Ah Minneapolis in the summer! The potholes have been filled (mostly), down has been doffed, ice has surrendered to the liquid lakes, and the young folk run around them sporting their youth. Poetry has been successfully defended in the heartland (see accompanying article online) and life is as easy-going as it gets.
We received a lot of heartfelt poems for this Poetry Project — thanks to all who submitted them! The summer selection includes some new voices and some familiar ones and features scolding sparrows, penguins, a talking dog, classical references, a call from the Islands, a little love and assorted reflections.
— Doug Wilhide is the Poet Laureate of Linden Hills and contributing poetry editor of the Southwest Journal.
Small Voice in the Pew
Shadrack, Mishak and To-Bed-We-Go —
Old Testament men who walked into the fiery furnace
and lived, but only at the last minute.
All in the name of God with a Big G.
Even though I’d been told to even stay away
from the matchbox.
Scared, small and malleable, I made my way upstairs
to the sanctuary hoping to rise above the frightening
basement Bible Stories.
Mom and Dad were holding hands, talking animatedly
to fellow Church members.
I was invisible because
They were indivisible.
My brother, sister and I were shooed into the pew
at exactly eleven o’clock to face an hour and a half
of dread and “I’m sorry Jesus-es.”
We were never allowed
to sit between my parents, speak or sleep.
They whispered to each other,
seeing a set of their friends
actually allowing a child between them.
“I wonder what is wrong with them?”
I felt safest next to my grandmother,
leaning against her softness, gazing at her
“I’m being good but am really
on the verge of mischief”” eyes.
She let me twirl her ruby ring worn with love,
separating her puffy finger into two parts.
She knew how to tend to me.
When it became too much to stay still,
she’d take out her strong smelling throat wafers
in the blue and grey box that opened like a drawer.
She offered them to me.
And even though I wasn’t sick,
they filled my need.
Penguins Are Dads Too
The Emperor male nods to the neighbors
as he struts home.
Careful not to slip on the ice.
He anticipates dinner: seafood again.
At the table everyone is squawking at once.
Junior wants a crazy hairstyle
like the crested Rockhopper living over the glacier,
His daughter bemoans her tallness —
All her friends are tiny Adelies
and she feels awkward next to them.
Fledglings! God forbid they start laying eggs too soon.
Tonight the eldest has invited her intended.
He’s a Gentoo,…not from Antarctica… this from Ma.
Enough, Marge, as long as he loves her, goes fishing,
Protects their chick after the long trek.
Kids… stop fighting over the shrimp
or I’ll send you out to catch your own!
His impatience grows
waiting for the youngest to waddle out to his seat.
That boy is off on his own again,
secretly poring over female penguins
in National Geographic,
the hot ones who live in torrid places
like Peru and South Africa.
Dad finally cracks a smile after a hard day at sea.
Hell, those warm weather babes do have gorgeous flippers.
He remembers being young
and full of juvenile libido,
instead of a stuffed suit.
He decides not to spill the details today,
but wait until the kid-o finds out
that penguins are monogamous.
Scolded by Sparrows
Scolded by sparrows
Yeah, that’s just what I need now
Little birds vociferously Po-ed at me
schvitzing up on a ladder mucking out
yuckazoid and totally stinkola gutters
chock with whateverall the local trees
deem the need to drop off in them
and then leave to fester and ferment
in the wet of the recent rains
So screw those damned sparrows!
But then again and on second thought
would I not also get my bowels in an uproar
if some jerk-off messed with
my mating activities?
The Amazing Shortstop
I am a black lab, 8 years old, and I can pick a bone.
I’ve got a real interesting master that
It took a lot to train him, but it gives me no regret,
It’s a hoot, cause people like to think that I am Marty’s pet!
He’s pretty nice, he doesn’t bite, and we do a little act,
It gets him beers, and gets me cheers, and gives us both respect.
One time in Tallahassee in a little country bar,
He told the bar keep seriously I was a famous star.
“How so?” the bar keep queries, so he tells him quite sincere,
“Shortstop will answer questions if you just give me a beer!”
“Why should I?” asks the bar keep, as if he’s in a fog,
“Because, you nit, it’ll fill your bar to have a talking dog!”
The guy was game, and says why not, sets Marty up a brew,
And every ear was listening for this ole black lab to spew.
Marty looks me in the eye and says with strong inflection,
“Okay, Shortstop, listen close, and answer me this question!”
“What is wrapped around a tree?” he asks me with a spark,
And I’m ecstatic, cause I know, and answer, “Bark! Bark! Bark!”
The bar erupts, the bar keep laughs, “You got me good that time!”
And Marty smiles, and drinks his beer, and all is going fine.
So Marty kills his beer and calls the barkeep to come down.
“I’ll ask Shortstop a different question for another round.”
“I don’t think so,” the bar keep says, “I already bought your shtick”.
Marty says, “He talks, I tell you, now get a beer here quick!”
Then Marty looks me in the eye, you could hear a thin pin drop,
“What do you find upon a house, so tell me now, Shortstop?”
I am so proud to know the answer, and feeling quite aloof,
I spin around, jump up and down, and shout out “Roof! Roof! Roof!”
The barkeep groans, and goes away, the bar is filling up,
From far and near they’re coming here to see a talking pup!
Now Marty flags the bar keep down, and says with pompous flair-
“My dog will give the answer to a brand new question, sir,
If you’ll be so kind to pour once more my very favorite beer.”
The bar keep’s gruff, but in a huff, he tells Marty loud and clear,
“You better not be toying me, you worthless little twit!!”
Marty reassures him, and he knows this one’s a hit.
He tells me straight I must be sure to get this answer right.
“Tell me, Shortstop, loud and clear, be humble and contrite!”
“Who is the greatest baseball player to ever play the game?”
I’m goin’ nuts because I’m sure, I know that fellow’s name!
“Ruth! Ruth! Ruth!” I say with unrestrained delight.
The barkeep snaps, and turns quite red and looks a real fright,
“You’re outta here you phonies, you’ve played me for a fool!”
And the Herculean bouncer snaps us both right off our stools.
Layin’ in the gutter now, and shocked beyond belief
We both got tossed, our pride’s been lost and we are full of grief.
I look ole Marty in the eye, and search my sorry soul,
I raise my eyes in stark surprise and ask, “Dimaggio?”
You sit around, picking your nose
watching a reality TV show. I
forget which one as they are all
the same. You open a Keystone light
and put your feet up on the end
table burned with cigarette holes
bumpy with mumps. You laugh
as one of the girls falls down drunk,
squirting beer all over the mud stained
rug. Your girlfriend sits next to you
lighting a Basic light, itching her
fat roll. The damn dog, covered
in loneliness, whimpers in her filth
next to the motionless ball. Her sounds
disappear quicker than the government
checks. Ramen noodles and dust fill the
cupboards. Trash fills the studio apartment
eating the walls, it becomes décor.
The sun spits in the window. You squint
outside, and shut the broken blinds.
As you pour the Black Velvet, you
realize it doesn’t get any better than this.
Summer Solstice at 45 Degrees
one thing we know about this day
is that it will be long:
15 hours, 37 minutes spent
facing a sun that burns
even when we aren’t looking.
it could be dry, and hot:
a day to exceed all days
since records were kept.
it could be cloudy, and cool,
after many days of rain.
that would be the perfect day
to brew black, black coffee
and bask in the lucid strength
of green on gray.
this could be the day
that new orleans comes north —
climatically, not diasporically.
the moisture of the tropics
will meet up with a dry line,
causing the sirens to keen
at 5 o’clock. food afficionados
will look up from the garlic
and notice that it’s night
when it shouldn’t be night.
others, driving home,
will lean over the wheel,
clinging to mobility
they’ve never quite achieved
on their own,
and wonder if their fate
is to be lifted or flattened.
this could be the day
that a woman on honeybee lane,
in that newest subdivision
quiet and far from downtown,
has her first child.
Girls Gone Mild
for Wendy Brown-Baez
A female poet was saying to me,
As we discussed theology,
“Evil is needed to thicken the plot.
Take all the evil out — and what have you got?”
That set me thinking …..
A Clytemnestra, in her apron, bakes
Banana bread, zucchini bread, and cakes.
A Joan of Arc puts down her fiery sword,
Picks up her pen, and leaves the English bored.
Calypso helps a hero cross the sea
With medication and talk therapy,
While Juno’s rage is really just a whine
Too temporary for a poet’s line.
(And, speaking of poets, Sylvia Plath
Finds work at Hallmark which reduced her wrath.)
Each of these women has betrayed her plot.
Such niceness might seem pleasant, but it’s not
Quite helpful for the story of a crime,
An epic, or an interesting time.
The bookmark is cheaply made,
of thin-sliced koa wood
in the shape of a surfboard
with a couple blue beads at the top
attached with leather.
Bought years ago, on an earlier trip
to the islands, it has become a companion.
She asked me to find it
and carry it across thousands
of blue Pacific miles,
not realizing at the time
she could replace it for a few dollars
down at the farmer’s market
under the palm trees
where young, bored, pretty girls
thread leather strips through beads
and tie them to pre-cut koa wood.
“It’s in the study,” she said,
“Against the wall of books, right hand side
third shelf, in a small pile
in front of the ‘to read next’ section.
Do you see it?”
Her voice sounded faint and far away:
circling satellites can’t make us younger
or bring us closer.
“I have it,” I said. “See you in a few days.”
We disconnected and
only later I realized the incongruity:
she could not remember yesterday
and would never get through
her to-read-next stack,
but she knew exactly where
her bookmark was
and how to get it from half a world away.
Behind me, in a café, two people are kissing —
While I enjoy some excellent green tea.
Here, clearly, is something I am missing.
I give them some judicious scrutiny.
They aren’t perfect. They have flaws.
Apparently, this doesn’t matter much.
Their kiss does not require a perfect cause
But just enough of beauty that they touch.
A bit like a movie critic, I despise
All things, and all men, in order to seem wise.
Love seems to know the flaws I’ve diagnosed.
Love isn’t blind — it just keeps both eyes closed.