Spring poetry

What a winter! As snowdrifts climbed higher, temperatures fell lower and potholes multiplied and grew deeper, Southwest area poets did what sensible Minnesotans do: we left town. Or we stuck around and attended to life. Or we drank. Or wrote. Or some combination of the above.

This spring collection marks the fifth anniversary of the Southwest Journal Poetry Project, a continuing attempt to capture the ways your local poets see the world. It includes both repeat contributors and (always welcomed) new voices. Subjects range from the breakups of lake ice and marriage, to roses, pets, baseball and the activities that anticipate summer. Enjoy!

April is National Poetry Month. If you want to celebrate, look for our collection, “SEASONS: Poems from the Southwest Journal Poetry Project,” at selected local shops or at wilhide.com. The next Poetry Project deadline is June 15. Send your best work to wilhide@skypoint.com

— Doug Wilhide, contributing poetry editor, is the Poet Laureate of Linden Hills.

Ice Out
Joe Alfano

Yesterday’s crack is gone,
what’s left lays shattered
along the lake’s south shore,
surfaces with jagged edges
point in all directions —
books tossed in the corner,
text of storms, and
frigid sub-zero winter days,
stories being
slowly erased by the sun
and a breeze that carries
tales of ducks
that float
in open water

Evaluating the Marriage
David Banks

is it too late to exchange? she asked,
a glint of guillotine steel in her eye,
an ax near glass to break in case of …

flexing her grip, she continued: you
have the following in defects and disease …

when the litany had ended, he could not
go in peace. he responded with a liturgy of love …

huh? she replied,

and pulled out a pocket scissors
to beat back the bushy wild hairs
garrulously sprouting
from his well-worn head.

Valentine Rose for my Mother

Lisa Taylor Lake

Fronds, dark and feathery
and a whisper of baby’s breath
surround my rose, red for your
Valentine’s birthday.

Partly open
against your tombstone, itself
sunlit to brilliant white.
The winter breeze lifts the delicate greens.
Utterly soundless,
ferns meet their own pale shadows,
each quivering to the other.

In this chill air the rose never will fully open
and still I bring it to you,
my offering, tender
and insufficient in the cold,
nodding to its shadow,
a meeting at stone.

Rose Girl
Kevin Zepper

carries her wicker
fireside basket
under her left arm,
strolling under the dim lights
of Ralph’s, her first stop.
Long-stemmed royalty roses end
in short green vials of agua.
Her straight, black slacks
and ruffled white shirt
offset the flowers,
making them redder
under fluorescent bulbs.

Three dollars a stem,
Rose Girl never threw
a hard, fast pitch
to sell her roses:
sorry husbands,
drunken hopefuls,
wishful thinkers,
whiskey dreamers
at every sticky table.
She seldom accepts flowers
purchased from her basket,
it is an impure gesture.

Clearing fifty a night,
triple on Valentine’s,
she slowly circles the bar twice,
moving on to the next tavern
on her list of six.
Rose Girl knows
every bar everywhere is
starving for flowers,
especially in twilight
when few things grow
and the brief glow of
red velvet petals
is enough,
even for an evening,
starving for flowers.

Rose Girl
is full.

You Lucky Dog
Annette Gagliardi

Another morning, I struggle to feel alive.
The dog snoring softly on our bedroom rug,
content and peaceful in his repose
doesn’t rise,
as I do, stumbling in the dark
to eliminate the night’s accumulation.

His dream continues into the warming of the day
with  mementos of  past victories
while I drag myself awake,
move soundlessly through rooms,
dig in closets, and eat alone.

Some vague fantasy plays itself out in his mind, as
I gather work paraphernalia and food
for a second meal of the day
and make my way
to the door.
Good-bye and sweet dreams,
YOU lucky dog.

John O’Connor

A bit like a hamster or a gerbil.  
Almost the size of my hand.
It threatens me with mayhem and evil
In language I can understand.  

Biting? It bares its small, sharp teeth.
Fighting? It stands on its hind legs and flails.
Bullying? It makes a hectoring speech.
And then, when diplomacy fails:

Señor, you nibbled my kibble — prepare to die.
I am actively attacked. I am wickedly waylaid,
I am almost a meal for this little guy.
And I am almost afraid.

Sharon R. Spartz

Our Minnesota Twins beat the Kansas City Royals
Wednesday night at Target Field
and Joe Mauer threw the ball to me —
the final score was four to three.

My father and I sat in dugout box seats,
so close we could call balls and strikes from the stands.
I brought a Circle Me, Bert sign,
Dad is 88 — He’s a Great Twins Fan.

Between innings, I swayed and waved
my homemade sign of bright lime green.
The stadium was sprinkled with many others,
I don’t think that Bert noticed me.

I did catch the attention, though,
of the American League’s MVP,
our Twins catcher, Joe Mauer,
who threw the ball to me!

Our section all stood to cheer the third out,
I held the screaming green poster board high
in the middle of the eighth inning, and
it seemed to catch young Joe’s eye.

Our hometown hero stood too, flipped back his mask,
and then hustled to the dugout,
for a moment time stood still . . .
Joe glanced my way . . . I let out a shout . . .

the baseball soared up, up, up towards me . . .
hit my fingertips and the sign . . . oh, so near . . .
Dad crouched down to get out of the way . . .  
The woman behind us juggled her beer . . .
A twenty-something guy two rows back
nabbed the prize that eluded at least three.
But there is no doubt that
Joe Mauer threw the ball to me.

Bike Ride
Doug Wilhide

We are old now, though pretend not to be
as we mount our bikes like youngsters,
step down on the pedals,
and banish pains in knees and thighs with
frivolity, laughter and hope.

We whirr in lines out into the morning
noting the early sun and its long shadows,
mists rising from fields,
red-winged blackbirds warning us
away from their sovereign territories,
grasses waving us along from
one small town to the next.

Into the wind, into the rain,
along the uneven roads,
through the inconveniences,
we ride like people half our age,
on a lark, turning a myth of youth
we almost believe,
into our peculiar reality.

We are old, but far from finished.
We will cycle miles and miles until the day ends
and be tired as we step down in the evening
from better bikes than we ever rode as kids,
alive in our understandings
of ourselves and each other.

We welcome life’s essentials:
a cold beer, a hot shower,
a good night’s sleep,
another morning.

Hickory Dickory’s Dock

Bruce Peck

Hickory Dickory of childhood lore
   Required a space for his soul.
He needed a place to launch and return,
   To question, examine, extol.

You seldom will find among all the piers
   A hickory one, it is true.
But hickory it was that made up the dock
   And delivered the goods that came through.

The mice, it is said, ran all around
    Despite the sad lack of a clock.
Time seemed to stand still for the Dickory clan
    As they gathered each evening at dark.

A lifetime, I say, is nary enough
   Time to make sense of it all.
But docking with Hickory at the end of the day
   Was a marvelous time to recall.

Comings and Goings are times to reflect
   To do so is sensibly wise.
Comings and Goings are important to note
   For they teach the deep meanings of lives.

Opinions abound and serve little else
   Than to clutter our minds with their shout.
But the insights we gain at the edge of the dock
   Are really what life’s all about.

To the Ghosts of Lakewood
Craig Planting

Does it matter to you
whether you have a fancy headstone?
Are you ever tempted to play tricks
on the security guards?
Why are you stranded here?
Who is the greatest American writer
who was never published and
can you somehow give me
everything he/she wrote?

Do you consider us lost?
Do we miss the answers
not because they’re so complex,
but because they’re so simple?
Do you sometimes walk down King’s Highway
an hour before the sunrise?
I thought so.

An Apartment Blessing
John O’Connor

May every constellation pause, right at the glass,
To plan, before it then moves on again,
New ways to bring you health and happiness.

May peace find its permanence here.
May your mind be powerful but calm.
May food and friends and funds come through
this door.

And may you never fear a fool’s demands,
The criminals who govern nations,
Or the headlines which the god of panic sends.  

May music find you here, and comedy,
And good movies — and maybe a movie star.
And may you master all the art of tea,

Which you can drink in the winter after eating,
When the only noise is the ice crackling,
Or a branch scraping, or the furnace heating.  

And as you drink it down may you be wise:
Protected from the things one cannot see,
Protected from the deadly winter skies,

Shielded from anger, poverty, and loss
And with a boundary around the grounds
Even a demon cannot cross.

Fence Like a Poem   
Christine Fraser

The new fence is made from the old:
what has been salvaged and reclaimed,
taken apart nail by nail in the hot sun,
stacked in tidy piles,
with hope and uncertainty about what might be still and finally useful;
what has rested for months
under unsightly coverings that flap in high winds,
drawing curious and impatient looks from the neighbors.

It is the product of real work:
of sifting through the waiting collection of worn planks
in the fading autumn light and the coming frost,
of cutting and turning each piece to its best advantage,
of slicing away all that is too sad and splintered to show or to last,
of assembling and measuring each group of pickets
before setting it precisely in its new secure frame,
of making the most elegant series of flaws
visible to passersby.