Poem of the Week, by Cecilia Woloch

My father, who died last month, was a giant of a man from boyhood on. He was famous for keeping the house-heating wood stove in our kitchen cranked to stupefying levels of heat. Much of our childhood was spent in service to that wood stove: cutting, chopping, hauling and stacking wood to keep it fed.

Many of my abiding memories of my father are centered around wood, which, even in his eighties, he continued to chop and haul. As a child, his giant presence could be overwhelming, but I picture him now, and think of how easy it can be to overlook, in a giant man, the tenderness and gentleness that also lived inside him.

The Pick, by Cecilia Woloch

I watched him swinging the pick in the sun,
breaking the concrete steps into chunks of rock,
and the rocks into dust,
and the dust into earth again.
I must have sat for a very long time on the split rail fence,
just watching him.
My father’s body glistened with sweat,
his arms flew like dark wings over his head.
He was turning the backyard into terraces,
breaking the hill into two flat plains.
I took for granted the power of him,
though it frightened me, too.
I watched as he swung the pick into the air
and brought it down hard
and changed the shape of the world,
and changed the shape of the world again.

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Click here for more information about Cecilia Woloch.​

Poem (excerpt) of the Week, by Tim Seibles

Lots of old photos have been passing around my family these days, some I don’t remember ever being taken, except there I am: a laughing baby, a smiling teen, a young woman making funny faces at her babies, most recently a middle-aged woman in a pink sweatshirt crouched next to her dad, both smiling up at the photo taker.

Oh my face. You’ve been with me through every moment of my life, never questioning any feeling or how to express it. Immediately and by instinct you pull yourself into smiles, tears, laughter, anger, excitement. The older I get the more I appreciate you and all we have been through together, and the fact that no matter how you change, you are the face that everyone who loves me loves.

(Excerpt from) Ode to My Hands, by Tim Seibles

Five-legged pocket spiders, knuckled
starfish, grabbers of forks, why
do I forget that you love me:
your willingness to button my shirts,
tie my shoes—even scratch my head!
which throbs like a traffic jam, each thought
leaning on its horn. I see you

waiting anyplace always
at the ends of my arms—for the doctor,
for the movie to begin, for
freedom—so silent, such
patience! testing the world
with your bold myopia: faithful,
ready to reach out at my
softest suggestion, to fly up
like two birds when I speak, two
brown thrashers brandishing verbs
like twigs in your beaks, lifting
my speech the way pepper springs
the tongue from slumber.

Click here for details and to register for our new Write Together session in early June. 

Click here for more information about Tim Seibles.​

alisonmcghee.comMy podcast: Words by Winter

Poem of the Week, by Nikki Giovanni

How do I love thee, this poem? Let me count the ways. 1. Because I’m a sucker for teacher praise poems. 2. Because as a child the only way I could cope with the horror of writing elementary school book reports (people! to reduce a book to a plot summary is to kill it dead!) was to make up imaginary books and then write fake book reports about them. 3. Because I too adore Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks. 4. Because Nikki Giovanni is a lifelong badass and I love her. 5. Because censoring what a child reads and which books are allowed on shelves is a crime. 6. Because every book a child reads is a rung on a ladder leading up and up and up to a future they dream of making.

In Praise of a Teacher, by Nikki Giovanni

The reason Miss Delaney was my favorite teacher, not just my
favorite English teacher, is that she would let me read any book I
wanted and would allow me to report on it. I had the pleasure of
reading The Scapegoat as well as We the Living as well as Silver
 (which was about a whole bunch of rich folk who were
unhappy), and Defender of the Damned, which was about
Clarence Darrow, which led me into Native Son because the real
case was defended by Darrow though in Native Son he got the
chair despite the fact that Darrow never lost a client to the chair
including Leopold and Loeb who killed Bobby Frank. Native Son
led me to Eight Men and all the rest of Richard Wright but I
preferred Langston Hughes at that time and Gwendolyn Brooks
and I did reports on both of them. I always loved English because
whatever human beings are, we are storytellers. It is our stories
that give a light to the future. When I went to college I became a
history major because history is such a wonderful story of who we
think we are; English is much more a story of who we really are.
It was, after all, Miss Delaney who introduced the class to My
candle burns at both ends; /It will not last the night; /But, ah, my
foes, and, oh, my friends— /It gives a lovely light.
 And I thought
YES. Poetry is the main line. English is the train.

Click here for Nikki Giovanni’s brief, funny, wonderful ‘biography.’

My podcast: Words by Winter.

Poem of the Week, by Julie Kane

Bookstores, libraries, friends’ bookshelves, my own bookshelves: many hours of my life have been spent with my head bent, inching sideways, pulling out this book and then another. Inscriptions are clues to whom it once belonged to and who it came from. To my beautiful granddaughter on her eighth birthday. To my husband on our 40th anniversary. To my best friend from her best friend.

Once, at Half Price Books near my house, I found a hardcover copy of my first novel. I flipped it open to the title page to see, in my own angular scrawl, that I’d signed it with love to a long-lost friend in Chicago. It was like finding an old friend, a reminder of the person I used to be.

Used Book, by Julie Kane

What luck—an open bookstore up ahead
as rain lashed awnings over Royal Street,
and then to find the books were secondhand,
with one whole wall assigned to poetry;
and then, as if that wasn’t luck enough,
to find, between Jarrell and Weldon Kees,
the blue-on-cream, familiar backbone of
my chapbook, out of print since ’83—
its cover very slightly coffee-stained,
but aging (all in all) no worse than flesh
through all those cycles of the seasons since
its publication by a London press.
Then, out of luck, I read the name inside:
The man I thought would love me till I died.

Click here for more information about poet Julie Kane.

My podcast: Words by Winter

Poem of the Week, by Hafizah Augustus Geter

A friend and I were talking late the other night. Her daughter was upstairs, crying, so sad about something my friend couldn’t help her with, though she desperately wished she could. Oh my God it would be so much easier if we could bear it for them, my friend and I said. So much easier on us, is what we meant.

Witnessing your child’s grief is its own special kind of hell, which is one of the reasons I so love this poem. When I’m gone, I hope my children move me to a land where grief is in the background. Where they remember how much I loved zooming down the giant slopes of Glass Factory Road, or that one time I got stuck behind the Christmas tree, and how about the embarrassing number of letters I wrote them when they were away at camp? I hope they think of me and laugh.

Praise Song, by Hafizah Augustus Geter

After she died, I’d catch her
stuffing my nose with pine needles and oak,
staring off into the shadows of early morning.
Me, too jetlagged for the smells a ghost leaves behind.
The tailor of histories,
my mother sewed our Black Barbies and Kens
Nigerian clothes, her mind so tight against
the stitching, that in precision, she looked mean
as hell, too. My mother’s laugh was a record skipping,
so deep she left nicks in the vinyl.
See? Even in death, she wants to be fable.
I don’t know what fathers teach sons,
but I am moving my mother
to a land where grief is no longer
gruesome. She loved top 40, yacht rock,
driving in daylight with the wind
wa-wa-ing through her cracked window
like Allah blowing breath
over the open bottle neck of our living.
She knew ninety-nine names for God,
and yet how do I remember her—
as what no god could make?

Click here for more information about Hafizah Augustus Geter.

My podcast: Words by Winter

Poem of the Week, by Danusha Laméris

Once, a friend and I sat on a long and deserted stretch of sand. This was on the Forgotten Coast of Florida, and it was late, and the sky twinkled overhead. My friend gasped and pointed at a shooting star.

Oh my God, she whispered. I’ve never seen one before.

I, who had seen many, stayed silent in the face of her enchantment. Another star melted down the sky, and another. My friend was speechless now, and so was I. Her wonder made shooting stars new for me again.

Pigeons, by Danusha Laméris

Because they crowd the corner
of every city street,
because they are the color
of sullied steel,
because they scavenge,
eating every last crust,
we do not favor them.

They raise their young
huddled under awnings
above the liquor store

circle our feet, pecking at crumbs
pace the sidewalk
with that familiar strut.

None will ever attain greatness.
Though every once in a while
in a tourist’s blurry snapshot
of a grand cathedral

they rise into the pale gray sky
all at once.

Click here for more information about the wondrous Danusha Laméris.

My podcast: Words by Winter

Poem of the Week, by Wendell Berry

When my children were tiny they went to a neighborhood preschool, a gentle place taught by lovely teachers who never got upset. There was a dress-up corner, a story-time corner, a Lego corner. In nice weather the kids went outside to play and work in the school’s flower garden.

If it was too cold, they zipped around on tricycles and scooters in a big empty room. Every child longed to ride what they called The Double Bike, an elongated trike with two seats. It was a great day when you got to The Double Bike first and didn’t have to wait your turn. 

One freezing day I arrived at recess and watched as my youngest –who didn’t know I was there– bent into a sprinter’s crouch, a giant grin on her face. “Are you ready?” she said to her buddies. “Get ready!” The door to the trike room opened and she and her friends zoomed toward The Double Bike. When I think of joy, I picture my daughter’s face that day, how her black hair flew behind her, the echo of her wild laughter. 

Before Dark, by Wendell Berry

From the porch at dusk I watched
a kingfisher wild in flight
he could only have made for joy.

He came down the river, splashing
against the water’s dimming face
like a skipped rock, passing

on down out of sight. And still
I could hear the splashes
farther and farther away

as it grew darker. He came back
the same way, dusky as his shadow,
sudden beyond the willows.

The splashes went on out of hearing.
It was dark then. Somewhere
the night had accommodated him

—at the place he was headed for
or where, led by his delight,
he came.

Click here
 for more information on Wendell Berry.

My podcast: Words by Winter

Note: a version of this post first appeared here in 2017.

Poem of the Week, by Karla Kuskin

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When my children were little one of our favorite books was The Philharmonic Gets Dressed. Such a simple story. In apartments all over New York City, orchestra musicians are dressing for the evening performance. Everyone wears black. They muscle their instruments, large and small, into cabs and the subway, and they head to work. My children and I read this book over and over, usually at bedtime, where it soothed their way into sleep.

Books like this tantalize me, because the author took something familiar –an orchestra–and focused on the unfamiliar. Musicians not in their orchestra pit at a grand hall, but at home, getting dressed. The backstory. The unthought-about. It’s dangerous to think you know everything about something or someone. It leads to complacency, to boredom, and sometimes to destruction.

When I read this poem below, The Philharmonic Gets Dressed floated back into my mind. And lo and behold, look who was the quiet genius behind both.  

Write About a Radish, by Karla Kuskin

Write about a radish
Too many people write about the moon.

The night is black
The stars are small and high
The clock unwinds its ever-ticking tune
Hills gleam dimly
Distant nighthawks cry.
A radish rises in the waiting sky.

For more information about Karla Kuskin, please click here.


My podcast: Words by Winter

Note: this post first appeared here in September, 2018.

Poem of the Week, by Lydia Davis


A few years ago my friend J sent me this poem, with the subject line Have you seen this? No, I wrote back, I have never in my life read this poem and how did I not know that Lydia Davis (who’s a genius of the short story) also wrote poetry? Later that night, J and I talked about the poem on the phone. We weren’t really talking about the poem, though, because what is there to say about it beyond This is life and this is life and this is life.

J and I have been friends for nearly our entire adult lives at this point, and we have seen each other through, with through standing in for those times when you don’t know how you will make it through. Once, many years ago now, during a time when I could barely make it off the couch, J and her husband showed up unbidden at my front door. Pack a bag, they said, you’re coming to stay with us for a while. And I packed a bag and went to stay with them for a while, and they fed me and watched over me and waited until I could function again. Sometimes my phone blinks with J’s name and a feeling comes over me: answer it. And in the silence between my hello and her first words is weight and pain.

We know how to help each other through, is what I’m trying to say. We all need someone to help us through. It doesn’t matter how long you live, heart is still and always will be so new. 

Head, Heart, by Lydia Davis

Heart weeps.
Head tries to help heart.
Head tells heart how it is, again:
You will lose the ones you love.  They will all go.  But
even the earth will go, someday.
Heart feels better, then.
But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of
Heart is so new to this.
I want them back, says heart.
Head is all heart has.
Help, head.  Help heart.

For more information on Lydia Davis, please click here.

(Note: this post and poem originally appeared here in 2017.)

My podcast: Words by Winter

Poem of the Week, by Kevin Hart

It’s been wildly snowy here in Minneapolis in a way that brings me straight back to childhood in far upstate New York, where we lived so far out in the country that the only lights at night were the ones inside our house.

If you went outside and looked up on a clear night, the sky wasn’t dark. It was a field of diamonds, strewn so thick that sometimes stars blurred into each other. You could see the Milky Way and sometimes the northern lights. On winter nights, if it were snowing –and it was always snowing, there in the foothills of the Adirondacks–those stars spun their way down to earth in the form of snowflakes.

This past week in the city brought childhood back to me. Endless shoveling. Laughing with my neighbors about where can we possibly put all this snow. The mesmerizing beauty of tree limbs weighted with snow. The hush. The calm. The stillness.

Snow, by Kevin Hart

Some days
the snow has taken me in
to know the time of snow, to live
inside a world so quiet

its music
is all a shimmering. Some evenings
when quite alone
I turn off every light

and watch the snow
enjoy the dark, moving lushly
through spiky air,
finding more time

in time
than when I stretch myself
and am
my father’s father. Oh yes,

there is
a sparkling choir, there surely is,
and dark ice air
through which we fall.

Click here for more information about Kevin Hart.


My podcast: Words by Winter