Southwest poetry project

Mead is a beer-like beverage that has been around for as long as humans have celebrated holidays. A long time ago, at a university far away, I went to a party where mead made from an ancient recipe was the featured treat. The medieval literature faculty were the hosts, and the mead was served early and often. Singing broke out. The evening ended, as I recall, when the head of the department decided to demonstrate some of the moves she had mastered as a Rockette 30 years before. Who knew medievalists could be such fun?

The holidays are full of incongruities like this. There are comings and goings, anticipation and remembering, hope and frustration, joy and disappointment, getting and giving, the profane pleasures of shopping and parties, the profound ones of worship and prayer. The dozen poems presented here span their own seasonal space and range of emotions.

That long-ago party included the recitation of a holiday poem that dates back about a thousand years. I don’t remember all of it, but the last lines translated to: May you arrive at the place where you want to be/ but more importantly/ may you find joy in the journey.

Our next Poetry Project spread will be in the spring. 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.

Jim Russell

Santa’s dysfunctional reindeer

Are causing him problems this year.

They can’t pull his sleigh full of goodies.

No more will they spread Christmas cheer.

Dasher got booked as a masher

He hit on poor Cupid last week.

Vixen has chronic arthritis

Her knees are exceedingly weak.

Dancer has hoof-and-mouth hiccups

He hics ninety times every day.

Comet’s beginning to vomit

And Prancer is openly gay.

Donner got drunk at a party

And punched out an innocent elf.

Blitzen, thank God, is still healthy

But he can’t pull that sleigh by himself.

Now Santa has found the solution

The toys will get through, with some luck.

That noise that you hear on your rooftop

Will be a brown UPS truck!


Ross Plovnick

On the half-lit shortest day of December

you have half a mind to lash back

at the ice storm snapping limbs

like fingers, ignore the driving snow

that’s making roads a crash course

in impossible, pack your car for spring

and drive far south enough to bask

outside boot-free

until your spouse appears, waving

complimentary tickets for you to spend

the weekend cross-country skiing

two-hundred miles north of Minneapolis

at some permafrost resort that’s selling

timeshares, and your mind repacks the car

with every tool of winter you’ll have to have

to make it past your street.

Cathy Cato

Instantaneous — a fleeting flash of light —

A painless stride,

you and your children

by his side.

He smiles as he holds

his daughter and son, assuring

them — they have been training

for this since birth.

He turns to you in loving embrace,

and whispers, “You

will be fine — just fine …” 

and that he will miss you

the children

this place.

One last strong

eloquent stride at a slower pace

preparing to rest, he tells you 

it is too soon for you to go. 

You will know when — and

until then — he will be waiting

so quietly

so patiently

for his bride.

Christine Fraser    


Slowly, leisurely,

as though striding through a formal garden,

the bear wanders past our camp.

Shaggy, toffee fur

with splotches of white on his back,

he lumbers onward

in determined search of berries and bugs.

He ignores us and our firmly staked tents,

carefully aligned boots,

and tightly secured packs

oblivious to our worried whispered words

and the brave, defiant whirring and clicking of

the cameras

capturing his image to prove this near encounter.

Rapt, he keeps his eyes only on the ground,

stepping heavily on thick fallen branches,

snapping each easily in two.

We see him swagger deeper into the forest,

nosing the bushes,

without looking back.


Troubles (the ones we fear, the ones we dread so daily

as we wash the dishes, take a shower, drive the car)

often simply pass by our comfortable camps,

leaving us to watch and wait

for any sign of the next one.

Tanja Birke

I know you in the world of illusion,

where we wear our paper crowns

and talk of small truths

like clouds and wedding rings.

In our uniforms of civility,

boxed-up emotions on the thrift store shelf,

we don’t dare to strike against the rough,

and our matchstick lives march by


Meet me in the real world,

the sacred circle,

that messy place,

where our hearts make a music

that our feet cannot resist

and we carry our uniforms of civility

in knapsacks,

waiting for the ride back home.


Annie Parcels

Dad coaxed me to the woods when the morning
temperatures rose over the new snow.  We skied through
old growth forest.  Too long in the city I had forgotten
its beauty.  Today I noticed how the bark of the Red Pine
had weathered to rose and almost grey, how wide
the trunk of the Cedar, how tall the Hemlock,
and how both Pine and Hemlock creaked in the wind.

We took the longer loop because there were two of us today.

There I noticed the tracks of a smallish deer: the pointy,
Tentative indentations of hooves fresh in the snow between
my skis and later, interspersed along the track, the shape
of very large paws.

(Note: This poem, which was originally printed in “Wisconsin People and Ideas,” has been revised from an earlier version. It was misprinted in the print edition.)

Carrie Bassett


My father died first,

Not an accident.

Not an illness.

Simply old age.

My mother turned her face

to the wall and didn’t eat —

and died, six days later.

Not an accident, not an illness.

Simply old age.

January/Rhode Island

Just before the memorial service,

I looked out over the slate gray ocean

and saw what looked like loons, but brown.


Winter plumage and winter habitat.

One pair stayed apart from the others,

bobbing and diving together,

riding the cold waves as if it was summer.

They were there,

and together and

I know they knew I knew.



My aunt died far across the country.

I went to the county park to be alone with October

the leaves brown but still clinging.


A herd of does emerged from the woods.

One looked at me and kept looking

flickered her soft ears and looked,

raised her soft muzzle and looked.

Then she flicked her tail and turned away,

merging with the trees,

another goodbye.    

Doug Wilhide

There are tall ones, thin ones, short and round ones

Big ones that fill cathedral spaces

Small ones that sit quietly

on tables by teacups

All begin in hope and celebration,

their deep forest smell a promise:

silent nights, holy nights, snow falling,

a new year, a new life.

Give them a little to drink

and they become the life of the party

aromatic, fat-needled,

decked out in lights and ornaments.

The kids love them like crazy

They seem mysterious and so much bigger

from the ground, looking up:

What secrets hide inside those dark branches?

Ours this year was an elegant beauty,

long-limbed and well-proportioned,

with blue lights and a gold chain

girdling her neck, waist and bodice.

We kept her well tended for weeks

until we become too familiar, forgetful.

Her soft, smooth needles began

to fade and fall off.

In the end, she was moved to a snowbank

where she stood bravely,

facing off against winter, homeless,

then hauled away.

G. Scott

A man had a beautiful girlfriend

Who, sometimes, was a bit of a flake.

She’d call him at very odd moments

To solve problems, or fix a mistake.

One Christmas Eve, she gave him a call.

She was worried, there was no doubt.

She just got a jigsaw puzzle

Which she simply could not figure out.

“What does the puzzle look like?” he asked.

“The box should give you a clue.”

“On the box, there’s a great big rooster,

“With a background of red, white and blue.”

He said he’d come over to help her,

So she could put it together.

He got into his car, and drove over,

In spite of the blizzard-like weather

When he got to her place, she was panicked;

And said, We’ll never put it together

He agreed with her, as soon as he saw it;

But he hated going home in that weather.

He said, “Let’s have a small Christmas toddy.

“I’ll have a Scotch on the rocks.

“We can look at the storm and each other,

“Then put the cornflakes back in the box.”

Maria Campo

Merry Christmas to you, lover of mine

who came with the snow of a winter night

and melted with the first sun of spring.

Merry Christmas to you, lover of mine.

I have caroling to do

about the why and why-not

we are not together now that the snow is back.


Merry Christmas to you, lover of mine

who has not signed your card

nor sent it this way,

so that I could use it to light

the fire in the fireplace,

and warm up the night.

Merry Christmas, lover of mine,

Merry Christmas to you.

Amber Leigh

A haircut

a fifty-acre farm

a titanium spine

a hairless furry flying dog

a touch of your beard in bed

But not necessarily in that order

Karyn Milos

Roll out the barrel!  Break open the wine!

Rejoicing and singing, now gather to dine.

The hall is made festive with garlands and bows:

Celebrate with us this season of snows!

We wish you good health,

We wish you good cheer,

A good holiday and a happy new year!

The table is laden, the hearth is ablaze;

Waste no regret on the now-bygone days.

Let go of the old year and look to the new!

Feast and make merry and dance the night through!

We wish you good health,

We wish you good cheer,

A good holiday and a happy new year!