Poem of the Week, by Charles Ghigna

Even though I conjured them up, the people in my books are real and alive in my mind and heart. They wonder about the meaning of life the same way I do, they look at the sun gleaming on the ice crusted snow and think how beautiful, the way I do, they look back on words said and unsaid, deeds done and not done, and like me they hope that somehow their shortcomings are balanced by their attempts at kindness.

My people live in a parallel world to this one, unless maybe it’s the same world. A few days ago a card arrived, a small Christmas wreath hand-painted on the front. My friend Zdrazil’s best friend sent it, and in it she wrote that he’d painted the card last year as he waited for his stem cell transplant to take. Holding it, I felt his presence the way I often do even though he’s passed on. He and others are the negative space to our living bodies, the light that becomes shadows. Love and comfort to you all in the new year.

Present Light, by Charles Ghigna

If I could
hold light
in my hand

I would
give it
to you

and watch it
your shadow.

For more information about Charles Ghigna, please check out his website.
Words by Winter: my podcast

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

Poem of the Week, by Philip Larkin

My poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

Hey Driz. Drizzle. Z’Drazzle. Drazzle. Draz. It’s been just over a week since we held hands in your living room and talked and laughed and cried. We both knew it would be our last conversation.

Daisy the dog kept watch from the porch. I don’t know who has her now, but I know it’s someone wonderful, because you would have made sure of that.

Last night I lay awake thinking about Grandpa, that past, ancient dog of yours, the one you cared for with such devotion that you spent hours every night —hours–wandering your backyard with him as he stumbled around the perimeter, looking for something that never appeared.

You had so much more patience than I ever will, Z’drizzle.

To your students, you were that teacher, the teacher they’ll remember their entire lives, the teacher who saw them, who knew them, who understood them in a way no one else did. I may as well have been one of your students.

Remember our greasy breakfasts and love of diners? Remember how you introduced me to Al’s? Remember our mutual adoration of the State Fair?

How about the day you brought a few of your favorite students all the way to Minneapolis to meet me? You taught them to love my first novel. Remember her, you said, pretending I couldn’t hear you. She’s going to be famous. Then you took them all out for pizza in the big city.

Remember that time we sailed around the streets of Elbow Lake in that giant old convertible of yours, when I was the author for the author event you yourself had organized and we were already fifteen minutes late? You were always late. This didn’t seem to bother you or anyone else either. Maybe because everyone loved you so much.

Did it surprise me that the Go Fund Me organized by your students surpassed its $100 goal by over $12,000? It did not. Did it surprise me that you never mentioned a word of it to me? It did not.

Remember when you went surfing for the first time, on that trip to southern California? I never heard you talk like that. Never saw that look in your eyes. You loved surfing in a way that changed you. I remember trying to figure out how you, on a rural teacher’s salary, could somehow afford to go surfing in California more often.

The only novel of mine you didn’t know practically by heart is the last one, the one I dedicated to you, Z’draz, long before we knew you were sick. You never read that one because Dammit, you always make me cry, Alison McGhee, and I have to save my tears until I’m through this and can handle another Alison McGhee book.

Z’driz, you always called me by my full name. In every single conversation we ever had, including the last one, you would at some point pause, shake your head, and say Alison McGhee, with this look in your eyes. As if I was some kind of wonder. Which I’m not, but guess what? You were.

Zdrazil loved my writing, I wept to a friend the other night. He loved me. It was like I couldn’t do anything wrong in his eyes.

Oh my beautiful friend. I will miss you forever.

You told me that last day you were scared to die and I told you I didn’t trust people who weren’t. We laughed about that, a little. Four days later you crossed through that door.

I’m going to write about you, John Zdrazil, I said, when you couldn’t keep your eyes open anymore and I knew it was time to go. And you know I mean it because I’m using your full and proper name.

Ordinarily that would’ve made you laugh, but you just looked me in the eye and nodded slowly. Then your eyes filled.

Write me a poem, you said.

John Zdrazil, that is the one and only request you ever made of me. Write me a poem. I drove the three hours home and wrote you a series of haiku then and there, so I could text them to you before it was too late. We were out of time and we both knew it. We’re all out of time, which is why we should be careful of each other, and kind, the way you always were, John.

The Mower, by Philip Larkin

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found   
a hedgehog jammed up against the blades,   
killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.   
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world   
unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence   
is always the same; we should be careful

of each other, we should be kind   
while there is still time.

For more information about Philip Larkin, please click here.

Words by Winter: my new 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)