Spring poetry

Illustration for “Harriet Expedition"

Perhaps a little poetry can offer relief during a very difficult spring. In this collection, compiled before the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Minneapolis, you’ll find celebrations, hikes around Lake Harriet, a little love, a little laughter, travelers, towering cranes, dancers, sailors and echoes of “Star Wars.” This is our 14th year of curating these poetry pages. Thanks to all who have contributed … and all who have enjoyed the journey!

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

Prayer to Spring

James P. Lenfestey

Open the door.
So many births!
A sun!

And the vernal equinox,
what is that but words
In an ancient tongue
changing everything
to tulips?

Open the door,
what is out there but the rain?
Let the floods come.
Let the warblers tread
home to their nests.

Let the worms glisten in love
under the covers of old leaves.
Let jack-in-the-pulpit open his
sermon with praise.

Let new words erupt:
crocus, daffodil, jonquil,
petals moving their
colorful lips.
And buds! Billions of buds!
May they burst with joy.

Let the bumblebee stumble
from her grassy cave.
And the bear with her cubs
the same.

And the spade and the plow,
let them come,
punch seed into soil –
how much good the dirt knows!

Let oak and elm unfurl
their thousand paws
to shelter with shade
the open door.

Who can stop this clapping?
This audience of everything!


Shannon King

The grass doesn’t worry
no matter how many times it is stepped on,
smashed, trampled underfoot, driven over, mowed down,
over and over and over ….

It knows its nature is to rise again, delicately,
greenly, celebrating the soil, the sun.

Pledge Week

John O’Connor

The god is calling for Minnesota Public Radio.
His hammer is near by —
And a flagon of something disguised as coffee,
With persuasive faux steam
It’s a phone bank, after all — not a mead hall —
And he wishes to be Minnesota Nice.
He coaches himself to be pleasant.

And then someone in Edina says no.
Edina! Odin would be rolling his eye.
It’s not like they don’t have the money.
The hammer falls. The lightning strikes. There are screams.
And then — another renewal.
Sometimes, of course, he has to ask twice.
But his pledge rate is one hundred percent.

Take My Hand

— Laguna Beach, California

Carolyn Light Bell

Just after I said, “Come walk with me,
close to the waves,”
hoping you would see her strength,
the foamy beast surged up
and knocked you to your knees.
There you were, on all fours,
struggling to regain your stature.
You stood. She came again
to drive you down.

An angel came — a young man —
to help you upright.
However unsteady, your feet wobbly,
your knees and legs in pain,
we struggled to find a place
to sit and rest — some stairs.
We perched awhile.
Together once more,
at least for one more day,
we watched the surf at play
with children who were somehow
able to hold their ground.
How did it happen —
this reversal of power?


Sandra Burwell

I stood still,
Still, now quiet
Quiet, now listening.
And sure enough,
It was real.

The murmur turned to giggling
And the giggles turned to words.
It was the seeds talking of Spring.
“I hear melting winter.”
“It’s tickling my toes.”
“I feel about to pop.”
Like the children talking and giggling
and ready to go without jackets.

Fellow Travelers

— for Jim and Roseann

Shannon King

Some people just throw things
into a suitcase, zip it up — and go!

But the packers
have to do all the dishes first,
close the windows,
pay all the bills,
clean off the table,
sort out the books
choose the shoes
go to the bank
change the cash
to pay for the washer
to wash the shirts
and clean the jeans
to put in the suitcase
and then zip it up.
Then open it
to make sure
they didn’t forget.

Yes, I know
there are many kinds of travelers,
But, dear Lord, why, oh why,
must they marry?


Daniel Shaw

We are born sailors
abandoned to the arms of once-sailors
well-intentioned lubbers
ground-bound beasts on a planet of water.

They instruct us in the laws of land
a world of plans, intentions
as though desirable and undesirable
could be closeted, sifted, wheat from chaff.

They bind themselves
to the blessings of stasis,
refuge from rain and wind
presuming to parse the elemental.

They betray their roots
rocking us in our distress
instinctively offering the roll of the ocean,
the comfort of transition.

I will teach my children to be sailors
to learn of life ashore
to know the refuge of rock and roof
yet ever to treasure their sea legs.

Sister Lucille

John O’Connor

Sister Lucille, the Sith lord —
Cleverly disguised as a Catholic nun —
Roams the hallways of Holy Rosary,
Her light-saber at the ready.
She’s the most violent samurai chick
That Emperor Palpatine ever feared.
She is ready to strike you down.

The grade-school boys are restless and bored.
They wish they were having fun.
They daydream of something military —
Something dangerous and exciting and unsteady —
Not realizing that a fantastic,
Shape-shifting, dungeon-dimensions lizard has appeared
In a wimple and a habit in their hometown.

Tower Crane Weather Vane

David Griffith

On the west side of Bryant, near 36th Street
A 200 ft. boom on a crane tower
Moves concrete and steel beams
Wood framed wall sections and floor trusses
To the building rising
From the hole where the senior center
Once stood … where an old women once
Spoke to me about her classmates
In the one room schoolhouse
On the prairie south of Minneapolis
Where, as it happens, the boom points
When the workers have gone home.

The boom swings with the wind, looming …
One evening over the little houses south on Bryant,
Another over the old brick art deco building to the east
And, in a SE wind, over the donut shop to the NW.

That interests me about boom cranes:
In the days they raise the buildings.
In the nights, untethered, they tell
Which way the wind blows.


Doug Wilhide

He thought
I don’t think I can think anymore
Not deeply anyway, anymore
Not like before, he thought.

Before, he not only thought
He knew — he even believed,
And others knew he thought
And believed him.

And then he began to think
That perhaps he had never thought
Really, that deeply, or that well —
That it had all been some kind of …
Delusion, a mental mirage, even a lie —

Though it wasn’t and it hadn’t been
He thought, on his better days.

Fonteyn and Nureyev

Toni McNaron

a single ring of light,
barely big enough to hold them —
all else empty darkness,
potent darkness for an audience
that seemed to give up breathing
so as not to disturb the air

though he was electric, my focus was on her
left leg planted, head almost on the floor,
right leg touching some imagined sky,
a perfect “six o’clock” beyond most 20 year olds;
right leg en pointe, left at 90 degrees,
her hand in his for crucial balance —

he let her go
the audience gasped,
no usual tremor along her upper arm
no sudden rescue by his steady hand
no one had the nerve to clap
our noise might undo their bond
she’d topple back to earth
he held her with eye-beam threads
she stayed upright:
a miracle was complete

One Last Kiss, Cold and Wild

Kathleen Kimball-Baker

Weary Northerner,
wrestle your cold feet into boots
this one last time. Glove your hands
and walk with me.

Now then, lift up your chin. Can you
feel it? The ping of infinitesimal darts,
the icy bites on the delicate skin of your nose,
before they vanish.

Can you hear it? The squeak of boots
that make your teeth itch.

Can you see it? The night that cannot go dark
because the ground billows white, scented
like a sheet pulled from a clothesline.

Tell me: is this really so bad?

April, yes,
but soon enough, slush will trickle down
the sidewalks, gray and messy. Green will shoulder
up through the mud. Sun will baste us sticky,
and sodden air will suck away our breath.

I know what you’ll do then …
You’ll hurry down to the lake, slip your skin
into the water’s dark cloak. You’ll pull
your head below the surface, propel your steamy form
to the underwater ladder of the floating dock
all the while cooled by water
not so long ago frozen
by our long and generous

Harriet Expedition

Scott Devens

Just finished running
around the lake
in about 15 degree temp
on a cleared asphalt path.
The conditions were cold and windy
and not very motivating.

What kept me going were
the grueling expeditions of
Bancroft, Steger, Dupre, Buettner and others.

I know Dupre crossed Antarctica
pushing a heavy sled
through bone-chilling, icy water.
Today, I had a bead of sweat
freeze on my forehead.

Buettner pushed a touring bike
loaded with tons of gear
through a Siberian swamp
for days.
I go all the way around the lake
without stopping.
When I get bored, or kinda tired
I think about those explorers
pushing on for days,
One foot in front of the other.
Keep pushing.
You can make it.
Someone must plant that flag
atop the summit
at the bandshell.

On Our Walks Around the Lake

Joe Alfano

A brush of the breeze,
against deep grooved bark,
the smell of wet loam,
cardinals, and red wing blackbirds
sing to all awake.
People congregate,
swimming birds dive,
the life we’re a part of
on our walks around the lake.

Leaves just emerged
reflect rays of daylight
in all shades of green.
Holy strollers roll,
dogs, children & adults
amble along the path.
This lucky life we live,
on our walks around the lake.

When the seasons flip,
the thermometer dips,
the wind bites,
over a landscape of snow and ice,
as the moon shines,
we seek memory of warmer times,
cold winter paths we will survive,
spring will arrive,
once again
we’ll be a part of all
renewed and alive,
on our walks around the lake.