It’s almost impossible to explain why the playfulness of Heather Tone’s “Likenesses” produces such delight. There were some other, very strong, more “responsible” poems among the finalists for this year’s Boston Review Poetry Contest, poems that are lucid and historically poignant, but “Likenesses” has all of this and more. Freedom, light, leggerezza, speed, and depth. Crystal abyss, “nothing,” a touch of kabala. Perfect projections of shades between death and life, a scent of Eden. Like four-year-old boys throwing clumps of mud at each other, bursting into happy laughter. These lines scream with joy, and yet they are as full of silence as a mysterious film projected on the night sky. They remind me of silkworms producing silk on Chinese streets in front of our very eyes.

—Tomaž Šalamun, contest judge

Learn more about BR’s writing contests



When he is dead, a man in a

bathing suit looks most like a little boy.

A woman in a bathing suit

looks like a woman, unless she is quite

thin, in which case she looks like a little boy.

A little girl in a sundress looks like a little boy

in a sundress. Her mouth is a cold oval, as cold

as a strawberry. When dead, a robin red-breast

looks like a little girl, while it goes without

saying that Robin Hood looks like a boy.

The snowfield cresting the mountain looks

like a little girl sleeping on the mountain.

The pines, boys right before they disappear

into men with cold faces who carry hatchets.

Just before it dies, a car looks like a teenager, but only

if it was built before the ’90s. After that, cars look like women.


Blooming asters on hillsides look like boys.

The boys look like stars breaking up.

When it is dead or just before, an ant looks like

a woman sunning herself on a beach.

Crabs look like little girls playing hopscotch.

Grasshoppers look like middle school boys

throwing bugs at girls in late summer.

Spoons are the eyes of women asleep behind rainstorms.

Their interlaced fingers look like two children afflicted with dwarfism.

The pint glass is a man preparing to dive off a tall building.

Paper planes look like little girls in skirts, real planes are women.

When it is dead, a fox has the eyes of a little girl.

A faun looks like a little boy, its bones like a courtyard full of children.


When it is alive the plant, which is called kinnikinnick,

looks like a woman. It covers the floors of forests, its berries

shining wetly like the eyes of a living fox.

When it is dead, it looks like an old man in rags sinking into the earth.

A stump looks like a tombstone out in the middle of the forest.

It’s easy: just close your eyes and think of a thing. Does it look

more like a little girl or a little boy?

Words look like dead prostitutes, twisted, thin: my subjective opinion.

If it is alive, a dog looks like a plump cloud or a stringy cloud.

If it is a different kind of dog it is a slightly worn shoe.

If it is a different kind of dog still, it is perhaps dead.

A bluebird looks like a woman frozen in water.

A hay bale looks like a king who died in his sleep one September.

A dried cornstalk, a dead prince.

The country church looks like a little boy.

The city school looks like a pyramid of boys.

Driving by it reminds me of the House of Windsor.


A computer looks like a man killed in his prime

by a heart attack. A chair looks like a shy little

girl made of blue plastic. The stuffed red dog looks

like a little boy. The “Welcome” sign looks like a grave.

The novels look like fat babies, broken teeth.

The lamps look like young women of fashion.

Paperclips look like little boys. Staples look like

little boys. Rubber bands look like boys.

Some citizens of some countries never have enough

to eat. Scissors look like teenage boys, while knives

always are treasonous queens. Framed photographs look

like old women with plates of cookies. Calendars

with pictures of beautiful insects look like little girls.

Boys of a certain age look like parts are missing.

The window is a woman’s eye measuring a certain horizon.


The man working at the restaurant looks like

a little girl in a pinafore. He has that androgynous

look that is popular right now. A wine glass

looks like a woman. The chalkboard with

specials looks like a teenage girl, looks like

how she is when she wears red lip gloss out

to see a band. The drummer looks

like a little girl wasting away. The key

lime pie looks like a man. The man travels

to Florida in a pastel-colored polo shirt.

Croissants are women wrapped in gauze

sitting for paintings. Peach pie

is a little girl in a pinafore. The painter

tries to infuse the dead with life, much

like vodka may be infused with roses or bacon.

A vase of asters looks like a vase of little boys.

The entrees look like women waiting to be taken.


All you have to do is consider where you

would be without other people. The green

lawn would become a man. If you are a man,

the swimming pool will become a woman,

cool and perfumed, with blonde highlights in her

hair. The swimming pool, in fact, looks like a

woman now, reflects several of them so that

the cool, blue women are drowned. When

drowned, such women resemble little boys.

The maple tree looks like a woman. The cotton-

wood looks like an old man. When all the trees

are saplings, they look like little boys

gone fishing. At a certain point, it would

be wise to ask yourself why you’re doing

this. The man who walks under the cottonwoods

looks like an older version of himself:

long years have sanded him down to sinewy

essentials. That is to say that it will not

be much of an absence in space when he

disappears. The sun where he walks looks like

melted children. His white shirt looks like a woman

flinging out a handkerchief to pause the game.


An eagle looks like an old man. A flamingo

looks like a little girl with a crooked leg.

A parakeet looks like a woman on her way

to a luncheon, or looks like the decorative touch

to the woman’s hat. A goose looks like a little boy.

A duck looks like a little boy. The duck is an

obstreperous fellow among crumbs, while the goose is a

boy savant, flying high and cold in perfect

Vs of thought. The goose is more machine

than boy, I think. The bluebird looks like a

woman frozen in water. The sparrows

bouncing around the bread look like little

girls in braids and uniforms. The nuthatch looks lost,

like a little girl. All of the birds look alive, for the

time being. The flicker looks like an old carpenter

who drinks a few at the bar at the end of each day.


Most fairy tales are populated by little girls

and little boys. Little girls get stuck in towers

or turned to trees and little boys must use

their knives. Such delineations understand

the mind of the writer, to a degree. Rupunzel

looks like a little girl. Blue Beard’s bride, a girl

with her smile knifed upon her. Snow White, however,

looks like a little boy, the center point around

which apples fall and arrows miss. (Arrows look

like boys sledding, while apples are women casting

off crowns of leaves.) Cinderella, too, looks like a little boy,

one on the cusp of self-sufficiency, her smock the color

of pepper. Her gloves look like the dirt wherein

she has dug. The garden around appears to be reaching

its hands toward her. Afternoon light lengthens

this lesson. A child turning pages has the look of a child.


The actor looks like a little boy. The actress

looks like a little boy. A candle looks like a

little girl with her arms held high in the milk-

light. Moths come near the light, as they do.

The moths look like 5th Avenue, where women

look like moths and moths look like

white gloves and gloves look like star

light eating up all the children’s arms.