Poem of the Week, by Thomas Reiter

pigs-eye-2014A few years ago my brother sent me a photo of my nephew, with the caption Getting his mind blown at Nickelodeon Universe. Nickelodeon Universe is a crowded and noisy place, but in the photo, my tiny nephew stands alone in a huge open space, his head craned up, staring at something I can’t see. The photo conveys profound stillness and concentration. Sometimes it pops up on my screensaver and I wonder again what my nephew was staring at, what was going through his mind.

That photo makes me think of my grandmother, who once, in the middle of a thunderstorm, saw a ball of fire –molten electricity–appear in her living room. It raced around the floor, she told me, it climbed the walls and the stairs. Half a century later, she still shuddered at the memory. That photo of my nephew reminds me of the time I was walking down a country road and saw in the distance a quivering blackness that quaked and chirped. It turned out to be a tree so covered with black birds that it looked like an otherworldly living creature. Sometimes the world turns inside out for a minute and we stop, like the poet below, and stare. We don’t know then that we will remember that moment forever. 

 

To the Boy Who Burned a Snowman, by Thomas Reiter

I thought of you again this morning
after a spring snowfall; of how, one
after another, wooden matches
—your mother’s stove lighters?—
flared as you came up the road
long after dark so many years ago,
a boy I’d never seen before.

I watched from an upstairs window:
you set the head against your forefinger,
the other end against your thumb,
and with a dip of the shoulder
like a submarine pitcher, a fireman,
pinwheeled a burst off the macadam.

No design but play, yet somehow
one with distance landed beside
the snowman I fashioned that morning—
an impulse from the crystalline yard,
my children grown and gone.

The hound’s-tooth coat, its frayed hem
trailing on the snow, its worth
fallen far below Goodwill, caught fire
that climbed to the woolen muffler
mice had nested in. And last the Tinkertoy
arms outstretched to you. You didn’t

see me, nor did I tap a threatening
gesture on the pane. A full moon,
and so of all the proud men
created from that out-of-season snow
he was his own light. You took

a step back as if to run, but then
slowly approached. You stood facing him
as though something—a secret?—
passed between snowman and boy.

You never reappeared, who started him
on his way home. He’d had his time.
I watched him pass into the spring grass,
where his absence would abound.

 

For more information on Thomas Reiter, please read this interview.

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Poem of the Week, by Jalal Al-din Muhammad Rumi

IMG_6537Once, a long time ago, someone close to me handed me a memo and asked me to read it. It was a work memo that summarized some unfair working conditions. I didn’t know who had written it, but my first comment was “Wow. Whoever wrote this can’t spell worth a damn and doesn’t know how to use punctuation, either.” The person who had handed me the memo didn’t hear me say this, for which I was instantly grateful, because it turned out that they had written it. This was a person I loved with all my heart. The shame I felt in that moment is something that will be with me forever. 

The older I get, the softer I want to be. The judgment I carried around when I was young was mostly internal, but it was harsh. And what good did it do anyone? What good did it do me? In the course of my life I have seen how people blossom when they are surrounded with love and acceptance. And I have watched them wither and turn silent and wary when faced with judgment and scorn. Please, from now on let me be only ground. Let me be crumbled, that others may flower around me

 

A Continual Autumn, by Jalal Al-din Muhammad Rumi

Inside each of us there’s
a continual autumn.
Our leaves fall and are
blown out over the water,
a crow sits in the blackened limbs and
talks about what’s gone.
There’s a necessary dying, and
then we are reborn breathing again.

Very little grows on jagged rock.
Be ground.
Be crumbled
so wildflowers will come up where you are.

 

​For more information on Rumi, please click here.​

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Poem of the Week, by Peggy Shumaker

28056283_10156130850921407_3444412315520744499_nMy youngest didn’t walk until she was 22 months old. Instinct told me she was fine so I didn’t worry about this, but I observed her with interest. One day, when I was in the kitchen and she was sitting in a patch of sun on the living room floor, her back to me, I watched in wonder as she rose –no hands, no support, no nothing– to a full stand and began to walk. I had never seen a child go from crawling to perfect walking in an instant like that. She never went back to crawling.

I remember my daughter and her silent rise from the floor. I remember the older man I watched fall on the ice while crossing my street, and his panicked struggle to rise. I remember my grandmother falling in a restaurant, her own panicked struggle to rise before my father knelt and in one swift motion swept her up in his arms. Our first and wild instinct is to get up when we fall, to lift ourselves up, up, up. I’m thinking now of my beautiful dog on his last day of life this past March, when I watched him haul himself up, and I said to the painter, Look! He’s up! I’m going to call the vet and tell her not to come! and as soon as I said the words, he collapsed before us on all four legs and never rose again. Sometimes the simplest poems, like this one below, are the ones that bring memories rushing over me.

 

Placing Our Feet with Care on This Earth

In Los Angeles, my friend will soon learn to walk.
Her ankles will remember how to line up

so her weight can settle down
and they can hold up.

In Alaska, snowmelt’s ankle-deep
slush puddles firm up overnight.

Slick, this world. Our soles
get away from us.

 

 

For more information on Peggy Shumaker, please read her bio.

Poem of the Week, by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

IMG_0116-2Neither my friend nor I had been to a high school reunion in many years –in my case, decades–and we were both nervous. The years we had spent growing up together in upstate New York seemed far away, and we hadn’t kept in touch with many classmates. So we met early, at the bar in that tiny stoplight-less town, and fortified ourselves with gin while paging through our yearbook to remind ourselves of faces and names. At one point I said to him,  It’s been decades. We don’t look the same, will anyone else?  

Of course not. The banquet room was full of strangers. But as the night wore on, fragments of memory returned. In the curve of a middle-age woman’s smile I flashed back on the girl she used to be, laughing down the hall, her long dark hair parted in the middle. A man came smiling up to me —Alison!–and I remembered dancing at a bar with him and some other friends the week we graduated. Another classmate came up to my friend and told him, almost crying, how much she admired the man he had become. 

So what was it like?, the painter asked me when we talked late that night. It was like saying goodbye to my former self, I said, like putting my childhood to bed. All of which reminds me of this poem, which I loved the minute I read it years ago. Sometimes it’s so hard to know you’re beautiful when you’re young.

 

Nighties
        – Maria Mazziotti Gillan

At my bridal shower, someone gave me
a pink see-through nightgown and pink satin
slippers with slender heels and feathers.
The gown had feathers on it, too.

I’ve always hated my legs and even then,
when I was still thin and in good shape,
I didn’t want to wear that nightgown
or slippers, didn’t want to parade

in front of you like some pinup.
But I wore them anyway, all those negligees
I got as shower presents, sleazy nylon
I didn’t know was tacky. When I wore

sporty nightgowns, I’d leap into bed
not wanting you to notice how
the nightgown revealed what I thought
my biggest flaw. In all the young years

of our marriage, I wore a different nightgown
every night, not that it stayed on for long,
and afterward I’d pull it back on, not wanting
our children to see me naked in our bed.

I felt so sophisticated in those nightgowns,
like the ones Doris Day wore in movies.
Only years later, when my daughter buys me
a nightgown made of soft and smooth blue silk,

do I realize that the first ones I owned
were imitations of this one
I hold now to my cheek, grateful
to have been once so young,

to have loved you in nylon and silk
and in my own incredible skin.

 

For more information on Maria Mazziotti Gillan, please click here.


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