In a tradition within a tradition, OFF THE PAGE offers an April program in observance of National Poetry Month. Previous presentations have brought together some of the outstanding poets living and writing in our region and invited listeners to send in poems they’ve written. Last year at this time we received a veritable anthology of poems, which you can still read here. The invitation is out again, and if you’ve got a poem you’d like to share, please send it to OffThePage@WSKG.ORG. The poem should be written in the body of the e-mail and not as an attachment (our Information Technology people warn we must be protected from viral verse). Poems that can be read aloud in no more than a minute or two work best on the best on radio. Even those we don’t have time to read on the air may be posted below.
In the WSKG studios to read their own poems and share the poems and comments of listeners will be three fine published poets. (The practitioners of the “sullen art” of poetry seem to turn up in two categorites, poets and “published poets” — though those not yet published have reason to be even more sullen). Our guests will be:
Ben Howard, professor emeritus of English at Alfred University, where he also teaches classical guitar. His work has been published in Leaf, Sunlight, Asphalt (2009), Dark Pool (2004) and the verse novella Midcentury (1997). Dr. Howard has written extensively on Zen Buddhism and on Irish literature; his essays on modern Irish writing were collected in “The Pressed Melodeon”.
I hear them in the morning and the evening,
as though they signified familiar rooms
in musty public buildings: Bath, Corning,
Binghamton, Elmira. Foreign names
at first, they’ve lost their colours. Twenty years
of hearing them have made their flavours dull,
their structures no more striking than the spires
of friendly churches, charitable and local.
But will there come a time when I endow
those common places with the same affection
as now I sometimes feel when Iowa
comes up in revery or conversation
or makes its way, as patiently as bees,
into the papers or the evening news?
Juliana Gray is an assistant professor of English at Alfred. A native of Alabama, she also teaches poetry at the Sewanee Young Writers Conference and is recipient of the Bea Gonzalez Prize from the upstate New York literary journal Stone Canoe. Her recent work includes the chapbook “History in Bones” (2001) and “The Man Under My Skin” (2005).
I won’t. You’re far too obvious.
It’s not my fault — it’s nature, the cat’s
urge to hunt, your carelesness
beneath the feeder’s fallen seed.
That’s what brought you here like this,
a broken-necked bequest at my door.
I will not think about you now.
Go back to sleep. I’m turning the lock.
Charles James is from Elmira. His poems have been published in nine chapbooks and in the book of selected poems called “Life Lines” (2009). He is one of the organizers of the Fine Arts Forum at Mansfield University. His visit to OFF THE PAGE comes shortly (very shortly) after returning from a month in China.
Once Upon a Time
I watched Ms. Wonderful
fix her hair
slowly open her red car door
lower first her left leg then right
to the pavement
rise splendidly and
with a dancer’s turn
close her red door
Oh exquisite grace
With measured timing
I charted my course
to greet her
when this little finger tapped my shoulder
“Charlie, that hill behind you
she won’t even see you”
Juliana Gray, Ben Howard and Charles James join Bill Jaker to read their poems and share those sent in by members of the audience.
Dorothy, forty years out of Oz, follows ripe rhubarb, squealing pigs,
dry white sheets; dreams of Glinda’s wand, the sparkling cohesion of the witch.
Once hailed the outwitter of wizards, the alchemist of twister tales,
today she tapes her grandson’s rainbow drawings on shimmering cupboards.
her granddaughter tears holes in the rhythmic rings, stuffs them in scuffed Oxfords.
That distant night, corn-fed, white-sauced arms held her tight at the highest point,
Ferris wheel kiss of the legendary Dorothy; he licked her lips home.
They wed the next June. The poppies bloomed. Winged monkeys danced the Bunny Hop.
Later she stared past her husband’s bucking shoulders, saw the tin man weep.
The barnyard clutters with cats self righteous as squabbling saints, she steps,
Muck caked boots undone, beyond quests for earthly knowledge, love, and medals.
Auntie Em pleads from aproned clouds, Glinda smirks from a disco bubble;
Dorothy whistles for Toto, three times clicks together her muddy heels.
Qadira P. Garger
O I have walked with Chaucer: England’s-greens
And travelled into Continental-zones
He is a modest man and never preens
Like peacock, cleaning feathers, to the bones
And all his verse is filled, with fluid-tones
We walk thru lovely gardens, skipping stones
Across the English ponds, my Time on loan
O I have walked with Chaucer: England’s-greens
He holds me in high-value, as a queen
In Italy, brings ices: paper-cones
He brushes my long hair, to silken-sheen
We walk and travel much, my Time on loan
To me my spouse such tenderness has shown
I tremble that I soon must leave his side
He treats me as his courtly-love-won bride
O I have walked with Chaucer: England’s-greens.
©2010 Qadira P. Garger
#30 & 46
I walk in the back fields behind my home at dawn and at dusk each day…I am writing, for the joy of it, 100 “Field Poems” to leave my children when I am gone. Here are a couple. They are all untitled but numbered. Joseph Eller
Field’s way is Spirit’s way, capture or
Be spurned,yet stay and stay and
Stay, the minute, the hour, the day.
Spirit? Everything, I guess, and so long
Ago. Here, now? Yes. And everywhere.
See anything? No. Field hears Spirit,
Though- silent presence. Invisible, yes,
Yet field grows. And Spirit always knows.
Field gives all that it has. And wherever
You pass, Spirit opens the new path.
This hill where my field lies has
A bottom and a top, thus it exerts
Its presence twice over; that is, There is depth down and elevation up,
Which gives it twice the wisdom
Of the flat place. The creatures
That burrow instinctively dig for
That bottom half. Roads know too.
And the rivers. And oh yes, the moon.
It wonders what is written on the
Walls of the caves under the field.
Bryne Lewis Allport
a bright finger scratches
on a dark cell wall.
she is held captive in attention,
narrowed in thought,
light, a cyclops eye at a small keyhole.
memory marches in lines
across a blank, slate floor.
she counts the days backward
to the disappearing point,
the details in focus as long as she remains unmoved.
a chin and two elbows
form a fragile pink tripod,
she leans forward in the black shroud
waiting for the hangman.
her head nods, a shutter closing.
Anne J Ryan
When the apple blossoms were finished
And the rhododendron coming to flower.
When the green on the hillsides was still young,
My neighbor took his chain saw
And felled the American Chestnut.
I made myself view the body;
The core; solid and strong.
When the culture is ignorance,
The bees are gone
once hived upon
gray concrete strength
above the cold and damp of earth.
They’d seek the warmth of sun
and nectar sweet
with fragile hum
in perfect beat
to Love’s ethereal rhythm.
News Item about Mark Twain
After he was described in the Atlantic Monthly as “Mark Twain, originally of Missouri, but then of Hartford, and now ultimately of the solar system, not to say the universe … ” he took pleasure in thinking of his name floating somewhere among distant planets.
Michael Shelden, Mark Twain: Man in White (2010)
News item (from a great height, April 21, 2010)
Your correspondent here reports
that Sam Clemens has laid aside his pen.
Having once arrived on Mr. Halley’s comet,
the author has it by the tail again.
His surprise at this astounding feat
can not be overstated in the least;
he was quite prepared to make the journey —
but not so much deceased.
Mr. Clemens tells us he is luckily unafraid of heights,
and daily enjoys one of St. Peter’s good cigars.
Until some wires can be arranged, he sends regrets
that telegrams will be less frequent from these stars.
The author is off in search of a dark saloon. Until then, I remain
your reporter and most far-flung correspondent, Twain.
(Twain died April 21, 1910.)
I Watched His World Get Smaller
Pick up one of those books that describes dog breeds.
Springer spaniels – “utilized to flush, or ‘spring’, game”,
“need plenty of exercise in order to run off their excess
energy”, “tireless”, “linked to “rage syndrome,””
We picked him up from a private breeder on January 9th,
coldest day of 1994. Bob lost his new watch, the van
broke down on the way home, the power went out as
soon as he was in the house. Life had begun with Jinx
I found out about “Springer Rage” by way of five bites.
Not nips – bites. Rip-and-tear stuff, plenty of blood. But
by now, he was a member of the family. You don’t put down
a family member (but you do warn visitors and passersby).
In his prime, I walked him at least a mile every morning.
Saturdays, Sundays, Holidays – off to miles of hiking trails,
never seemed enough to tire him out. He’d come with me
snow shoeing, leaping through, for him, chest high snow.
Ten came and went and he never missed a beat. Even eleven
and twelve, still sprang from a standing start to his seat in
the van. Thirteen I saw some changes but fellow hikers were
amazed to encounter this “teenager” that far out on the trail.
At fourteen, he began telling me when the hike was over. The
term “tireless” was gone from his lexicon. We eliminated
destinations as the hikes grew shorter than the commute. Still
plenty of parks close to home and we walked in every season.
So I watched his world get smaller. Fifteen meant most of the
time in the van, very little on the trail. At sixteen he barely
got to the bottom of the stairs when he had to go. I had to lift
him by the fur on his shoulders and hips to get him back in.
January 9th, coldest day of 2010. Dreading when that final ride
would come. I was getting ready to head to work early when I
heard “You better check on him”. There he was, at the foot of the
bed – stiff, cold. He left us as he lived with us – on his own terms.
I would love to share my poem with your program, this entitled The Jacket for my dear late husband Freddie James of Endicott- who passed September 14/08 of prostate cancer.
You were alive
when I last wore this jacket.
Perhaps we were off to our diner-
the theatre-or both
or neither of the above.
Draping my shoulders
reminds me again
of actually how short it’s been
since we strolled down a road.
We always held hands
stared at us-
Was it our contrasting ages?
Maybe we just looked like
our very own favorite company.
Sometimes at the movie house
I’d tuck your hand
in the warm cross of my knees-
and on the way out
thru the parking lot-
or while you opened the car door for me|
We’d ooh and ahh about the show-
how excellent…how lovely…
what ever we did not sleep thru.
I keep looking for you.
I keep waiting for you.
Like you might be in the men’s room.
I am sitting peacefully
In the preamble of a storm.
A few anticipatory drops
Settle mutely, discreetly.
A rich, dark backdrop
Attends above the back hill.
A true cloud in its silence
And its loftiness.
Without fuss or bluster
The cloud arrives over me.
Millions of its watery hitchhikers
Join the earth around me.
Until, I, prone on the grass
Am quietly nudged down the hill.
In Anticipation of Memories
Which kind touch lingers longer?
The one from today
Or the one remembered
A week from tomorrow.
The imagined future
As yet immaterial
In anticipation of memories.
Tips for Better Living
Take off most of your clothes.
Lie down on a comfy sofa.
Cover yourself with sleepy kittens.
Put a couple of scoops of ice cream
On a big plate and let it sit awhile
Lick it up like a dog from the plate.
Get up at dawn on a warm day.
Sit alone in the woods or a field.
Listen to all of those birds.
Find a secluded, sunny spot
On a bright but cool day
Take off most of your kittens.
i cannot know
the depth of your sorrow
nor the hurt
your heart has endured
i cannot know
the breadth of your emptiness
or your despair
from feeling alone
yet heart to heart
and hand in hand
i cannot know
but i understand
wind and currents
adrift on these uncharted waters
i go where the wind and currents carry me
knowing not where fate is taking me
my homeland shores are distant
far beyond what my eyes can see
i fear i’ll never walk those shores again
or find my home of peace and tranquility
gone are the days i’ve longed to remember
gone with those i’ve forgotten
and all those forgotten yesterdays
fill tomorrows with nothing
this sea worn skiff is what i’ve got
mostly white dappled with driftwood grey
the rudder won’t work and one oar’s lost
the hull leaks from its peeling paint
nothing but sea surrounds me
as i endlessly drift under starry skies
as the wind and currents carry me
Gloria Adelman Pelter
If I Met Vincent Van Gogh
If I Met Vincent Van Gogh
I would ask the artist
if he knows he’s famous,
what his life was like before the madness descended,
ensconcing him, like Sylvia Plath’s bell jar.
Were there times he saw the world like everyone else?
Would he call my questions themselves
a little “mad”?
And, if somehow he knows,
would he trade it all
to have had a so- called “normal” life
H B King
As I stooped low to weed petunia bed,
An old remembered scent came by to wake
A time of growing up. The moment fled
Quick as it came–yet called on me to take
My boyhood shape again: collected dreams
And dimes in early May bought me a flat
of birthday blooms to honor Mom. It seems,
In retrospect, a simple way for that
Which has received life to recall his growth:
Warm smells of this Spring’s plants in rows of flower
Affirm that life goes on in fruit and seed.
Come once again with blossoms for her, both
A gangly boy and man of later hour,
I stand with love before maternal need.
Seek the best
Arm your Coeur
Read your fate
Ack your strength
Heed no threat
Joy may always stay and
Obstacles may never play
Low key a melody
In my heart you’ll ever be
Spring Sprang Sprung
Scratch seeds in heaved earth around hardy
Lupine, miniature roses and violas
To anticipate summer counterpoint in pastels and bolds.
Seminal new potatoes, carrots, sugar snaps,
And white tipped-pink icicles dream of a
Spring bed of endive, bibb, lolla rosa and arugula.
Asparagus leaps to shoots and bolts
When the Spring rains drench the crowns
From sleepless growth underground.
Calling out past bounties in color, form and scent,
The Winter palette is shocked alive
By bergamot in accidental footfall
How to celebrate Spring?
With sun flushed face, dirty nails,
disheveled, in a state of grace.
in the dark,
the shadow of a smile
across your face.
wordlessly you murmur,
I kiss you again.
Anita A. Shipway
Lessons in an Old Mill
A tingling blush of fright
Seems always, these days,
To be running through, around.
Can we make it… What if…But…
I don’t know, We just don’t know
But, there in this dark corner
Of an old mill
I can kneel among these ancient tools.
In their midst I feel a calming,
Like a strong arm around me.
They seem to murmur
That others have made it. Others have.
“Chirrel, chirrel, chirrel,” calls the squirrel
When he wants everyone to know
That he is using this tree right now
And that pretty soon he’ll go
The taste of pears I remember,
Juice dripping off my chin.
The sight of a drop of rain
Slowly making its way
Across the telephone wire.
There were Northern Lights
Once, swelling, undulating,
Washing the charcoal sky
With shades and shades.
The old ladies, in their crepe
Dresses, with little figures
On them: broken circles,
And joined circles, and white
And the lace-up shoes they
Wore, and bent fingers
And all their rings.
One opal ring I always
Watched, because it grabbed
The light, already splattered
By the church windows,
And sent it off again
As cold shards of fire.
(That had been her engagement ring,
She told me, her first betrothal,
The boy who died in the other war.)
And I recall the wind,
Full of warmth, strong and
Soft as my mother’s arms.
But all that left the earth,
All of life, to me, is
I have not tasted pear;
I have not felt the wind.
I see no old ladies interesting
All, all is gone
All gone but me –
With nothing to smell,
Nothing to feel,
Nothing to see in my world,
Where I am so well
Taken care of.
The Timeless Game
Two were on
in the bottom of the ninth
when the light began to fade
I made the pitch
you lit the candle
and we turned the double-play
Hot Dogs & Post It Notes
There once was a woman
all alone and on her own –
she often thought of her children
all bred, fed and dispersed
as she ambled about the empty house.
Perhaps it was in her sleep
perhaps it was in the bath
perhaps it was always there;
but the travel bug bit her,
and bit her hard.
She traveled so often
but worried too
for what she did not know.
just before she would depart
for those places abroad
she’d write the children’s names
upon a post it note
then stick it to the things
she wanted them to have.
The grace of God always brought her back
so she would throw a party
and she and her friends
would dance into the night
and not one would know
the hot dogs roasted over ashes
from unused post it notes.
At the House after the Funeral
The final visit to the family house-a monument
to thirty eight years of
Walking up the front polished oak staircase with open, sunlit balustrade
that was rarely used, and down the back, narrow, enclosed stairs that come into
a small, dark kitchen with worn pine cupboards.
I walk as though in deep mud-
slow, heavy, sucking motion
pulling my legs down, down
into a cold swamp.
Into the parlors appointed with pretty but unwelcoming,
each window draped with heavy dust-laden brocade to block out
of light or warmth,
Each room filled with sorrow.
Each room filled with whispers and curses.
Rooms filled with brutality and fear and
Every room a grotto-cave filled with shame
and children’s frightened hearts.
The hallway floorboards creak
with sadness and echoes of weeping.
They creak with a wife’s denial (or was it hope);
a husband’s anger and guilt.
I leave the house and its dead to a mournful past-
walk out to the living
lock the door and
throw the key up
into a cloudless sky.
AFTER ONE-TOO-MANY BAD POETRY READINGS
There we were
locked in for not sitting close to door and escape,
listening quietly, too politely,
to someone confusing obfuscation with profundity
(only the espresso machine hissed its judgment).
Years ago, Reagan’s manager electronically isolated
which phrases a wired focus group responded to,
positively or negatively.
Let’s obligate wannabe poets to gauge audience responses–
indicating “quit” or “continue your craft”;
Or reinstitute a version of the Gong Show
to abruptly end the audience’s agony
and a career–before too much paper and patience
Responding to the charge that too many teachers
discourage many students’ “creative” efforts,
Flannery O’Connor retorted:
Who said: “Everyone has a right to their opinion
but not a requirement
to inflict them on others”?
Kathleen Harrison Cook
Squeeze the heart of luscious oozing pulp
Through leathery holding skin
Deep purple pigment stains fingertips’ barren beige
Lips and teeth pop grape’s globe in
Tongue jumps with delight
Damsels in distress, beware!
Traveling through time and space,
Performing exploits extraordinaire,
The knight in shining armor is blinded by his light.
But you are sacrificed, Fay Ray-style:
eyes wide, mouth O-ed, hands up –
foolish and ineffectual.
The churning locomotive whistles its approach.
The robber-in-waiting unbinds you from the ropes,
absconds with you,
assumes soul possession.
Think of Lois Lane in harm’s way.
Superman rushed to her side —
But remained silent when the market fell,\
And the newspaper cut staff.
The Man of Steel flew off to Krypton.
Lois registered with Temps Galore.
Lancelot retired to a hermitage.
Galahad ascended unto heaven.
Fair damsels, beware!
Lest your dire straits be subsumed by heroics,
and you become a scream queen,
crying out for salvation and offered only rescue.
FIRST LIGHT: THE METRONOME
Dawn over Troyand winged Eos
Rosy-fingered, heralds brother Helios.
Dawn on the Nile; see Amen Re emerge
From his nightly planet-circling barge.
When stars grew pale and harder to discern,
For centuries men went to field and barn.
A moment’s daily pause to pray, to stare.
First light, caressing touch of hope, soft air.
A hope – and yet the circling does not cease.
Eos, Helios, Selene and Amen Re –
The chariot, the barge, are whirling by,
A metronome to mark remaining years.
Soon, ah soon, we shall be helpless hurled
Into the maw of Hades’ ebon world.
Emily Rhoads Johnson
Necklaces of white spirea
Spill around the necks of old houses,
Dressing proud, wrinkled porches
In drifts of falling stars.
The houses swell with stirrings
Of long-forgotten springtimes,
When children picked the trailing boughs And wound them in their hair.
Emily Rhoads Johnson
a cricket skitters into my house
and hides under the bathtub.
His aria zips a glissando
up my naked backbone.
I jump, splashing,
and lose the soap.
Every spring it’s ninety degrees
at the high school band concert.
Mosquitoes hum to Vivaldi and Sousa.
Programs flutter like giant moths
while everyone drips (mainly the drummers) and somebody faints.
Every spring children share secrets
under the lilac bush. Poems and
butterflies float in the air,
stretch their wings,