What a short, sweet winter! We could get used to this — and maybe that’s why this spring poetry issue includes more welcoming poems and fewer filled with the angst of a hard season survived.
Our final poem is by Howard Osborn, an occasional contributor who passed away last year. He was a remarkable man and a good poet with a unique baritone reading voice: Once you heard him read you didn’t forget. You’ll find a brief remembrance in this issue.
This marks the 10th Anniversary (!) of the Poetry Project. We’ve received more than 2,200 poems and published nearly 500 of them by more than 100 poets. The youngest was 8, the oldest, 84. It has been, and remains, an honor and a pleasure to be part of it.
The summer issue will come out in June. Deadline is May 27. Please send your best work to [email protected]
Doug Wilhide is the Poet Laureate of Linden Hills and Contributing Poetry Editor of the Southwest Journal.
March 1, 2016
Lisa Calame Berg
Ready, so ready
to step out the door
without a gasp, without
about our ears.
our extra day and the dog
has begun to shed more,
if that is even possible. The garden
still sleeps but it has tossed off
the covers and looks ready
Listen — softly,
softly, the sigh of soil ready
to break into song. Yes,
Love at First Converse
The first time
I fell in love
It was with a pair of green Converse.
There was a boy attached to the shoes
But the love was really about the
Green canvas, the neat bright star,
The white laces. I couldn’t stop staring.
Eventually I listened to this boy talk —
Common and dull conversation —
My love quickly faded
But I never forgot the shoes.
Thirty years later
I walk into a bar and meet a man:
There on his feet — green Converse.
I didn’t notice the shoes at first
I noticed a kind and gentle soul
With a quick wit.
He asked me if I’d ever been heartbroken,
And laughed when I had to think about my answer.
If I were as clever as he,
I might have responded,
“Only by a pair of shoes.”
Tonight when I meet him for dinner
I am going to stare down at his Converse
Then back to his eyes and enjoy our bright conversation
Happy to be in love with so much more than shoes.
All These Many Springs
Your mother asked us
To get fresh milk from a farm.
We set the pails on the back seat
Already stained with
Spilt and spoiled milk.
It tasted like new grass.
Your father bought an old Allis Chalmers
And asked me to drive it home.
Eighteen miles of country roads.
In the boundless prairie light
I could see my breath when I laughed.
In a clearing across the lake
Long left to weeds and wildflowers
You taught me something
I have never forgotten.
All these many springs.
In a month the lilacs will open and I’ll promise
to get them pruned promptly this year,
just like I promised last Thursday
not to waste another perfect weekend.
Friday night I cut all but a few of the daffodils
before predicted snow could steal my blooms
away. Last night the frost put a new curve
into the last daffodil stem, which the sun may
or may not lift. The days are finally longer,
but the sun doesn’t yet give heat reliable
enough to counteract the wind. At night the stars
seem to burn, galaxies going on forever,
our eyes the last to know if they’ve turned
to cinders. Nothing’s solid, nothing lasts.
It’s the flimsy things that carry on – promises
and daffodils, mourning doves building nests
or mayflies rising in their short-lived cloud.
Even your smile, here, gone, then here
once more, so that I burn, longer than
inconstant stars, warmer than the sun.
The moonlight was so noisy I woke up
Several hours after midnight.
The birch were luminous and rough.
Tree-shadows moved in the light.
There was no noise from a person.
There was no noise from a car.
What there was was tree after tree,
And star after star after star.
I. That was the year when winter went south early
and we had a fifty-degree Saturday — in February! —
and everyone was out
walking, biking, jogging, blading,
and there was the guy in shorts
running bare chested
who looked a little nervous, racing for warmth,
just a little older than I was
when I did the same dumb thing.
II. The two young people were the same size
(he might have been an inch taller
if he stretched and she ducked)
and they held hands
and she said she was cold
so he put both their hands in his coat pocket
and her legs twisted out when she walked
nothing serious, perhaps, just an odd gait,
and I wished them such good luck in their love.
III. The small boy on the bike with training wheels
was unsteady (though his backpack said “nothing but speed”)
and his mom, in the pink jogging suit, kept stopping to help
until he became confident
and chased her until she was chasing him
and I watched the grandmother,
in her long, red, heavy coat,
carrying a big awkward purse, struggling to keep up
running a few steps then walking, stopping for breath,
a cramp by her heart, as she fell further behind.
IV. The old man in the beat-up Toyota
huddled deep into his down jacket and big scarf
and nervously looked out over the steering wheel
trying to stare down any icy patch by the stop sign
and I wanted to tell him
about his just-purchased
expensive cup of coffee
that stood bravely
on top of the car.
Coffee Shop Man
a way-stoned hippy sit-dancing cross-legged
in festival mud
has more pride, is more self-aware
than this man at the window table
of the local coffee shop,
lost in his headphones,
head bobbing, knee
bouncing, fingers drumming
the table beside his laptop —
— oh god, he’s mouthing lyrics,
just sang a descending bass line
aloud, buh-buh-buh BUH
then a flourish of the drumming fingers
as the woman who made the coffee
now removes the empty mug, and a little plate
with crumbs on it,
from the window table of this man, me.
I’m cozy here, pretending to dust, under the dining room table.
Mitch Miller and the Ink Spots are on the fold-open record player.
I will be 10 soon.
I see the kitchen, bright and clean, almost empty;
The checkered floor waxed and shiny.
It is Ironing Day
Mom is not pretending to iron, in a race with herself,
She is competing against the last shirt,
And singing “SWEET VIOLETS.”
Dad’s long sleeve white shirts are just out of the fridge,
Rolled like fat white sausages, chilled and ready
With the catsup and meatloaf.
Yesterday, washed and starched and hung on the line.
This morning laid out and wet with the coke bottle sprinkler.
Now in the crisper drawer.
I can see the plywood plaque holding macaroni alphabet letters.
They are varnished on: “Bless this kitchen, with all its pots and pans.”
Both of us singing “PAPER DOLL.”
Three Chimneys on Lilac Lane
If my mother didn’t have Alzheimer’s,
I’d walk up her gravel driveway,
lined with lilac bushes in bloom,
to the brick bungalow with three chimneys,
where I grew up.
She’d be standing on the concrete steps,
waiting for me to arrive.
We’d walk into the cramped kitchen —
room only for a table and three chairs,
the counter covered with freshly-baked pies:
pecan, raspberry, and strawberry rhubarb.
She’d claim to have forgotten my favorite
and baked all three.
She would not be lying in a crank-up bed in a beige room,
clutching The Lutheran Hymnal with trembling fingers.
She would not tell me about her breakfast: oatmeal full of ants.
She would not look up, wild-eyed.
But even if she did, even if she did,
Mom would remember my name.
Plucked a silver dandelion
Made twenty-five wishes
And blew them to the winds.
I knew she was a princess
Because she didn’t stop
At just three.
What is it about princesses
That they don’t fit in
That they don’t ask
What it takes to fit in,
Or even what it takes
To be queen?
Beware weeds and their seeds
They do not suffer fools.
And in the hands
Wishes made on them
Have a very good chance
Of coming true.
Melting snow and muddy earth
rebuild the summer path.
Rotting leaves and broken twigs
layer the spongey mix.
Foot and paw tracks
record those who pass,
hugging the creek’s curves,
close to its melting ice.
Life’s organic smell and feel
remind us who we are —
spring ground and summer path,
changing as the seasons do.
Howard Arthur Osborn
Let me hear again
the whisper of the bees.
Let me watch the waggle-dance
that tells just where and when
to go for that sweet nectar
held there yet for me.
Let me savor and caress,
sense again that iridescent
whose wave-length no one can guess.
Strum for me, and stretch
the vibrant tension of that moment
till it soars from sweet expectancy
Reprise the entire melody
subsumed in buried memory
and hum again
that harmony for two.
Remembering Howard Arthur Osborn
I met Howard Osborn at an afternoon gathering of poets and poetry friends at my house. He wore a button that said “I learn by going where I have to go.” “Roethke!” I said. Howard looked surprised. “You know?” he said, with his customary bemused look. The line is from “The Waking” by American poet Theodore Roethke. I usually think of it early in the morning:
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
Howard was in his 80s then, but fully engaged with life; quiet, but opinionated; funny, but serious about poetry. He read with a memorable, deep, raspy voice. He asked that his poems be published under the name Howard Arthur Osborn because “there are a lot of Howard Osborns out there.”
Howard died last spring. Like many of the poets we publish, he led an interesting life. He was born in Saskatchewan, served in the Canadian Army Tank Corps during World War II, earned an M.S. degree at Oregon State University and studied at Oxford. He was married and had three children. He worked for the U.S. government as an agricultural economist, a job that took him to countries around the world. He lived in Washington, D.C., the Chesapeake Bay area, Oregon, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Minneapolis.
Like Howard himself, his poems often had a humorous surface with a more serious underlying message. His last book was an audio project, “Poems for the Ears,” that took advantage of his sonorous voice.
We are pleased to publish one of his poems in this issue of the Poetry Project. Rest in peace, Howard. You are missed.
— Doug Wilhide