The Whole World Rhymes With Shel Silverstein

by Layah, Creative Director

4/2 - Richard Siken Tells Me We'll Never Get Used To It, by Po, EIC
4/3 - William Carlos Williams: This Is Just To Say, by Layah, CD
4/4 - We Are All Writers On the Same Dreadful Typewriter 
as Allen Ginsberg, by Jenny, EE
4/5 - Pablo Neruda and the Quest for Surrender, by Elie, ME
4/6 - Let's Shake the Dust, Anis Mojgani, by Layah, CD
4/11 - Terrence Hayes, Kanye West, and How to Get Through Winter, 
by Elie, ME
4/12 - Sylvia Plath Died Before I Had Time, by Po, EIC 
4/16 - Billy Corgan Blinks With Fists, by Jenny, EE 
4/17 - Andrea Gibson Just Takes Me, by Po, EIC 
4/18 - Famous Like Naomi Shihab Nye, by Po, EIC
4/19 - Tell Me What Is, Tadeusz Rozewicz, by Layah, CD
4/23 - Crossing the Bridge with Yehuda Amichai, by Elie, ME
4/24 - The Whole World Rhymes With Shel Silverstein, by Layah, CD

I have never been tempted to commit a crime quite like this before. You see, last week I walked into a library and took out a book called, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. It’s due back May 9th. But I don’t want to return it; I want to keep it forever. I’m sorry if this seems anticlimactic to you; people can keep hearts forever, so I figure I can keep a book forever. Right?

But I admit, grumblingly, that I won’t. Darn this conscience. Jiminy freakin Cricket.

The only thing The Giving Tree cannot give to me is itself.

“And the boy loved the tree . . .”

Perhaps it’s the nostalgia; the way this book feels like a warm cozy winter sock in my hands, one of the slightly embarrassing colorful pairs you blame your mom for buying you, yet secretly rejoice in wearing. They’re just so soft, you know?

This book swallows me up like a blushing secret; this book swallows me up in childish delight every time I read it. Once there was a tree . . . and she loved a little boy. There’s a simple, easy, pure, inherent sweetness to this story and its doodles. Something soothing. Something that brings me back to the greyish couch in my house with the pillows that barely match, yet perfectly so. This is one of the first books I ever read, and though it has been many years, it still remains in my top five favorites of all time. I have no doubt it’ll stay there. Just don’t tell The Very Hungry Caterpillar.


I wonder how Shel Silverstein felt about blank pieces of paper. I wonder if he felt at home. I wonder if gentleness transferred in one fell swoop. I wonder what his imagination looked like. I wonder many, many things, and I think he did to.

He writes of possibility in a puzzle piece:

One picture puzzle piece
Lyin’ on the sidewalk,
One picture puzzle piece
Soakin’ in the rain.
It might be a button of blue
On the coat of the woman
Who lived in a shoe.
It might be a magical bean,
Or a fold in the red
Velvet robe of a queen.
It might be the one little bite
Of the apple her stepmother
Gave to Snow White.
It might be the veil of a bride
Or a bottle with some evil genie inside.
It might be a small tuft of hair
On the big bouncy belly
Of Bobo the Bear.
It might be a bit of the cloak
Of the Witch of the West
As she melted to smoke.
It might be a shadowy trace
Of a tear that runs down an angel’s face.
Nothing has more possibilities
Than one old wet picture puzzle piece.

 -“Picture Puzzle Piece”

He writes of the unknown:

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

-“Where the Sidewalk Ends”

He writes of childhood:

Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers. . . .
How did it go?
How did it go?

-“Forgotten Language”

He writes of the forgotten:

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.

-“The Little Boy and the Old Man”

He writes about ideas, or maybe an old attic, or maybe both:

There’s a light on in the attic
Though the house is dark and shuttered,
I can see a flickerin’ flutter,
And I know what it’s about.
There’s a light on in the attic.
I can see it from the outside,
And I know you’re on the inside . . . lookin’ out.

-“There’s a Light in the Attic”

Shel Silverstein himself

Shel Silverstein was a nontraditional literary genius. His poems traverse the border of whimsicality and sincere profoundness, and what’s beautiful is that they often combine unexpectedly.

It was missing a piece. And it was not happy. So it set off in search of its missing piece.

To be honest, every time I think of Shel Silverstein my mind replies, Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would not take the garbage out! And yes, sometimes the words leak out as well, but I am far from embarrassed about these interchanges. Some people know Shakespeare. I know Silverstein. I wouldn’t trade for anything.

This fun-ness, this lightness, this dreamlike haze, sublime daze . . .

Is the world suddenly rhyming, or is it just me?

Who knew language could dance to infinity?



  1. EstherGutkovsky says:

    I loved this, Lay! Especially the quoted bit from “The Little Boy and the Old Man” — it gave me chills, and made me stop and think…
    Thank you for inspiring my thoughts again, you’re amazing.

  2. Shoshana Margulis says:

    Maybe the last thing the tree gave was the paper Silverstein used to write upon.
    great work layah!


  1. […] Tadeusz Rozewicz, by Layah, CD 4/23 – Crossing the Bridge with Yehuda Amichai, by Elie, ME 4/24 – The Whole World Rhymes With Shel Silverstein, by Layah, CD 4/25 – E.E. Cummings Twists On His Way To Nowhere, by Po, […]

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LANDFILLS is a grassroots literary, arts and culture online collective based in Chicago. All work is original, except the featured images that accompany text posts (which are blatantly stolen from Complaints should be directed to Po via Twitter.
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