Winter poetry

Illustration for Waking

“Have you made your burial plans?” asks one of our poets. Winter sometimes feels like that around here. We received a lot of serious poems anticipating our hibernation season. Some lighter ones, too. You’ll find poems about friends and dogs, fear and porch repair, strangers, icebergs and — briefly — family. Best wishes for the holidays!

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

Politics and FoodPolitics and Food

John O’Connor

Someone with a megaphone is hollering in the plaza
With what seems to be real feeling.
I’m a political featherweight — lighter than a ballerina —
But I’m also a foodie,
And I choose my parties on that basis.
It’s the food and not the policy
Which commands my assent:

A Tea Party if it has Darjeeling,
Zionism if there’s rugallah,
Franco for some Spanish flan goodies,
Garibaldi for a pizza,
Zola for a (hopefully chocolate) croissant,
Scottish separatists if I never have to try haggis,
Anyone anytime for some decent coffee.

First SnowFirst Snow

Shannon King

First snow
with deceptive simplicity,
touches bright leaves lightly,
sprinkles old grasses, gardens, shrubs,
with whiteness,
whispers softly,
“I’m back … are you ready?
Have you made your burial plans?”

The StrangerThe Stranger

Carol Rucks

When, on a quiet morning
as snow flutters down
and cars rest on pools of ice

some tall someone
steps up to the door,
be sure to let him in.

Offer up a cup of tea
to the black wind picking seeds
from wilted cornflowers.

No one will see
as he takes you by the hand,
examines your startled eyes
flickering with hope
and exhaustion.

You’ve been alone enough,
winter sun chafing your face,
snow-light burnishing your hair.
Let the guest surprise you
with silence and wonder.

Living Without HerLiving Without Her

Lisa Calame Berg

A poet I respect once said
any poem with dusk in it
was okay by him. I have to say
I agree. I have never seen
a dusk that disappointed, even
those smothered in mist
or clouds or misunderstandings.

At dusk, we are all equal,
halfway between the sword of the afternoon
and night’s forgiveness.
We do not know ourselves
as well as we think by half,
probably more. At dusk,
it doesn’t seem to matter
until someone walks to the wall
and places a single finger —
there. One year later, we still
can’t quite breathe.

Racism Redux

Gary Melom

I know someone

who no longer feels confident
walking down the street

who no longer feels secure
riding on a bus

who no longer assumes
the store clerk is just being helpful

who no longer feels neighborly
sitting quietly in his own home

who no longer believes completely
in the possibilities of his own person

Who once overcame dread
but could not stop living with it

Who does not know
where the hate lurks
or who it was  — truly —
wove it so deeply 

so imperatively retrieved from the shadows
so completely timelessly immanent.

I know someone who overcame
but did not forget.

I know someone who lives fiercely
because that is the only vessel
to make hate impotent.

I know someone who weeps
while marching.

The Beauty of a FriendThe Beauty of a Friend

Carolyn Light Bell

Real beauty radiates straight from the heart.
It lingers briefly in the eyes. It’s oft expressed
in words, but not always.
It might be found in a small gesture —
like pulling someone else’s sled up a hill
or giving her your last cookie.
It spreads across the face
the way dawn traverses earth,
filling the souls of those who daily wait
for this perfect, loving embrace.


Laurie Lykken

From where I lie, I can see
the waning moon through a leafless tree,
a Cheshire smile shining down on me
until, in the orange light of dawn,
the smile fades and is gone.

On the ground now fully lit,
the fallen leaves do more than sit.
A St. Vitus Dance with the wind they do
mingling their shapes and colors too.
Then the mist that’s filled the air
turns into snow and pins them where
they gather against fence and shrub.

There the shrouded leaves will be
until spring comes to set them free.
But what has this to do with me?

Out of my bed I must soon climb
to face a world less than sublime
until at some future time
I too fall not to rise.
I will then rejoin the earth
to wait in silence for rebirth.
Bird, bug, tree? Possibly all three.
But that will not be up to me.


Doug Wilhide

We are like icebergs most of our lives,
revealing just the parts that float above water,
using codes and passwords and acronyms,
abbreviating ourselves,
we submit only the outlines of our stories.

We think in wild, weird, ice-carved ridges
blown around by waves and surface winds
as we feel, hope, remember and dream
in deeper currents.

Our joys, our sorrows — our happy and sad —
sound like terns or gulls or rock and roll,
while our deeper, fuller sympathies
extend like whale call symphonies:

I want to know your sweetest harmonies
I want you in my band
I want to sing your finest qualities
I wanna hold your hand.

Porch WorkPorch Work 

Dave Griffin

On the first day of porch work
I removed soft floor boards
And discovered that this wasn’t
my last day of porch work.

On the second day,
I removed rotting framing
And found a gold wedding band,
a terrific find for the tenant who lost the ring.

On the third day I replaced the rotten framing
Found quite a bit more rotten framing
And an ancient pot of lead.

On the fourth day, as I lay with my tools and worklight
in an otherwise dark chamber under the porch,
I reflected on the passage of time: 

Once there had been a more open porch skirting
That had let in the wind and the leaves.
Now there are the dried carcasses of animals,
old bottles, broken toys, lawn ornaments —
Where are the people who left these?  

On the fifth day I closed up the porch
with new old style floor boards
That fit together tongue and groove, tight as a puzzle.
Of course I’d left something behind.

I’ll figure it out when I can’t find it in my tool bag.
Years from now a New World person will find it
And wonder what became of me.

Wing NutsWing Nuts

Rusty Debris

I want to better understand how to use multimeters,
how I can employ various “workarounds”
and what’s so convenient about convenience fees
and how about a world with no need for keys,
except for the people’s key of “G?”

I don’t know how to precisely
lower Venetian window blinds
with minds of their own.
I don’t know the real reason
for so-called daylight saving time either.
Sun poisoning, love handles, tornadoes, vegetarian meatballs,
Northern lights — a hoo — all mysteries to me.

On the other hand, I fully — fully — understand
back scratches, chocolate donuts and wing nuts.


Christine Alfano

Here is the coat
that my mother bought for me
when I was in fourth grade.
A winter parka: fur.
Did you hear me? It was FUR!

Great pools of butterscotch, smooth on a field of white.
The zipper so heavy and thick, its teeth jumped to join one another
on their way up to my perfect chin.
I imagined the fur was from a giraffe — tall, exotic, precious.
And the coat, densely lined, so warm, it brushed the top of my thighs,
and its hood was trimmed with more fur,
framing my young face, softly, as though with love.

And I tell you
I walked like a queen when I wore the coat my mother gave me.
An empress of the snow, gift-wrapped in fur I was,
my spine, stiff, regal.
Why — the snowdrifts parted upon my approach.

Know too that I had Taystee Bread bags pulled over
the fourth-grade feet inside my boots,
which were worn and leaking.
My hair, beneath that hood, hosted a nest of wasps, I swear,
long brown strands, so knotted from lack of combing,
they bunched in a ball at the back of my neck.
Under the coat, I wore a dark wool uniform,
spotted with dried milk, spilled
from the rising spoon of my morning cereal.
Unclean, it carried sometimes a sour smell.

But my mother gave me a coat once.
And it was fur.

No One Ever ListensNo One Ever Listens

Craig Planting

While walking to a lake
with a disputed name
I met a friend.

A caterpillar with orange and black stripes
was inching toward the noon traffic.
It had more hair than my boss,
and I called out: No! Turn around!
Stay in the bike lane
where no one ever rides!

Named by AnimalsNamed By Animals

Kathleen Kimball-Baker

Not Mutton or Muffin,
not Misty or Missy.
These are not the names
animals would give us
if we stood on opposite
sides of the gate.

As for me,
my bug-eyed rescue hound,
who believes she alone hears
threats ahead, would call me:
She Who Shuts Down Baying.

My bossy Aussie mix,
all business and no fun,
would likely name me:
She Who Is Too Lenient

My blue-eyed mama’s boy
who came to me as a wee
puppy would surely dub me:
Traitor Woman Who Brings New Dogs

And my silly yodeling husky,
always preceded by clicking sounds,
would pronounce me:
She Who Lets Nails Grow Too Long

And they’d each be right.

My Whole Family Are Palindromes

Chuck Boe

There is Mom, Dad,
Hannah, Anna and Bob.
I’m Christopher.
I’ve never fit in.