Antrim House is pleased to announce the publication of Inside the Box, the first collection of poetry by Michael Cervas. It is a stunning book and has been greeted with enthusiasm by all who have seen advance copies. Naomi Shihab Nye says, “I feel haunted and deepened in all ways as a reader by this book. The poems are well-shaped, penetrating, insightful, unexpected, eerie and haunting at times, always resonant and richly layered. Their humor rings and delights.” Linda Peterson adds, “Michael Cervas’s Inside the Box is a joy to read. From his reflections on childhood to his Wordsworthian meditations on nature to his playful thoughts about the game of squash as a metaphor for life, these poems give pleasure and insight. They show us how to enjoy the ordinary and everyday, yet also how to reach beyond, ‘to imagine the exhilaration/ of breaking through to some/other boxless world.’ ” And David Huddle writes, “These poems are a civilizing force! Michael Cervas’s Inside the Box is the book I’d pick to tell what it felt like to be human and American at the beginning of the Twenty-first Century. From the precise instant of the death of the last Dusky Seaside Sparrow to ‘the universe’s first lesson / in the consequences of desire,’ these deeply felt poems give us back our lives.”

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and educated at the University of Notre Dame and Brown University in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Michael Cervas came late to the writing of poetry. Decades into a teaching career, he began writing poems in his mid-forties, partly as a way of encouraging his students to take creative writing seriously. A sabbatical year in 2006 allowed him to devote himself more fully to his own writing and to revise earlier work, as a result of which his poems have begun to appear in journals and magazines throughout the country. As his poems attest, Michael’s extra-literary interests include gardening, cooking, jazz, and sports, especially that most poetic of all sports, squash. Together with his wife, Deborah, and his daughter, Anne, Michael lives in Simsbury, Connecticut on the campus of Westminster School, where he teaches English and directs the Westminster Poetry Series.

Read some sample poems from the book.

The Antrim House seminar room offers notes, ideas for discussion & writing, images, and/or additional poems. Click here to read the seminar offering for Inside The Box.


ISBN 978-0-9792226-3-4
104 pages, 6"x9" perfect bound paperback



I’m with my cousin Billy, two ten-year-olds
down by the creek behind the courts
looking for crayfish on a Saturday at the park
while our fathers are off playing tennis.

We’re both lost here in our privacies,
busily turning over rocks
in the icy rush of the brook’s water,
when all of a sudden we look up

to see a tall boy, smoking a cigarette,
throwing something sharp at the dark center
of the stream, blocking the sun.
He eyes the two of us squatting by the water

and says in a voice so exotic
it seems to crack apart the whole sky,
What the fuck’re you staring at, assholes?
Billy starts to back away slowly,

but, struck dumb, I can’t move,
aware only of a far-off grunting sound
gathering itself somewhere
at the back of my throat like a stone.


In the rush of time’s unfolding
this particular early morning moment is all
but meaningless, a step removed at best
from the absolute zero of cosmic insignificance.
Nevertheless, I offer it to you.

Yesterday, on the last night of the year,
snow fell lightly, frosting the bushes and trees.
This morning, the sky is overcast,
not even the briefest breath of a breeze to ruffle
the windsocks or tease the chimes into song.

Last night, we also gained an extra second,
necessary, scientists explained, to bring our clocks
in line with the uneven flow of the universe.
Some — maybe most — spent that second in sleep.
A few prolonged the pleasure of tongues in love.

Luckily I saved my moment for today.
As I was staring mindlessly out the window
a common snowbird stopped for an instant at the feeder,
so ordinary in its black-and-brown-and-whiteness
I almost failed to see it there. Outlined

against the blankness of snow and trees,
that snowbird turned to look at me. Suddenly
— in the flash of that one extra second —
I saw the rising and falling of its breast,
the very breath of time itself.


June 30, 2005

From a distance what you would see
is a man with silver hair sticking out of his cap
sitting cross-legged on a gravel pathway
playing with dirt, and, in fact, that is exactly

what his wife calls it, playing with dirt.
With rubber-coated gloves and a single-pronged
weeder, he is inching his way along the path,
scootching his bottom forward every minute or so

as he digs carefully beneath the stones,
lifts them with exquisite care, and then pulls out
the now unmoored weeds by their roots.
Every two weeks from May until September

you will find him here, quiet and focused,
as if in meditation or reverie, clearing his path.
He knows that herbicides would do the job,
permanently, and without hurting the gardens,

but he has a daughter living out west
who’s trying to make it as an organic farmer
and, let’s face it, he likes this time alone
sitting on the earth in silence, playing with dirt.


She’s thirteen, almost fourteen now.
On the way to school this morning
she told me — with the absolute ennui
of the enlightened — that I’d finally
reached the annoying age,

and so here I am
ostracized to an island in the Arctic Sea
— for the third time in my life —
where none of my jokes will be funny
and nothing I say can ever be wise,

at least for the next eight years or so
— I’ve been through this before.
I’ll be a part of her life

but only, only
in my capacity to annoy her. Good
thing I know how this story will end.
Even fathers find their way home again.


When there were only six
left in all the world
— after the marshlands
round about Titusville, FL
had given way to condos,
highways, and malls —
the watchers brought them
inside, sadly, where,
one by one, they grew
faint, shivered, and died,
the last one, not able even
to sing a single note,
perishing on the morning
of June 16, 1987,
now just another name
in a list of names
in a Book of Desolation:
the Great Auk,
the Speckled Cormorant,
the Labrador Duck,
the Passenger Pigeon,
the Carolina Parakeet,
the Dusky Seaside Sparrow.


These days
whenever I’m driving
anywhere at all
I leave the radio off
on purpose:

I’m trying
to learn how to live
in emptiness,
practicing, I guess,
for the future.

No talk shows,
no Golden Oldies,
no Best Mix of the 80’s,
90’s and Today,
no books on tape,
no local news.

Only the thrum
of the invisible tires
and the whirr
of artificial winds,
the unsettling silence
inside the car —

just background
radiation —
my own thoughts
slowing down,

until one by one
they reveal
the perfect words
I want to say
to you.

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