Shelley wrote that “there is a harmony in autumn.” He didn’t live where fall is a crazy shoulder season — where we shrug off summer and hunker down for what comes next.
Local poets submitted a dazzling array of verse this time, some of it funny, much of it strange, even haunting. You’ll find poems about old guys and wise ladies, birds and cats and zebras, storytelling dolls, teaching lessons and classical moments — both those you read about in books and those you feel in your bones.
Doug Wilhide is the poet laureate of Linden Hills and poetry editor of the Southwest Journal
Knocking on Heaven’s Door
I answer the door in my bathrobe.
I am old. I am male. I am white.
It’s possible that I’m a bit uptight.
But as the salesmen start to probe,
I try to listen patiently,
As they begin to sell Myself to Me.
I don’t want to miss the game.
Mike and Gabe are coming over,
And each of them is a nut-job football lover,
And seeing it on replay isn’t the same –
But the Christians on my doorstep are not leaving.
They are chock full of facts about forgiving.
Writings. Leaflets. Pamphlets. Texts.
The wealth and weight of words leaves me perplexed.
I am — however briefly — tempted to smite,
But since they are not Satan, that’s not right.
Murmuring something bland, I shut the door.
Already I can hear the kickoff roar.
Fifty something male seeks male saint
for long term relationship.
Me — slightly old school, yet spiritually eclectic,
a healer and into tarot.
You — a saint from any religious tradition,
must be able to work with the Virgin Mary
and a few Goddesses. Enjoying cats, a must.
My devotion, prayers and candle burning
in exchange for healing, guidance and moral support.
To connect, appear to me on cards, books, pictures
and in my dreams.
If I see you three times in a week,
it will be a done deal.
Looking forward to hooking up soon.
Carolyn Light Bell
Boys came, snot-nosed and ragtag,
for games of Capture the Flag in the back alley
at summer twilight. We ran like mad,
tipping over garbage cans and each other,
to keep from getting caught.
They were the brothers I never had.
But one summer we felt
a blush from a different kind of heat.
They didn’t whistle at the window this time,
but came straight to the back door
and rang the bell.
They came to see me.
We went to the basement. They sat down.
I sat down between them. One boy fiddled
with a set of drumsticks left on the coffee table;
the other ran his fingers along the edges
of the oak-carved sofa behind me,
gazed at me dreamily.
I sat up straight, looked away,
sensing secret pulsings.
I grabbed the drummer’s sticks, smacked
his fingers, dismissed both boys.
I didn’t know the rules of this new game,
but knew somehow I’d already lost.
Things are pretty good—right now.
I came through fine on my annual physical.
(But I should lose five pounds.)
I still bike with friends.
(Though I go twenty miles nowadays, not thirty.)
I can bring a basketful of clean wet clothes up
from the basement and hang them on the line.
(But sparrows splat out blobs of buckthorn poop on them —
a permanent stain.)
I paddle my kayak, even on a rocky river.
(But it’s hard as heck getting out of the thing.)
I spend a lot of time writing poems.
(Why aren’t they any good? I can’t figure it.)
I gather gorgeous bouquets from my garden,
of phlox and hyssop and Susans, black-eyed and brown.
(But the Japanese beetles have eaten up all the roses.)
My sweetie thinks I’m pretty and attractive.
(Well, he’s blinded by love.)
My grandkids still kiss me and caress me.
(They’re not teenagers yet.)
So, things are fine right now.
I’m not sick, and I’m not sad.
Maybe my journey to the Other Side
won’t be so bad after all.
(I’m not looking forward to it.)
Tonight, I’ll step onto my terrace
and — if I should be so bold —
strut my lines to the assembled.
The ancients, with power
of verdant observation
had terraces, too.
but their words carried
across the ages.
My audience —
again, should I screw up the courage —
chatterers: chipmunks, squirrels,
and, of course, neighbors,
who, hunting and gathering
dinner and data,
will tilt an eyebrow at their partner,
wonder if I’m quite right,
then, turning to their toddlers,
will speak inspiritingly
in age-appropriate language
such that small voices might grow
into great ones
worth listening to.
The Rides of March
If elevators roamed the world
And ancient Rome had one
How different our world might be
And history undone.
Imagine Caesar took the lift
With Senators enclosing
While many tried to cram inside
As both the doors were closing.
All dressed in togas going up,
All prepped to go and brawl it,
With music playing overhead
(If music’s what you call it.)
At just about the seventh floor
When mayhem should have started
It’s all just whispers back-and-forth
With glances that get darted.
Their gestures stop with grimaces
For elbows don’t have space
To pull the daggers from beneath
And strike in any case.
And as the lift hits double X
(The Curia’s main floor)
A panic causes Casca to
Quite awkwardly implore.
He psssst’s and coughs “Hey Brutus!”
So that he would do the dares.
But only sounds of music play
‘Cause Brutus took the stairs.
In the Land of the Blind
In the land of the blind,
The one-eyed man is king.
In the land of the squares,
Cool is shaped like a ring.
In the land where pairs plod,
See triangles take wing.
From the deepest black hole,
Hear the universe sing,
“To grasp the theory
And unravel this world,
Just pull the right cosmic string.”
At absolute zero
There’s no motion or heat.
The features of fractals
From order to chaos
Entropy talks so sweet,
On the border where
Space/Time and Gravity meet,
Dark Energy’s affair
With Dark Matter’s discrete,
So physicists now kneel
At the Higg’s Boson’s small feet.
Now what would we have been if
Tectonic plates did not lift?
Before we crawled from the sea
How long and far did we drift?
Why was it, love married hate
Deep in the African Rift?
Did we dream the Eternal
Because life’s passage is swift?
Is the last reach of each soul
Where the dust of memories sift?
Is the taut end of this string
Our harshest curse or sweetest gift?
I Work to Learn Names
Shukry is Shukreya
Ayan arrives tired, forgets to sign in.
Hudu has a three month old daughter.
She sits in sunshine.
Over break she changed her name to Nahili.
Nasra, after exploring an oak leaf,
sees waves crashing along its edges.
As she spoke her words gave me
the spray and wind,
along the Mogadishu shoreline.
Maryam reminds me of my daughter
with her laidback manner.
Khadra is funny, and outspoken as my Italian cousins.
This semester, most of my students are Somali women.
Each student in a burqa, hijab, or headscarf,
is a welcome presence. Early Saturday mornings
I work to learn names.
I live three miles from where I was born.
For three and a half hours my world, their world,
turns into our world. As the days pass,
I learn to know each person.
Class ends with a reflection:
I ask each student to name our day.
For the past three weeks, the same student
wrote one word:
one April Sunday afternoon
you slide away to somewhere other,
away from me and all my love
loudest purr I ever knew
stilled forever —
I feel you brush me — bless me —
full of power
ochre velvet fur
ancient whorls along your sides
sad eyes — wise eyes —
no more looking into mine
asking for release from me
and all my wishes to preserve you
like the light that pours through my window
then slowly leaves the room,
you slide away —
the loudest purr I ever knew
The Pileated Woodpecker
Though beautifully adorned
in feathers black, white and red,
a woodpecker is a creature
I would never want to be
with all her insistent
rapping, rapping, rapping
against a dying tree
or some other spot where
bugs have sought to hide.
There is no certainty to this chore,
and she must abhor the hot head
those bursts of rapping are thought to bring.
Though it’s hard to know for certain
how she feels,
we see her pause to cool,
or is she merely trying to fool
the meal she is seeking
into thinking she has gone?
Insects may not even be
where she’s stopped to find them.
If so, on she’ll need fly to try another tree
or fallen log or someone’s
All in all, she must perform
a massive task for every nibble
that she takes —
and so her life does not appeal
to one who can (and often does)
simply microwave her meal.
The zebra pushing against my leg
was stronger than I thought it would be —
I could feel it’s rough skin and heat
through my jeans —
but I got on anyway and BAM!
away we went, the zebra rushing and bucking
and me holding on to its
crazy striped hide up by the neck
until it kicked up high and I fell off
and then it made a dash for the fence
and jumped up and almost over
but caught one rear hoof
just for a moment
and that gave my boy and his best friend
time to catch up
and they dashed out
from behind the garage
and chased after the zebra —
all flying legs and hair and laughter
because they were all just colts together —
and the zebra was leading them
in wild and widening circles
when I went into the house and sat down
with an iced tea to think about
parenting, storytelling and truth
and that’s when the dog
started jumping in the air
like a hooked fish out of the water
turning, twisting — quite acrobatic really —
but all he was trying to do was
catch invisible bugs and he’d slam
into the wall or the door until he finally
thought he’d caught something
and creep under the table to eat it
which is when my daughter and her friends
came in with the seltzer bottle
squirting each other and everything else
including me and, oh, what a strange thing:
to feel the tiny bubbles
popping over your skin
and under your heart.
You’ve Been Here Too
Wind shifts the maple’s perforated shade.
Tired out from mowing, I turn to find
the day doing something simple at the end:
a cold breath lifts from the cut grass,
indigo pooling beneath the bushes.
These are the days you’d like to store up.
It’s my dad’s voice, loud and clear again,
that never much liked wordlessness.
My heart lurches against its cage,
while the mower cools and ticks.
Later, I’m still at it, hurrying bulbs
into new holes like a nervous squirrel,
the moon a gold coin. Come spring, maybe
I’ll find the map again, here on this leaf:
how it looks, as it dries, like the palm of my hand.
Ode to a storyteller doll of Jemez Pueblo
Made of earth
Mouth opened wide
Catching the breath of life
Inside a singing mother
Protecting her progeny
Wrapped in an Anasazi blanket
Children crawl on her shoulders
Hang from her braids
Appear and disappear like flowers in a field, alive, playful
Yet made of clay and native plants
Adorned in sacred mineral colors
Reds and blues blended
Polished and smoothed by stone
Fired in a self-consuming kiln
The womb of the ancient natives
Giving birth again and again and again
Singing into being the unseen spirits of the land
Rumi said, “Life says, Wake up, Wake up. Death says, Hurry up, Hurry up!”
You say, “I’m awake, I had two cups of coffee and I gotta go!”
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you!”
You say, “They’ve looked inside me and only saw polyps.”
Mohamed said, “The Creator is nearer to you than the beating of your own heart.”
You say, “I’m worried about my heart!”
Buddha said, “Don’t just do something – Stand there!”
You say, “I’m too busy to stop!”
DaVinci said, “Most people are merely food bags.”
You say, “I’m hungry, can we stop and eat.”
A Tweet From The Poet Basho
The insane poet
Writes haiku without thinking.
Good thing he’s not king.