Southwest poetry project

Man that was a long winter! It’s bad enough that snowfall follows snowfall, below-zero days stretch into below-zero weeks and gray skies suck the sunshine right out of you. But then you add those miserable bouts of flu, colds and general crud and the call of the northland begins to lose its melody. There’s a reason most of the people on earth live south of here. But poetry seems to survive all of this. And come spring (if not April, then May. Or for sure June) poems blossom like crocuses and tulips, stretching tentatively to see what it’s like up there, then pushing up into the air to display their welcome to birds and bees and to us. Shakespeare liked daffodils “that come before the swallows dare to catch the winds of March with beauty.” Of course he wrote that in “The Winter’s Tale.” This collection marks the first anniversary of the Southwest Journal Poetry Project. We’ve published several dozen fine poems in these pages and a few dozen more online. All are written by poets in the area. This time we offer a smorgasbord of humor and hope, yearning and resignation, love and many things spring. And there’s even more tantalizing (and titillating) stuff online at Our next issue is scheduled for July 14, with a deadline of June 23. We need your best work. Send poems to Enjoy what remains of National Poetry Month. And keep writing.

Doug Wilhide is a contributing poetry editor and Linden Hills Poet Laureate

Halleluiah and to Hell with Spring Cleaning
Deborah Malmo

Years ago, when I was small and housewifery was all but a sacred calling,
spring came and mothers went —
deep, deep into cleaning.
With an unholy gleam in their eyes, these vernal, maternal exorcists
donned husbands’ overworked shirts and set about routing out
the dusty dreams of layabouts like me.

Intent on conversion, fresh air and dispersion
of daydreams and mental malingering,
Mom would fling open the formal drapes in a fit of righteous fervor,
hell-bent on exposing my invisible friends, I guess.
She’d anoint every inscrutable surface with the astringent of her religion,
mixtures of sunlight and vinegar
a dousing atonement of ammonia.
Even the worn rag rugs gave up their dirty secrets
when she performed her public caning.
And when it was over and she was spent,
my rosy, rapturous mother
held her broom on high
and declared herself victorious over
dirt, dust, mold, and must.

I am no such evangelist, but another kind of mother,
not married to my domicile, nor spouse to any house.
Aromatherapy and feng shui can go a long ways these days.
See me spritz the kitchen with scents of sandalwood and heather.
I’ll wave my white dust cloth (that miracle of modern microfiber)
in surrender, give in to the siren call of seratonin-enhancingly,
unseasonably, enchantingly,
wickedly wonderful spring weather.

Life is good, life’s a thrill in our condo in Linden Hills,
all the granite and stainless is gleaming.
Halleluiah, and to hell with spring cleaning!
I am keen for the bliss of the season’s first cold kiss:
The snow-white curl
on a cone at the Dairy Queen.

That Night at the Dance Hall Under the Oaks Next to the River
Cristopher Anderson

It had been a while since I’d really seen my wife —
until she danced with the other man at the folk dance.
His hand moving along her waist. Her splendid
legs and smile. The arch of her body inside his arm.
When the Swedish dance, the people are one river
swirling and eddying. And women fly, held by men.
This man looks seasoned in the boat, deft hand
on tiller and closely tuned to wind and sail.
Oh, I also dance with her — all elbows and knees
of me brought to the dancing floor.
At the end of the evening, he comes to sit
next to her, talking to her earnestly with eyes misted.
My schoolteacher wife with sunny face and trusting heart —
any schoolboy would tell her everything.
His knee is bent, shoulders square, head tilted forward.
She sits with her back regal, chin tucked in.
Isn’t this the moment in the historical novels when
pistols are being readied? Aphrodite loves Ares.
I kneel down next to my wife, but the man doesn’t see me.
So much is in his face — just whom or what does he see?
I wait and watch as he talks himself out, my wife including me
with a nod and hand as I try to edge closer toward them.
After, I walk back to the car with the woman of wheat and corn and
raspberries and swimming stars — a blade in her dancing dress.
I overplay the clutch and stall the engine,
get it started again and gun the car toward home.

Minutes and Years
Michael Miller

The electronic lady on
my phone card
tells me that my minutes
are almost gone.

So, with a few key strokes and
my credit card number
I buy enough minutes to last
until summer.

I wondered if somewhere
at the gas station
or the drug store
there might be a card for buying
additional years.

If life is good and
friendships full
I could perhaps buy
ten or fifteen more.

But if health fails and
loved ones go
I might just
not renew.

I know the electronic lady
would understand.

Cash-Register Blues
David Banks

certainly there’s pain.
the gene pool didn’t just do that
to the woman at the counter.

no one’s frown can stretch like that,
around the head, attached in back,
without the tug of torment.

so i ask her how she is, and she says
fine, don’t worry
[that my daughter’s molten lava,
my mother’s turned to stone,
and I’m the smothered mantle
in between].

then she counts my change precisely,
pinching coins so tightly
that they might release compassion
were they not restrained as metals,

and flings them at my hand
without encroaching on the space
within which pity —
germs may transmit.

Should Things Change
Maria Campo

If the seed we planted
should ever sprout leaves,
Write me.
When all the chapters
have been read
and the book has been closed,
Remember me.
When all the options
have been explored
but the only one left
is to move on,
Talk to me.
Perhaps tomorrow
you’ll change your life
perhaps tomorrow
I will still be alone.
No promises can be made
but should you change address
and find yourself alone …
Call me.

Lake Harriet, March 7
Joe Alfano

On the edge of the ice
etched in sand,
dry rivers with deltas
connect to fingers of
exposed lake,
filled with ducks
that swim in tight circles.
Other ducks
wait their turn.

For now,
the paddling keeps
the water open
and sends small ripples
under the ice.
Have the fish noticed?
Do they wait their turn
to swim in small
circles of sunlight?

Inside my boots
I flex my toes
it is too soon
to step out
and touch.

Lake Harriet, May 8
Joe Alfano

In May
the cedars
on the north shore
stand out
with their darker greens.
and deeply grooved bark,
gnarled and ready to peel.

Their surfaces
show the knots and scars
of former limbs,
the results of a long life
and the sharp saws
of spring hires.

Five Haiku From Takayama

Doug Wilhide

In Takayama by the river
small feet step quickly.
Spring is late.
The river moves
the mountain’s winter.
past Takayama’s cherry trees.
Cherry trees bloom in the mountains.
The Shogun’s floorboards
squeak like small birds.
Icy falls carry cherry petals
tumbling down from Takayama.
Charcoal fires haunt
old houses above Takayama.
Tokyo blooms.

Kevin Zepper

The honey brown marmoset
at the Wakeville Zoological Gardens
continues to scratch his privates
in front of me
through the glass divider of the cage.

I find something familiar
in the pink naked face
staring back at me through the glass,
tropical boughs criss-crossing
the marmoset’s jungle cubicle.

Uncle Jake, it’s Uncle Jake.
That’s him, he always does that
at family gatherings.
He doesn’t care if I see him
scratching his testicles or not,
grilling steaks, burning weenies,
drinking beer and accidentally
puncturing people with lawn Jarts.
When he drank,
he called everyone “bananas”
and tried to tug his trousers up
to mask his vertical smile.

I look closer in the cage and realize
this marmoset has no pencil-thin mustache.
That’s Jake’s trademark,
his shadow of masculinity.
I mistook the marmoset for someone else,
another relative perhaps.
I scratch my butt and wonder who.

To My Mom

Emma Knighton

it’s your 50th birthday today
and for the past 15 years,
you have disregarded yourself
to wipe away my tears

you have been there for me when I was sick
in my bed next to me would you lay
singing me to sleep
“I love my darling Emma” you would say

you have been there for me when I was sad
not even stopping to ask why
you would take me in your arms
and just let me cry

you have been there for me when I was scared
let me huddle next to you at night
ignoring my jerking and kicking
to make sure I would come to no fright

I know that we fight
and I claim that you ruin my life
but you really should know
that it’s just my teenager strife

you’re my mother, what more can I say
I follow after you, your way is my way

and now on your birthday
I wish to give to you
everything you have given me
but all I can say is that I love you too.


Howard Arthur Osborn

You’ve never seen stress until you’ve been bed
with a seamstress who sleeps with her needle and thread

Afraid she might lose’m they’re tucked in her bosom
or thrust through the cap, on the bun, on her head
Penetration is yours at the drop of a hat,
For her it takes longer, she has to prepare
with her prayers, to repair any rents
in her ego, past, present or future.

Yours, just deflated by the prick of a needle,
will quickly respond when she starts to wheedle.
In the middle of foreplay
she starts to fiddle and fume
it’s too light in the room,
and she’s quite certain,
through the tear in the curtain,
the neighbors can see and assume.

And so right away, not the very next day,
she’s up and she’s at’m, and when you resume
I’ll be darned! she’s in satin.
Just when you’re ready to go for the score
there’s a two-minute-warning, and what’s more,
when play continues she’s changed to defense.

This gal who you’ve wooed
with your charm and your booze
Will, without warning, up
and refuse to go any further
without knowing your views —
whether dogs should be neutered
and kids should be tutored
before they’re permitted to visit the zoos.

You’re right at the climax when out of the blue
she’ll remember your tie is the very same hue
as her pink linen blouse. What she’d like to do
is make you a shirt so you’ll share in the view
like in Cloudless Endeavor that’s right close
to Heaven just up the street from the Seven Eleven.

And that will remind her she needs butter too.
And maybe, just maybe, she’ll use it on you.
Your heart’s in a flutter, and she’ll gently mutter
that farts are signs of emotion too.
When you start to laugh at this fantastic gaff
she’ll turn all teary and say she’s too weary.
Come back tomorrow. Be ready at two
for fitting your pink shirt — and maybe more too.

Cathy Cato

The chameleon does not turn color
to match his background like I thought..
Transformations occur to adjust
for light and temperature.
Just as humans wear white
in the sun drenched summer —
this reptile does the same with skin.

Emotions change skin tones too, not
unlike we who flush and blush —
reds and yellows are more visible
when threatened. Anger darkens skin

And when
the chameleon goes a courting
he wears his brightest colors – turns
from brown to bright blue or green
to brilliant turquoise.

The female
says yes or no in colored response.
The rejected suitor fades back to normal,
but at least he knows
there is no
in between.

Michael Miller

Over a fine dinner and
a glass of wine
she and I shared the
wondrous discovery that
we are no longer aging.

Now that work (in the conventional sense)
has been put behind,
time no longer passes
as it always did.

We now observe Christmases
the bloom of spring flowers in the woods
and birthdays.
Summers come and go in a blur
of waves and sunsets.

Children are born and
quickly grow as
more arrive to take their places.

But she and I adrift in a timeless love
note the comings and goings
watching, commenting
cheering them on.

We then return to our dinner
another glass of wine
speaking of the next trip north
perhaps to New York or Europe
(most likely Duluth).

Content in our seasons
and the warmth of each other
there is no other need,
in our timeless world.

Looking into her eyes
life no longer changes,
gazing at the winter world
passing in the traffic outside,
we are home.

Chuck Boe

Searching for sparkles
and glimpses of brightness
soul savoring sweetness
like afternoon tea.

Snowmen and shamans,
stars circling the sky.
Surprise comes in many ways.

Spark the flame within my breast.
Shimmer before these eyes.
Caress and breathe gently
between parted lips,

meet fear with tenderness.
Slip abundance in my hand,
and waltz me to the fullness
of desire.