Southwest summer poetry project

Surprise is sometimes a wonderful thing. We find that Minnesota really does have a summer, that we can do things we thought we couldn’t and that all over town people are writing poetry.

This version of the Poetry Project had me worried. There wasn’t a lot in the larder. We had some scraps saved from previous issues and some new poems from reliable contributors. But the deadline was looming. So I did what any good editor would do. I left town for a week, joined a group of friends and biked 458 miles around the northern part
of the state.

When I got back, the shelves were full of tasty morsels from both new and familiar poets. I’ve tried to put together a feast that is both savory and satisfying. But there’s a lot more online we didn’t have room to print — fine poems and a whole range of new voices and perspectives that deserve to be heard and considered. We’ve also stretched the limits of “Southwest” to include work from poets whose hearts are here but who live outside the area. So be sure to visit Think of it as a well earned dessert.

Our next Poetry Project spread will be in the Sept. 22–Oct. 5 issue, with a deadline of Sept. 1. Send your best work to [email protected]. And keep writing.

Doug Wilhide is a contributing editor of the Southwest Journal and Poet Laureate of Linden Hills

Nancy Isaacson

Summer days at the neighborhood park
Starlight Moonlight in the dark
Backyard picnics without decks
Friday nights and dad’s paychecks
Playing jacks and jumping rope
I Love Lucy and Bob Hope

Parents who never went out for a jog
Nurse Carmen, Axel and his Dog
The days before the minivan
Summer nights of Kick the Can
Saturday matinees at the local theater
Dick, Jane and Sally and the Weekly Reader

Families owning just one car
Boys delivering the Minneapolis Star
Go Kart races down the nearest hill
Penny candy ‘til we had our fill
Dialing friends on the rotary phone
The Dairy Queen and the nickel cone

A brand new house in a brand new ‘burb
Burning leaves out on the curb
Going downtown on a city bus
Parents never having to worry about us
Little League teams and basketball
A family trip to the Southdale Mall

The Pledge of Allegiance, the Golden Rule
Howdy Doody and Ding Dong School
Dave Moore every night on Channel 4
Running errands to the corner store
Steelies and Cats-eyes in a marble bag
Schwinn bicycles and a game of tag

Cap guns on the 4th of July
Watching Fury gallop and Sky King fly
An armload of books before backpacks
Walking along old railroad tracks
Overdue books with a two cent fine
Standing in a Red Owl grocery line

Watching Superman on the living room floor
Bottles of milk delivered to our door
Moms who cooked with aprons on
Dads who never edged the lawn
Birthday parties with homemade cakes
Tony the Tiger and Frosted Flakes

Wearing Keds and Buster Brown socks
Days before Nike and the latest Reeboks
Clothes that hung outside to dry
A spanking, not time-out, if caught in a lie
Arthur Godfrey and Jack Paar
When Dad brought home that brand new car

Roof top antennas, black and white TVs
Kool-Aid stands and climbing trees
Five o’clock suppers that were mama made
The Minnesota State Fair, the Aquatenniel Parade
Yes, the days of summer when we could freely roam
In a city that was safe, a city we called home

Another time, another age
We’re all grown up, we’ve turned the page
And yet we’ll always savor that special time
As we savor a nickel cone that now costs $1.59.

David Banks

Call it what you want, this thigh-high slurry,
misty-eyed, whirring reality of mine.
In darker moments, I know what I am.

Company comes again. The soup broth is thin.
What’s that you whisper? Secrets or sins?
That man — that woman — they barge right in
like they own the place. Red jack,
black ten reveals the ace. Why,
they take what they want and slap
my face and leave me alone.
They won’t take me home.
I want to go home!

Withering woman … automatic mind …
I hear you talking.
Forget what I know. Find me my love,
who was lost and was here just moments ago.

Karen Barstad

Today I am the letter Q
Round bottomed, unstable
Teetering precariously on one stumpy leg

K and C can do the job today
They’ll suffice
While I
Uncertain, superfluous, an afterthought
Shyly disappear into the background

Today I am the letter Q
Incomplete Without U


George Scott

A fireman, in front of his station,
Was catching a breath of fresh air
When he saw a little red wagon
And a girl with fiery red hair.

A ladder was hooked on the wagon’s side,
With garden hose coiled in the bed.
The girl had on a fireman’s hat
And was dressed up all in red.

The wagon was drawn by a dog and a cat.
The cat was beginning to wail,
Since the dog was hitched by its collar,
And the cat was hitched by its tail.

The fireman said, “That’s a pretty neat rig,
“And good idea, too.”
The little girl said, “My Uncle Myron
“Is a fireman just like you.”

The fireman said, “That’s a strange looking hitch.
“If you like, I’ll show you how
“To hitch both pets by their collars,
“Instead of the way it is now.”

The little girl said, “No, it’s better this way.
“It was hooked up by my Uncle Myron.
“He said that with this arrangement,
“I’d also have a siren.”


Robert Guard

I saw shoes taking a stand for each other
foot soldiers without a war

Two grey doves on a wire waiting for
a pair of shotgun lovers

Dragonflies joined like skydivers in the air
ignoring love’s gravity

I knew a woman with one breast
smaller than the other

We were not a perfect pair, but she was happy
and so was I

Lovers lay side by side in graveyards
sleeping alone all over again

Two stones skip like kids across the water
one drops like a stone

The land of left socks has a king, but the queen
has not been found.

Pete Steege

She looks at me
Until I see her, and smile
Giggles ensue
Shyness reigns
Chin in chest, she turns away
Still knowing that she is the center of it all.

The connection is cut
Back to my work
Soon she misses celebrity
And looks at me
We begin again.


Doug Wilhide

We said goodbye then
With people there
So it wouldn’t be quite so hard.
And we had said what we wanted to say
Or at least we knew by then
What didn’t need to be said,
So it wasn’t so hard.

We would see each other again
Though we didn’t know when
And we could call and talk
Across the thousands of miles between us.
After all we had known each other
All this time
And would know each other
always and anywhere.
So it wasn’t so hard.

But — both of us — our eyes were tears
And the world and the people were not there,
And that last hug —
How could I not hold you?
How could we separate our hearts
When we felt them beating together?
And how — God, how — could I let go?


Carole Maria Ostlund

The space between us was only a river
on the day that I moved across it.
From dawn past dusk
you telephoned in phases
consistent as the moon.
Your turbulence met my calm,
though you hadn’t given me boxes
or helped me fill them.
On the 7th try you beseeched me
and collapsed in my bed
until your strength waxed
and your guilt waned.

The space between us became a gulf
on the night past the day
that I forged the Mississippi.
You fled down the stairs in the dark–
you became someone else
when I crossed the bridge
with my unguarded heart
as I traversed the unspoken
muddy, Maginot line.


Maria Campo

We lean against each other
youth in our pockets
no worries but to finish
a day of playing in the sun

I feel the breath of time
running alongside
chasing a soccer ball in dusty roads
laughing with us at the stumbles
and the goals.

Our shadows now resting in the shade
sweat rolling,

salty drops licked from upper lips,
hair sticking on forehead,
smiles lingering in our eyes.

Your arm over my shoulder
we look at the street
bathed in mellow sun.
Another ending day
slowly slides away,
but with you on my side,
I am not afraid of time.


Shannon King

On the way to writing poems,
I was distracted by my neighbors.

She — by the curb, bent and pulling
seat covers on her 1950 jeep.
“I was up all night making these.” she said.

He — stopping to admire, opens his jacket.
He is wearing a car seat belt around his waist.
“I got this at Lava Lounge,” he said.
“I had to buy it — it has my initials. See ‘GM’”

Me — I only have my beat-up Dodge;
no passion for car or self that keeps me up all night
or makes me lay out cash for my initials; but I feel blessed.
I have neighbors who set examples —
who keep my imagination on its toes.


Betty Beier

Three seemed so small a number,
And unlucky, too:
Three blind mice
Three strikes … you’re out
Three’s a crowd.

I’d always wanted six or seven to surround me
Girls like me got pride and pluck that way.

“I want” was mine to say,
but almost never means much
when it comes to mother nature:
“I want good weather.
Good teeth
Seven lovely kids …”

So three it was.
Three in the sixties.
Three to make a tight,
light odd number.

And now they’re gone
To work with mother nature
on their own

With two or three or four
Explosions each of glee
Of get up and go
Of lovely children
Just to please me.

Scott Devens

i read about how
some of the men felt
who were involved
in that bridge disaster

of how
the worst thing for them
would have been
never seeing their families

whole lives, whole dreams
falling out from under us
really big, important things
falling apart
treasured pictures
instantly gone

the accident, or the news
then the sudden shift

scared to hit bottom
grasping at anything
holding to hope

falling down
thinking of loved ones
praying for safety

the past
flashing before our eyes
the future
not what was expected.