Cloud Gate, or “The Bean,” a sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park. I’ve only been to Chicago twice, but both times I was enthralled by the city’s architecture. As I’ve told others: In New York, my eye is drawn to the people on the streets, but in Chicago, I look up at the beautiful buildings.
The history professor’s voice circled
at a free evening lecture off Benevolent.
Two hours later he finished rummaging
for meaning, lifted his empty hands:
“How can anyone pursue a wohd
that literally means luck or fohtune?”
Later, on Hope Street, a grizzled gnome
followed me: “This here notebook holds
fahhunerdunthirdyone of the bes’ goddamn
poems in the whole goddamn world.”
He chuckled, held his script like a shield.
“And I wrote ’em all.” He rattled some coins
in a rusted Chock Full O’Nuts can.
“Which one do ya wanner heah first?”
An HBO movie with John Cusack is on the flat-screen TV.
The hotel is in a corporate office park. Snow, sleet, company car. No idea where I am.
I hole up with a big bag of kettle corn bought at the front desk for five bucks.
Tomorrow, a meeting with folks in the business. Plans to make, questions to ask, handouts, polite banter, business cards.
Tonight, I crawl into the pillow-top, king-sized bed.
Slumber party for one
For Don Short (1957-2008)
you were raking leaves
on the Maine coast.
And then you weren’t.
to listen to traffic on the interstate,
children a few streets over.
North wind carried sharp sea tang –
still a surprise
after decades of decay-scented prairie.
This led you back
to the boy-man you once were:
assured, jock, flirt, tease.
You smiled that smile
and scraped the last pile of what was
into a black bag.
Rubbing aching arms,
just short of the kitchen door
and the woman who shaped
meatballs for your supper.
You lay there,
searching for a wider sky.
But all you saw
was this dark tangle of trees –
something else you never got used to.
But what do I know?
No, in this last day’s shelter
you heard oaks and sugar maples
let go a great sigh
and shower you down
with golden leaves.
Like this line from the obit:
“Don always had a gift of gab. There wasn’t anyone he wouldn’t talk to, or have a kind word for.”
I have not written a poem about the day we left Marcus. I don’t know if I ever will.
The day of the sale was beautiful. Late September. Warm. Bright blue.
My father sat on the porch while his life was sold.
I wish I had bought the house.
I know it was sold to a good woman who blessed the day. Her name said it all. Joy.
But it closed a door on a past.
And I regret it. Always will.
I will move on. Retire to another home. Without a past.
And so it goes.
Today, as I celebrate my birthday, I honor the amazing women that I have met in my life. This poem is based on a story that a woman from my hometown told me. She was in her 80s at the time, and I had always known that she was a writer and a poet. But she was also the mother of a large family, who felt blessed not to have lost it all on a night long ago in Minnesota. Today, she’s in a nursing home far from Marcus, still surrounded by family.
A Long Life in a Small Town
She knows the face
that shows up on her porch
to repair her air conditioner.
A quiet boy who had played ball
on the school field next door
with her sons. All moved away now,
school too, except Charlie.
Neighbors say he can fix anything.
He looks like his dad,
even more like his grandpa
with those deep blue eyes.
Later, in her cooling kitchen,
Charlie smiles when she tells him so
as he eats a slice of rhubarb pie.
She tells no one about the dream: she’s wearing a blue cotton summer dress, lying in the front seat of a new ’51 Fairlane way up north near Pipestone. She’s bleeding. The sounds of screeching brakes and twisting metal have stopped. But the cries of her baby girl somewhere beneath her have not. Their four boys in back are silent. And where is Jack? Then a car door scrapes open. Charlie’s face is above her, so far from home.
That night as her home hums
itself to sleep, she pulls the story
from memory like a crystal vase
from her china cabinet.
How a man from her small town
on a fishing trip for Northern pike
was first to come upon their crumpled car
in a ditch on a lonely blacktop.
And how he watched over her family
(all thank God alive) at a big city hospital
until he knew they were out of danger.
How he expected no thanks because
That’s what you do in a small town.
And how years later
he’d stop by the ball field next door
on warm summer nights
to watch the youngest of her eight sons
play ball with his grandson,
the quiet one with deep blue eyes.
We had our first snow of 2012 this week, and there is six inches of fluffy stuff on the ground. Tomorrow it will melt away, get dirty and drab as we head back into the 50s. So, here are some simple images of snow and the many shapes it takes.
I finally received my copy of this anthology this week. It’s a great collection, including poems by Pattiann Rogers, Jane Hirshfield, Peter Cooley, Denise Duhamel, Lyn Lifshin and me! Page 111. I’ve had many poems published, but this is a step up and encouragement to keep at it. I haven’t been writing much lately. The new year urges me to get back to writing and getting the work in the mail again.
My thanks to Madelyn Garner and Andrea L. Watson for working so hard to get this published!
This is the poem that was selected. It’s loosely based on Father O’Reilly, for those who remember him.
Offering Up the Collection
The Irish priest had pure white hair,
a black cocker spaniel named Rasputin
and a glass jar of children’s teeth.
An odd collection amassed from years
of tiny gap-smiled visitors bold enough
to cross the street to his brick-faced rectory.
They offered up wadded handkerchiefs,
cradles for bloodied milk-white kernels
that Father praised and plinked into the maw.
In return, he doled out holy trinkets:
small plastic statues of empty-handed Mary
or Jesus pointing to a painted ruby heart.
A cursory sign of the cross over an open mouth,
and the child raced back to the playground
to prove how brave she’d been to go alone.
When confessional boxes murmured dark secrets
and tongues burned down the priest’s creed,
his collection hummed like a choir of cherubim.
Rasputin died first, then the priest, far away.
His jar was flung into the alley, its bits scattered.
All night the wind sang across drifting snow.
Well, we are having a brown winter this year, so nothing too exciting to photograph in the present. So, let’s go back in time (again). I’ve scanned some old b&w photos from days gone by.
What I remember about Iowa winters were lots of days off from school in the winter. The nuns at Holy Name would give us homework for days at a time, just to make sure we had work to do while we were snowed in. (And, of course, I reveled in checking off the assignments I completed.)
But I also remember piling on coats and mittens and scarves to go outside to play and coming in wet and cold and tired. I remember hot chocolate. I remember putting totally ice-crystalled mittens on the heater to melt and dry. I remember the smell. I remember not feeling my fingers and nose and toes. I remember how they burned when I felt them again.
I never learned to ski in Iowa, but I do remember sliding down just-big-enough hills all day on inner tubes, especially as I got older and I went sledding with friends on huge tractor inner tubes on Peterson Hill.
On Peterson Hill
An icy leftover of ancient glacier
mirrors a china blue plate of sky
that looks down on Iowa fields.
Bitter north winds slap against
this rise dotted with red-faced young.
Prairie children do not know mountains.
Nothing here leaps up to hamper their gaze.
They do not learn to strap skis to booted feet,
or slice down trails one by one standing up
or control their speed by a turn of ankle.
This slope is best for tractor inner tubes
that hold swaddled rumps a dozen at a time.
These riders learn to pull in exposed limbs
and lock arms as they bounce recklessly
against the slippery crust of winter.
Prairie children know the last one on is first to fly
and bottom is safest though bruised for days.
They learn to love most that frozen moment
when one sudden bump suspends them all
above blue ice—holding each other’s breath.
Looking for book to read? I have quite a few short reviews stored here. Not sure how many have checked it out.
Celebrate! This is my 150th post on this website. I set a goal to post once a week in 2012, and I have far exceeded my goal. I’ve also enjoyed almost 18,000 visits from friends and strangers. That is incredible, and makes the challenge all the more worthwhile.
Peace to all.