Fall poetry project

Autumn is bittersweet in Minnesota. It’s beautiful of course, but deep in our bones we know the beauty is only leaf-deep: summer is gone; winter is coming. This sense of good times fading and cold times approaching seems to have penetrated the mood of local poets. We got a lot of moving poems about death and dying, sickness, sadness and departed friends.

Still, this collection has its lighter moments. Some fantasy, some singing, some fresh fruit and even some dancing. As the days get shorter and darker, we find ways to lighten up.

Fall poetry events are in the planning stages. To keep up to date, go to wilhide.com and click on “poetry matters.” And remember:  You can access past issues of the Poetry Project by clicking on the “search archives” button and typing in my last name — “Wilhide.”

The deadline for the December issue is Nov. 23.  Please send your best work to [email protected] Keep writing.

— Doug Wilhide is the Poet Laureate of Linden Hills and contributing poetry editor for the Southwest Journal.

Free Range
Carrie Bassett            

I drove up the road to buy
free range eggs,    
and almost ran over
the free range chickens.
The white geese
snaked their necks at me and hissed.    
At the house, a free range man,
masculine-enough looking,
had long red painted fingernails.

A taste test for the eggs,
free range vs. store bought:

Store bought:
Gold yolks
The white tasted like the butter it was fried in
Cooked yolk — like other eggs I have eaten.

Free range:  
Deep gold yolks       
The white tasted like the butter it was fried in
Cooked yolk — deeper, richer, more intense taste —
how do you describe taste?

Who am I kidding?


Empty Nest                
Lisa Taylor Lake

An empty nest is filled
With the memory of possibility
That has flown away.
The round soft cavity one day
Becomes too small;
Everyone has to learn to fly.

Fledglings do not meditate
On the transformation that is about to occur.
Or pray for guidance on their first flight.
Or sharpen their minds to danger and difficult times.
Or give thanks for all that brought them to where they are.

They simply grow too big,
And their wings suddenly
Can do nothing
But carry them
Over the edge.


G. Scott
I’ve been most places I’ve wanted to go,
And seen most things I’ve wanted to see.
I’ve met most of the people I’ve wanted to know.
In short, my life’s been what I want it to be.
I’ve done most things I’ve wanted to do,
But I have a strong need to learn more
Not the learning one gets out of library books,
But experiences that unlock the mind’s door.
I’ve experienced love; I’ve experienced hope,
Sadness, wonder, fear and elation;
The feeling one gets from a night of sweet love.
And the thrill of being in on creation.
There’s one more experience I look forward to:
The ultimate one, and I know I must do it.
I won’t rush in to see what it’s like.
I’ll wait, That’s all there is to it.
This experience will come when the time is right.
I have no notion of when, where, or why.
The great event I look forward to now,
Is learning first hand what it’s like to die.


Rebecca Surmont
We were in “Contemporary American Writers.”
He hovered silently as a fish in the back of the room.
How appropriate we were reading Moby Dick;
The drones of nautical notation,  
anti-climactic waves of adjectives
And a character, obsessive, unrelenting
To snare his beast.
“Call me Ishmael.”  

We called the mysterious guy in the back, “Aquaman.”
It was his blue polyester suit
Worn a little too tightly — an aerodynamic body filling it —
and barrel chest I was sure housed molded 6-pack abs which  
Promised buoyancy and longevity for swimming
Miles under the weight of water.
Out of a contrasting coral-red turtleneck,  
Sprouted an oval head with slick brown hair and a
Completely non-expressive face, wide enough for
where the gills should have been.
His suit was second-hand proof his needs were few.
That was all he ever wore.
The full moon delivered an isolated aura
That hanged breathless as I  
Entertained death in a depressive march to class.
I thought how often I felt the keel of my  
thoughts steering away and toward
The center of expiration so quickly.  
My ocean drying up, bones adrift,
My soul released like fish.
English Departments couldn’t breed that
Much unhappiness, could they?
I answered, “No” that day — and every day after.
My victory. I walked.
We were curious he hadn’t shown up for the
Lectures for two classes.
Where was Aquaman
in his swampy-smelling, sea–blue suit?
We got the word that speared us all — 
He too had dwelt in isolation,
compelled to fell a beast beyond the deep,
a wailing demon so formidable: himself.
He didn’t know his own power.
It only took one try —
One rope, one stool, one step
One month before graduation. No net.
I wondered if he had worn the red turtle neck.
I imagined him swimming eternally and
I hated Moby Dick.  


Michael Kennedy

Don’t answer your cell phone.
Put away your watch.

Turn off the air conditioner.
Open the windows and
let your hair get messy.

Smell the fields and
the breakfasts.
Listen to the motorcycles
and tires on the road.

Now turn off the interstate
get on a two-lane road
and for god’s sake slow down.
You wanted a car trip
now here it is.

Don’t calculate how many miles
you have to go.
Keep an eye out for a good
BLT and hot apple pie.
Count how many deer you see.
Look at an abandoned house and
go on in.

What’s your hurry?
This is your trip
your time
your life.
Let it be rich in the little highways
nobody wants to see.

Yes, you have a goal
but nobody said it had to be imminent.
Evil spirits travel on straight lines
Be circuitous.


Ode to Bukowski
Ashley Warren

I’ve got a little blue bird in my heart, too.
I’ve let a few people see her
even touch her
sitting there quietly in her golden cage.

But most of the time I get her drunk with whisky
and cheap red wine
and fill her lungs with nicotine.
When she’s lonely I give her meaningless sex
and only let her out to sing when no one is around.

I tell her, “We’re not there yet.”
When we get there I promise to set you free.
Just wait a little longer.
I know it’s miserable in there
with no one to cradle you and comfort you.

Don’t cry. Be strong.
Where’d that shell go I gave you?
Put that back on.
Just a little while longer.
The time will come
when you won’t be alone anymore.


Doug Wilhide

They start creeping north
from about as far south as you can get:
Chili (the country not the soup)
sometime around late February.

March brings fatter and fresher specimens
from Mexico, though the plastic cartons are thin.
I examine closely, turning them upside down
checking for round plump Raphael-like ripeness

By April Florida has called in, bringing the heat:
waves of fat, farmed, full quarts fill the shelves
so deeply discounted you can’t afford not to buy.

We work our way up the coast: North Carolina
ships luscious, juicy, minor works of art. Is that
a hint of mountain moonshine you taste,
or the fresh sea breeze of the coast?

New Jersey blues are part of the blessing
of June: harvested in sandy, coastal barrens,
perfect and plentiful with a salt air tanginess.

Out East the crop goes down east to Maine
but here in the Midwest we go coastal:
Oregon berries arrive on the shelves
followed by relatives from Washington.

By late summer we are self-sufficient.  
Michigan blues are fat and fresh for a several weeks
While Bayfield berries burst with Superior light,
glad to have dodged foraging deer and bears.

You know the end is near when the labels
add a second language and the cartons
come from Canada. The crop is heading north
as the sun heads south.

Winter would be berry-less, but for my secret stash:
the freezer overflows
with baggies full of fast-frozen fruit —
reminders when I need one:
It’s always summer somewhere.


For Michael    
Cathy Cato

My mind was already at work on the way there.  
And then, I trailed a school bus.
I turned off the radio
and defrosted the car window.
With each stop I breathed deeply,
and listened to the scenes.  

At most stops, there were small groups of mothers
with babies and toddlers on their hips.
Their children, bundled and booted to ward off
the chilling bone cold. A loyal dog
here and there.

In one slanted driveway, a small girl and smaller boy
clad in quilted jackets made their way stiffly,
taking baby steps on a sheet of glare ice.
Tiny feet work only so well; they both fell,
and got up in unison.  Falling when one is their size
bears so little danger, especially when padded.
Yet still, there was no one there.

At one stop, the mothers stood in a circle, talking  
with each other animatedly,
as if they were all stars in their own movies.
To the side there was one father,
watching all the children
while speaking to his own.
The bus pulled up to an especially icy spot.
The father placed himself between the curb
and the bus — offering a steady hand
to each child.  A safe bridge from here
to there.

And, when the bus began to pull
away, the father held his gaze
as he walked alongside,
at the same speed
that his daughter would walk
years from now
down the aisle.  


Maria Campo

I was walking down Hennepin Avenue
when the green light turned red.
With my foot midair
I landed on the moon and holy cow!
Smoke came up from a crater near by,
and the scent, mmm…
the scent of chili filled the air
leaving me in a puzzle …
should I go back home now
or have dinner first?


Goodtime Guitar
Shannon King

I want to play the blues,
but you want to play — Mozart.
What is this disconnect
between my achy-breakey heart,
and fingers plucking furiously
a jazzed up minuet, brighter
than a banjo playing bluegrass?
If you don’t stop,
I’ll replace you with a harpsichord.

Ah, that Mozart knew what he was doing;
forget those moaning blues
Snap your fingers, click your heels,
Leave broken hearts unspoken.


Recognizing Desire (for Paul Botes)

Recognizing desire    
is the root of all pain,
I have surrendered to it completely,
Knowing that we own nothing,
I covet the treasure of your love.
And though the future does not exist,
Every moment I’m not with you,
I am waiting for your kiss.

Promises are pointless.
They just reflect our feelings now.
Make one if you feel reckless.
They’re irrelevant anyhow.
Sorrow is a part of love,
The bitter pit inside the peach.
And don’t forget contentment
Always slips beyond the reach.

With resigned and sympathetic grin,
I spout these things again and again
Like holding up a talisman,

’Til finally, yesterday you said,
“As for the future, we’ll wait and see,”
And my heart cramped up with dread.


At The End of the Day
Michael Miller    

Echoes of laughter fade over the lake as
quiet returns to the woods and waters.
The last car departs full of tanned sleepy children
and the stuff of vacations at the cabin.

Maggie’s trivia question at breakfast was
“Where will you be in ten years?”
We looked at each other in silence
sharing the same thoughts —
so many years already past and
the mystery of how many
may still lie ahead.
But today is today and will last forever.
We talk about the fun, the children,
and, as golden shafts of evening sun
stream through the trees and into the kitchen,
we put on a favorite…
“Could I Have This Dance
For The Rest of My Life?”

We stand silently,
reach out our arms,
and we dance.