It’s been a tough year. Even as a glorious autumn fades around us, difficulties continue on so many fronts. Local poets have stayed close to home while imagining distant adventures. This collection includes poems about home repairs, neighborhoods and social unrest, geese, spiders and motorcycle riders. Hang in there…
Doug Wilhide is the poet laureate of Linden Hills and poetry editor of the Southwest Journal.
You bear down with the screwdriver
knowing it may be futile
the screw having been there for so long,
since time began, maybe,
and the slot worn almost flat.
There are no other options —
things must change
and this is where it begins:
that screw, this screwdriver and you.
Sailors and suffragists
poets and mountaineers
ball players, engineers,
pilots, painters and politicians…
have gone before and been forgotten
before others came along
to become —
the first, the fastest, the favorites, the famous.
Sometimes we stand on others’ shoulders
sometimes we slip through opened doors
sometimes we’re allowed to take a stand
sometimes we kneel, screwdriver in hand.
Always we hope for that first little budge,
that slipping of history
that hint of progress —
the smallest of movements,
that will change everything.
There is a grandma sitting
with her stacks of clippings.
Smart and clever,
she is well-read and frightened.
She collects the news of others:
neighbors, children, clergy.
Wanting better eyesight
as light grows dim.
A starving child, she fills her soul
with treasured yellowed pages,
Gorging their ink, chewing their pulp.
Their stories give her hope.
Since those who moved through fear
are now her guests
She thinks of when she had no fear
no pain. Her daughter holds her hand
And gives her wrist a rub
a gift that has no wrap.
A pair of minds too tight
to do or say much more
Except those blue, blue drapes
could use a hem before I leave,
Could shade your room from
too bright light
And keep the dust away.
I’ve Come to Observe
from my lookout here in the neighborhood,
my cement stoop, dusty window,
that I haven’t found the answers.
I have not met the gods and goddesses,
or the Green Man, the protector of soil.
Even here, truth and beauty
elude me, escape my hands.
The deeper I dig, the more rocks
I find in the dirt. The more weeds
I have to pull, I find poisonous ones,
many that I used to think were flowers.
I’ve become unsure about love, death, beauty.
With you, the blue sky, a whisper of clouds,
I’ve learned to find a little peace
among the birds
murmuring in the cherry tree,
the simple way they sit up high
all day, out of reach.
I am a stranger in my neighborhood
Each day I walk past neat little houses,
newly mowed lawns, pruned trees,
and flowers of the season.
In each driveway are two expensive cars;
I do not see my neighbors.
They work at home now.
I pass an occasional walker, we nod,
and avoid the other’s presence …
social distancing is the current norm.
I walk alone in the neighborhood.
I am the stranger.
I know another neighborhood,
Where I am not a stranger.
I know where the sidewalk
is smooth for roller skating,
I avoid the huge grapevine that
dropped a caterpillar on me once,
I never go that way again.
I know the grocery store by the alley,
for 25 cents I got a can of tuna and milk.
On the corner is a store where
we get a block of ice from the sawdust room.
In winter I walk over snow piled high
from recently shoveled sidewalks.
On Christmas a brightly lit tree
glitters on top of the store.
I know where Marilyn lives,
and the house that had kittens.
I run past one house, the owner scares me,
I know not to cross the busy street,
I can run around the block,
past the red brick school,
to the yellow stucco house
that waits for me, my home.
I am not a stranger.
Don’t Look Down
And the tarnished beauty of this fractured, battered world is too much.
And the losses are incomprehensible.
And every life is an open window until it closes.
And some still believe nothing bad will ever happen to them.
And our retired parents are taking unnecessary risks.
And our cousins are still throwing parties.
And no one wants advice from anyone.
And Mick and Keith predicted fires sweeping through our streets today.
And Dylan said reality has always had too many heads.
And our leaders preen as they broadcast recriminations.
And my wife says I hope that’s just fireworks and we both listen.
And I wonder what will be left for our kids.
And soon there’ll be snow on the playgrounds.
And I miss my friends, live music and dive bars.
And there is fear and suspicion in a stranger’s eyes.
And we look down as we walk around each other.
And I want to wish him well.
And I know I’ve been given more than I deserve.
And I go home and drink too much Jameson.
Shipmates on the Pandemic Sea
Becalmed. The wind suddenly stopped,
the voyage interrupted. Dead in the water.
Our sails hang limp, listless, the rudder, slack
What shall we do now? Swab the deck, polish
the brass again, make scrimshaw carvings
out of old bones? Speculate upon the Narwhale
and the Unicorn? Tie ourselves in knots?
We could tell stories of our old lives, remember
that first voyage out, the smell of salt, a cloudless sky,
strong wind at our backs, guided by the stars and
I fear some undercurrent pulling us far off course,
see only blue water, blue sky. As above, so below.
Which way is up?
Will we ever land?
I listen for the Sirens call, luring me with sex or song,
but there is only silence.
Bitten by a New Yorker, the spider became irate.
He became loud and coarse.
He learned to use some cuss words pretty well.
Now he could give you the finger eight fingers at a time.
His web became a map of the subway.
Suddenly the Yankees were his favorite team.
And then he began to dream.
He dreamed of wearing spandex one day.
He dreamed of fighting crime.
The problem was — the local crooks were dull.
Nostalgia for Manhattan left him estranged.
He’d never actually been there, of course.
But now everything, even crime, was boring or second rate.
Witty repartee in a bar inside the Ritz
Listening to piano, I’m pretty sure it was Liszt,
Although I am in Rome, I’m drinking Irish tea
I’ve no one left at home; I’m footloose, fancy-free.
I shift my position and then, to my surprise
The handsome signore in the next booth catches my eye
He smiles back at me, that instant we then know
It could be our beginning; with so much more in store.
Strangers in the night who wonder if it’s right
Was it meant to be or serendipity?
I look into his eyes and I wonder: what could be?
Will he be my lover, or is it just my fantasy?
My heart won’t let me rest, there is no guarantee
So live life to the max is my philosophy.
Why do I keep looking for fairytales and romance
When every man I meet disappoints me and love fades?
The dance that we will do, there’s no way we can tell
We may fall in love, end up in bloody hell.
We search for our soul mate, but I think it’s just a ruse.
If there’s only one, then why have I had a few?
I can’t help but wonder: is there a great design?
I wish I was devout, believed in the Divine.
I don’t think it’s a sin to follow every whim
Live life by the drop, ’cause one day it will stop.
An Accidental Crime
The crochet hook “boinged” back and forth
in my knee as it settled into the joint.
My sister and I inhaled sharply
in a single breath of surprise,
our mouths making mirroring “OH’s”.
She jumped up and ran out of the room
calling for Mom as I sat
staring at my impaled leg, the pain
slowly seeping into my stunned brain.
Mom worked efficiently, picking me
up and carrying me to the car, barking
instructions to my sister and driving
to the hospital in determined silence.
I was carried directly into a room
where they set me on a table to survey the damage.
The doctor cut away my pant leg, then discussed
how to dig that hook out of my knee joint.
They numbed my knee and laid me
down so I didn’t see the incision. I didn’t see
the damage to the muscle and cartilage,
nor the blood oozing onto the white sheet.
I didn’t hear the operation, didn’t feel the pain—
until later that night.
Didn’t hear Mama,
mad as hell, yelling at the doctor
for ruining a brand new pair of slacks
she had just finished sewing.
Nothing is as melancholy as the sound of geese
flying south for the winter
Which reminds me of my father
waking me in the early hours
so that we might trudge out into sloughs
And on this morning we try to stop them
from their journey to warmer climes
A thin layer of ice gripping the cattails
like a straw in a soda forgotten in the freezer
Stray lead shot dancing like hail
To sink in the muck with the warming of the sun
And perhaps one or two crashed,
but the rest continued on
Despite our best efforts
And now in the middle of a pandemic
where on the ground everything feels frozen
and not quite real
We get it.
You’re flying south for the winter and we’re not.
But we will.
Smell of Ripe Tomatoes
around this time
my husband and I
hired work done
on our house.
The living room, dining room,
bedroom were a catastrophe
of plaster dust and fallen
Clumps of it settled on
every sorry surface,
clung to the workers’ masks.
We escaped with our mattress to
the kitchen floor,
a low-slung nest for cooling night,
close to morning coffee pot,
evening glass of wine.
But day’s thick heat
forced us out-of-doors
to stake our claim
on needed shade,
which we found in our backyard —
a sleeping bag thrown down
next to towering tomato plants.
We lowered ourselves to
Both in our sixties,
we were careful folding down,
knees first, easy does it.
And we lay there, outside,
in our yard, on a blanket.
I heard sparrows at the feeder,
leaves of river birch rustle.
I put my hand
on my husband’s hip.
We closed our eyes.
Melissa S. Anderson
Speeding by on his powerful bike,
his large, muscular frame accented
by a full beard and he-man shades —
black shoes, black pants,
black T-shirt scrawled with the name
of a heavy-metal band —
talking loudly into his headset,
“Did you get that recipe I sent you
for cherry sorbet?”