Poem of the Week, by Maggie Smith

The photo on the right is one of a bunch of family photos in my living room. Is that your daughter? people sometimes ask, and I smile. She does look like me, doesn’t she? I say.

But the girl on the windsurfer is me, long ago, back in a life I used to live: a tiny one-room apartment, coffee from the miniature percolator my grandmother gave me, a rented electric typewriter perched on an apple crate, the camping pad I slept on because the room was too small for a bed. Annie Lennox singing about how sweet dreams are made of these.

I remember the day that photo was taken. Trying not to fall so my hair would stay dry. Trying to lean back far enough for that perfect balance between my body and the wind’s invisible force.

I tried hard back then, and I try hard now. Nothing was perfect then. Nothing is perfect now. Are that girl and I still, somehow, on both sides of here and there?

Threshold, by Maggie Smith

You want a door you can be
            on both sides of at once

                        You want to be
            on both sides of here

and there, now and then,
            together and—what

                        do we call the life
            we would wish back,

If we could? The before?)
            —alone. But any open

                        space may be
            a threshold, an arch

of entering and leaving.
            Crossing a field, wading

                        through nothing
            but timothy grass,

imagine yourself passing from
            and into. Passing through

                        doorway after
            doorway after doorway.

Friends! Please join the wondrous Maggie Smith and me in a virtual conversation this Monday evening, August 2, at 7 pm CST. We’ll be discussing her gorgeous new book Goldenrod, in which I found this beautiful poem. Free and open to all. Just click here to register.

For more information on Maggie Smith, please check out her website.

My poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.


Poem of the Week, by Robert Francis

My poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

I’m a self-taught maker of extremely imprecise, freeform story quilts that I hand-quilt and then embroider. This morning as I flicked around the internet looking for cool hand-quilt block patterns, the word “quilt” suddenly looked entirely wrong. Too short, too abrupt, missing one or more letters, and what about that t at the end…just so weird.

When I was a kid I purposely turned words into not-words by saying them over and over and over and over until poof, they transmogrified into shapes and sounds, othernesses without meaning. Now here was the word quilt, a happy familiar word my entire life, doing the same thing to me, saying You think you know me? You don’t.

Which makes me wonder about everything else I think I know, but don’t.

Nothing Is Far, by Robert Francis

Though I have never caught the word
of God from any calling bird,
I hear all that the ancients heard.

Though I have seen no deity
enter or leave a twilit tree,
I see all that the seers see.

A common stone can still reveal
something not stone, not seen, yet real.
What may a common stone conceal?

Nothing is far that once was near.
Nothing is hid that once was clear.
Nothing was God that is not here.

Here is the bird, the tree, the stone.
Here in the sun I sit alone
between the known and the unknown.

For more information about the grievously under-sung poet Robert Francis, please click here.


Poem of the Week, by Nikki Giovanni

My poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

One afternoon when I was twenty-six I left South High School and jumped into my little red car. Turned on the music –was it a tape?–as loud as it would go. Maybe Annie Lennox, maybe Joan Armatrading. Stopped at the red light on Cedar and 22nd, waited until it turned green, and put my foot on the gas.

In that moment, several things happened at once. The tiny car rocked from a blast of wind. A blur of rushing red filled the windshield. My foot jammed on the brake. In the second afterward, I slammed the dashboard with my hand and the music stopped while I watched a giant, silent fire truck speed on down Cedar.

In all the years since there have been more moments of almost-death, but it’s that day, and the memory of how wildly I wanted to live, that came flooding through me when I read this poem.

Possum Crossing, by Nikki Giovanni

Backing out the driveway
the car lights cast an eerie glow
in the morning fog centering
on movement in the rain slick street

Hitting brakes I anticipate a squirrel or a cat or sometimes
a little raccoon
I once braked for a blind little mole who try though he did
could not escape the cat toying with his life
Mother-to-be possum occasionally lopes home … being
naturally … slow her condition makes her even more ginger

We need a sign POSSUM CROSSING to warn coffee-gurgling
we share the streets with more than trucks and vans and
railroad crossings

All birds being the living kin of dinosaurs
think themselves invincible and pay no heed
to the rolling wheels while they dine
on an unlucky rabbit

I hit brakes for the flutter of the lights hoping it’s not a deer
or a skunk or a groundhog
coffee splashes over the cup which I quickly put away from me
and into the empty passenger seat
I look …
relieved and exasperated …
to discover I have just missed a big wet leaf
struggling … to lift itself into the wind
and live

For more information about Nikki Giovanni, please click here.


Poem of the Week, by Joy Harjo

My poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

Think up a person, I tell the zoom room, like a toddler with wild red curls. Hands go up. People emerge. Now give me an object, like a ceramic pit bull. Objects appear. We write them all down, column A and column B. Now put one from each column together and write down what happens.

Ten minutes later, everyone reads aloud what they wrote. We lean forward to listen, clap, nod, laugh. Witnesses to unknown people and unknown worlds that instantly conjured themselves into being.

My fingers have spent their lives clattering across the keyboard, conjuring up worlds. What’s real? What’s not? Is there a difference? This poem feels so familiar.

The Poem I Just Wrote, by Joy Harjo

The poem I just wrote is not real.
And neither is the black horse
who is grazing on my belly.
And neither are the ghosts
of old lovers who smile at me
from the jukebox.

For more information about Joy Harjo, our current poet laureate, please click here.


Poem of the Week, by Ellen Bass

My poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

The world is too big if you make it so. This sentence has been running through my head lately. Every time I feel besieged by the world’s problems, which is most of the time, it comes back to me.

This morning the dog and I got up at dawn and went into our tiny backyard. We watered the vegetables and the flowers and the baby apple trees and the mint. The water made rainbows over the mint and the tight clean smell of it reset my mind a little. So I went in search of more lighten-ment. Crushed a little lavender, some Russian sage, basil, rosemary, more mint, until the air was full of their scents and so was I. The world is too big if you make it so.

Any Common Desolation, by Ellen Bass

can be enough to make you look up
at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
that survived the rains and frost, shot
with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
would rip it like silk. You may have to break
your heart, but it isn’t nothing
to know even one moment alive. The sound
of an oar in an oarlock or a ruminant
animal tearing grass. The smell of grated ginger.
The ruby neon of the liquor store sign.
Warm socks. You remember your mother,
her precision a ceremony, as she gathered
the white cotton, slipped it over your toes,
drew up the heel, turned the cuff. A breath
can uncoil as you walk across your own muddy yard,
the big dipper pouring night down over you, and everything
you dread, all you can’t bear, dissolves
and, like a needle slipped into your vein—
that sudden rush of the world.

For more information on Ellen Bass, please click here.