close up of tree bark

The Wheres, the Whos, the Whys and Whens and Whats

Side by side they sit in a long row
lined up from practical to the most theoretical.
Questions of every stripe, from quiet and unassuming
to so loud they cannot be drowned out.

They often go to bed with you
only to awaken you in the morning
tapping on your skull like woodpeckers
hard at work on tree bark.

Today we invited them to lunch.
The largest question stomped in asking Why
for which there was, of course, no answer, but which left
all the other questions quivering in her wake.

Even How was deposed from his
natural pinnacle, being deemed too
utilitarian, not broad enough for
serious, deep contemplation.

Who stood silently behind a screen,
being the unstated influence underlying
all questions: ‘Who am I’ and ‘Who do I love’
the unsung motivation lurking in the background.

Then What took center stage, demanding
clarity, latent meaningfulness, proudly
standing up against the rash of symbolic
and metaphorical concerns, a scientist seeking evidence.

Where and When listened closely,
taking notes on their reporters’ clipboards,
getting the story straight for the local paper
fact checking, hoping for a front-page byline.

All the answers huddled in another room,
another realm, while the questions remained
circulating among themselves,
in a kaleidoscope of color and confusion.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This poem was selected from entries submitted to our Creative Challenge Series #28: First Sentences, which required that the first sentence in the text be The Wheres, the Whos, the Whys and Whens and Whats. We’ve made a special allowance this time: instead of the first sentence, it’s both the title and the theme of the poem.