Autumn Southwest Poetry Project

Aaah, autumn. There’s an irresistible energy in the air. Kids are carried away in yellow buses, trees blush, nights cool, the lakes catch a sky blue chill. This time of year the old songs bring a jolt of nostalgia: It’s late September and I really should be back at school.

Poetry is an odd thing to take seriously when the world is so full of everything else. Yet many of us do. English majors get degrees for studying it, which they use to get jobs that have little to do with poetry. Business majors get degrees from liberal arts colleges that have little desire to be called vocational schools. There are mysteries all around us.
Robert Frost said, “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” This edition of the Southwest Poetry Project includes a variety of mysteries and conditions.

We have poems about summer, fishing, spiders, raccoons and birds heading south. We also have comments on tattoos, tears, Buddhas and remembering. All have something that is worth your consideration.
Poems for the next edition of the Southwest Poetry Project are due Nov. 26. Selected poems will be published in the Dec. 17–30 edition of the Southwest Journal. If you’ve sent poems we’ve published, send more. If you’ve sent poems we haven’t, keep trying. If you haven’t yet sent poems, please do. And if you want to see more, go to southwestjournal.com, where we’ll post these poems and others. Keep writing.

— Doug Wilhide, contributing editor and Linden Hills Poet Laureate

LAKE HARRIET SUMMER
Joe Alfano

August 7
The glassy water
reflects boats moored to its surface,
a strange species of distorted but
symmetrical butterfly

From this mirror rise
fish that break the surface and disappear,
teasing the fishermen on the shore,
who take the bait and cast their lines
toward the sky.

July 5
Hatched midges come together
to mate in frenzy, zip erratically
hundreds of tiny
punctured balloons
in a cloud
of sneezed aerosol fuzz
that leaves walkers
with grimaced faces
trying to exhale only
while waving arms and body:
dancers at the party.

July 18
June bug
a month late,
in a summer
that came early,
is sniffed by dogs
and dodged by feet
as its slow carapace
shoves its way
across the blacktop path.

PHOTOGRAPHS
Linda Oeltjenbruns

My father’s father
Sprawled leisurely in a rocking chair
Accidentally poetic
Captured for a moment
in black and white posterity.

A favorite car
A lake that looks familiar
His son, his daughter
His wife, his view.
His shadow in a scene
that would otherwise
be still life.

AUTUMN 1947
Gayle Mohrbacker

Mind quick,
judgment terrible.
Wisely though,
he kept short
his visits to Chicago
where he’d have drawn
the wrong kind of attention
and turned up dead.

For all the grief he gave her,
he could’ve been a trumpet player.
Loved money ~
thought saving it was wasting it.
He always knew
when she had something
squirreled away.

Hadn’t wanted the baby,
then saw her ~
wanted to name her
after his mother.
He imagined her grown up
driving alone in a red convertible.
This would have meant
he’d managed to become rich.

His wife left him a day before
their tenth anniversary.
He was away.
There was no divorce.
She wrapped her wedding rings
in waxed paper with the words
“NOT LOST”
and pushed the little packet down
between streetcar seat cushions
on the way to the train station.

NAKED FLIGHT
Michael John Kennedy

The birds fly south in flocks by the hundreds.
I stop and watch while dawn is pink and huge.
The river of ducks, grows, flows, and floods.

I wish I could stay; admire this sky fugue.
The sails of wings, the silent understandings.
Like stars — a mystery beyond clues.

My eyes lower to the city traffic.
I watch my step crossing the street.
Above they fly with no sense of panic.
I rush — my shoes clamping around my feet.

THE FASTIDIOUS SPIDER
Doug Wilhide

Right after sunrise, as I sit with my coffee
the big spider comes out to inspect his web.
There’s a pause while he admires his work.
I take another sip. We yawn and stretch.

Then he gets to work, surprisingly,
rolling the damn thing up!
He’s focused and efficient,
hanging upside down,
little feet scurrying like tiny scythes.
The intricate geometry is collapsed quickly;
silk seems to be absorbed into his stomach
and the dew disappears.

He leaves a strand or two attached to a bush
(almost invisible in the early light)
and climbs into the overhanging spruce.
At the end the last strands vanish
and so does the spider.

I put down my coffee and think:
today I must do work this important!
I’ll take pictures of flowers before they die,
Give my children advice they won’t remember,
Console friends who grieve,
Recollect things no one cares about but me,

Or write poetry.

THE STOP SIGN AND THE TAGGER’S INTENT

David Banks

he might have been out of ammunition
or, lacking the aim or violent ambition,
could not shoot holes in its theory.

yet clearly he took offense
to its red-faced dogma —
to its no-two-ways-about-it demand.

how he must have hated it:
rigid yet reflective in the night.

so he approached it with his mushroom mark,
spraying his flourish far past
the clean edge of authority,

immune to the head-turning plea
repeated in perpetuity
as time and time’s accomplices rolled by.

EEK SQUAD
Howard Arthur Osborn


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or be skinned — at that
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or games, even your priorities.
Try puzzle teases. Join the dots.
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Divorces are our specialty — get two for one!
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Have old tattoos mounted in a video scrapbook
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STRANGE CATCH
D.B. Hart

Pooled in the mouth of a country culvert,
three blush and burnt-red koi nibble
a floating willow twig.
Self-arranged, they sway
perpendicular to the stem
like leaves on a bamboo shoot.
Party-colored kites,
these fish fly the far side of noon skies.

Later on, heedless of midnight din —
moth rattle, lizard scream —
a raccoon rinses her hands in the bruised water.
One of the carp flops in the mud beside her,
moon-bleached, palely unpretty.
Tasting it, the coon detects
a hint of sesame,
tang of soy sauce,
burst of ginger.
She chews, she ruminates
over the unfamiliar flavors,
then proffers bits of sushi
to her young.

REVISITING
Lyle Wedemeyer

When at last I go to heaven,
I will be a child in that town again,
the one with the old men in fedoras,
canes clicking with slow dignity
on sidewalks beneath thick summer elms.

That town with the silver-haired ladies
wearing kind faces and simple print dresses,
patting me gently on the head,
always asking the same question:
“You’re Don and Marilyn’s boy aren’t you?”

That town where we played
late into the warm evenings
as buzzing cicadas mixed with carefree voices,
as lights of small houses flickered on,
as smells of supper poured into the streets.

That town where we could simply exist
Innocent, in the haze of childhood,
Believing — knowing — we were wrapped
around with layers of protection.
Until we no longer were.

When I see them again,
the men will click their canes in welcome
and the ladies in the print dresses
will pat me on the head and say:
“My goodness, look how you’ve grown!”

MY TEARS ARE STILL MY OWN
Northryn Siren

Get Out, forced into the unknown
The brutal end of love and denial
My tears are still my own.

Spent my last two dollars in a pay phone
There is no shelter, is the answer at every dial
Get Out, forced into the unknown.

Two babies and no place to rest, I moan
I have walked the streets from mile to mile
My tears are still my own.

I have hope because I have been shown
My spirit is strong through every trial
Get Out, forced into the unknown.

Saddened together, we rest on a stone
The hurt will fade in a little while
My tears are still my own.

Daylight is dimming like a candle is blown
Cried to the bitter end, now I will smile
Get Out, forced into the unknown

My tears are still my own.

END OF SUMMER
Michael John Kennedy

Standing close to the other side
she bends over the bridge
looking for her reflection

The water bubbles and leaps
in the midst
of its biannual shift

Her imagination calms the surface and
the mirror of her mind returns
the images she’d carried with her
for god knows how long.

She smiles, takes her grandson’s hand
and finishes the crossing.

A BUDDHA DAY
Chuck Boe

A fat Buddha smiled at me the other day.
Walking along, minding my own business,
and there he was:
Bald, and huge, with his robes open
and his pillowy chest
and globular belly hanging out,
smiling at me.

Taken aback,
I wondered why he was smiling.
What did he know?
I have nothing to hide.
Maybe he is just being kind.
I resisted the urge to reach out
and rub his belly for good luck.

I wanted to study this fat Buddha,
but averted my eyes.
I’m far too reserved to get involved.
I peeked back at the fat Buddha
as I hurried along.

I wonder what would have happened
if I had rubbed his belly.

UNLESS YOU SAY GOOD-BYE
Karen Gaskell

Somewhere along the way
I no longer made your day
You make mine I’m here to stay
Unless you say good-bye

I’ll try to make you see
The one who’s best for you is me
I’ll believe that you agree
Unless you say good-bye

Unless you say good-bye
There’s a chance you’ll want to try
Then our love won’t have to die
Unless you say good-bye

Baby I can’t give up yet
I’d end up filled with regret
No need now to get upset
Unless you say good-bye

I’m not going anywhere
I’ll be right here saying a prayer
I’ll believe that you still care
Unless you say good-bye

Unless you say good-bye
There’s a chance you’ll want to try
And our love won’t have to die
Unless you say good-bye

EGRET’S PATH
Alison Childs

Your fine, pale skin shimmers
with even measures.

Blue eyes glowing —
focused, craning,
searching for one more stroke,
one more fact,
one more thought;
always, one more feeling
within bound covers.

Languidly draped,
then stretching
neck and face tilting up
to catch the light.

Reflecting watchers
wondering,
where will you fly?

LAC QUI PARLE COUNTY
Kimberly Blomberg

Back when our circles were small,
rough and gnarled hands
held the reigns of the old plow horse.

Worn and weathered,
our women, whose continuous ritual of
breakfast, dinner, supper,
bread making, soap making,
laundry scrubbing, laundry hanging,
baby birthing, and baby burying,
aged their souls,
left us with that deep faith and tensile strength.

The field stones heaved to the side
are monuments to those leathered and creased faces
whose fingers dug deep into the rich, loamy soil.

I WANT NO LESS & WISH NO MORE
Maria Campo

I wish I had more time
To spend together
To do the things we don’t do more of
Like laying on the bed, reading our heads off
Or baking together chocolate chip cookies.

I wish I had less to worry about
To keep me awake at night
Pushing me to work, work and work.
I wish I had more energy
To play with you as we used to do
And laugh and do dress up
Or go for a walk.

I wish I had more money
So I would not be concerned about the future,
So I could leave my work for a few hours
And together go see a movie.

I wish I had less stress and could smile more
And be silly with you
Paint our fingernails different colors,
Lean against each other and tell stories
Listen to your heart open up to mine.
Here tonight I wish to be
More of the mom I am in my heart.

But time moves past us
And you are now a young girl
Ready, soon, to let go of my hand
And walk on your own.

I wish I had more time
With the little girl in you, my love,
But tonight I have just enough time to tell you
That no matter what life may bring
The best has already arrived
With your eyes and the love I carry inside.

I want no less and I wish no more
Than your love.

LINES FROM THE ROAD
Maren Hinderlie

Hoping to catch a silver trout with a fine line,
We were rushing along the lakeshore
Accelerating as each turn brought us closer
To our destination: the town where poets dwell.

In the lemon light of early evening we gasped.
Someone had cast a strange sight across the water.
Hundreds, thousands of wings rose and fell,
Rose and fell inches above the waves.

I watched their thin line from the corner of my eye,
Undulating through our twilight transparency.
“Did these birds think the water was the sky?”
I wanted to join their flight, to stop, to watch, to cry.
But I drove on in this world that does not know its place.

From LAKE HARRIET SUMMER
Joe Alfano

August 26
Three large masses of clouds
loom high above the tree line
on the far shore of the lake.
Shaped like mountains
overlooking western towns
their white tops rise from, tower above,
low morning clouds and haze.
These phantom towers of moisture
reflect the brilliant orange and pink
of sunrise, while below each cloud peak
are what appear to be
snow covered meadows and
the smooth edges of glaciated slopes.
With amazement I witness
these ghosts of the past
whose weathered cores are the
rocks in the soil below my feet.

September 5
Hundreds of gulls circle
In opposite directions,
Paths cross without collisions.
Daredevils of the bird world
Whistle & scream out.
And fly in
ever changing directions,
Each alone but together:
A coordinated anarchy in the sky.

THESE BLASTED BATHROOM TILES
David Banks

this house was built when the times
tickled the popular muse
with the colors of the baby boom,

boys and girls, surfaces swathed
in appropriate pastels,
and in the interest of equality,

the bathroom took them all in:
blues, slight blues, implausible pink,
not quite shocking, but accosting
the eye to this day:
a clinging retrospective,
dingy and due for remodeling.

the dilemma: what shall win?
a clean slapped layer of authenticity
or the cool slate taint of current taste?