Spring is always an iffy thing around here — so yearned for … for so long … yet, if you don’t pay attention, gone before you know it. This winter produced an intriguing collection of poetic insights: love and yearning, children and recollections of childhood, visions from home and abroad, sexy mushrooms. We begin our 12th year of doing the Southwest Journal poetry pages. Thanks again to everyone who has sent in poems and everyone who has enjoyed reading them.
Doug Wilhide is the poet laureate of Linden Hills and poetry editor of the Southwest Journal
We used to go there all the time
and I memorized your
favorite page of the menu
like I memorized the mountains
and valleys in the old tables
and you pretended to memorize
the names of the waiters.
And I would always
leave with the smell of
your beer on my lips
and with bits of wax under
my nails, the wax they used
to pretend the tables were still
young, filling the valleys flat…
or maybe it was melted crayons
from the children’s menu.
And every time I return
I point out the spelling mistake
on your favorite page of the menu
and I tell myself that this was
our place, that we came all the time.
But then I suppose
we never came all the time,
we just came enough.
We should be, you and me,
old friends; old friends
is what we should be.
It is too sad, a tragedy,
that we should part for eternity,
that we should break the heart
we once shared when we dared
to care enough to be kind,
to be of one mind.
Now, grown old, we could be sitting on a bench
throwing bread crumbs out to birds
not needing to say a single word.
Old friends are that way;
the more they’ve shared, the less they need say.
But you have gone away
riding on the drift, out of reach.
Though I see you, you’re not here.
You are nowhere.
Not bold enough to stay.
Not bold enough to go.
Just out of reach and
on your way.
Sometime around midnight
Out my frosted window
A sleek dark runner appears
Along the road;
It must be record cold.
I’d like to be that person
So purposed, so lithe
Who probably has a reason to be
In full stride on the parkway
But that is not I
Rather the sloppy trail of next month
And wet shoes in the daylight.
That is my time.
The Three Little Pigs Revisited
As a little boy, I wanted to be the little pig
who built the house of sticks.
In my picture book, that little pig
was rolling out dough at his kitchen table,
wearing an apron, when the wolf came to call.
The little pig in the straw house was reading the newspaper.
The little pig in the brick house was doing woodwork.
I wanted to be the little pig who baked.
The teacher said I was wrong.
The little pig in the stick house gets eaten by the wolf.
It is obviously correct to be the industrious little pig in the brick house.
He is the little pig who wins.
Yet, we cannot all be the industrious, wood-working, little pig.
Some of us do better reading the newspaper or baking,
and we need to take the consequences and
deal with the wolf as best we can.
It is obviously correct to live as we will,
build our houses out of the material we want,
gift the story with our own uniqueness.
There will always be wolves who will huff and puff
and blow our house down,
but living as we are always gives us
a chance to win.
A Distant Day in April
On child legs, weak from influenza,
my mother supporting my elbow,
I stepped through our French windows
into an English spring garden.
Wrapped in a torrent of thrush song,
The day floated in stilled perfection.
Dew-silvered lawn sponged underfoot.
I trod gingerly to avoid coiled worm casts.
Mummy lead me to three deck chairs
set beneath our orange-pippin apple tree,
where my father puffed his Players Navy Cut,
its smoke curling through clusters of blossom.
He tucked a blanket around my knees.
Mummy brought two cups of coffee
and nourishing honey barley water for me.
In the gentle hum of working bees
I drifted, drowsy in the comfort of affection
listening to quiet talk of parsnips and petunias.
Pale sun dappled through the fragrant canopy,
warming my upturned face, and I knew
I would hold this moment forever.
Now, on a cold April morning in middle-age
and in another land, I sip this sustaining draught
as I convalesce from my first Minnesota winter.
April in Minnesota
I see them everywhere, slicing
the soft earth, slipping their spear-tips
skyward — stretching their spikes
of green and purple.
They emerge in regiments, in battalions,
fighting for space with other newly-forming
species. The war is waged through rain
and sun, through day and night; with all
their might, they surge upward
tilling the soil with their appearance;
surfacing, and then unfurling
shining new leaves, as they rise.
And, I want to throw my hands
upward and thank the sun – shout
out to the world, when I realize,
“The Hostas are coming!
The Hostas are coming!”
Mushrooms have sex. Did you know?
They seem so respectable.
So uptight. So boring. So blandly edible.
You think you know a plant. You never know.
There should be a hypocrisy warning:
These plants have parties in the trees –
And then, on Sunday morning,
Are just as churchly as you please.
I’m not a plantist or a mycophobe.
I’m not saying all fungi should be deported.
I’m not calling for purges.
But maybe there should be a probe
Based on what has been reported
Of their uncontrollable urges.
Grey-eyed Athena is
wise in my arms this morning,
drowsy with desire played out
in dwindling candle flame.
I lounge beside her letting pleasure wander down
my body length.
Iris to iris we hold our position:
hers darken, angle off in fear,
return to call me deeper
away from codes and secrets.
Mine respond in motley—
blue-gold, flecked with desert rose.
Lingering on this bed,
we swim into each other’s color scheme.
Caressed by grey-green waves, I long to dive
into her opaque depths until, like Argus,
we become two peacocks, full of eyes
that watch and play and love.
A Day on My Street
Lyndale. Morning was a stop-and-go grind
of coffee drinkers with elsewhere minds
And the day a festival of ambulance sounds
and a crane with at least 100 wheels.
Then evening rush hour came
and another car scraped a tree off the center strip
leaving a shiny scatter of bumper parts
and reflective headlight shards to catch,
much later in the night,
the blue and red flash
of police cars in a row moving fast as a wind storm,
creating the breathless Dopler sounds
of tires advancing and retreating
and finally leaving Lyndale,
in the pre-dawn light,
A brief temple
On the high emerald road from Olympia to Tripolis
We come off a sharp curve
A small gray haired woman with wrinkled face carved like an ancient mountain
Raises a wooden bowl laden with red fruit above her head
Brings it down and raises it again
As if we are gods to whom she is presenting her offering
Thoughts of sweet fruit on a hot afternoon
Turn us around and we stop near her
I get out and approach
She beams; her eyes say
“I have caught you
Now you are mine.”
I begin to gesture that I would like a small bag
Of her ripe red plumbs
She pours the whole bowl into a plastic bag
Never taking her eyes from mine
I pay her more than the fruit is worth
Before I can turn to leave, she says
“Cigarette?” and brings her curled left thumb and index finger to her mouth, puffs
“Chocolate?” she bites into an imaginary bar
She follows me to the car
Stands in front of me
“Pen?” she writes with her left index finger on her right palm
I open the back door and take a new gel pen from my satchel
And present it to her
She nods her head in satisfaction
Turns and walks back to her place on the side of the road
We drive off slowly
A soft smile lights her face
Her eyes bright in the late afternoon sun.
Granddaughter — for Rosalie
A baby is a powerful force
and sarcasm and irony
and all that other snark
we let ourselves get into
as we grow older and old.
Snide humor just doesn’t work
when those wide open eyes
stare back and you…
this child doesn’t get shrugs and puns
and critical poses.
She is honestly innocent:
watching, testing, reflecting,
wondering — full of wondering —
she wants to know what is going on:
who are you?
what are you doing?
what is coming next?
do you mean me harm?
what if I smiled at you?
what if I fell asleep in your arms?
Stuart D. Klipper
Undaunted by the onset of storm,
these stalwart children of Minnesota
soldier on gleefully outside
into another outdoor recess.
From one story up in my school I watch,
below, a Breugel of Brownian movement,
the snowsuitedup bodies bounding about
at random buoyed by their exuberance
so easily relentless in the sideways snow.
An abundance of bootprints everywhere
tells their story: little vital lives
oblivious to the weather’s will
rampaging and radiant
the air about them clouded with condensed joy.