Posted by: Tom Triumph | September 16, 2010

109: Autobiography in Five Short Chapters: Portia Nelson

I often don’t like poems like this… for no reason other than I am insecure in my ability to judge poetic worth on many levels and so I trust the canon (don’t tell me to trust my gut; I have higher standards). I was looking for some information about Nancie Atwell’s “Naming the World: A Year of Poems and Lessons”. Atwell, a mentor via book (“In the Middle”), does what this blog started out doing. She includes lessons and lays it out pretty plain. The blog that talked about Atwell used this poem as an example of what Atwell offers up. I liked it, and it fit into tomorrow’s lesson, so here it is.

Believe it or not, tomorrow is about looking at six years worth of individual test data and having students do an analysis so that they can plan their next steps. I got an English degree for this? Yet, I believe such reflection is essential for them to grow, try new things, and attack those bits of school they had previously failed at. I will start and end class with Ms. Nelson.

You can buy her book here. Note that, in the version I saw, the entire text is centered. I do not know if that was the author’s intent.

Autobiography In Five Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.



  1. Enjoyed this poem! Haven’t heard of Portia Nelson, but my life could be encapsulated in this poem as well! I will read more of her work to find jewels to share with my own students. Thanks for posting this!

  2. thats a tight poem i really kan feel that , at first didnt understand it but reading through it made me understand it more

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