Poem of the Week, by Kari Gunter-Seymour

An older man with a cane came to my front yard poetry hut a couple weeks ago. Big smile. Lively eyes. He thanked me for all the new poets he’d found over years via the poetry hut and we began talking about his favorite Minnesota poets.

He was handsome in the same tall lean way as my friend John Zdrazil, curious in the same intense way. Had they met, they would have been instant friends. I kept thinking that this man, with his love of Minnesota and books, his wide intellect and knowledge, was the man my beloved Zdrazil would eventually have become.

Alison, have you ever been to northwestern Minnesota? the man asked. Sure, I said. A few times just last month on my way to a little town near Alexandria. I didn’t tell him it was to say goodbye to Zdrazil and then attend his funeral.

But his eyes turned keen and focused. He observed me for a minute in silence. You know, Alison, he eventually said, I’ve had so many blessings. But you and your poems have been the most beautiful gift of my life.

This was so much like something Zdrazil said in our last conversation that I teared up. It can’t be true –this man doesn’t even know me–but his words brought my friend back so fiercely.

Which little town were you driving to? he said. A teeny little place called Elbow Lake. You wouldn’t know it, I said. He smiled. Oh, but I would. I was born and grew up in Elbow Lake.

Sometimes your dead friends return, to embrace you unconditionally.

The Whole Shebang Up for Debate, by Kari Gunter-Seymour

Today I gave a guy a ride, 
caught in a cloudburst 
jogging down East Mill Street.  
Skinny, backpacked, newspaper 
a makeshift shield, unsafe 
under any circumstances.
I don’t know what possessed me.

I make bad decisions, am forgetful, 
cling to structure and routine
like static electricity to polyester,                 
a predicament of living under 
the facade I always add to myself.

Said he needed to catch a GoBus,
shaking off droplets before climbing in. 
He gabbed about Thanksgiving plans,
his mom’s cider-basted turkey, 
grandma’s pecan-crusted pumpkin pie.

It was a quick, masked ride.
Bless you, he said, unfolding himself
from the car. No awkward goodbyes, 
no what do I owe you? Just Bless you
and a backward wave. 

At the stop sign, my fingers stroked 
the dampness where he sat minutes before. 
Sometimes life embraces you 
so unconditionally, it shifts 
your body from shadow 
into a full-flung lotus of light.

For more information on Kari Gunter-Seymour, please check out her website.

Words by Winter: my podcast

First Music: Electric Light Orchestra + Jerry Jeff Walker

What was the first music you ever bought with your own money?

Jerry Jeff Walker’s A Man Must Carry On, AND the Electric Light Orchestra’s Out of the Blue (a double LP).

Both? That’s an interesting (a word which sounds better than wacko) combination.

I don’t know if you could buy two more dissimilar albums, but my taste has always been a bit scattered.

The Jerry Jeff thing was the result of these really cool kids I hung out with at Hopkins South Junior High.  A couple of them had older brothers who had introduced their younger siblings to Jerry Jeff.

Where did you buy them?

Third Stone Music in Hopkins, Minnesota, just across the street from Mr. Donut, where I had earned the money to buy them. My friend Dan and I actually bought the Jerry Jeff Walker album together:  I paid 2/3rds and kept the album; he paid 1/3rd and made a cassette tape on its first play.  The first side has a country dance song, a song about getting out of L.A., and one with a chorus that begins, “Up against the wall, Redneck Mother!”        

I bought the E.L.O. album on my own, however.  I hear some of the songs from that album on the radio today.

Any favorites?

My favorite track never got any airplay.  It’s called “Sweet is the Night,” (on side four) and each time I hear it, I think about this girl I had a huge crush on.  I actually fell for her the night before I bought the album.  I was at a school dance; it was the last night of third quarter sophomore year, and I was slow dancing with a girl I had been friends with since junior high.

I looked over and saw this other girl (who was way out of my league but still friendly to me).  She was dancing with a really, really cool Junior.  For the first time in my life, I fell in love in a moment.  I can still remember exactly what she was wearing.  I bought the albums the next morning, played them after work, and that one song hit me and I fell for it–sweetly–just like I had fallen for the girl.  Both of them still hold a certain power over me, to tell you the truth.

(John Zdrazil, Elbow Lake, Minnesota)