Nearly a hundred years ago, D.H. Lawrence published a book of poems called “Look, We Have Come Through!” The poems are very good, but the title is perfect for Minnesotans at the end of another long winter.
Yes … we have come through and our local poets celebrate the event — some familiar voices and some welcome new ones. We offer poems that move from winter troubles to warmer times, from cynicism to hope, with musings and odd images thrown in and, as always, love.
April is National Poetry Month and I urge you to join the celebration: read a poem; write a poem; ask your kids to write a poem; share a poem with a friend; buy a book of poems; talk to a poet; find a poetry reading and go. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much better you feel.
This issue marks the seventh year (!) of the Southwest Journal Poetry Project. Thanks to all who have participated — as contributors and as readers. The next deadline is June 14 — send your best work to [email protected]. And keep writing!
Poet Laureate of Linden Hills and Contributing Poetry Editor
Winter, Before We Forget
Winter comes like the plow.
At first, it is just a rumbling in the distance,
a long way off but closer than it seems.
One might mistake it for something else,
our own fatigue or a disturbance of the light.
Soon and undeniably,
it is bearing down on us,
even as we sleep,
thundering up the hill right for us.
Then it is directly below the bedroom window,
so close we could toss a note or a flower down to it.
It vibrates in our hearts like a pipe organ’s lowest tones,
shakes the bones of the house,
and we fear it will sweep us away too,
and push us along indefinitely.
We can sense its great power
without even having to peek between the blinds.
Once it has passed, we are at ease again,
no longer braced against its force,
and we quickly forget that it was here.
A Brief Defense of Our Cold Land
An old friend likes to call when it’s bitterly cold
and announce its seventy-seven and sunny in Florida.
As if I’ve made a mistake by staying here.
But he’s forgotten how navy blue Lake Calhoun is after ice out.
He’s forgotten the sound of melt water falling into storm sewers
and of suddenly friendly strangers conversing on the #4 bus.
He’s forgotten the swoon-worthy scents of new mud,
of fresh earth and of wind and melting snow.
He’s forgotten about how the ice shines
and the redemption of once again paying for our sins
by surviving another Minnesota winter.
Three nuns on motorcycles go roaring by.
Each of them has that look in her eye.
Each of them has the wind in her wimple.
Maybe the explanation is simple?
Maybe they see themselves as routine?
Dull as dishwater? Background in a scene?
Maybe they do not see themselves as odd?
It’s just that they’re white-clad female bikers for God.
Heaven, it seems, can be in a hurry
If there is some sort of work to be done
By a sadhu or a nun.
The holy women accelerate — and the pedestrians scurry.
This box you put me in does not fit
As a matter of fact it’s not me at all
It has harsh edges, sharp crevices and
Where is my whistle?
I would like to blow it
Freeze this pane
This motion picture must end!
I do not want the starring role in this movie
It was created for someone else
It limits my scope, my purview
And it traps my inner beauty,
You can have this box it does not fit!
Globalization, the Sequel
They traveled to Bombay, Christchurch and Rangoon
And settled the suburbs of Saskatoon;
They were seen in Sydney, Ceylon and Somalia
And the jungles and beaches around Guiana;
They went wherever a map could inspire:
The sun never set on the British Empire.
My son’s in Japan; he’s lived there now twice
He’s abandoned Minnesota, enjoys eating rice;
He married a French girl who pinches his ear:
They’re happy — in love, though he can’t find good beer.
My wife is there with them now, just for the fun;
She flew to Osaka to see the grandson.
My daughter sends postcards from New York and London,
drinks whiskey in Portland, Utrecht and Scotland;
She’s immersed in the research of her dissertation,
and travels the world to make presentations;
She gives talks in Toronto and Pensacola
And visits the boyfriend in Arizona.
Meanwhile I sit here, growing older and older,
Nursing my sore neck, sore knees and my shoulder.
I’ve had my days as a long distance traveler
But it’s not like when I was a blue water sailor.
Still, some days the Empire has nothing on me:
The sun never sets on my family.
Spring on Lake Harriet
Listen to the clink of a million shards of ice
chinking chandeliers in a percussive wave
of wind as if the orchestra of an apparition.
It’s a tinkling pitch against the low blowing gusts
of air swooshing effortlessly anything
loose in its path
including abandoned apparel;
mittens and hats hanging
so carefully on low boughs.
Catch them if you can.
Like glasses at a wedding party toasting
one after another
without a final signal to commence
the bridal kiss;
perhaps two or more lips have found
themselves locked in eternity
here, weathered like the tree limbs
hanging frigid, semi permeable and frothy
in the shattered water, one season after another.
What spirit is this?
The shadow of winter followed me around its shore
whispering thank you for coming
clink clink clink
I am a guest in this house.
The lake appeared like a continent,
each layer of ice floating
now disconnected to one neighbor,
now connected to another by causeways
unsafe to anyone
but ducks who are unaware
except to the rhythm of courtship
— although I’ve never seen a duck kiss.
Shallow sheets of ice sway,
peninsulas of promise that
we are not an island after all
but it might be a long way to get around.
There is no smell of the green earth or mud or sweat
or even the water itself
and this absence is a trickster
on the chilled wind that blows me
just enough into longing for you.
The Urban Young
Bearded and/or beautiful, sprung
from farms and suburbs, they cycle,
see? Jobs, lovers, psychologies.
They are waxing, arcing.
Hip city neighborhoods strung
under a full moon, darkening.
Step it out five years: so long —
footfall of a fresh generation
in the same general impression.
Something More Than Waiting
On a basalt peak above the tree line
mule deer stand cloven and blink east
as the upside down sky
falls from shadow safe black
to gold-clawed blue
to strike an outcrop
called Eagle Rock.
There must be something
more important than unhappiness.
Stand, bent to the wind,
careful and organized as cauliflower.
On a concrete street
join the bus stop line
with small, constipated steps.
Look at a watch
exhale to kill time.
the bus is late again.
If you want small talk
buy a parrot.
Spin your heels
hurry up and wait
rush rest repeat.
the sun strikes signs of spring
the day calls the deer to cover.
Hooves and hearts,
feet and earth beat in time.
To Be an Egg
Oh, to be an egg
To have a shell protective
A warm bottomed guardian too
Watching like a detective
Inside, no need to beg
you have all you desire
You’re safe from nasty elements
a little fella with a fire
And then one day, a crack
on the plaster of the ceiling
some disaster is surely happening,
something very unappealing
And though you try to spackle
the crack keeps on revealing
an outside world creeping in
against your will and feeling
So hide from it you may
for a little while longer
But even your warm bottomed friend is now
encouraging you to wander
And so your world falls away
and it is quite overwhelming
a light so bright it gives you fright
and air so cold you’re crying
But in a second, something has you
something fine and dandy
your warm bottomed friend has made for you
a bed like wine and brandy
And so you sleep, because after all
it has been quite a day
Tomorrow you’ll wake to a world that’s yours
to do with it what you may.
Things I Forgot about Spring
I forgot how long the winter was
and how much wind had blown.
At five years old I stare
at where I buried Legos,
so sure this was the spot.
I forgot how tulips smell,
like muslin in the air.
I try to show my son
that when you sniff,
you don’t breathe out, but in.
I forgot the noise of water,
trickling off the rooftops.
He is on the back step squealing,
not knowing yet that he can take
the step, without me.
Lisa Calame Berg
Today started without anything
being lost or going backward,
without a knot that needed
to be untied or a word
that should have been left
in the throat or, better yet,
unthought so as not to pose
even the least danger of choking.
Today we awaken, able
to calm the bucking jet stream,
accomplish cold fusion, touch
the face of time. Everything
is possible and nothing
that was is yet.