were covered with what looked like dull smudges of paint. This was not promising (I would learn later, however, while he was tattooing me, that he was having his old ink lased off so he could have a fresh canvas).

“So what is it you guys wanted?” He seemed disinterested. “Just a couple words,” I said. “On my wrist.”


Matt loved hearing stories. Broken down cars, minor bumps and bruises, scrapes with authority, the wide variety of human frustration—these things amused Matt to no end. He was a connoisseur of minor calamity. What I also learned fairly quickly from Matt, however, was that his use of the communication device offered him no opportunity to tell his own stories. This was something I set out, with the help of his unceasing enthusiasm, to change. Before my introduction of narrative devices, a typical string of words from Matt might sound like this: “Go I store drink walk downtown Jim outside people talk walk pathfinder [the name of the communication device] vocabulary stretching home administrative.”

In addition to implementing a wider range of feeling words for Matt to use I wanted to find an easy way to distinguish one event from another and place those events into a sensible order of occurrence. After about a year of hard work (Matt would literally break out into furious sweats as he craned his head around to activate each sequence of icons, several hundreds of which he had memorized), Matt began to insert the simple word “then” to signify where one action ended and another began. The difference, though subtle, began to give Matt a narrative voice: “Van go I Portsmouth. Then go I outside walk downtown. Then people talk pathfinder. Then food drink I. Then go I van home I. Then pathfinder vocabulary. Then TV couch sit Jim. Then drink. Then administrative. Then Jim goodbye.”


Nick Filth (I can’t even make up a name like this, though he obviously did) walked me back to what looked like a dentist’s chair for my time with the needle gun. I tried to break the tension.

“So this is the last song on this album, right?” I asked, referring to the death metal.

“No,” Nick said. “Why?”

“Oh, I get it,” I said. “You guys have to live up to the whole tattoo tough image thing.” I was already regretting my attempt at a joke.

“We play all kinds of music here,” he said flatly.

“I see.”

I kept waiting for him to warm up, to try to make me feel comfortable. That was how I had imagined things transpiring. I had hoped for some kind of question, for instance, about the tattoo I was getting. Nothing. I should have been anxious, but all I could think about was how funny Matt would think this all was. The actual pain of the pulsing needle, kind of like a series of wasp stings of varying intensity, came as a welcome distraction from the awkward social interaction. Before we started he turned my wrist a couple times to get the right angle.

“Like this,” he said. “And try to stay still.”

And then without warning he pulled out a razor and put it to my wrist, scraping clean of hair a swath of skin to get things ready.


The morning of the day Matt died I shaved his face. At this point he was no longer able to communicate with his Pathfinder. A respiratory accident, due to illness and over-medication, had changed his life dramatically. He had been living in an assisted care facility for over four years, in and out of the hospital due to pneumonias, UTI’s, MRSA, bedsores, etc. . . . We had to wear gowns and gloves when in close contact with him—to protect him or ourselves or both I was never clearly told.

And yet on the days I shaved him I broke those rules. I needed the direct contact with his skin in order to stretch it gently to allow the razor a smooth surface. On this morning he was non-communicative. At this point he would answer questions with a sharp up-look “yes” with his eyes (if he was enthusiastic) or by looking at one of two fists we held in front of his face.

This morning I was getting nothing. Blank stares, even when I tried to joke about my dog keeping me up all night.

Until I mentioned a shave. Then his eyes shot up. I had other opportunities to see Matt after his body had gone cold and lifeless that day. I would be invited later into the ICU to “see him at peace.” But I choose to remember him this way:

I remove my gloves. I prepare his face with a hot towel and shaving cream. I turn his head carefully to each side, sliding the razor over tender folds I pull taut on his neck. I ask him if he wants me to leave his mustache. And then it happens—a brief smile and another look-up yes.

“You look like a cop,” I say. Then one last laugh, which now is a fuller smile accompanied by a wheezing from his trach.

Then I re-heat the towel with warm water and lay it around his chin like a soft white beard. Then I dab some loose stubble from around his stoma. Then I look Matt smile. Then tired Matt. Then touch I head soft last. Then go I

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Featured Poem: “A Man’s Little Heart’s Short Fever Fit” by Thomas Lux

It’s been a while since we’ve had a featured poem on our blog, so what better time than today, with the release our newest issue right around the corner? Today’s featured poem is from Volume 15 of Five Points, “A Man’s Little Heart’s Short Fever Fit” by Thomas Lux.

Poor as a dog. Poor as owl scat tufted

with mouse fur and a chipmunk’s hip

bone. Poor as a louse without a valise.

He liked the deepest caves,

the getting to the bottom of them

(the deepest, about 7 mi. down, ending

in not so square three yards of packed sand)

and he liked better: climbing out.

It was harder climbing out: up, up, up,

poor as a used toothpick,

poor as a man evicted from the poorhouse,

poor as a hole drilled in dust.

Did I say he liked the deepest caves?

Small caves breathe, middle caves sing,

the deepest caves roar.

He liked the deepest caves.

Did I say he loved the abseiling, abseiling down,

and the inch-by-inch rock-climber’s winch

up, up to the cave’s agape mouth?

Did I say what, and those, he loved, (and he did love what and those)

even as I knew he made a failure of it?


Image Thomas Lux’s most recent book of poetry is Child Made of Sand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). His book of nonfiction From the Southland was also published in 2012 by Marick Press.

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A Literary Announcement!

Lydia Davis, the 2013 recipient of the Man Booker International Award, will be holding a reading at Georgia State October 17th in the Florence Kopleff Recital Hall. Ms. Davis is known for her translation of Madame Bovary, which won the 2011 French-American Foundation Translation Price, as well as her translation of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, which won the same prize in 2003. Her Collected Stories was named one of the most acclaimed books of 2009. Works by Ms. Davis will also be featured in the upcoming issue of Five Points, which will debut at the end of this month!
Information about Ms. Davis’s reading and how to reserve your (free!) ticket can be found here:

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Obscure Holidays: National Pig Day, March 1st!

Some pig!

Some pig!

Welcome back to another edition of “obscure holidays.” Today, we’re celebrating National Pig Day! The apparent purpose of this holiday is to “recognize and give thanks to domesticated pigs.” I don’t know why it’s so specific to “domesticated pigs”–I mean, it’s not like there are any other types of pigs, right? A wild pig would be like a boar, wouldn’t it? Either way, pigs are worth celebrating. Otherwise, why would Charlotte go to all that trouble to save Wilbur in Charlotte’s WebBesides, pigs are actually highly intelligent creatures–you can even train them to do tricks! And we can thank Ellen Stanley, an art teacher in Texas, for recognizing the value of pigs and consequently starting up this holiday back in 1972. To celebrate, here’s “Pig-In-A-Blanket” by Matthew Rohrer, courtesy of The Poetry Foundation (you can even listen to a reading of it on the site):

****Pig-In-A-Blanket by Matthew Rohrer
I wake up, bound tightly.
A warm, valerian smell cascades
to my palate. I can only move
my eyelids and toes.
Heat sits impishly on my chest,
at my throat, curtains of it brushing against me.
Panic creeps out of my armpits.
I can only move my eyelids and toes,
and this constant fluttering
lulls me to sleep.
I awake late and move like a bee
through the apartment,
from station to station
from the blue flame
to the shimmering disc.
From the stairs to the street,
to the grocery store.
To the meat aisle. To the cocktail wieners.
To make pigs-in-a-blanket,
to share them with friends.
To sink into bed, to bind myself
tightly in blankets, to flutter off into sleep,
and then on past sleep,
to be carried by admirers across a wooden bridge.
Later I will burn this bridge.
Okay, so this isn’t exactly a pig tribute poem, but until somebody writes “Ode to a Pig,” it’s the best we’ve got.
Find out more about obscure holidays here!
It's Official: Pigs Are Awesome

It’s Official: Pigs Are Awesome

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Happy Valentine’s Day from Five Points!

valentines bear 1Five Points would like to wish everyone a happy Valentine’s day! I can’t think of a better holiday for poetry, so why not celebrate by browsing through a few classics? You can find some great ones here at, such as Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130:

Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Great as that poem is, I’m not sure I’d recommend reciting it to your significant other (they might get the wrong impression if they don’t stay for the whole thing…). But you certainly couldn’t go wrong with this one if you’re looking to declare your undying love:

How do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Of course, for those of you who find yourself alone this year, these poems might not bring you much solace. But how about this one to cheer you up:
Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy
We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
And a few leaves lay on the starving sod,
–They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.
Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles solved years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro–
On which lost the more by our love.
The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
Like an ominous bird a-wing….
Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,
And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me
Your face, and the God-curst sun, and a tree,
And a pond edged with grayish leaves.

It might not seem very cheering, but at least you’re not stuck with someone whose smile is “the deadest thing/alive enough to have strength to die” (9-10). And if you have nothing else to celebrate, then at least celebrate the fact that you don’t have to buy gifts for anyone!

Either way, you can find more love poems (both happy and not-so-happy) here at the Poetry Foundation’s site. Settle down with a box of chocolates and take a look!


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January 29th: the 50th Anniversary of Robert Frost’s Death

Frost1Yesterday, January 29, marked the 50th anniversary of poet Robert Frost’s death. I’m fairly certain that most of you have read his more famous poems, but they’re always worth another look-over, right?

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

If you’d like to read more of Frost’s poems–or more about Frost’s life in general–here are some great links to enjoy:

This site includes biographical information and a large number of poems to peruse.

The Poetry Foundation also features biographical info and a selection of poems, as does

If you’re looking to purchase physical copies of Frost’s poetry, I would suggest this one if you’re looking for only a selection of Frost’s most famous works, this one if you’re looking for something a little more comprehensive, and this one if you’re looking for the complete works all in one whopping hardcover volume.

Frost2I have to admit that Frost is my favorite poet, probably because of his ability to craft poems that are at once beautiful, meaningful, and yet still accessible to a great variety of readers. His most famous poems are excellent, but I’m currently reading through a more comprehensive volume of his works, and I’m amazed at how many lesser-known poems I’m also enjoying. So if you have the time, I’d definitely suggest checking more of his poems out!

For now, I’ll end with a selection of some randomly enlightening quotes by Frost (you can read all of these and more here):

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”

“Freedom lies in being bold.”

“A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never remembers her age.”

“The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.”

“And were an epitaph to be my story I’d have a short one ready for my own. I would have written of me on my stone: I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”

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GSU Centennial Speakers Series Presents an Afternoon with Natasha Trethewey

Wednesday, January 16, 2PM

United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey will read excerpts from her newest book, “Thrall: Poems,” as the first speaker in Georgia State University’s Centennial Speaker Series. The reading will be followed by a book signing and reception. Trethewey, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her 2006 work, “Native Guard,” was appointed the 19th U.S. Poet Laureate in June 2012. She is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University, and is also the poet laureate of Mississippi. Trethewey has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study Center, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.
Venue: Rialto Center for the Performing Arts
Cost: FREE and open to the public; reservations strongly recommended.  Reserveseats by clicking here

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Happy New Year from Five Points!

Well, it’s officially 2013, so why not ring in the new year with a poem?

The Old Year
by John Clare
The Old Year's gone away
     To nothingness and night:
We cannot find him all the day
     Nor hear him in the night:
He left no footstep, mark or place
     In either shade or sun:
The last year he'd a neighbour's face,
     In this he's known by none.

All nothing everywhere:
     Mists we on mornings see
Have more of substance when they're here
     And more of form than he.
He was a friend by every fire,
     In every cot and hall--
A guest to every heart's desire,
     And now he's nought at all.

Old papers thrown away,
     Old garments cast aside,
The talk of yesterday,
     Are things identified;
But time once torn away
     No voices can recall:
The eve of New Year's Day
     Left the Old Year lost to all.

You can find more New Year’s-inspired poems here at

Hope everyone has an amazing New Year’s day!

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Merry Christmas from Five Points!

Five Points would like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas! And here’s our gift to you–another holiday-inspired poem! This one is “Christmas Trees” by Robert Frost. I know, I know–another Frost poem? But I just can’t help myself.

Christmas Trees

by Robert Frost

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats, to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods — the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees, except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine,
I said, “There aren’t enough to be worth while.”

“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”

Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, That would do.
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north.
He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees! — at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece)__
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.

A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

Again, you can read all of Frost’s poetry here.

Merry Christmas!

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