Southwest Journal poetry project

Ah, autumn. “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” Keats called it, when the sun goes about “budding more, and still more, later flowers for the bees, until they think warm days will never cease …”  

Minnesotans know better. Maybe that’s why our local poets have been busy as bees, commemorating the transition from our too-brief summer to our too-long winter. The result?  Poems about everything from guys and bunnies to peapods and carrots. We have ominous “grave thoughts” and even a little vampirism going on … along with a thirst for beer. A fine harvest indeed!

The deadline for our next poetry spread — the final one of the year — is Nov. 15. Send your best work to And as you enjoy the fall, watching (in Keats words) “the last oozings of hours by hours,” keep in mind: our book, “SEASONS, Poems from the Southwest Journal Poetry Project,” makes a fine all-purpose gift and is available at local shops. Keep writing.

— Doug Wilhide, poet laureate of Linden Hills

Joe Alfano

“Anything new?”
Thoughts rise, take hold,
are voiced.

Two men walk,
to a cold sunrise,
hoods up, hunched over
their lives of well worn

Once kids on the bus,
friends in high school hallways —
they now walk a path
of Sunday circles
at a city lake.

Time has carried them past jobs,
deaths of parents and friends,
through seasons of sun,
birthdays of children,
stories of spouses,
illnesses and steps to recovery
and now to the end of this
November Sunday path…

Where, after a moment of silence,
A question: “What about next week?”

Two Italian Men
Madalyn Cioci

Two Italian men sit at a scarred table,
Raft timbers lashed together with years
And unspoken heartache,
Buoyant in saline bodies.

The beam from the single suspended light
Pushes through cigar smoke fog
Just touching the old soda bottle
Holding homemade wine.

The dice roll out of Dino’s cup toward Leo
Like crabs over stone.
When Leo tips back he laughs at his friend’s bad luck
With a sound that is sun-warmed figs
weighty and sweet
“Il lupo mangia, eh?” he says – the wolf eats.

In one smooth arc Leo drinks down
The wine from his glass with one hand
Extends the other and pats Dino’s hand twice
Like a sailor checking a line
Adding a knot
Securing by habit.

Then he gathers up the coins
From the center of the table leaving one
To feed the next roll.        

James P. Lenfestey
Only when I tore a piece
out of the middle
did I notice either one.
Now my hands on their own
rub each knob lovingly,
exploring its hidden straps and caverns,
the floating island of the patella.
As a boy, I marveled at my father’s
concrete bridges, twenty ton spans
supported at the tips on thin pads of Neoprene.
I walked away looking up, unaware
that under me rolled strange virtuous
boulders and sticks and fluids and cushions.
I remember the con in his orange jumpsuit
filling book after book
with poems of rage and despair‑
his college scholarship torn up
when he “blew out his knees.”
He knows twice as much of the dark crevasses
of this wobbly world as I with my limp.

My Big Mouth
Jim Russell

Words spoken in haste sowing seeds
That sprout and shout louder than deeds
    I always regret them
    She never forgets them
The blossom betrayed by the weeds
    How could you
    How dare you
    Oh why?

But silence can also bring blame
Sorry unsaid is a shame
    My untaken chance
    Earns a withering glance
So holler and hush are the same
    I coulda
    I shoulda
    Oh my.

I can’t seem to pass this impasse
To say or not to say more or less
    Intentions sublime
    I fail every time
Then kneel down and pray for redress
    Forgive me
    Hang with me
    I try.

Sam Wilhide

My breasts are getting big inside her shirt
As I’m looking at bald monkeys made of clay,
High tension and the feet begin to hurt,
Since Mario let me use the tutoyer.

Black locks on a soft kimono shelf,
I couldn’t find the buttons on my phone,
Green eyes caught me talking to myself,
As I watched her gently lick the matcha cone.

Is the coffee served with crème fraîche or with milk?
Is that shrub a camellia or azalée?
I’m buying lop-eared rabbits made of silk,
At the umpteenth shop we’ve visited today.

But it’s worth it just to sit in incensed air
And say, “la bière est cher mais nécessaire.”

Last Night
Ilsa Lund-Bergman

Oh fatal fate, to taste my date-    
A bloody ache I can’t forsake.
This neck too neat to leave alone,
I told him not to wear cologne!
So quick the call of teeth to skin
ferocious grab then sink them in.

A red hot mess down chin and chest.
So sad, I ruined my favorite dress!
Alas the wide-eyed beauty sleeps –
for when I kiss, I kiss for keeps!

Anita Ross

Streetlights stand guard through    
the night, keeping safe the sleeping
houses from the moon.

Doug Wilhide

The knife was long and sharp
had just been sharpened that day, in fact,
and was too big for the task:
chopping the heads and tails off snow peas.

The small amputations accumulated
at the end of the cutting board
and she reminded herself to be careful:
there had been accidents recently.

The pea pods themselves were fresh,
late summer ripe; they would cook up well.
She reached for her wine glass, glowing in
the late light: dinner would be healthy tonight.

And this is the place, he thought, watching her,
Where tragedy strikes.  A sideways slip of the knife,
A phone call, a knock on the front door,
a crash outside.

The failing grandfather had finally died…
the new baby had coughed its way into hospital…
a bicycling friend had been hit by a truck…
the long-expected, paralyzing stroke had struck.

This is what real poems recount: the awfulness
of doing some small thing when the world falls apart.
You’re getting ready to get down to work
and planes fly into — into! — New York;
You’re walking down the hall and hear
gunshots outside that come through the wall.
You’re reaching for your wine glass,
while wielding a knife…

But poetry can be — must be — more than tragedy!
Sometimes the small things are just small things,
significant only because we notice them,
only because they, too, are what we are.

That evening we dined well, the two of us,
And the peapods were delicious

Rebecca Surmont

Coulda been only five
(What autonomy at five)
Don’t recall if I walked the mile or so from the house
On down toward the Creek (we called a crick)
And around the bend to Amy’s garden.
Maybe I got a ride – but I think I walked –
Like a grown up, ambling, pulling cattails, pitching stones
Parting the corn that grew along the edge of the road
Over which I couldn’t see,
The papery edge of husks subtly callousing my fingers.

Weren’t too many houses back then
And they were only on the right side – down near the water.
Everything else was corn, dust, crick and rumors
Of people in the woods or the Chippewa leaving settling
Evidence in the form of arrowheads,
Which I found when I was six.

Amy’s garden was a small tribute
Compared to the farms nearby
that smelled proudly of pigs and manure.
She boasted the first
Home garden I had seen. Perfect rows of tomatoes,
Beans, peas, watermelon, pumpkins, cukes,
The July sun baking the greens off lettuce and carrots.

Carrots. Oh, carrots. They beckoned.
My small hand wrapped fully around the tuft of green,
fingernails clearing the earth, then
A hearty yank and we pulling out
the biggest carrots I’d ever seen –
The color of October pumpkins, full length
Of my forearm and as thick as our wrists.

Barefoot and dusty, we rinsed them with the hose
And ate the afternoon,
a sweet and bitter taste melding in perfect harmony
Like me and Amy
The corn and crick
Our bare feet touching,
dangling off the porch meeting the dirt.

Memories of Bunnies at Harvest Time    
Deborah Pierce
When I harvest my garden this Fall,
there’s a true life tale I’ll recall.
I had no idea how clever a rabbit could be,
until I watered my garden and happened to see,
tiny brown ears moving under leaves and fluff,
whenever the water trickled through all that stuff.
On further inspection I found,
two baby rabbits hidden underground.
I’d say Momma rabbit’s brainpower was keen,
placing her bunnies in the middle of my greens!
Not only did she know
they’d have food to grow,
but one look at those adorable heads,
and I could harm no hare in that bed.

Grave Thoughts      
Victoria Raphael

In early Fall a pumpkin sits atop a grave.
a message penned upon its flesh
from a woman to her lost love —
He was only 26 and newly buried —
Telling him she dreamt of him the other night,
she desperately hopes he can see her note
and know how deeply he is missed.

Today the cemetery is alive.
This woman walks among the stones,
hearing their stories,
imagining the tenants below as they once had been,
She hears the bustle of staid Victorians preparing for a ball,
their children in long, white nightgowns running off to bed.
Her smile fades, realizing there are so many
children here.
What dread diseases extinguished their laughter?
What took the tiny marble baby resting atop a gravestone?
or the little girl whose life-sized statue guards her spot?
Feeling how deeply they were loved,
the woman wonders who will mourn her passing.

Today the inscribers of these stones are dead,
their graves seen by passers-by
walking among the rows as a past time,
wishing to outsource their inevitable fate,
never thinking of the time
when no one is left to remember
who they were.

Anita Ross

is golden leaves chasing
  their tails in the wind.
is trees red with bright flames
  flickering against the sky.
is orange pumpkins smiling
  in the dark of night.
is warm wool blankets
  fresh out of mothballs.
is the taste of turkey
  on Thanksgiving day.
is the blue crisp smell
  of winter coming
is the crunch, crackle
  of promises forgotten.
is the last brilliant performance
  of the actor retiring.