Poem of the Week, by Luci Shaw

When Alison shuffles up on a playlist, or in a store, or on the radio, I take it as a sign: There’s my song. A sign of what, who knows, other than that it brings me back to high school, waitressing at Friendly Ice Cream, and the guy at the counter who said Elvis Costello wrote a song about you, you know.
Someone wrote a song about me? And he even spelled it with one l.

Something changed, in a tiny way, for the better that night, as it did the night someone told me, at a wedding where I’d avoided them all weekend, that they had, despite how it seemed, truly loved me all that time ago. The way it changed when, going through a giant bin of old letters, I found one signed We all adore you, from a troubled time. It takes so little, sometimes, to reshape the past.

Wrong Turn, by Luci Shaw

I took a wrong turn the other day.
A mistake, but it led me to the shop where I found
the very thing I’d been searching for.

With my brother I opened a packet
of old letters from my mother and saw a side of her
that sweetened what had been deeply sour.

Later that day the radio sang a song from
a time when I was discovering love,
and folded me into itself again.

Click here for more information about Luci Shaw.

alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Paul Zimmer

My grandmother McGhee lived her entire life in the Hudson River valley of downstate New York. She was a young mother in the Great Depression, a farm wife, a high school English teacher, a gardener, canner, cook, needle pointer and housekeeper extraordinaire, and the kind of grandmother who always shook her head sadly at my standard DQ order of a small vanilla cone. Oh Alison, she would say sorrowfully, that tiny little cone? Are you sure you don’t want a sundae instead?

She was a big woman, ashamed of her heavy legs, and she never danced, except alone, in her kitchen, to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I know this because of the times (unbeknownst to her) that I witnessed her, standing in place, swaying ever so slightly from side to side, one hand moving in the air to the music, which she loved. When she died, at ninety, I dropped to my knees and made a sound that my children –who were tiny at the time–still remember.

Bach and My Father, by Paul Zimmer

Six days a week my father sold shoes
to support our family through depression and war,
nursed his wife through years of Parkinson’s,
loved nominal cigars, manhattans, long jokes,
never kissed me, but always shook my hand.

Once he came to visit me when a Brandenburg
was on the stereo. He listened with care—
brisk melodies, symmetry, civility, and passion.
When it finished, he asked to hear it again,
moving his right hand in time. He would have
risen to dance if he had known how.

“Beautiful,” he said when it was done,
my father, who’d never heard a Brandenburg.
Eighty years old, bent, and scuffed all over,
just in time he said, “That’s beautiful.”

Click here for more information about Paul Zimmer.

alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Joyce Sutphen

I was a girl, walking along the Charles River in Boston on a sunny day, no one else within earshot, when suddenly a young couple got out of a car next to me, the girl in a tight sundress and heels, big smile, radiating friendliness. Her male partner silent, a half-smile on his face.

The girl was full of questions for me. She invited me to join them for coffee, tea, lunch. It’ll be fun, she said. That big smile. But something in me was wary. Something in me knew to smile, excuse myself, and back away.

I’ve never forgotten this five-minute encounter. It’s haunted me for decades, but why? Because they were going to do something terrible to you, I woke up thinking a few weeks ago. They were going to do something indescribably awful, and somehow you knew it.

Last week some friends and I were talking about all the narrow escapes in our lives, all the twists and turns of fate that somehow we’d eluded. Do you think life is just a never-ending series of lucky misses? one of them asked.

My Luck, by Joyce Sutphen

When I was five, my father,
who loved me, ran me over
with a medium-sized farm tractor.

I was lucky though; I tripped
and slipped into a small depression,
which caused the wheels to tread

lightly on my leg, which had already
been broken (when I was three)
by a big dog, who liked to play rough,

and when I was nine, I fell
from the second-floor balcony
onto the cement by the back steps,

and as I went down I saw my life go by
and thought: “This is exactly how
Wiley Coyote feels, every time!”

Luckily, I mostly landed on my feet,
and only had to go on crutches
for a few months in the fifth grade—

and shortly after that, my father,
against his better judgment,
bought the horse I’d wanted for so long.

All the rest of my luck has to do
with highways and ice—things that
could have happened, but didn’t.

Click here for more information about the wondrous Joyce Sutphen.

alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by John Daniel

So last week I was talking with this guy at a party, both of us horrified by this country’s lack of affordable housing, the grinding pain of life on the streets or in a tent city. How to make things better? Tiny house communities, with onsite health care and social services? Onsite laundry, a door you can lock, access to food, community, nature? Each of us had done a bunch of research. We didn’t agree on everything.

Guess what, I’m Republican, he said at one point, as if it were a bad word that would come as a shock to me (apparently I give off a certain political vibe).

Oh, I could tell, I said, and he laughed. Big deal.

Enough with the endless fixation on dividing ourselves into camps. Enough, enough, enough. Our problems are too big. We’re all dependent on each other.

Dependence Day, by John Daniel

It would be a quieter holiday, no fireworks

or loud parades, no speeches, no salutes to any flag,

a day of staying home instead of crowding away,

a day we celebrate nothing gained in war

but what we’re given—how the sun’s warmth

is democratic, touching everyone,

and the rain is democratic too,

how the strongest branches in the wind

give themselves as they resist, resist

and give themselves, how birds could have no freedom

without the planet’s weight to wing against,

how Earth itself could come to be

only when a whirling cloud of dust

pledged allegiance as a world

circling dependently around a star, and the star

blossomed into fire from the ash of other stars,

and once, at the dark zero of our time,

a blaze of revolutionary light

exploded out of nowhere, out of nothing,

because nothing needed the light,

as the brilliance of the light itself needs nothing.

Click here for more information about John Daniel.


alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my podcast