Poem of the Week, by Max Garland

Sciurus Carolinesis
– Max Garland      

It’s hopeless how she loves this life.

The gray squirrel digs a small moon’s

worth of craters in the yard.

Some she fills, some leaves open.

I’ve seen her work a walnut, still green,

round and round, shaving the surface

down to the meat. It moves in her claws

like a planet, or a bead

bigger and quicker than worry.

By love, I mean she uses the day

down to the last morsel of light—digs, barks,

insults the crow, wields

and lashes her tail like a glorified whip.

There’s a charge in her, wild volts.

A livid motion, leaping from red pine

to hackberry, the single forepaw catching first,

swinging under, then over, then onto

the branch. She’s a circus

when she takes to the power lines,

racing the live wire above the lowly

addresses. She’s a spiral of serious sleep

in the high hollow of the pin oak.

By love, I mean filling herself

with small right intentions. By life,

I mean she looks at you from the railings.

A kind of dare is in her, her tail curled

like a bass clef, or mutant fern.

You won’t catch her. She’s scrolling

from scent to sound to slightest motion.

However the light moves

might be ruin, or rich enough to rob.

The way she ransacks, hoards, loses,

lashes, bluffs the crouched cat,

the unleashed dog, her death,

a dozen times a day, is what I mean

by hopeless how she loves this life.

For more information about Max Garland, please click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Garland

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Poem of the Week, by Sydney Lea

To a Young Father
– Sydney Lea

This riverbend must have always been lovely.
Take the one-lane iron bridge shortcut across
the town’s west end and look downstream
to where the water backs up by the falls.
Boys once fished there with butterball bait
because the creamery churned by hydro
and the trout were so rich, says my ancient neighbor,
they tasted like heaven, but better. Try to
stop on the bridge if no one’s coming
to see the back of the furniture mill

in upside-down detail on the river,
assuming the day is clear and still.
I’ve lived here and driven this road forever.
Strange therefore that I’ve never taken
the same advice I’m offering you.
I’ve lived here, but I’ve too often been racing
to get to work or else back home
to my wife and our younger school-age children,
the fifth and last of whom will be headed
away to college starting this autumn.

I hope I paid enough attention
to her and the others, in spite of the lawn,
the plowing, the bills, the urgent concerns
of career and upkeep. Soon she’ll be gone.
Try to stop on the bridge in fall:
that is, when hardwood trees by the river
drop carmine and amber onto the surface;
or in spring, when the foliage has gotten no bigger
than any newborn infant’s ear
such that the light from sky to stream

makes the world, as I’ve said—or at least this corner—
complete, in fact double. I’d never have dreamed
a household entirely empty of children.
It’ll be the first time in some decades,
which may mean depression, and if so indifference
to the river’s reflections, to leaves and shades,
but more likely—like you, if you shrug off my counsel
or even take it—it’ll be through tears
that I witness each of these things, so lovely.
They must have been lovely all these years.

For more information on Sydney Lea, please click here: http://sydneylea.net/

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Portrait of a Friend: Happy Father's Day

Unlike most friends, this friend has been part of your life for as long as you can remember. He figures in your earliest memories, and there hasn’t ever been a stretch of longer than half a year when you haven’t been in his presence.

He’s a tall man, a big man. He has a big presence and a giant voice. His laugh, when he gets going, will fill a room and make all those around him shake their heads in admiration. This is a man who likes to tell a story.

He’s good at telling them, too. At the diner, where he goes every morning to meet his buddies for coffee, and where you go when you’re visiting, they sometimes egg him on.

“Did you tell Alison about the woman who propositioned you at McDonald’s?” one will say.

“Jesus H Christ!” he’ll say. “No I didn’t!”

“Are you kidding me?” you’ll say. “A woman propositioned you at McDonald’s?”

He will shake his head, that mighty laugh beginning to rumble out of him.

“Tell her,” his friends will say. “Alison needs to know.”

They will wink at you, and grin, while he looks down at the formica diner table, still shaking his head, still laughing. And then he’ll tell it, in that giant voice, so that the whole diner ends up listening. And laughing. And shaking their heads.

He is a man who has never been accused of political correctness. Nor has he, unlike most people in the world, ever tried to be anything other than exactly who he is.

Sometimes he would come to visit you during the four years you spent at that little college in Vermont, where most of the other visiting adults wore pearls and linen dresses and suitcoats and polished shoes.

Over the Adirondacks and into the Green Mountains he would come, cresting the hill in a big old station wagon. The door would open and he would haul himself out. Those were the years of the neon orange polyester shirt and the polyester pants with the grease stain. Those were the years of your friends, unused to big men with giant laughs, unused to hearing “Jesus H Christ!” so frequently and happily roared out in public, looking forward to his visits.


Despite a lifetime of knowing you, and despite the fact that your name is simple to pronounce, that is how he pronounces it.

“Alison,” you sometimes say, even now. “A-li-son. Emphasis on the first syllable. Try it again.”

He looks up and smiles, a gleeful little grin from a big man.

“Jesus H Christ!” he says. “I know how to pronounce your name, Al-oh-sun!”

This easy give and take, this banter, this happiness, wasn’t always there. When you were little, you were often afraid of him.

Was it that big voice, his height and his bigness? He was a man of enormous physical strength. He often spent entire days chopping down trees, chainsawing them into big chunks, then smaller chunks, then splitting them into smaller and smaller chunks that, finally, were small enough to fit inside a woodstove.

So tough and stoic is he in the face of pain that he once had to lie down on the floor of a doctor’s office and refuse to move in order to convince them that something –which turned out to be an appendix that had ruptured more than 24 hours previously– was seriously, terribly wrong.

You remember him once pouring Clorox over his bleeding arm to disinfect it.

Unlike now, he was often angry.

Like most children, you assumed that his anger was directed at you. That you were the cause of it. That you must have done something to bring it on.

Like most of the grownups close to you, he was a familiar mystery. In retrospect, you didn’t know him well. How could you? Each of you kept things hidden from the other.

You remember late nights when you were a girl, him working at the kitchen table, head bent over complicated graphs and charts, filling in tiny boxes with penciled numbers. He worked for a dairy farmers’ cooperative; he was keeping track of milk counts at various farms. Or he was charting milk tank truck routes; milk has to be taken to a processing plant within a certain number of hours, and winter in upstate New York is fearsome and unpredictable.

You remember him figuring out other numbers, bent over a checkbook, writing check after check, paying bills.

“Where does it all go, though?” you remember saying once, when you were in your teens.

You were talking about the money that he made. It was an honest question, an idle question.

“Where does it go!” he roared. That anger again, or what you interpreted as anger, anger at you. “Where does it go!”

Later that night he called you out to that kitchen table. On it was a piece of ruled notebook paper. BUDGET at the top of the page. Underneath, line after line with things like Mortgage and Taxes and Food and Gas and Car Payment, each with a dollar amount jotted next to it. Exact dollar amounts, written from memory, subtracted and subtracted and subtracted from that single figure titled “Income.”

“Now do you see?” he said. “Now do you see where it goes?”

Yes. Now you saw.

You didn’t, not really. But later, many years later, when you yourself were sitting up late at night, your children asleep upstairs, dividing a small number over and over again, trying to make it come out differently, you remembered that night so long ago. That piece of lined paper titled Budget.

He was a young man, back then, which is something else you didn’t know. Grownups, those mysterious beings. To a child, a grownup is born a grownup. Could you have imagined him, back then, as a child himself? No.

When you were a little girl you had no idea how young he was. You do now, though. You look back and you wonder at his youth. What went through his mind? What were his dreams? What had he put aside, for four children and the responsibilities that go with them?

Once, when you were about twelve and he was, what, 36, someone asked the people in the kitchen in which you were both standing this question. “If you could start your life over, would you?”

Almost everyone in the room answered immediately: “No.”

But not him. “Yes,” he said. “I would.”

And not you. “Yes,” you said. “I would.”

Looking back, it seems impossible that you, at that age, could have answered that way. How in the world could you have lived long enough, lived through enough, to want the chance to do it over? But the memory is perfectly clear.

You remember looking at him –that big, tall man, often angry the way he was back then– and recognizing that something in him, something he had never talked about, was in you too. Even if neither of you knew what it was.

If he never talked about the big questions, he was full of small ones. When you would return from a day or overnight at a friend’s house, for example, he would quiz you.

“What did you have for lunch?” he would say, “and what did you have for supper? Where did you sleep? How warm do they keep their house?”

He would lean forward so as not to miss anything, and you would describe it all.

“Jesus H Christ!” he would interject, fascinated and needing more details, which you would supply.

He loves a good story, and so do you. He will happily exaggerate if it will make a good story better, and so will you. His love of a good laugh, his keen interest in the people around him, his frustrated anger at his young children when he was a young man, his deadpan humor, his fierce need to make his own schedule, to be free, to get in his car and drive?

All these are in you too. Early on, you felt yourself so different from him. Not anymore.

You remember him coming out of a gas station on a summer day, somewhere in the middle of the two-week road trips that were your family’s annual vacation, his hands full of candy bars, one for each child.

You remember a dusty wooden-floored building out in the country, where every once in a while a polka band would set up. You remember setting your then-small feet on his enormous ones and holding on while he danced you around the room.

You remember a day in a restaurant with him and his mother, whom you adored, and the rest of the family. You remember his mother losing her balance and falling flat on her back and him, then in his 60′s, silently and swiftly scooping her up in his arms and setting her back upright.

Now, these many years later, you sometimes get eight or nine emails a day from him. Almost all are forwarded posts that he’s gotten from others: astonishing or weird sights, political jokes, cute pictures of animals, unusual historical facts. Jokes, off-color in the extreme, that almost always make you laugh.

Usually, the mere sight of a forwarded email, with those telltale and dreaded endless lines of recipients and senders, means an automatic delete. Not so if he’s the sender. You read them all. You respond to the ones you like best.

He likes late night solitaire. Sometimes, when you’re going to bed, you picture him, far away in that house in the foothills, his still-big body perched on a small chair, gazing at the green screen, seven vertical rows of cards.

The sound of a baseball game turned low on a television in the background of a room, or a baseball game on the radio in a car, any car, brings you back to childhood. When you visit you sit and watch with him, arguing about the Yankees.

You’re lucky people. Lucky to have both lived long enough to live through the storms. Not a day goes by that you don’t get up in the morning and sit and bow your head and thank the world for that. For having come out on the other side. For the loss of fear and the gain of love.

In your 30′s you read a poem, this poem:

* * *

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

* * *

You memorized it.

Poem of the Week, by Jeanne Murray Walker

If Found, Drop In Any Mail Box. Owner Will Pay Postage
– Jeanne Murray Walker

I’m grading papers in the motel room,
the teacher in me watching as my students
fumble with their keys in the lock of the world.

I crack down on the one who misspells
the minuet amount of imagination a person needs
to live well. And I give a C to the one I suspect

of telling me whatever I want: that summer is a newspaper
printed with no alphabet but pleasure. But I confess,
I feel a twinge for the one who postures,

as if he can’t imagine anyone loving him for himself.
And I admit, I cheat on the good side to help the one
who writes that he and his girl are one cell,

sliced apart by the scalpel of her parents.
When I get to the one who says
that he’s a lonely space ship flying between stars,

I put my red pen down. I could go under the knife
with him, I think, knowing that I won’t.
But let’s say this. It surprises me to find out I love them.

I’d like to tell someone, the woman in the next room, maybe,
like to spread this sweetness, to bring about some
minor good. Can I offer you this pale translation

of my students’ essays? Nothing special.
The sound of their keys turning in the lock of the world.
I drop it as I close the door, in case you need it.

For more information on Jeanne Murray Walker, please click here: http://www.jeannemurraywalker.com/poems.php

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Poem of the Week, by Phebe Hanson

Somewhere I’ll Find You
– Phebe Hanson

So we moved from my small town in western Minnesota
to St. Paul where I had to go to Murray High, a school
with more people than in the entire town of Sacred Heart,

and I had to walk two and a half miles every day because
there were no school buses, but it turned out to be not so
bad after all because I met a boy in confirmation class who

let me ride on the handlebars of his bike on the way home from
school and one Sunday my dad even let this boy pick me up
to go for a walk in Como Park, since after all the paths were

safe, filled with many families swarming with children, and
even though my dad knew the devil went about the city like a
roaring lion seeking whom he might devour, he let me go

with this boy because after all he was a Luther Leaguer and
we had sung together sitting side by side in church, “Yield not to
temptation, for yielding is sin / each vict’ry will help you,

some other to win / fight manfully onward, dark passions subdue /
look only to Jesus, He’ll carry you through,” but as soon as we
left my house this boy said he was going to take me some other

place I’d like very much and it was going to be a surprise so
off we went on the streetcar and new to the city I had no idea where
we were going until we got off and were standing in front of a

movie marquee and I said, “I can’t go in. You know my father
doesn’t let me go to movies. It’s a sin,” but he gently guided me
with his seductive hands, saying “Just come into the lobby to talk.”

There below the sign “Somewhere I’ll Find You,” starring Clark Gable
and Lana Turner in a “torrid tale of love between two people caught
in the chaos of war,” he persuaded me at least to go inside and sit

down and watch part of the movie and if I didn’t like it, we could get
right back on the streetcar and go to Como Park, so I decided since
I already was in this lobby den of iniquity surrounded by posters of

Jezebel movie queens and devilish leading men, I was doomed anyway,
so I might as well go into the darkness with him and even let him put
his arm around me and hold my hand and that’s the way it’s been ever since.

For more information on Phebe Hanson, please click here: http://www.rusoffagency.com/authors/hanson_p/phebe_hanson.htm

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Poem of the Week, by John Hodgen

My Mother Swimming
– John Hodgen

Chest-deep, my brothers and I, the waters of Comet Pond leaping at our little hearts
as we held on for dear life, shrivel-fingered, blue, to the cement boat dock,
as far as we dared go, the self-declared demarcation of our drowning,
our father back on the blanket, lonely as Liechtenstein, his shirt still on, always,
the polioed hunch of his back like a boat overturned on a beach,
my mother swimming alone before us, back and forth, smoothly, shining,
this one time and never again. Soon she would come in to us, gleaming,
pack up the blanket, the basket, sit like silence next to my father all the way home,
their heads and shoulders looming before us, the Scylla and Charybdis
we knew even then we would have to get past to make our way in the world.

But for now, for just this moment, she glowed. She showed us,
moving like language along the water, like handwriting on the horizon,
that even in the oceans of darkness that would come,
the long rivers of abandoned office buildings on a Sunday afternoon,
the silent crow’s-nest shadows of all the true angels of death,
the first step we would take from the train, alighting into the darkness
of our hometown, our mother and father no longer there to meet us,
their shadows long gone, run off and drowned somewhere –
There will be these moments, she said, smiling, as she turned on her back,
floating, moments like diamonds in our hands, candles on the waves,
that we could make our way to them, hold them one by one,
the gold buttons of the opera singer as he changes music into light,
the smile on the face of your lover as she closes the door and turns to you,
the twilight that gathers all afternoon in the nave of the cathedral,
the silver beads of water on the head of the baby being baptized,
the breath she takes in like a dream and lets go.

For more information on John Hodgen, please click here: http://howapoemhappens.blogspot.com/2010/09/john-hodgen.html

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