In 1914 Charles Russell, the cowboy painter of Old West scenes and landscapes, sent out Christmas cards with a poem that ended: “…if wishes was health and money/ I’d fill your buck-skin poke/Your doctor would go hungry/An’ you never would go broke.” No offense to doctors, but let me echo Charlie Russell’s sentiments.
Our final poetry spread of 2010 features poems that capture the thrill and the sadness of winter, the little delights and annoyances of the season and — as always — the many manifestations of love.
If you’re still looking for gifts, please consider our new book, “SEASONS: Poems from the Southwest Poetry Project” — a delightful and beautifully illustrated collection available at selected Southwest-area stores or directly from email@example.com
If you’re into New Year’s resolutions, I hope they include sending in your best poetry for these poetry pages. Mine are: Get stronger.
Get smarter. Keep writing.
— Doug Wilhide, contributing Journal poetry editor and Poet Laureate of Linden Hills
Advice From A Rabbit After Early Snow
Don’t panic, don’t give in, and don’t retreat.
Remember better days or else good friends
As you move down the dirty, crowded street
Where old frustrations now are simply worse
And everyone feels anxious and attacked
And all there is is grey and cold and cars.
I make no noise. You might not even see
My footprints, where the snow’s not deep enough
For lasting tracks, I move invisibly.
Eat what you like, don’t live off rabbit food
If you are not a rabbit (you are not),
Don’t trust food-terrorists (dessert is good),
And don’t lead someone else’s rabid life
Or think their thoughts — your ways are not their ways.
There are a hundred paths, but one’s enough.
Death comes, the winter comes, and in two months the street
Will only get much worse. Take all of this long blast
Of cold and bitter air and make it sweet.
Time Change, Lake Harriet
With the Sunday sun going down,
you ran, small son.
Shooting out of the house,
which could no longer contain your wild thumps and shouts,
you yelled, “Run, Mom, run!” to the rhythm of your pounding feet,
the extra hour propelling you forth in fatigue.
We crossed the street into another place: the lake, the path,
and saw that the light in the west was all of the blues sliding down to black.
Kneeling together on the dock, our hands on the rough rail,
we whispered memories of our final October sail.
You sped me along to cloister down among the bare tree limbs
and beside the darkening water they skimmed.
Crouched in silence, we studied how the branches leaned low,
memorizing their reflections, soon to be lost in snow.
Then three silhouette ducks
wings sharply beating the November air.
In that spare autumn hour, you led me there.
Yellow Lab Outside the Coffee Shop
The yellow lab outside the coffee shop
today cannot sit still; but instead
radiates the ever-expectant energy
of a thousand hummingbirds,
tail sweeping back and forth
across the gray, littered sidewalk.
Sits without touching the ground,
knowing that at any moment
the one who matters most will emerge,
slip his worn leash from the bench
and the day will suddenly fall into
place: every sound, sight, and aroma
discovered anew, the sun thrown
everywhere at once, with a cool lake
of shadow following, following
as if it had somewhere to go.
I’m trapped in a moving tube of sensory assault.
Music spews from headphones two seats back,
no melody just a regurgitation of bass …
thump, thump, thump, thump …
A young girl pops gum in my ear.
The child behind me kicks his seat.
Not quite alfresco, a surreptitious diner
has a burger and fries by the window.
Countless voices rumble from people
wearing too much cologne
while creating drama on cell phones.
I really don’t need to know that your girlfriend —–.
The woman next to me rises
showing plumber’s butt and a thong.
Smug teen-agers with seats avoid eye contact
with anyone carrying packages.
They think people can disappear
if they pretend not to see them.
No one surrenders a seat to the old man
grabbing the overhead strap.
He boldly asks if he has to be a hundred
to get some respect. There is no response.
I stand balanced as if on a surfboard,
trying to block it all out with dark glasses, ear plugs,
and the newspaper I read over someone’s shoulder —
all the while screaming inwardly,
“Are we there yet?”
The Moon And The Mississippi
The moon shines and proposes.
The river whines and disposes.
The moon is bossy and prone to pride.
The river is glossy and prone to glide
Past a downtown more peaceful at night
When there are fewer people and less light —
Past cars, old bridges, new ones, phone wires, trees,
Dull barges, roads, and neighborhoods. All these,
While we sleep, are monitored and observed
By two who are never straight but always curved —
And who, almost always, in the end provide
Slow answers to the swift, and calm replies to pride.
And, while we are dreaming, the river shines,
And the moon flows, to save us from straight lines.
Eisenhower at the Moment
Ike, if he was still amongst us,
would be turning 120 today,
If only we still had Republicans
of Ike’s ilk,
Today though, Ike’d be way out
in left field,
And I’d like Ike.
“How About a Wedding at Christmas?”
That was the telegram my father
sent my mother: November, 1942.
He was lonely,
a lieutenant on a sub-chaser
based in south Florida,
and this was a proposal, short and sweet,
back when they charged by the word.
She was willing,
waiting for him in Ohio,
and took the train and her best outfit
and they were married in Hollywood Beach
on Christmas Eve —
As purely romantic a love story
as any I’ve known.
He’d been on duty for days and (she said)
spent the first 48 hours of married life asleep.
The next 29 years were worked out between them:
for better and for worse.
She has been gone now
for more than thirty years,
alone under a stone in Arlington
that has his name on it.
He sits in a nursing home
and the other day reminded us
that he wants to be buried with
“That good one. The first one.”
Most days he is unaware but content,
pleased when he is taken out
for his daily cigar, though some days
he just glares and gives everyone the finger.
I Dreamed of You
I dreamed of you last night
after our late, long distance night chat.
You were surfing on snow
in your shorts
pulled by your dog,
holding a frozen Margarita
“this is La Vida!!”
The night was lighted
by a glow-in-the-dark ball,
a moon covered in saliva
for a dog on the roll.
We threw snowballs made of sand,
we watched the snow fall in the ocean,
talked about work, talked about life,
then turned out the night
and said good-bye.
What a strange dream I had last night …
of you gathering leaves on the beach,
wearing your new leather coat,
hat and mittens in 90 degrees,
and while I listened to your words …
I was shoveling the sea.
for Spaceman, who inquired always
Your science was
the fountain of light
we mistook for lightning
you who never subscribed to theory
only the challenge
of mystery arising from discovered fact
You who knew that lightning
is made of Argon which is inert
and lived in dialogue with lightning
asking it the secret of inertia
We watched you
at last building the trap for lightning
the pool of light become mirror
to hold you
as you held us
You were the mirror
and the face in the mirror.
So When Did I Get Old?
Life slowed greatly a few weeks ago
When we decided it is time to “downsize.”
Of course that means a smaller house or perhaps
A condo or apartment (a box you crawl into and wait)
But does it also mean a smaller life, fewer books,
Shorter concerts, a little garage,
Making birdhouses instead of cabins …
Just what is this all about,
And do you feel my feet dragging?
I’m not really old yet but there are some hints.
Like not wanting to do “that” again,
And there are lots of “thats” out there.
Balance sometimes not as good,
Finding the darkness to be darker than it used to be,
And noticing that the house seems larger and higher
Especially when it needs paint,
But who paints their house anymore?
All the clichés.
So I guess we will downsize.
It really does make sense.
But I was never a fan of
Things that make sense
Just for the sake of sensibleness.
I have loved you, and will love you
Till I take my final breath
And, God willing, I’ll still love you
If I’m not hindered by my death
You are my Alpha, my Omega
and I knew it from the start
You quelled my ancient longings
and you opened up my heart
For I was on a journey
And I journeyed all alone
Until the day I met you
And knew that I was home
Now every day’s a journey
But you’re the journey’s end
You are my Lover, my Companion
You are my Finest Friend
Huge limbs snake around the basement ceiling,
Climb above laundry tubs, hover over lines
Where clothes drip
With the same plink
Of ping pong balls
Paddled by friends
When the table is clear.
The asbestos wrapped beast
Heats the house in winter and hibernates in summer.
The girl is afraid of it.
But more afraid of the double dog dare
She grabs the hot, coiled handle
Wrenches open its mouth, and peers inside.
She is spellbound by the pinprick of blue light.
Until the belly ignites
And the roar of flames sends her scrambling up the stairs.
for MDB who made me write it
There is no end
to this season of clementines
We must eat them
until they are gone
You will buy me a scarf
I will knit you a sweater
We will pretend to love them
We will sing the best we can
and forget the verse
but remember the chorus
You will lose
one glove in the snow
The light will dim sooner
the road stretch out before us
I will miss you
when you go