Spring poetry

Date Night

It’s been a hard winter, testing our spirits. We received more poems that seemed drawn from the past season than looked forward to the next one, and there was some I-can’t-take-it-anymore lurking between the lines. Still, this collection includes poems about both loss and love, fantasy and kindness, people and places … and rescue dogs. This is our 13th year doing these Southwest Journal poetry pages. Thanks again to everyone who has sent in poems, and everyone who has enjoyed reading them. Hang in there!

Doug Wilhide is the poet laureate of Linden Hills and poetry editor for the Southwest Journal.

The Stamp Licker

The Stamp Licker

Ross Savage

Waiting in the post office,
Itself a seeming anachronism,
Last in a sedate matronly line,
Me, the only middle aging man.

At the counter stands a
Tall wizened Vietnam vet
With a gray ponytail
Under the obligatory MIA cap.
He’d just bought a stamp,
A singleton.

His worn hands shake some
As he shuffles left of the counter
Peeling it from the backing,
Raising it to his tongue
Which protrudes from day old
Wispy white whiskers.

The clerk, a no nonsense
Asian Civil service counter woman said:
“You don’t need to do that.”
He looks at her
With eyes as blue as the Finnish sky
On a sunny spring day,
And he counters:
“I’ll just do it anyway.”

Red Plaid Tennis Shoes

Red Plaid Tennis Shoes

Annette Gagliardi

The time will come when I die
and discussions will be made
so let me tell you here and now
just what I think I’ll need.

When you go to lay me in the ground
at my final resting place
forsake those reasonable, conservative hounds.
Fix a smile upon my face.

Then scrounge through closet, attic
and all the places they may hide,
to find my red, plaid tennis shoes
and put them by my side.

My red plaid tennis shoes
with that narrow stripe of gold
are what I want upon my feet
when earth has quit its hold.

My days have counted many shades
of browns and greens and blues
For heaven’s work, I wish for more.
I want my festive shoes!

Loaves and Fishes

Loaves and Fishes

Karla McGray

And this is the way you show up
ready to feed those who come to be fed.
And this is the way you put on a hair net and an apron
trying to feel comfortable as dark masses of people
move slowly into line, ready for second helpings.

And this is the way you begin to see them as individuals,
as mothers with their children,
as old men and very young men.
And this is the way you pay attention to their losses
of missing teeth, worn out shoes, tattered coats.
And this is the way you offer hospitality,
a tray here, a glass there,
another cup of hot coffee on a very cold night.

And this is the way you catch someone’s eye
and the old woman comes to you,
asks what church you are from,
speaks of when her children were in that preschool,
but now asks that you pray for Annie and Ben,
so she can have a grandchild,
just one grandchild.

And this is the way you answer, “Of course, I will,
Annie and Ben, yes.”

And this is the way one guy says, “Those are funny glasses!”
And you say that in your seventies
you still think it’s good to be a little “hip.”
And this is the way he says, “Seventies?
You’ve taken good care of yourself!”
And this is the way you have a good laugh
with a total stranger over hot food,
a warm place to be for a couple of hours
in the company of other strangers.

And this is the way it happens, by showing up,
getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable,
looking into eyes, offering a hand
instead of looking the other way.
And this is the way we see each other,
no longer strangers,
just people doing our best
to be there for each other,
whatever that means on a bitter cold day.

And this is the way we receive a whole lot
more than we give, and then go home.

Cotton Eye Joe

(a version of the classic country song)

John O’Connor

If it were not for Cotton Eye Joe,
I would have married Brigid Bardot.
Where did you come from?  Where did you go?
Look what you did to me, Cotton Eye Joe!

I’ve got a body made by Einstein —
Brain by Michelangelo.
I talk painting at a party –
All the pretty ladies go.

I’m as well-dressed as an Auden.
I’m as cheerful as a Poe.
I’m as peaceful as a Milton.
I should be married by now, you know?

I am social like Narcissus.
I’m well-spoken like Echo.
You should like me on your Facebook,
Like you did for Cotton Eye Joe.

Woody Allen thinks I’m homely.
Planet Saturn thinks I’m slow.
Old Will Rogers never met me –
He was pals with Cotton Eye Joe!

I was so in love with Morticia —
She could play that old banjo —
But I’m sittin’ here stuck with Lurch,
All because of Cotton Eye Joe…

The Moon and I

The Moon and I          

Toni McNaron

The moon grows very fast:
tonight it’s half itself,
three days ago, a shaving.
I watch it blossom on the way to full.

I differ from the moon —
I inch along each day
towards a circle of my own.

But the angle of decline
persists, and my shadow fills the space
where once was light and air.

Maybe I’ll be full before the snows,
but the Queen of Light outstrips me,
she grows very fast indeed.

Is That You?

Is That You?

Carolyn Light Bell

I’m giving a party. People are standing in the basement rec room,
the kind of room guests gathered in during the Seventies,
when he died.

He’s standing in a circle of people, with his back to me, probably telling a joke.
I’d know him anywhere, from any angle.
He’s entertaining my friends, as always.
I touch him—Daddy? Is that you?

He turns to face me. His eyes are big and green and beautiful, as always,
one eye looking far away, blind.
He’s wearing the green sweater he wears in the photograph
I keep in the cupboard next to the microwave where I warm my food.
He is beaming at me. The joke’s on me.

I ask him, What are you doing here?
He brings his palms up, fingers spread, elbows bent,
in an ironic shrug.
I hug him to make sure he’s real, to show him how much
I love, him, miss him, am happy to see him.

I know he’s real because he’s the same height as he always was,
a couple inches taller than me, with a round hard belly. It feels like I could
hug him a long time, like he’s always been there, quietly.

I wake and tell my husband the dream:
He missed all the fun.
He missed it! All the children, the grandchildren, the cabins, the water skiing,
the beautiful homes, the lakes, the trees…
but maybe he didn’t.
He always said, Don’t cry over me. Don’t cry.
But I can’t help it. I just can’t help it.

Once a Home

Carrie Bassett

Delphiniums grew, blue,
bluer, bluest,
like walking out the back door into the sky.

They lived there for five years,
had a child there,
hung diapers on the line there.

The family moved north,
and years went by.
The house took others in.

When the river flooded,
the people fled;
the house fell.

Not knowing this, the mother
returned to visit
her child’s first home.

A slab and a maple
were all that was left
of what was once their dwelling place.

Moving a rock from damp ground
leaves its shape below —
absent presence.


Bob Swandby

I am River
Born in the high country
I bubble from the deep earth
Trickle through the green grass above the tree line

I become the creek of childhood
Fed by snow melt and spring rain
I pick up pebbles, churn ever downward, gain speed

I take on water from other flows, gather rocks,
Thrash down the mountain; I am the stream of youth
Filled with new ideas from the tributaries

I sort and sift all that comes churning and roiling
I keep the smooth and the bright, drop the rubble,
I reach the ripeness of middle age

I learn the wisdom of the channels, the shoreline and sunken logs
I broaden and slow
Into the big river of maturity

I flow onward, wide and majestic
I move as the undercurrents of a lake
I drop all I learned and carried into the soft dark sediment where life begins

I slide imperceptibly into the mouth where the ocean meets me
The tide pulls me out, pushes me back
Pulls me out into the great forever.

Oh, Mary O.

Oh, Mary O.

Rusty Debris

Her voice now silent as bouquet flowers
Falling away like springtime showers
Tumbled tumbleweed, the loss is ours

Salty captain of the poet ships,
Billow our sails with your puckered lips
Turn each moon to a total eclipse

Mary brought bowls of pure cool water,
Shiny tin cans of fancy cat food
When puddles and fish guts spoiled my mood

I am the midnight black garbage cat
Creeping alone on the cobblestones
Clawing through trash for fetid fish bones

Mary’s the clown who hops on the bus
She jiggles, juggles, jangles our smile,
Rides a unicycle down the bus’s aisle

From prairie to sea she makes me see
What heaven on earth was bound to be:
A warm breast, an all night bakery

Oh, Mary O. wherever you wend
Unable to answer songs I send
You haven’t one precious word to spend

Your guardian angel punches the clock
Then you head West like a cold hobo
Is “To Eternity” where you go?

Rescue Dog

Rescue Dog

Rebecca Surmont

When you looked blankly into my eyes
I had second thoughts
The fierceness of your bark, the assertiveness of your gait —
The way you ran around me in circles.
I couldn’t reel you in —
But when you flip-flopped on my pillow with your wet nose
I knew we’d found one another at last
I knew we’d found one another at last
But when you flip-flipped on my pillow with your wet nose
I couldn’t reel you in —
The fierceness of your bark, the assertiveness of your gait —
The way you ran around me in circles.
I had second thoughts
When you looked blankly into my eyes

Date Night

Date Night

Doug Wilhide

We were going to go out,
celebrate the latest day of our love together
at a fancy restaurant,
but we dallied
and missed the reservation window

So then we were going to hit
a happy hour someplace —
our version of the “senior special” buffet line —
a couple cocktails, the cheap small plates,
get there early… no waiting…
hoping memories would keep
the conversation going

But time slipped away
I shoveled the snow
you caught up on your lists
the windchill dropped below zero
and we decided — over late afternoon wine —
to stay in
eat leftovers
watch an old movie
say “I love you” (again)
and go to bed early.
To sleep.

Across the Room

Across the Room

Chuck Boe

The beauty of you
makes me feel ecstatic,
aroused, anxious, fearful.
Your deep beauty, your
body, your energy
attracts me to you.

Yet, a feeling of my
unworthiness arises,
so I remain at a distance,
glancing your way,
watching you move,
not even allowing myself
a fantasy.