It is my contention that, basically, poems are piles of metaphors stacked on top of each other like those funny-looking block stacks in a Jenga! game, with holes for the bits you’ve left out (or have taken out) because they were not needed to transport your reader into some other point-of-view.

That juxtaposition of metaphors works because of ability of the mind of the listener or the reader to make connections between the images the poet offers up.  The audience that can hook the offered images together with other things from their own life experiences enhances the liveliness of the poetry.

The audience works as hard as the poet in making a poem come alive.  At our monthly Maui Live Poets meetings in Makawao the poets try to remember to thank the people who are “practicing their audience skills” and are disinclined to present their work.  It’s not easy being a good audience….


One brilliant way of making use of metaphors to build connection and community is a work by New Orleans artist Candy Chang, who turned an abandoned building in her neighborhood into a poem of sharing hopes and dreams.

In the fall of 2011, the artist and a bunch of friends painted one wall of the building using hearse-black blackboard paint.  Chang stenciled an incomplete phrase over and over on that wall:  “Before I die, I want to _________.”  Chalk was provided so passersby could write their thoughts.

The entire wall was covered with people’s answers overnight.  More of the walls were painted black and the question was repeated over and over and answered over and over by the hundreds of people who visited the site. The wall went viral.  It became an international phenomenon as other artists wanted to make wall-poems of hope for their own neighbors.

This YouTube video is a TED-talk by Chang (one of many) about the wall.  It was uploaded by SILYMEAN on March 27, 2015.  The poem still continues to grow….

Think about it.  How would YOU fill in that sentence?  What dreams and hopes lurk in the depths of you?  What do you want to do before you end?

The Wall became a catalyst for hope and connection because the audience collaborated in its becoming a reality.  Very private thoughts appeared boldly in a public place where everybody could see and touch and respond by maybe dredging up their own hopes and dreams to add to the space. The wall became a powerful thing with tremendous mana and meaning.

Every one of the answers to the question Chang asked was a metaphor, a distillation of one more life walking past the wall.  All together they made a stirring celebration of the connection of all the lives who touched that wall and the minds that reached out to touch each other.


In my own life, I’ve worked at thinking on death mostly because the impermanence of it all does tend to keep getting shoved in my face.  Everything with a beginning also has an ending.  A simple truth, but also one of the hardest of all to look at when it is your own death you are contemplating or the death of a person you love.

Wise guys say that learning to face your own ending with equanimity will go far in furthering your knowledge of how you want to live your life.  I am far from wise, but I do try to work on it.

Here’s a poem that I made during one of those practice sessions:


Somebody once said that probably

The best we could hope for (at the end of our lives)

Was having the “right regrets.”


That got me thinking:

What are the RIGHT regrets?


When I come to die,

I am sure I shall regret not personally

Touching and tasting and seeing

More of this wondrous world of ours.

But, I think, I’ll keep that one.


I won’t exchange it for the notion that

Someone I loved reached for me and I was gone….


Perhaps I like hearth fires more than I like campfires.


Hestia rules me, I suppose,

And with that, I am content.


I know I will not regret giving my heart or my trust

To the people who wander through my life.

I will regret, instead, that some of them proved unworthy of me.


I know I’ll probably regret my wretched lack of skillful means

For walking in the ambiguity that is this World of Dust.

I’ll regret the mind that’s too slow, perhaps,

To catch the glimmer of the most righteous paths to walk.


I will not regret turning my unsure hands

To the tasks set in front of me and doing the best I can

With the less-than-perfect equipment I was issued.


I will never regret telling my truth,

Despite the fact that it was often misconstrued

By people who were not telling their own.


I will regret only not having eyes that see clearer

And ears that listen deeper.


I’m not sure whether these regrets are “right” or not.

But then, when I leave,

I doubt I’ll be carrying much baggage.

by Netta Kanoho

Please let me know your thoughts.  Leave a comment and we can talk story.

Picture credit:  Bonfire Level: Jenga by Gord Webster via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]



  1. Thank you for your post. It brought tears to my eyes, and as I read your poem, I got shivers down my spine. Thank you for writing something so beautiful as it reminded me to ask myself a question Steve Job asked himself every morning – If today was the last day of my life would I be doing what I am meant to do today? And to be honest, my answer is a big fat no as before I die I want to write and star in a movie written by me.

    So, thank you as your post has given me the courage to start writing that script and say goodbye to replacement teaching.

    1. That was beautiful, Amberlee….Go do it! You can, you can, you can….

      Thanks for the visit. Please come again!

  2. This is the exact sentiment that I have been having for the past few years. I work in the health care industry and death is something I see on a daily basis. There are so much anguish when it comes accepting death and it really brings out the true nature of the human expression.

    When I see how my patients live their life, it made me realized how I want to live mine better every single day. Somehow, the desire lead me to start an online business, in hope that I can spend more time with my family by working from home.

    Some people call it passive income, but for me, it’s the time freedom that I want to achieve the most through this endeavor.

    1. Thanks for your visit and comments, Cathy. Good luck in your endeavors. Please come visit again!

  3. “It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day, and forget what really matters to you.”

    This statement made by Chang in the TED-talk video really struck a chord in my being. Thanks for sharing this above.
    As a mother of 3 kids, I tend to put myself aside and to cater to the needs of my kids first. I often put myself last, and it becomes a real battle and a struggle to ‘find myself’ again.

    Another one – “Life is brief and tender.” Indeed it is. One of my uncles died unexpectedly a few months ago – he was stabbed to death. I wasn’t that close to him but still felt his loss so keenly.
    I was struck by how, through death, a person goes from being in the present tense to suddenly being referred to in the past tense. I can no longer say that my uncle dotes on my kids; rather, he doted. Just the change from ‘s’ to ‘d’ struck me painfully. Indeed, life is fleeting and I am encouraged to seize every moment, and make it a memorable one, and like Chang in her TED-talk, to take the time to nurture all of my relationships TODAY, not some day in the future.

    Thank you!


    1. Hey Judi:

      Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts and your own experiences.  I do value them.

      Please do come again….

  4. That is a lovely poem.

    When I think about the “right regrets” I am stumped. What would I consider a right regret? 

    I think I would just regret some of the times I chose not to spend time with a person because something else sounded more fun. 

    My grandmother is 88 and I know she doesn’t have all that many years left. I regret not making more of an effort to call her or send her notes. I know I still can, and I should. 

    When I myself am 88 (God willing), I would think my regrets would be much of the same. I’m not one to care too much about travel, but I get sad thinking about all of the people that I did not realize at the time of our last meeting that it would be our last.

    1. Holly, thanks for the visit and for sharing your story.  

      It is a truth.  The Light of My Life is an artist.  One of his projects has been going through his long list of old friends and making a special piece just for them.  (Since his work sells in art galleries now, it is unlikely that the old friends can afford one of his pieces, which are landscape bas-relief collages created using dried banana bark and other fibers.)  

      He choses to gift the pieces that he custom-builds one at a time to the friends who have been particularly selfless in helping other people in their lives.

      Recently, one of the friends to whom he had given a piece died.  Mathew was so very glad he had been able to acknowledge and honor his friend in such a special way.  No regrets.  Really, really cool….

      Please do come again.

  5. This is a very emotive article, the depth of emotion is palpable.

    I personally don’t like to think of death at all, in some ways it frightens me , I know it shouldn’t but…that’s just me.

    I worry that my end might be sudden and I won’t have prepared anyone or even myself for it.

    Regrets? yes we all have them but I like the term “the right regrets” that really is thought provoking.

    I love poetry and write a lot myself.

    I will be back to your website, your writing is lovely.


    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Louise.  

      I know, right:  The Big-D is a scary thing to contemplate….the REAL end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it.

      I’ve found, however, that looking at it and standing with it helps to clarify a lot of your thoughts in your day-to-day life.  It’s a hard one.  It’s also really great for sorting out what really matters to you.

      Please do come again….

  6. Linus Udochukwu Marvellous says:

    Anytime I see anything about poem, I am always thrilled. I love listening and reading poems because anytime I do, it lifts my spirit. 

    I know it isn’t easy for poets to compose poems but what I love the most is how they have their way with words. The poem The Right Regrets really made me cry. Thanks for the love of poem you have

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Linus.  I’m pleased that you enjoyed the poem.

      Please do come again.

  7. It’s nice reading this lovely and insightful poem. This is the best poem I have ever read this year.  Thanks for the eye opener about life. 

    The question we ought to ask our self on daily basis is “what if I die today”. If we all think towards this direction, then life will be the best place to be.

    The  best thing we can do is to stand for the truth in order to allow peace reign in our heart. Thanks for sharing

    1. I do thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.

      Your daily question is a lot like the Native American thing about this day being a “good day to die,” I think.  

      When that warrior stance is your stance, it seems to me, then it is on you to make it so — to have your life together enough so that if you did happen to fall over dead on this day, it would not matter so much.  The world would go on and you will have accomplished what is yours to do.

      That seems like a good thing to me.

      Please do come again….

  8. Wow, the use of metaphors is a poem does create something of meaning- but the wall you had mentioned is something amazing, it had many people engaged in writing what they wanted to do before they die- this will have allowed people to work exceptionally hard to achieve these goals- this is truly amazing 

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.

      I do agree.  That wall is a marvelous creative effort and I think it must work to help clarify people’s thoughts about what holds meaning for them in their lives.

      Please do come again….

  9. This is a lovely post that everyone needs to read. Death is something most people shy away from, however , it is inevitable. Life is indeed short, and death is sure; it does not respect economy or social status. 

    Talking about right regret as contained in your poem, I sincerely don’t want any regret. Perhaps what could be a right regret is not loving the people who really deserve my love, and that is my family, who have always been there for me.  Thanks 

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Tolu.  I am so pleased that it helped you think.

      Please do come again.

  10. Edgar Ahimbe says:

    I have come to think of life as a metaphor; always trying to connect and understand what it throws at me!  

    I have watched the “Before I die i want …” video by Chang that has made be have a better understanding of the piling of metaphors. You have driven the point home the best way imaginable.

    The poem “Rights Regret” reminds me of the ash put on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday; a reminder that we are mortal and that we should think about death.

    This post has given me a ride into the world of poetry and I enjoyed it. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Edgar.  I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Please do come again.

  11. Wow this poem is really meaningful. I always tell myself to live my life to the fullest. You never know when or what will happan to you. 

    All I care now is taking care of my health and do things on my bucket list. I used to be afraid of death when I was a kid. Now I just embrace it and let it happens. Great poem 🙂

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Nuttanee.  I do appreciate it.  

      Please do come again.

  12. Chrissie Spurgeon says:

    That wall of people’s thoughts is a really amazing idea, and one that I would love to try out in my own area, although I very much doubt that it would work so well as British people do tend to be very reserved!! Not me though!!

    I really love your poem, it rings so many bells for me but I would never be able to write anything half as good as yours, but I guess I would never know that unless I tried!

    I found your whole article really inspiring, thank you so much.

    Chrissie 🙂

    1. Chrissie, thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  Now you’ve made me wonder.  How would the wall work out in England?  Hmmm….

      Please do come again.

  13. Lakisha Akbar says:

    Can I ask how long have you been writing poems? I really love your poems, and articles. They are so thought provoking. By visiting your website I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned more than what I ever imagined learning. 

    The before I die wall is very interesting. I find it amazing that the poem is still going since 3/27/2015. I wouldn’t mind going to go and visit one of these walls. It amazes me of all the videos that I’ve seen about New Orleans, I have never heard of this. Anyhow, this Before I die walls are being created throughout the entire world now. 

    I also really enjoyed your poem “Right Regrets” I never thought about the right regrets. That is definitely something that I will be pondering on today. Thank you so much for sharing your interesting thoughts. 

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Lakisha.  I’m glad you like my site.  

      I am fond of the people of New Orleans.  They keep getting hit by hard and they keep on coming on.  Indomitable, them!

      Please do come again.

  14. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I would say that the work that the author of the poem puts into each poem can not compare with the work the reader puts into the digest.

    I would compare the poet to a chef serving dishes, and the reader is the one who will eat them.

    It still takes effort to eat, though. So, I also agree that the reader has to work to make sense of the poem and digest it.

    1. Thanks for your visit Paolo and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)