Wow! Spring must be in the air and in the hearts of Southwest poets. We received one of the strongest batches of poems since we started the Poetry Project. It was very, very difficult to pare the selection down. My thanks — and awe — go out to everyone who sent us their work. Some of it may appear in later issues.
This collection includes animals — from waking bears to household varmints to cuddly kittens; meditations about the joys of children and grandchildren; a suite of “water music” poems, a couple pieces about being in the land of lakes, and odd ditties about feasting and Danny DeVito.
It’s a joy to discover new voices and hear new works from older ones. As pastor (and friend) Jean Greenwood reminded me, in a text from the Song of Solomon: “Listen. In the turning of the season, you shall feast on the beauty I have set before you. Lo, the winter is past. Flowers appear upon the earth, and the time of singing has come.”
The next Poetry Project will appear in July. The deadline for submissions is June 21. Keep writing.
Doug Wilhide is contributing poetry editor of the Southwest Journal and Poet Laureate of Linden Hills.
The Song of the Hibernating Bear
My song resounds through drowsy bones,
As life outside begins to stir.
My song resounds through drowsy bones.
I rise and stretch through rolling fur,
where spring has touched my hidden den
as life outside begins to stir.
At waxing gibbous — winter’s end
I stand here in these yawning caves
where spring has touched my hidden den.
My song aroused like seismic waves.
And after months of cold and famine,
I stand here in these yawning caves.
I’m hungry for a barrel of salmon!
As rivers, brooks and creeks now thrive,
and after months of cold and famine.
I yearn to catch those fish alive!
As rivers brooks and creeks now thrive,
My song resounds through drowsy bones.
My song resounds through drowsy bones.
For Rent: Red Birdfeeder
Sharon R. Spartz
Twelve years I’ve lived in this house,
and there’s been just one mouse;
more recently, on the garage floor, a dead rat!
Would you believe that a bat
squeezed through an upstairs dormer
seeking someplace warmer?
A lone squirrel once sprinted through
the brick fireplace chimney flue.
Spread eagle on the closed glass,
he created hysteria — I screamed and gasped —
and ran to the bedroom to hide,
while he crawled back safely outside.
But when in the backyard alley a second rat
lay dead — killed by a stray Tomcat —
I declared war:
There will be varmints no more!
I hired my brother, Paul, contractor extraordinaire,
who did what none other would dare:
He shot three pesky chipmunks dead,
then buried them properly among a bed
of raspberry plants beside the garage
that he rebuilt — uncovering an army
of carpenter ants — nests too — what next, you say?
Orkin Pest Control arrived the following day
to spray the ants, Asian beetles and crawly creepers
as I cleared out Dad’s specially designed birdfeeder
and raked the sunflower-soaked ground beneath it until
my once chaotic backyard is still —
the squirrels and small critters have bid adieu;
of course, so too the robin, mourning dove, blue jay,
and the showy red cardinal along with his mate
rendezvous elsewhere on their evening date.
Moon on the Water
Once in China
I saw the full moon
Shining on a canal
Built by the Emperor.
I asked to be called
Moon on the Water
But they said
That is a woman’s name.
Watch out for
Those ancient ashes.
Your words won’t be
You will hammer them
Into steel sharp enough
To bend certitudes
Like a sail bends the wind.
You will sleep above the tree line
Of old expectations and
Know the colors of many rivers.
May you sing only new songs
To your own daughters
And laugh with them
At the moon on the water.
Singing the Blues
Blue whales are in the news again
this time — good for them —
not because of imminent extinction
but something more interesting: singing.
Seems they have lowered their voices,
dropped their mating calls a few octaves,
and are bouncing love songs around the ocean
like moonbeams off palm trees.
Instead of calling I love you, I love you, I love you
in an operatic basso profundo
they now call I love you, I love you, I love you
so deeply we can hardly hear them at all.
There are many theories for this deeper
bass line in the blue whale choir:
global warming, tsunamis,
funky krill or maybe the Chinese.
But I think there’s a simpler explanation:
some girl blue off the coast near Monterey
has sent a shout out to some boy blue
a couple miles down near Maui:
Hey big fella, I gotta know,
Hey big fella, I gotta know:
Hey big fella, how low can you go?
Hey big fella, how low can you go?
Alexander J. Theoharides
Between layers of glass,
John’s father watches God swim
the elementary backstroke.
Arms and legs — up out together.
When God tires in the deep end,
John’s father blows a shrill note on a whistle,
which languishes around his neck.
The note saunters through the sultry air,
cocksure of its ability to pierce the concrete walls —
it echoes instead, retreating beneath turbid
layers of pool water.
“Don’t worry,” John’s father tells God.
“Fill your cheeks with air. Flail your arms. Kick your feet.
When you catch your breath, tread water.
If that fails, try the dead man’s float.”
John sees all. He dances on linoleum tiles,
alongside pool. His feet are feathers, his arms are wings.
He soars. He flips. He whirls. He spins.
“Stop that,” his father says, looking away from God.
“I don’t want you to fall in. Can’t you read the signs?
The water’s not safe.”
thinking about having become a grandfather
we make paths
that the land be not as complex
as the water
or the sky
that the children may dance
we make boats
that the water be not as difficult
as the land
nor as elusive as the air
that the children may move
we make structure
to lift children into the air
that it be as attainable
as the land and the water
that the children may breathe
these are just the things we do
for the children
thank God for the children
Mary of the Garden
Cast in plaster, face towards the sky.
Expression serene, hands clasped in prayer,
Barefoot upon roses.
Standing askew and weathered with age.
Spring’s buds poke up near you.
Encased in mud from melting snow.
Giggling children, meandering strollers,
joggers plugged into iPods,
brisk walkers attached to cell phones
parade by as you lean,
unnoticed in the spring mud.
Helene Marie Moon
I was a jealous cat,
A begging dog,
I was the beast that made a feast of you.
My hunger had no time for talk.
This scent is Heavenly Hell it thought.
And stuffed itself on and on
until at last the feast was gone.
A Conversation With My Cat
Oh cat, soft and beautiful,
you are so graceful. …
poised and alert, your dainty footsteps
tiptoe around my chair.
Your playful side emerges
as you chase the catnip mouse
until it slides under the cabinet,
then forlorn, yet utterly charming
your begging eyes plead for assistance.
I set my book down to retrieve your toy
just because I love you,
yet knowing you’ll reward me
with some stolen moments on my lap
when we can perform our duet and meow at each other.
Dear cat, so full of mischief
you make me laugh as you run about
intent on cat business,
jumping into my suitcase when I am trying to pack it,
tapping me softly with your paw when you want attention
sitting by the table and eying my dinner. …
You always understand the importance of being “cat-ly.
Heavenly creature, so dignified and self assured. …
I wonder what you think
as you sprawl across my quilt
keeping me from pulling up the covers.
Don’t worry. I won’t disturb your slumber,
even though I know you will wake me in the morning
with the tickle of your whiskers.
Instead, I will reflect on you, the beauty of your perfection.
and the purpose of your being.
You are friend and companion,
chair warmer, entertainer,
alarm clock, door keeper and often therapist.
Dear pet, the presence of your energy is mood altering.
In a difficult moment I can always manage a smile
just thinking about your cat antics
as I go about my day and the business of being human.
The things that I love are boring
Last night I saw Danny DeVito naked from the back:
His legs were like sturdy tree trunks,
His ass was square and low to the ground,
His back was hairy, and his shoulders were broad.
I felt a secret joy, but when I saw his face he was troubled.
He was a werewolf, but I could tell he didn’t enjoy it.
“The things that I love are boring,” he said to me,
“My hobbies and my fantasies,”
“The people that I love have better things to do.”
“The owls are not what they seem,” I said,
“And the swamp is cold and filthy.”
I placed my hand flat on top of his bald head,
and I could tell that he was deeply annoyed.
Our parents hid the “dirty” books
on the highest shelf of one of the few closets
in our city-scaled apartment.
They signed us up for library cards
at an early age and sent us
off to read in lamp lit corners.
It was a homescape of reading ‑—
books and magazines everywhere —
issues of Life and the Saturday Evening Post
decorated the coffee table. We shared
anecdotes from each issue of the Readers Digest.
Out in the open for all to admire
a leather- bound set of the Encyclopedia Britannica,
while a few books with dusky covers
and names like “Forever Amber” or Lady Chatterly,
words like “unexpurgated” across the faces
were hidden from our view behind
the pink hat boxes and linen tea towels.
Did they think we wouldn’t find out?
The titters and whispers in the school yard,
the purloined copies brought by the daring
made us curious enough to drag a kitchen chair,
stand on the red vinyl seat and, rifling among the goods,
find the censored work and salacious lines.
Standing on a rickety kitchen chair,
When no one was home, at risk of reprimand or swat,
we discovered what the steamy side of life was about,
only to find ourselves mostly puzzled by the details.
Coffee with Strangers
Coffee with strangers
Isn’t as hard as you think
It’s just a drink —
Something to occupy the hands
As you’re making mental plans
Stirring, swishing, non-verbal wishing
Coffee is muy importante when
You’re unemployed —
An illusory savior, a connection
To mystic job-heaven — or
One step closer to Paradise
Ain’t that nice?
Endless swells of Arabica
Deep wells for buckets
Of conversations of an
Intermediate time duration
And liquid contemplation
How many caffeinated dreams
Have come true
Due to ground, pressed and darkly roasted
Exchanges between strangers?
I don’t know.
I get the jitters on the fourth ounce.
Decaf dreams will have to do
And I pray they are as
Blended batches serve as cross-examinations
Of global networking and
Free trade strategies
Of ideas which if left unguarded, might
Be harvested by a nearby conversation farmer
Looking to outsource his own.
Beware of addictive desires to lavish your ownership
Over the stuff. Its after taste lays the
Groundwork for a lot of self processing
And its oils steep when fresh but turn
Sour quickly to the touch.
It’s a rich-u-haul for some
A ritual for others
Today, it’s just a coffee
With a stranger.
We Have Had Singing
On the occasion of the last concert of the
Dale Warland Singers, Sunday, May 30, 2004
We have had singing, years of singing,
singing the best, with the best,
singing like it would never end.
But it did end on Sunday as the
final notes floated to the top of the hall and
the voices, those voices, went silent
Our middle years were measured in
rehearsals, tuxes, dresses, and folders.
The magic walk out into the light, the
butterflies, intense attention,
When John Kennedy died his friend said,
“We will laugh again but we will never be young again.”
And so we may sing again,
we will sing again, but
we will never sing like that again.
Rainland Ballroom, MN
Somewhere someone is doing a rain dance
And doesn’t know when to stop.
Bucket-sized raindrops carry spicy fragrances
from Tigris and Euphrates,
smoke from Cuban cigars, dust from the Parthenon,
smells of sheep’s wool and cow dung from Scotland,
pollen from Amazonian flowers, and
I can almost see
thin strands of coconut hair falling,
and soft hair from a thousand women combing.
This rain carries bright beach pebbles
smaller than grains of sand,
dew from the grassy plains of the Andes,
tiny iridescent worms and conch-shaped,
spiraled snails from all the seas,
and drops of sweat from workers everywhere.
The rain lays all of this
in huge armfuls on my doorstep
accompanied by drums, clanging symbols
How could I be luckier than to live in the land of Minnehaha,
where the high-spirited dancers get lost in the dance?
Take a moment and check out the ocean,
the beach, the cliffs, the cypress trees
and the high-vaulted sky.
What else is there to write about?
What is more substantial?
Opinions, theories, commentaries and philosophies
are thinner than air, right?
No, of course there are other substantial things.
I’m just restless.
The snow must be almost gone by now in Minnesota.
It’s time I traveled back to my wife.
There’s a good chance she’ll make love to me
even though I lost my looks sometime in the late-nineties.
I’m lucky to have her. She’s good at reminding me
of the other substantial things.
I don’t know you, but I hope
you have someone
who does the same for you.