Poems from the Central States


 

What a joy it was to read the poems submitted from the Central States! Poems about the body. Poems about poetry. Nature poems. Travel poems. Family poems. Ekphrastic poems. Meditations on living. Meditations on dying. Memories, and more memories. Compelling narratives. Philosophical poems. So many terrific poems! I read them all, and then I read them again, the second time pulling out my favorites. But I had too many favorites, so I kept reading them and rereading them, trying to choose. It wasn’t easy, because so many were so good. It was a privilege and an honor to be entrusted with these poems as the guest poetry judge for this issue of Persimmon Tree. I hope you will enjoy my selections.

 

 

Stanford

 

Ann Folwell Stanford

Petition

Dear talking crow
Dear fireball,
Dear scent of gardenia,
Wreath of marigolds.

The body,

thick bucket,

weighs,

calls attention to itself—

little fires in elbows

knees

hair in the comb

the gut delicate

and the feet
oh the feet.

The body is a want.

A constant thing.

Give us this day our daily dose,
give us this day to walk on air.
Let us remember, let us forget.
Knit us in light. Help us unfurl.

 

Crabtree

 

Maril Crabtree

Things to Do in the Belly of the Poem

after “Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale” by Dan Albergotti

Count the syllables. Test the meter. Decide
on line length and stanzas: couplets, triplets,
quatrains, free verse, blank verse, formal.

In the next draft, do it all over again.
Bake some bread. Make soup. Breathe.
Take a pair of scissors to the words, cut

them apart, stab them, throw them into the air
and watch them float down. See if any survive
the flight. Shuffle them, mix them, change

tenses, hang them inside out and upside down.
Take a yoga break and hang your body
upside down. Let the fresh blood

rush into your head and hope all the words
rearrange themselves. Try to forget
those words that won’t leave you alone.

Breathe. Listen to Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton.
Listen for the silence between words. Quell
the longing to watch “Breaking Bad” for the third time.

Breathe. Quash the impulse to call your best friend,
your old boyfriend, the contest judge
who gave your poem first place three years ago.

Take a walk in the park. Stare at the trees and try,
really try, not to describe them in your mind. Instead,
watch the children swinging and sliding, invisible

wings halo-ing their shoulders, laughter drowning
the air. Breathe. Remember what it was like
to drift in the clouds and sink to the bottom of time.

 

Heller

 

Janet Ruth Heller

Flamboyance (for Oma)

You took me to the fancy Schroeder Hotel
for lunch, though I was only five.
My hamburger and Coke probably cost a fortune.
But I was your oldest grandchild.

As your necklace and bracelet glittered
under the chandeliers,
you showed me your paintings of goldfinches and roses
from the morning’s art class.
You told me you had always wanted a daughter.

Then you slid my straw’s wrapper down
until it turned into a snake.
We put water drops on it
to make it slither.
Knowing my prim mother would not approve
the snake trick, I giggled with delight.

As we ate, we watched tall women
mount a platform in the center of the restaurant
to model the latest autumn fashions.
They glided through the crowd like queens.

When the last model left the platform,
I ran up the steps and twirled
in my red and gold pinafore,
dancing like the maple leaves outside,
on fire with turbulent desire.

 

Johnson

 

Judy Johnson

Lou and Hy’s Deli, West Market Street, 1967

bagels and bialys piled on counters on your right,
inside the case fruit Danish, deli meats and cheesecake
ahead, stacks of blue boxes of matzo ball mix,
on each plain table a centerpiece—a chilled silver dish
with thick cut kosher pickle slices.

I played Margot in The Diary of Anne Frank
in a high school production across town.
I didn’t know of the Jewish community on West Hill,
but our director set this up. I sampled
lox and bagels for the first time.

One night in performance
the banging on the door, the sirens, the fear
became too real and I fell to the stage floor weeping
for my father (really for just the boy I loved,
exactly one week older, the first gay boy I knew,
not Jewish at all, who died of AIDS in his forties).

At Lou and Hy’s, it never crossed my mind
that the waiter with the number I could not see
tattooed beneath his left white shirt sleeve
might know things I needed to know,
might have told me if I’d asked.

 

Weir

 

Judith Weir

With the Same Finesse and Precision
That He Devoted to Booze in His Drinking Days

It’s a different woman each night. I know because he
brings them into my front hall, up these stairs past my
bedroom door, and down the hall to his own set of stairs
going up to the third floor apartment he rents from me.
The woman in the long fur coat and high heels, trails
perfume up the stairs.
The one with the camper parked out front, the camper
with a racing stripe, she’s noisier. They moan and sigh a
lot when her night comes. And he whistles as he pulls the
prosciutto and wheat bread from the refrigerator along
with two bottles of Cold Spring. He’s been clean for
seventeen years. His cousin, in a suburban coat and jeans,
stops to pet the dog and comment on the weather. She’s
one of his women, too. I know because she’s displayed in
a large, colored blow-up nude on the wall with all the rest.
He sends the film off to New York quite regularly and the
poster-sized prints come back neatly wrapped in plain
brown paper. He’s not reliable my friend says after they
finally break up before Christmas. She says it has
something to do with his father, some unresolved issues
there. But he’s not in a rush to resolve them. He vacuums
regularly, hangs mirrors beside the bed and whistles
down the hall on his way to open the door for the woman
in white.

 

McDuffie

 

Dawn McDuffie

The Carwash Guy Saves Every Dollar

He wants a diamond ring that screams class,
money, a dab of glitter in the velvet night,

a gift, every cent he owns and all his love
like poetry books, but cool, easy to read.

His wisdom tooth hurts like a gem on fire,
but he’ll get it pulled if the hurt gets too bad.

He’s happy. A pretty girl loves him–lucky catch
like the giant eel he caught by the atomic plant.

Tonight his gums drum bedtime tambourines,
pain so bad he can’t remember his father’s name,

can’t smile or chew sweet corn. He’s afraid
to kiss his girl. If life is a river, what is infection?

What is childhood damage? He’s falling asleep
as light laps out on a river where fishline,

sinker and hook connect him to water-striders,
trailing weeds, minnows and catfish.

He remembers a picture book where a lost child
finds a magic lake, abundant, bottomless.

No more hungry nights. Like that child,
he’s the family dreamer, and he knows–

food may come from magic, but money,
money gives life splendor.

No chintzy kindness measured out, no budget,
but a cut-glass bottle pouring out fragrance.

In his dream the glass explodes
like double fireworks over Detroit,

a rain of hot ash, fried fish sizzling with mercury,
desire louder than his high school marching band.

 

Balistreri

 

Mary Jo Balistreri

Dear Vincent,

They say—and I am very willing to believe it—that it is difficult to know yourself, but it isn’t easy to paint yourself either.   Vincent Van Gogh

Your Self-Portrait with Straw Hat looks at me
from across the kitchen table. You look like I feel. It’s why your eyes
hold me I suppose—the questions, hurt and disappointment.
But I don’t have your animal eyes—alert, ready to attack.

It’s not so much your likeness that interests me but how
you painted your fire—all that intensity discharging at once,
the frenzy of chaos, how you gave voice to it, ordered it.

Art historians talk more about color theory and the impact of Seurat
in this painting which is all here. But I’m wondering if you and I
have the same pressure—something we love, so constant in our head
that we ache with its presence.

It is not color that torments and delights me, but sound.
Since I lost my hearing, a tune plays perpetually in my head.
Sometimes I just want the music to stop. It can’t or won’t.
I feel as if I too might go crazy,
as if this ceaseless spiral will consume me.

You handled it with a paintbrush. I try to write. We partner
in a risky dance with fragmentation—will we lose ourselves
in the attempt to honor excessive noise
attempting to calm and extract what we need?

With your strong ego, you quell fear and aggression
on the canvas with the yellows of your straw hat, your eyes.
I wrangle with music through words, but at a slower pace—
black on white like the keyboard I once played.

I feel your canvas throb with color’s dynamic, imagine
the implosion in your head unravel down your arm,
the often manic obsession to get it down,
executing the impossible through fervor and persistence.
A portrait that’s true can be wrung inside out.

You give me hope by showing your anguish behind
the surface, how even your demons were made
to serve art.

 

Baeumler

 

Ruth Schmidt-Baeumler

Weeping Wedding Cake

To honor her American relatives she orders
angel food cake from me to mingle with
German Schwarzwaldkirschtorte and
Norwegian Kransekake at her wedding buffet.

Into the neighbor’s kitchen armed with borrowed
apron, mixer, and American measuring cup, I check
the oven for leaks and wonder if the temperature
holds steady with centigrade accuracy.

She loves cake with lemon powdered sugar frosting,
the more lemon the better. It is raining outside
this Norwegian-paned window, pouring steadily,
humidity June high, barometer dropping.

Twelve separated egg whites later, the mixer
whirs weakly. It seems not used to beating fluff
made more out of air than earthly substance.
Norwegian cakes are solid, a meal in a mouthful.

Adding more cream of tartar to stiffen the whites,
peaks rise and the batter glistens.
Folding in the flour is tricky, but the mass
looks good in the ungreased cone pan.

Twenty minutes in baking I smell burning,
place the cake on a lower rack and start praying.
As the cake hangs upside down on a
full wine bottle to cool, I am still praying.

Morning of the wedding I mix up the frosting
with lots of lemon. An hour later a lake has formed
under the cake. I drain it, again the cake puddles.
A weeping wedding cake, great.

I approach my daughter and her Norwegian spouse after
the ceremony. They just laugh, have the kitchen add
more frosting. As they cut the angel food cake,
hands joined on one knife, I am the one weeping.

 

Carroll

 

Judith Waller Carroll

In Another Dress

For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our dress these days shows our age,
you in your baggy shorts, elastic brace
on one knee, a stoop to your shoulders
as you water while I deadhead
the roses, my hair carelessly tucked
under a floppy hat I’ve had for years.
The old-fashioned grandparents,
our granddaughter calls us,
a title we’re proud to wear.
How many opportunities we squandered
in our youth, but now we savor
each one this ordinary day has to offer:
a breeze through the pines,
a snatch of song from a Carolina wren,
the crows’ strong opinions as they bully and wheel.
A few clouds roll by, high and fast.

 

Rosenfeld

 

Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld

Mist

A tiny cloud of droplets short of rain,
a ghostly vapor rising from the ground,
an evanescence quickly gone.

Here, by the beach, a fallen flower
lying by itself. I pick it up and cradle it.
Deep cup, this orphaned child of ocean
seems to drink the sea and smells
of water, wind.

Each year I took my children to a plane
that flew them to their father—then,
alone, I made the trip to home.

Inside
the scalloped flower edge, I hear the air
that carried them away. I hear water, which,
with cancer cells, has drowned a child.
Under the foggy winding sheet of sky,
the ocean’s pall is gray, darker
than mist. The ocean’s cold stones
stare at me from sand.

Mist: what’s left of tears
exhausted yesterday.

My daughter, dead
at forty-six.
Missed.
She is mist.

 

Zuege

 

Veronica Zuege

Joined Selves

From our joined selves long rivers start
We cannot find alone.
— May Sarton

The pyx was in one hand,
her name and room number in the other.
He was told she would not be “all there.”
But he was authorized, anointed maybe
to bring the sacrament.

The door was ajar. He waited.
He was witness to devotion:
her gnarled hands in his,
their heads bowed as if in prayer
their brows barely but surely touching.

He waited and left
not willing to break
their deep communion
with this small wafer.

 

Pucciani

 

Donna Pucciani

Ghost Weather

The storm blew in from the west
as predicted, a little before midnight,
not long after a blue moon
lit the sky with its lollipop face.
Trees bowed to earth,
their leaves quivering on the breast
of night. Lilies sparked their fires
with humid gusts, and sacred basil
trembled in silent flashes, awaiting
the full force of the tempest.

Wandering the willow’s green swags,
my grandmother appears, having leapt
from Charon’s boat before he reached
her destination, her white cape flying
behind her old black dress, calico
apron, and sensible shoes. She refuses
to be ferried into the next world
by some stranger with oars.
She is her own mythology,
shrugging her shoulders in a gesture
of Neapolitan stubbornness, surprised
only by her angel-smoke soul
wafting up to heaven
in a storm of diaphanous wings.

 

Day

 
Lucille Lang Day

Becoming an Ancestor

According to the dictionary, I’m not
an ancestor yet, only a grandparent
of a blond boy who clomps in his new sandals,
then throws me a ball strewn with black
stars and moons on a white background,
and a bow-legged baby girl with blue eyes,
all smiles today in her hooded carrier—
a child born the day my own grandfather
would have turned 130. He never knew
he had grandchildren, let alone great greats.

My own toddler days of warm cookies,
crayons and Betsy Wetsy dolls don’t seem
far away, but I am en route to becoming
an ancestor. Lucy and Ricky are dead.
Barbie is past fifty. Even the hippies
are history. When my grandchildren show
their grandchildren my photo in an old
album, I wonder what they’ll say.
That I swore like a trucker when I was hurt?
Blew like Vesuvius when I was mad?

They might recall I was always late, never
learned to knit or crochet, had brown hair,
couldn’t cook worth a damn but could carry
a tune, took poetry books everywhere,
liked to know birds and insects by name,
overreacted in both bad and good ways,
was unreasonably vain for someone my age,
had legs like a crane and liked to dance.

From Becoming an Ancestor (Červená Barva Press, 2015). First published in ForPoetry.com.

 

My Kindergarten Class

Egbert W. Beach School, Room 9
Piedmont, California, 1954

Mrs. Minor, smiling and standing to the left
of her sixteen charges, wears a striped dress,
bolero jacket and glasses in the class picture.
In the first row, Henry sits with hands
in his pockets and a gap-toothed grin.
He once said he liked me, but he was
too late: I liked Ronnie, an older guy
who was in first grade, until Ricky Schiller
arrived the following year and won my heart
when we danced in the Open House play.
Beside Henry, Peggy Tobey folds her hands
and looks down. She was my friend until
I kicked her just for fun. When I was eating
a cookie, her mother once said I dropped
“a tray” of crumbs. Douglas was a real
brain. I lost track of him after he skipped
fifth grade. I don’t know what became
of Judy and Jerry, the twins, except
that Jerry didn’t go to Piedmont High.
He went to Oakland Tech instead. Nor do
I know what happened to dark-haired Mary
or little blond Jayne. Ken sits between them.
Walking home from school one day,
we fought and I hit him with a stick.
He became an engineer and fiduciary.
At sixty-six, he died from too much drink.
Jo Ann is in the second row. I still have
the piggybank that says “Lucille”
she gave me when I turned six.
A retired teacher, she lives in Ohio.
Suzanne Crosby lived across the street
from me. I got mad in second grade
when she plagiarized my story about
a chipmunk and a Christmas tree.
I’ve no idea where she is today. Ditto
for plump Kathy, standing next to me,
Susan, whom I barely remember,
and Claudia White, who gave me a black-
and-white kitten in second grade. I named
him Spot, but my mother sent him to the SPCA.
The two tallest boys, Mike Burns and Mike
Foudy, stand side by side at the very back.
Mike Burns apologized decades later
to the kids he snubbed. He now subs
in middle schools and plays clarinet.
Mike Foudy left us for Catholic School
in first grade, but we saw him most days
at Foudy’s Fine Foods, his father’s store
where we’d go for a popsicle or candy bar.
He became a college dean, father of three,
grandfather of four. He died last week.

 

Ruth Schmidt-Baeumler grew up in Navarre, Minnesota. After living her middle years in Germany, she built a house at Castle Danger, Minnesota next to her old cabin. She restarted writing poetry in 2007 and has been published and has won awards. She is a member of the League of Minnesota Poets, the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, Lake Superior Writers, and North Shore Poets. She has a B.A. in German, sings with the Echoes of Peace choir in Duluth, and is a fiber artist working fabric for quilts and rugs and with raw wool spinning, weaving, felting, and dyeing.
 
Mary Jo Balistreri has two books of poetry, Joy in the Morning and gathering the harvest (Bellowing Ark Press) and a chapbook, Best Brothers, (Tiger's Eye Press). She has recent work or forthcoming in Earth’s Daughters, Miranda Rising, Dragonfly, Quill & Parchment, Communion, Blue Heron Review, An Ariel Anthology; She has haiku and haibun in The Heron's Nest, Modern Haiku, Plum Blossoms, Prune Juice and Contemporary Haibun online. Poetrystorehouse has offered videos and a sound scape of two of her poems. She has received ten Pushcart nominations and four Best of the Net. Balistreri is one of the founders of Grace River Poets, an outreach for women's shelters, churches, and schools. She continues to write poetry in gratefulness for the life given, for the woods and pond she lives on that not only nurture, but heal. Please visit her at maryjobalistreripoet.com
 
Maril Crabtree grew up in Memphis and New Orleans but calls the Midwest home. Her most recent chapbook is Tying the Light (Finishing Line Press, 2014). She has edited four anthologies of poetry and nature-related essays and her work has appeared in journals such as Kalliope, I-70 Review, DMQ Review, Coal City Review, Main Street Rag, Third Wednesday, and Poet’s Market. She previously served as poetry editor for Kansas City Voices and is a board member of The Writers Place, Kansas City’s center for the literary arts.
 
Judith Waller Carroll is the author of The Consolation of Roses, winner of the 2015 Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press Poetry Prize, and Walking in Early September (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Her work appears in Fiftiness, Mom Egg Review, Clementine Journal, damselfly press, Home (Outrider Press, 2016), River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the Twenty-first Century (Blue Light Press, 2015), and Joys of the Table (Richer Resources Publications, 2015), among other journals and anthologies, and has been nominated for Best of the Net. She lives in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas with her husband, the novelist Jerry Jay Carroll.
 
Lucille Lang Day (http://lucillelangday.com) has published six full-length poetry collections and four chapbooks, most recently Becoming an Ancestor and Dreaming of Sunflowers: Museum Poems, winner of the 2014 Blue Light Poetry Prize. She is also a co-editor of Red Indian Road West: Native American Poetry from California and the author of two children’s books, Chain Letter and The Rainbow Zoo, as well as a memoir, Married at Fourteen: A True Story, which received a Josephine Miles PEN Oakland Literary Award and was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. The founder and director of a small press, Scarlet Tanager Books (http://www.scarlettanager.com), she lives in Oakland, California.
 
Janet Ruth Heller is president of the Michigan College English Association and has taught literature, linguistics, composition, creative writing, and women’s studies. She has published the poetry books Exodus (WordTech Editions, 2014), Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012), and Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011); the scholarly book Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press, 1990); a middle-grade chapter book about sibling rivalry, The Passover Surprise (Fictive Press, 2015); and the award-winning children’s picture book about bullying How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006; rpt. 2012). Her website is http://www.janetruthheller.com.
 
Native Ohioan Judy A. Johnson, a member of a writing group since the early 1990s, is a freelance writer and a reference librarian. Her poems have been read on “Conrad’s Corner,” a radio program heard on WYSO, as well as at Art and Poetry events at the Dayton Art Institute and Glen Helen’s Winter Solstice Poetry Reading. Her poems have appeared in Mock Turtle Zine, Sycamore, Stolen Island Review, and From the Tower. Her collection of meditations, A Week to Pray About It, was published in 2006.
 
Dawn McDuffie moved to Detroit in 1968 to teach English at Central High School. Since then the city of Detroit has been an ongoing inspiration. Her poems have appeared in Rattle, The MacGuffin, CT Review and Feminist Studies, and in the anthology, Good Poems–American Places edited by Garrison Keillor. Her chapbook, Carmina Detroit, was published in 2006 by Adastra Press. Finishing Line Press published Bulky Pick Up Day in 2011, and a second Adastra chapbook, Flag Day in Detroit, was published in 2012. Since 2000 she has taught creative writing in Detroit.
 
Donna Pucciani, a Chicago-based writer, has published poetry on four continents in such diverse journals as Poetry Salzburg, Istanbul Literary Review, Shi Chao Poetry, The Christian Century, Acumen and Gradiva. Her work has been translated into Italian, Chinese, Japanese and German. In addition to five Pushcart nominations, she has won awards from the Illinois Arts Council and The National Federation of State Poetry Societies, among others. Her seventh and most recent collection of poems is Edges (Purple Flag Press, Virtual Artists Collective, Chicago, 2016).
 
Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld is a former U.S. Navy missile analyst, Southern Methodist University Press manuscript editor, and SMU English instructor who has done poetry therapy with forensic patients and maintains three Web sites on perished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Her poetry has been published both nationally and internationally on the Internet and in print journals and anthologies. One poem, “Angel,” is in Adam Zych’s Revised and 2nd Edition of The Auschwitz Poems and has also been translated into Polish. A chapbook of hers, Fringing the Garments, was published in 2013 by Pecan Grove Press.
 
Ann Folwell Stanford has taught at DePaul University for 26 years and is looking forward to retirement in the next few. She has published poems recently in Slipstream, The Syracuse Cultural Workers Womens Artists Daybook, Michigan Quarterly Review and Blue Mesa Review. Her book about the politics of medicine and women novelists of color was published by UNC Press in 2003 and in 2014, her co-edited volume of essays about women, writing and incarceration was published by Rowman and Littlefield.
 
Judith Weir raised four children as a single parent and was editor for the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs for more than twenty years. She edited and published the CURA Reporter and many books and monographs on contemporary urban problems. She received the Loft’s Creative Nonfiction Award and has published both poetry and prose in a number of small journals and anthologies. Her recent memoir, Walking Through Stone, about her experiences with a daughter who has schizophrenia, is looking for a publisher.
 
As an English teacher, Veronica Zuege had little time to write anything, but has always known that “some things can only be said in poetry.” Now retired, she has met up with some awesome encouraging women poets in her community so she writes with abandon. This is her first submission ever! She lives in Arkansas with a husband who is trying very hard to be as enthusiastic as she is about this honor. He said, however, he loves living with a poet.

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2 thoughts on “Poems from the Central States

  1. Patricia Brody

    I’d like to reach out to Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld. Devasting and delicate poem of grief and survival?
    And so compelling her history and involvement with Holocaust victims and the writing.
    Maybe she could send me her email or someone through Persimmon could ask for me?
    meanwhile the poem and her daughter her loss and love, live in my heart –because of the writing
    the beautiful balance inwht can never be balanced.
    Patricia

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