Summer poetry

WASCO illustration
WASCO illustration

It’s been a serious, sad and tragic few months in Minneapolis. Even as the natural world opened up, the pandemic shut us all down. Then the police killing of George Floyd led to grief, anger and civil unrest. All this has taken a toll. We received twice as many poems as usual for this issue — some addressing the hard times, some looking for solace. This collection contains a representative sample. We’ll hold others for future issues.

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

The First Shorts Day

Adam Overland

It is in the early days of spring
When a snowfall isn’t yet out of the question
When the boulevards and gutters reveal winter’s trash collection
An unexpected 70 degrees and the quiet sun in a cloudless sky.

This is the first day that a reasonable person would wear shorts
This is the exact day — not the one before it or the many after it
This is the day that you were waiting for
That reminds you —
This is the day you realize there will be more days like this and you actually start to believe that
But soon days like this will become so common
you will forget them before they are gone.

During the slow drone of winter
you seemed to recall there having been these kinds of days
But the memory is like a postcard
sent by someone too distant to be believed.

It is only when this day presents itself again for the first time
When you went out and just Did Everything
Wearing Shorts
It is only when this day comes to an end
and tomorrow’s forecast predicts rain, and the weekend, maybe snow…

It is only then that you realize, suddenly, that this was that day
And now it’s gone.

Dating An Alien

John O’Connor

Slowly the Zorg extends a tentacle.
Is this okay?
Or does it need more permission?
You watch, goggle-eyed,
(Though not, of course, as goggle-eyed as your date)
As it struggles with inhibition
And its pleasure sensors flash off and on.

As dates go, he’s a bit of a yawn.
He told you his secret mission.
He vaporized a waiter who was late.
He took you to his spaceship for a ride.
And then he explained the government’s Roswell position.
But he isn’t married. He isn’t gay.
He’s (newly) down to earth. And he’s practical.

Tossed Salad, 2020

Marion Whitney

A fence separates our neighbors and us
So imagine my surprise one day
When over the fence flew a bag
of salad greens and some scallions.

Home delivery is popular now
as we practice social distancing
But never have I heard anywhere
of salad flying o’er the fence.

It is easy to get fretful and frazzled
about things you cannot control
But the tossed salad made me smile and think
like Louie, What a wonderful world.

Don’t Get Around Much Anymore

Grace Harkness

Missed the Easter Parade,
Finding TV a bore
When will COVID be conquered,
Don’t get around much anymore.

The weather gets nice,
I stare at the door
Temptation is strong,
and staying home’s a bore.

Missing family and friends,
Tired of pacing the floor
But we’ll follow the orders,
Don’t get around much anymore.

When This Is Over

Maria Verven

When this is over
We’ll connect in Triple D
Give a hug to all my friends
And not just virtually.

We’ll make a big commotion
Dance in real live crowds
Let’s do the locomotion
And party really loud.

Keeping my distance
Is driving me insane
So close and yet so far away
It’s oh so inhumane.

We must stick together
Together we will stand
With hope in our hearts
We’ll soon walk hand in hand.

I need three dimensions
I’m tired of only two
When I see you on the screen
It only makes me blue.

So when this is over
And we all get to see
Our lives have changed, and rearranged
How we were meant to be.

Resisting, Breathing

Roberto Malini (translation by Glenys Robinson)

In Memory of George Floyd

Before he died George Floyd
said, in a last faint whisper:
“I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe.”

And he died suffocated,
with the weight of the Earth
kneeling on his throat.

Next to him – not you, not me, not Atlas
and no flowers, as of yet,
George died out of breath
on the asphalt of the Mill City.
Without breath, without his breath,
without our breath, the oxygen of freedom.

Without our breath
that must flow throughout the world
never ceasing, from Africa to Asia,
from Europe to Oceania,
as far as the Americas.

Without our breath, the beginning of life,
photosynthesis of the dream of civilization
that we have been pursuing for millennia.

How can we not weep, now,
and not yell out that George
is still alive in us,
in our dream, in our bodies
hungry for air, and justice?

So let’s all shout out that we cannot breathe,
that the weight of the Earth
and the asphalt of our cities
are killing us.

Let us shout out that the measure is full to the brim,
that we will no longer endure the gravity of order,
the knees of authority.

We will wait, standing up, on the asphalt
for those monsters, this time,
with the weight of the Earth
beneath us, resisting,

Mayday, Mayday — 5/30/20

Gary Melom

Saigon 1968
normal business went on
while people died in the jungle

GIs got drunk on Tudo Street
tried to pick up girls at the zoo

Americans walked down streets
ornamented by French architecture
munching on food they could not name.

Minneapolis 2020
normal business went on
while George Floyd died on the street

backyard barbecues still smelled better
than whatever that was
at Lake Street and Minnehaha

people came to clean up after the mess
while the sound of lawn mowers
joined the helicopters overhead

always the helicopters
they always show up for tragedy

and then they leave
like all the politicians
like everybody else
devoid of better ideas.

Seafaring Nights

Doug Wilhide

My mind used to be like the bridge on a cruise ship —
Streamlined. Clean. Ready for action.
At night I could clear the decks,
invite a burst of fresh air
to drive old thoughts away,
blow them into vents,
store them somewhere in hidden files.

Now I command this rust bucket freighter
on a cluttered bridge with odd corners
charts uncorrected, communications unanswered
flat surfaces full of almost empty pizza boxes
twittering greasily.

There is no blast of air that will drive this mess away.
I toss and turn and replay video tapes
of the day, back in the day,
other days, other ships, old loves.

The sea is still out there; the engines still work,
but my course is uncharted.
I cruise around in my history’s wake,
searching horizons, seeking rest,
unsure of a port where I will be welcomed.

What’s Right

Carolyn Light Bell

Her spirit rests on my shoulder
to remind me what’s right,
as she often did.
Even now in the mirror,
three quarters of a century later,
the wrinkles on my brow
replicate hers.

Mother was frugal.
As I grew,
my uniform needed lengthening
and the waist needed letting out.
Already worn by two sisters,
the uniform could last
another year.

The tailor spun me around
as she worked,
pulling straight pins
from between her teeth,
fashioning tiny crosses to mark
the hem she would lengthen,
the waist she would release.

In the mirror, Mother’s face
looked hopeful that I would grow
to be beautiful and good,
her subtle flattening of lips,
faint glimmer of admiration,
a soft smile barely showing
that it might possibly come true.

When other people are unkind
I sit on her heavenly lap,
hearing her whispered words:
Rise above. Count to ten.
And I do it, knowing she was right,
coming closer to what
she spent her life trying to teach me,

at least about that.

Ode to My Left Ear

James P. Lenfestey

Oh, original tunnel of love!
Heart-pounding love!
Blood-whooshing love!
My spiral, my drum!

I could hear before I was born
everything that mattered —
heartbeat, music,
rumble of warm voices,
bass notes, treble cries.

Now as I pour drops in you
to shrink the tumor, I hear
still all that matters:
Heart-pounding love.
Blood-whooshing love.
Calls of familiar voices.
Phantom cicada song.

It’s Too Quiet

Carol Rucks

Down at Manning’s Bar, doors locked.
The streets loom wide and barren, parked cars
look unused, splattered over with wet spring debris.

Sidewalks seem to breath a sign of relief
not to be trod on, not to be cracked.
Two children toss a ball around, not saying
a word to each other, or looking up
from a simple game of catch.

A woman with a stroller races past me.
The Virus has tip-toed through
the dead alley of sleeping bicycles and lawn mowers.

Too quiet on Talmadge Avenue.
Too quiet in Van Cleve Park.
City buses creep down Como, a sign
above the driver reads necessary travel only.

Too quiet on Hennepin.
Too quiet on Stinson.
Everyone strolls along, eyes cast down,
money burning a little hole in their pockets.

Walk Radio

Melissa S. Anderson

I like to tune in to the airwaves when I’m on a walk.
The dominant station is, of course, all-talk THEM,
which features women talking loudly
about yoga, Tom, the cabin, the wedding, and so on.

I prefer the music station BIRD.
I love to hear Oriole belting it out —
man, can he sing!
I like The Chickadees’ sweet love songs,
and sometimes I catch Cardinal
singing, This Land Is My Land.

Once in a while, by accident,
I turn to reality station LIFE,
whose deejay is obsessed with heavy metal —
lawn mowers, ambulances, airplanes.

My favorite, though, is non-commercial LAKE.
Their signal is not very strong,
so they don’t have a wide broadcast area,
but they play the loveliest silence,
broken only rarely by a loon’s call.
Sometimes it’s so beautiful
that I just have to sit down and listen.


Laurie Lykken

Prince Charming’s search ends
with Showy Lady Slippers
worn on tender stems