These days, as Election Day draws near, the air feels electric with news headlines. Words from all sides spark and sputter around us. It’s times like these when we need a centering, a place where we can come together, and what better place to go then to poetry?

“1943: The Vision” by Jean Valentine is an allegorical poem that makes us think about our current political situation, even though it is set in 1943, another divisive time. In it, we follow a child of 9 who discovers a severed human head in a jar, stored in a shed.

Valentine is a poet of quiet power. Her lyric poems are small on the page, but large in their meaning. Her images, like this shocking image of a severed head, rise out of the dark like a struck bell, their meaning resounding over time. After revealing the head, the poem turns toward purpose. As the speaker says, “I knew what it meant: / You must put the head back together again.” In the end, the speaker asks, “How could I put the head back together again?”

The allegory, or the other story the poem tells us, is this lesson of reconciliation. How can we, in times of great divide such as these, find a way to come together?

1943: The Vision
by Jean Valentine

I saw it when I was nine
alone looking into a shed
A human head cut in two lengthwise
in profile, lifelike, in a museum-size
glass jar, on a shelf.

I knew what it meant:
You must put the head back together again.

How could I put the head back together again?
But I promised. Everyone promised: dark eyes
to dark eyes.

From “Shirt in Heaven,” 2015


Iris Jamahl Dunkle is Sonoma County’s 2016 Poet Laureate. Contact her at