Seattle poet Elizabeth Aoki creates some mystery around perfectly utilitarian words in her poem, "Padlock."

Share story

To celebrate Poetry Month, The Seattle Times is publishing one poem every day this week. This one, from Elizabeth Aoki’s debut chapbook, “Every Vanish Leaves Its Trace” (Finishing Line Press, 27 pp., $14,, is an exercise not in wordplay, exactly, but word possibility. In Aoki’s hands, “padlock” becomes a protean term suggestive of weapons, sex, money, pride and more. In the end, as potent as the word is, it proves impossible to pin down. (Note: Aoki has written for The Seattle Times book pages.)

Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times arts writer


The person who is fastest at getting out their padlock

often is decided to be master of the encounter.

Once a man had to choose between a bag of gold

and a bag of good padlock, and we all know

what happened to his testicles afterward.

A woman traded her children for padlock

and the men of the town realized

their beds were getting bigger

and filling up with lice.

One boy gambled he could take another boy’s padlock.

Caught together, naked and crying

they tussled and each had broken the other’s.

Dogs wouldn’t go near them after that.

— Elizabeth Aoki