The Daffodils


Daffodils that come before the swallow dares...

—Shakespeare

Either I wasn’t thinking, or I thought

I could cross under the prison window

on my way to the town library and not be

a wound to those men, a flower to pluck.

My teacher intended no crime, assigning

the term paper on Shakespeare’s Troilus

and Cressida, but enjoyed my discomfort

as he explained the racy puns. I found

Shakespeare guilty of not even trying

to make Cressida sympathetic, as if she

had been false for no reason but her own

pleasure—conniving, slutty, a pair of hips

sashaying past soldiers gathered around

their small fires—as if a girl with no

currency but her body, wouldn’t know

how thin the line between wager and ruin.

Memory’s crime? The way it falters,

seduced by feeling, more fiction than fact.

Was there a walkway beside the prison?

Locked up long enough, a memory will


reenter the world hesitant, unsure.

Could there really have been open windows,

men calling out, reaching through the bars?—

young men, so not unlike the inmates

in my prison poetry class I just asked

to make metaphors for the daffodils

I brought in. “Periscope up!” one calls out.

“Testing, testing,” another says, holding

his fragile mic, and I don’t know what

to say, when a third, as if taunted, pained,

by the mute reveille of these bright trumpets,

asks, “Why are you doing this to us?”


Betsy Sholl’s ninth collection of poetry is House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems (University of Wisconsin, winner of the Four Lakes Prize). She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program of Vermont College of Fine Arts and has taught literature and writing in prisons in Virginia and Maine. She was Poet Laureate of Maine from 2006 to 2011.