Southwest Journal Poetry Project
At last spring!
One April day a couple hundred years ago William Wordsworth was wandering around his own lake district and came across a remarkable stand of “10,000 daffodils dancing in the breeze.” He was charmed, entranced, and wrote his most famous poem. In darker times he would recall the moment, “And then my heart with pleasure fills/And dances with the daffodils.”
After this long, hard winter we are sorely in need of flowers, spring and anything else that fills our hearts with pleasure. Local poets have been working hard to provide it. This collection includes reflections on winter, spring and seasonal transitions. There are tales of tennis matches and model trains, a call to dance and a few of the many haikus we received. Enjoy!
This issue marks the beginning of our eighth year doing the Poetry Project. The deadline for the Summer issue is May 9. Please send your best work to firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep writing!
Doug Wilhide is the Poet Laureate of Linden Hills and contributing poetry editor of the Southwest Journal
March 21. First Day of Spring
for Kirsten Bergh, 1979-1996
A drop on the tip of my nose,
then I catch one on my tongue
walking in spring rain
defying the wish for comfort and warm
it was then that you began to draw near
it was then that your love for spring
began to fill me
A few blocks later,
the rain thickened
the umbrella went up
my thoughts on other things
your voice – the poet – alerted me
Then I felt you
in the water rushing down to meet the drain,
gushing and bubbling
as the rain pelted my umbrella
This is life and I am with you
messy and wet and noisy and slushy
beautiful and promising and wild
You were like that – sweet girl –
and in that moment,
walking up the street in the rain
you gave it back to me
and I was wild and promising too.
Waiting in Cold Places
We who wait in cold places know best how to shovel,
to lift heavy burdens above our heads
then toss them away,
piling them high even where there is no room for any more.
Shoveling, we picture the man who dances
solo in front of the summer bandshell
in Hawaiian shirt, straw hat, sandals;
how he shuffles
We imagine him as we work in the early dark,
whirling in his brightly lit square of kitchen
with a shadow partner,
a dervish of joyful abandon.
We wait for the long light and hope again
to sit in the grass and watch the man dance.
They have been uprooted from their fields
Wrapped inside wet newspaper
Then brought into the house to be replanted
Inside black soil and tiny flowerpots
Sitting in the sun by the window
We give them water and hope for sunshine
We go on with our lives knowing they’re safe
Hoping we don’t overwater them
Assuming they’re content to watch the world
Assuming seasons pass and they don’t mind
Assuming we can leave and they’ll be fine
Careful not to knock them on the floor
Their roots dig deep and push against the walls
Eat the dirt and twist around each other
They look at one another in the pots
Trying to make sense of what has happened.
Cruel, cold, old man
Slowing, snowing ceaselessly
No spring in your step
— Helene Mogosanu
Rabbit watches me
While munching dried hydrangea
From stem to flower
— Jen Chilstrom
Squirrel, you stay warm
Come out again, let us play
I made you mittens
(…and also a little hat.)
— Adam Overland
Watching the Canadian Beat the Serb
at the Australian Open
James P. Lenfestey
This can’t be happening. She hits harder too,
her blond braid thick as a horse’s tail,
literally unflappable, while the Serb,
dark with cheekbones, in royal blue,
so used to the domination of her people
by others — the Turks, the Russians, Genghis
Khan — she crushes
the ball with a thousand quiet curses.
But the Canadian, a child really, healthy,
cared for her whole life by her state,
solid as her banks, squarish,
skirt oddly high on her belly, nothing
to drive her but power, passion, calm,
and beauty too. Did I fail to say beauty?
How hard it strikes.
Dance With Me
Dance with me all night and drink spirits
And eat sushi at dawn
We don’t care what others think
We don’t even think.
Heaven has gotten in our way
And there is no turning back.
The moon is big and full
And there is no sleep.
While we know the world is round
sometimes it isn’t,
like when the world is flat, a piece of plywood
with tacked-down tracks on raised cork berms,
plastic crossing signs, paper pine trees,
a station missing some pieces,
six people, six cows, five trucks,
ten railroad cars in various states of repair.
one engine that works (and two that don’t).
Everywhere there are these memory basements
handed down from father to son to son
with partly landscaped flat worlds
unplugged power packs, tunnels without mountains,
trestles to nowhere, a conductor missing his flag.
The worlds that matter are the ones we make up
more biography than geography
more idea than realization
more plan than actualization:
getting there has always been more than half the fun.
Meanwhile, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe
runs the Super Chief through mesas and canyons
as California guys in high-waisted pants
drink in sky-domed observation cars
heading for sun-kissed misses in orange groves
who have whispered “don’t be late.”
The City of New Orleans races into the deep South
on its way to magnolia aromas,
gumbo, history, jazz and the blues.
The Empire Builder glides easily up the Mississippi,
through the high bluffs of immigrant dreams
heading for St. Paul and all points west.
And — in the darkening night — the Twentieth Century Limited
crosses the Hudson in the moonlight,
as people sip martinis in the club car,
silhouettes on the windows
that flash by like heartbeats in our dreams.
Whistle: An Elegy
My father whistled
to himself as he went about
his daily routine.
I don’t whistle much.
A genetic deterioration, no doubt.
Or maybe these lines are
a kind of whistling — if so,
there’s still no denying
a genetic deterioration:
where’s the clean, clear
rush of air from between
the lips of that man so peaceful
you’d think Buddha himself,
in an improbably absentminded
moment, was whistling?
Now when I surprise myself
by doing it I have to wonder:
could it be that my father’s
whistling through me?
And did his father whistle?
Maybe, if the whistler is
my father, he’s trying
to get my attention.
Calling me to him. Saying,
“Hey, Phil. Over here. This way.”
Close the bin
on Winter’s boots.
Gather them up
bereft of shape or purpose
the cardigan sweater
by layers of warmth-hoarding wool
drooping from the wing chair.
Enter the season of easy love.
Smiles blossom unbidden
on faces glazed
by willful Winter’s chill.
A gentle breeze teases
hair on head and arms
from the zealous embrace
of the North Face, Land’s End.
At sunrise my heart swells
at the constraints of rib and muscle
casts its net
beyond the windows of dawn
seeking the source of Spring’s rising.
Springtime on a Farm in Minnesota
Aged woman prods her aged husband
to venture out into the world as she,
who has prodded him for so many years,
cooks and cleans, washes the dishes and schemes
while he puts on his buckle overshoes,
then goes out the door as he always does.
Winter has broken and the air is full
of rotting leaves returning to the soil,
of new green sprouts growing from the black ground,
of water standing in earthworm puddles.
The man returns from his assigned mission,
sits in the kitchen and makes his report.
The woman nods, smiling, knowing and proud:
There will shortly be fresh asparagus.