The awkward stage: love’s secret agent

poem is on post on the left



My Life Before I Knew It

by Lawrence Raab


I liked rainy days

when you didn’t have to go outside and play.

At night I’d tell my sister

there were snakes under her bed.

When I mowed the lawn I imagined being famous.

Cautious and stubborn, unwilling to fail,

I knew for certain what I didn’t want to know.

I hated to dance. I hated baseball,

and collected airplane cards instead.

I learned to laugh at jokes I didn’t get.

The death of Christ moved me,

but only at the end of Ben-Hur.

I thought Henry Mancini was a great composer.

My secret desire was to own a collie

who would walk with me in the woods

when the leaves were falling

and I was thinking about writing the stories

that would make me famous.

Sullen, overweight, melancholy,

writers didn’t have to be good at sports.

They stayed inside for long periods of time.

They often wore glasses. But strangers

were moved by what they accomplished

and wrote them letters. One day

one of those strangers would introduce

herself to me, and then

the life I’d never been able to forsee

would begin, and everything

before I became myself would appear

necessary to the rest of the story.



You have go where you’ve gone to be where you are, I used to tell my kids. It’s a syntactical mess, of course, and maybe that’s why it’s less memorable to them than my other bon mots (Don’t be the drunkest girl at the party and Stay away from porn culture). Thank goodness for poet Lawrence Raab. In “My Life Before I Knew It” he says everything I wanted to tell them about heading off regret and seeing grace at work in your life.


I love Lawrence Raab. He’s droll and such a wonderful story-teller that the weightiness of his poems always catches me off guard. The ending of “My Life So Far,” for instance. With the lightest touch and the quickest maneuver, using One day and and then the way a dancer uses pause and pivot, he turns this amusing portrait of an awkward boy towards heart-swooning romance—


and then

the life I’d never been able to forsee

would begin, and everything

before I became myself would appear

necessary to the rest of the story.



This line—The life I’d never been able to forsee—almost makes me burst. Is there a more wondrous experience than to look back on the grubby, embarrassing moments of your life and see that with some invisible magic those moments led you, blind and headstrong as you were, towards the very thing your heart had secretly desired?




Here’s a biography of Raab from a previous post:


Lawrence Raab was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1946. He went to Middlebury College and earned his masters from Syracuse. He’s taught at University of Michigan, American University, and these days at Williams College. He’s one numerous awards and grants and has published seven collections of poetry.


Raab has also written screenplays and adapted Aristophanes’ The Birds for theater.




  1. Maria Mazziotti Gillan

    Wonderful thanks for sharing this

    Maria Mazziotti Gillan My NEW Artist website Poetry Website: Poetry Blog:


  2. Tom McGrath

    This was great. A keeper. You presented the essence of what makes this wonderful in a very helpful way.


    P.S. I did the same while mowing the lawn.

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