East Coast Poets


 

Emotionally complex, intellectually astute, and imagistically provocative, the twelve poems assembled here offer a rich array of voices plying the paradoxes of being human. The breadth of concerns in these poems is wide: there are meditations, laments, lyric complaints, love letters, and philosophical conundrums. Touching on such themes as loss, ageing, sorrow, the elusive self, and unexpected joy, these poems prove to be both thought-provoking and illuminating. I hope readers will savor them, as I have.

 

Fourteen Poems

 

Meredith Trede

Meredith Trede

The Town That Never Was

Noted at Bradbury Science Museum

On forty square miles of the Pajarito plateau
a home address was a state secret. They called
Los Alamos The Hill; trafficked in code names:
 
Little Boy, Fat Man; went south to Trinity Site
to detonate the gadget—the weapon that they said
would render war no more. Supplied with state-crafted

phrases, docents tell us about the mission
of the safety-infracting, file-misplacing lab:
maintain America’s aging weapons without

nuclear testing; win the war against terror;
enhance defense and economic security; focus on
weapons of mass destruction. Like the lab, the museum

has sometimes closed: potential security leaks.
There’s no telling what words might have escaped
in the latest mushroom clouds that never really were.

 

 

J Herbert

W.J. Herbert

 

Study of a Skeleton, 1542

The universe is lodging place
and instrument of the immortal soul…
– Vesalius to Charles V
 

Koi ripple the pond’s surface, then settle,
but each lily’s a compass gone crazy,
petals wild for every piece of sky.

Inside the archive, a bible’s bright orange,
gold on St. Jerome’s page

but the girl studies an engraving
of radius and ulna hinged like a warped door,
abyss of the mouth half-open

like hers. Since the accident,
she’s wanted answers and, now, these bones

which she thinks must be like her father’s
though this man is standing,
skull looking up in supplication

as if he’s not the Jesus with Saints
the girl’s aunt is saying he looks like,

but a man afraid to have found out
that the Heavens are made of Earthly matter,
his skull tilted upward, asking:
 
Where will we go now?

 

 

Anne Woodworth

Anne Harding Woodworth

At the Retirement Village
a convolute

Somewhat mysterious, the old women
go to the room full of guitars
where they melt the day away,

and they have nothing on. They decode
the language of their youth.
In that, they see the wonderful.

They share everything they do,
everything they have, even though it’s smudgy—
celery root, mushroom, turmeric,

which they say is distinguished
for taking them out of the moment
(Yes! they remember the efficacy of cannabis).

Nothing is brown anymore, nor merlot-hued,
and not all blues are created equal.
But light still bounces off their faces evenly.

Blurred may be their vision, double
may be their vision, but they straighten
to standing and lead with their heads,

though that makes their necks hurt.
They have silk ribbons for their necks.
In that room full of guitars they place

their right hands on their hips for balance.
Wobbling is a part of life.
Wearing almost nothing, they feel everything.

 

 

Kathryn

Kathryn Kelly

Husband, This Is What Happened After You Died

Your body in the Jacksonville morgue, my brother beside me, I picked out your casket.
In the old Fernandina mansion turned into a funeral home, I picked out your casket.

I left clothes there for you, your newest blue jeans and favorite green turtle neck.
I told the pleasant man you would not choose to wear a suit forever in your casket.

The pleasant man called that night, said you had arrived safely from Jacksonville.
Next morning I left you in the old mansion where you lay closed in your casket.

While my brother drove the dogs and me home to Atlanta, you took a trip home too,
home to Huntsville in a black hearse, your last trip home, unknowing in your casket.

Two days later I came to Alabama and sat at your mother’s kitchen table. The priest
talked with your mother, your sister and me, kindly said your soul was not in that casket.

We drove to the funeral home, your mother, your sister and I. Yet another pleasant man
led us to a parlor. In an alcove brightly lit, we saw you lying in the smooth pecan casket.

You were you and you were not you, waxy skin and your mustache trimmed perfectly
as you never managed in life. Each of us leaned in and kissed you, lying in your casket.

The next evening, at the old church where you once served as an altar boy, I waited
at the steep front steps as my brothers and nephews climbed them, carrying your casket.

Your mother and I stood in the church hall for hours. Family and friends took our hands,
spoke gentle words, then moved on to the altar. Some knelt to say prayers by your casket.

In the morning we met you at Maple Hill, where the priest spoke of life everlasting.
Then I, Kathryn, surrendered you to family ground, unforgivably dead in your casket.

 

 

Josephine Hausam

Josephine Hausam

Still Life in Smoke

You left,
yet stayed,
creviced inside cracks,
embedded in threads,
affixed on dust motes,
fused to your fusty chair.

Ashes interred elsewhere,
but smoke stayed.
I breathe your nicotine scarred air.

 

 

Sandra Kohler

Sandra Kohler

Flora, Fauna

On the window sill, burgundy shamrock
flower next to rose-red cyclamen, a spider
plant’s pale baby shoots, the oldest orchid’s
wrinkled leathery leaves, wiry new stem.

In the backyard shade bed, down-facing
hellebore hide dazzled eyes from fauna:
coral wooden flamingos, flaunting hard
bright feathers. Do the flamingos miss

the shallow waters of the shores they come
from? Do the hellebore resent this tropical
invasion of their bosky glen’s green April
hesitations? Walking around the block,

I miss the invisible cat, old orange tom
this winter seems to have done in. He
seemed immortal, enduring winters as
he did. I haven’t seen him in a month.

I am these entities I have invented by
seeing them: shamrock, cyclamen, spider
plant, orchid, hellebore, flamingos, that
invisible cat. I am my garden, rain soaked

and untended. I am my roses, pruned,
fed, expected to bloom. I am my body
which this morning mystifies me with a
random burst of pain, reluctance to rise.

I am the black garment hanging from
the bureau knob, the white one wrapping
my body, the paper flowers my grand-
daughter made, white vase they stand in.

I am none of this, I am nowhere here. I am
bone and tissue, hand and eye, tears and
breath, a gasp of pleasure, a wince of pain,
silence and speech which will not cease.

 

 

Pamela Ahlen

Pamela Ahlen

Dying Queen Anne’s Lace

The child in the old photo
is wearing crepe paper petals,
her bobbed hair crowned with leaves.
She’s holding some Queen Anne’s lace.
My mother once told me she liked to dip the stems in dye,
watch the flowers soak up pink or blue.
The flower grows wild, thrives on roadsides here,
the tiny red dot in its center barely visible,
a pin prick (it’s said) from a needle as Queen Anne tatted lace.
Maybe it was a school lesson on osmosis,
the soaking up and drinking in that intrigued her,
or maybe my mother felt overlooked,
like that tiny red dot no one takes the time to see.
I’ll never know what made her tick—
all she never thought to tell, all I never thought to ask.
I like the queen’s lace too, its fragile but enduring gift.
My mother was fragile as an iron rod
When diagnosed she remarked “there is no cure”
and never spoke of it again
I picked and dyed my first ones yesterday,
feeling the pleasure my mother must have felt,
way too late to let her know.

 

 

Jacqueline Lapidus

Jacqueline Lapidus

Last Days

In memoriam, Rev. J. Robert Williams (July 21, 1955—Dec. 24, 1992)

When the first purple bruises appeared on his face
he knew he was going to die, but nothing short of death
could stop him from speaking truth.
One bishop washed his hands of him, the other
wouldn’t let him celebrate in church.
On the shortest day the disciples disappeared,
even Lazarus whom he loved, leaving work
to the women, as usual.
Robert had lost control of his body,
the apartment smelled like shit.
I climbed into bed with him and we argued all morning
over the characters in his novel,
you have to make those women come alive!
The visiting nurse brought us lunch on a tray.
Next day
he lost consciousness. His best friend
drove up from Provincetown with only the clothes she stood up in,
kept watch in his hospital room.
I called a few other people who knew the hymnal by heart
and once he’d been given last rites,
we sang him out.
Oh, his West Texas family paid for a proper funeral
but it was for us he gave his life,
so that we might have ours and have it
abundantly. Say what you like, Robert knew
what he was about. He left me
his two-volume OED with magnifying glass
and this baggy red sweater I’m wearing to conjure up his presence.
That bishop will be caught having an affair, he will kill himself next year,
but fear was not what drove our brother Robert or impelled him
to lay hands on us for healing.
Remember him with love.

 

 

Deborah Pfeffer

Deborah Pfeffer

Cold Storage
Meditation on Wintering

Each winter morning
I search the snow blanket
for the tip of the
Buddha’s topknot.
He is admirable
in the way he kept
his head above it all
for so long.
Blasts of raging wind and ice
buried him in drifts
even he could not endure
and thus, he disappeared.

I saw it coming
from my preferred view
to the back garden,
where he sat content.
Storm after storm,
snow cover for his hands
held in meditation mudra.
his face erased,
topknot last to go.
He would vanish
along with pea stone paths,
beds, stones,
ways familiar.

Disappearance
has lived in me as both a
terror and a longing,
an edge of awareness,
watching the self sit,
utter goneness hovering.
One last impulse – return.
Shake back from the edge
before you are clouds, wind.
Return to the garden,
bare maple awareness,
dog on the doormat,
the hand-woven life
of the unenlightened.

 

 

Susan Kress

Susan Kress

Amends

After Chana Bloch’s “The Joins”
 

You shouted names, banged
shut the door, disappeared

for months until I saw your
suitcase stand uncertain

in the hall. You say words
can mend what words have

broken. You say presence
fills the hole that absence

left. In China once I chanced
upon the perfect gift for you,

a harmony globe of jade, three
latticed hollow spheres each one

inside another. The store made
promises of gentle wrapping

to preserve the spheres intact.
But home, unbound, my gift

fell all in jagged shards. You said
it could be fixed, with patience

and transparent glue, innermost
to outermost, so no one would

remember where the joins were.

 

 

Henrietta Dahlstrom

Henrietta Dahlstrom

Bike Ride

I pedal past the earth-red barn
past the garden of golden zinnias
teepees of green pole beans
pedal past the clothes line heavy
with indigo dresses, mustard shirts
past the fields of high dry corn stalks
farmer on his horse-drawn cart
black suspenders, long gray beard
harvesting crops row by row
I breathe air strong with manure
wave to the barefoot boy in the buggy
pulled by mules plodding steadily homeward

I pedal by in spandex shorts
plastic helmet, sleeveless jersey
on my Cannondale with the racing handlebars
speed down through this Amish farmland
dodging dung and singing Hallelujah.

 

 

Ethel Paquin

Ethel Paquin

Coordinates

Such a careful traveler.
You needed written directions
and a map for good measure before you went anywhere;
but you left for eternity without a qualm.

Maybe you did have a qualm.
Maybe you wanted to discuss things with me
the way we always did
and I’d catch a mistake before you set off.

If you were waiting for me to set off that discussion,
I couldn’t. I had drowned weeks ago in ill-founded optimism.
Busy ignoring the present, planning the future,
I had no truth to share with you.

The truth I did have
I slipped into my back pocket,
buried it in flower pots.
But I retrieved it afterwards.

Afterwards the only connection to you I could manage
were those lethal truths: test results, dire prognoses.
I read them like scripture
to prove there was nothing I could have done.

Other connections prove harder to manage;
moments when you are right here,
when I almost ask, “What part of the paper do you want?”
Then for months you’re as gone as if you’d never been.

Where do those months take you?
How can I find you?
I have a GPS now; you’d love it,
it can get me anywhere.

Prime it with your coordinates.

 

 

Maurya Simon

Maurya Simon

 

Todos Santos, Summer Solstice

(Baja Mexico Sur)
 

Shattered gold leaf litters the horizon,
as sunlight slowly drizzles down
into the Pacific’s verdigris waters.

We watch the Tropic of Cancer’s heat
ignite a fuse that flings a broad, fiery net
across the world, casting live sparks

into the lush foliage: orioles orange as
molten nectar flit near a ruby hibiscus
to sing their sassy arias; screeching jays

ride clear zip lines beyond our balcony;
tanagers (mango hued) serenade us
from acacia branches. I want you here, too,

Mother, lover of all things wild, who’d relish
exuberant birdcalls and these tropical colors,
this tumultuous play of beauty and ardor.

If all the saints can gather here today
in sizzling heat, then somehow you must
also arrive, when beckoned by me

and these offshore breezes. Perhaps you’re
the cactus wren perched near a bougainvillea
who’s cheeping to chicks, or you’re the burro

hee-hawing in the distance. Can you hear
that filly in an arroyo whinnying for her dinner?
Can you feel my breath towing you to me?

 

 

Genealogy

My father’s frozen tendons in his hand harken
back a thousand years to a disease some Viking had,
and brooded over, when he couldn’t grasp his spear.

My mother’s forbears, Sephardic Jews from Spain
and Iran, sit grimly in their portrait, my grandfather
wearing a fez on head, his wife prim in a babushka.

An Englishman, my father’s father, Sam, sang
opera, while my father’s mother, Rose, played
her kids against each other: a war lasting forever.

A tyrant, my mother’s father, Izzie (neé Irwin),
but my mother’s mother, Mariam, was a saint
whose dainty feet swung in tempo under her piano.

I’ve married an Ashkenazy Jew, though he
eschews religion, and both our daughters believe
in nothing more than being kind to strangers.

They’ve inherited their parents’ sea green eyes,
are attracted to Latino men, and exhibit a way
of speaking in tongues, which no one recognizes.

 

 

 

 

Pamela Ahlen is program coordinator for the Bookstock Literary Festival held each summer in Woodstock, Vermont. She organizes literary events for Osher (Lifelong Education at Dartmouth) and compiled and edited Osher’s Anthology of Poets and Writers: Celebrating Twenty-Five Years at Dartmouth. Ahlen received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the author of the chapbook Gather Every Little Thing (Finishing Line Press).

Hank Dahlstrom has been writing poetry and taking courses at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland since she retired twelve years ago from a career in Social Work. She recently had a poem published in the Literary Nest and won second and third prizes in the 2017 Poetry Society of Virginia yearly contest. She also has a poem published in Ekphrasis, a catalogue published on the occasion of an exhibition of art and poems inspired by the works of art at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.

Anne Harding Woodworth is the author of five poetry books. A sixth, The Eyes Have It, is forthcoming in 2018. Her work appears in journals digitally and in print, in the U.S. and abroad. An excerpt from her chapbook, The Last Gun, won the 2016 COG Poetry Award, judged by A. Van Jordan, and was subsequently animated. Currently, Harding Woodworth is working on a series of “convolutes,” poems based on lines from Cosmopolitan. Her poem here is a convolute. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she is co-chair of the Poetry Board at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Jo Hausam’s writing ranges from lyric poetry to feature articles to children’s books. She is the author of the book Italy, part of the Countries of the World series for children. Her chapbook, Step by Stepping Stone, was published by Finishing Line Press. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley and recently retired as a Library Specialist from Vassar College Libraries.
 
W. J. Herbert was awarded the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize, Second Prize in the Morton Marr Poetry Competition, and was selected as finalist in the Atlanta Review, Arts and Letters, American Literary Review, Madison Review, and Flyway Literary prizes. Her poetry, fiction, and reviews appear in Agni (online,) Boulevard, The Best American Poetry 2017, Crazyhorse, New Ohio Review, Southwest Review, and others. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, she was raised in Southern California where she earned a bachelor’s in studio art and a master’s in flute performance. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. 
 
Kathryn Kelly has lived most of her life in and around Atlanta. She currently lives in Avondale Estates with her dog Sugar. She earned a B.A. from Vanderbilt University and attended graduate school at Emory University. She has worked as a file clerk, English teacher (middle school, high school and college), editor, free-lance writer and human resources executive. She has studied poetry with Memye Tucker Carlson and Neil Shepherd and is a member of an Atlanta poetry writing group. Kelly was named an International Merit Award Winner in the 2016 Poetry Competition of Atlanta Review.
 
Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, (Word Press) appeared in May, 2011. Earlier collections are The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing, winner of the 2002 Associated Writing Programs Award Series in Poetry  (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in journals, including The New Republic, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, and many others over the past 40 years. She has taught literature and writing in venues ranging from elementary school to university. A resident of Pennsylvania for most of her adult life, she moved to Boston in 2006.
 
Susan Kress was born and educated in England and now resides in Saratoga Springs, New York, after a long career teaching at Skidmore College, where she was the inaugural holder of Skidmore’s Class of 1948 Chair for Excellence in Teaching. Her book, Carolyn G. Heilbrun: Feminist in a Tenured Position was reissued in paperback in 2006 (University of Virginia Press). She has recent poems published or forthcoming in New Letters, La Presa, Passager, Minerva Rising, Adanna, and 3Elements Review.
 
Jacqueline Lapidus is co-editor of The Widows’ Handbook: Poetic Reflections on Grief and Survival (Kent State University Press, 2014). A lifelong editor, teacher and translator based in Boston, she has also lived in Greece and in France, where she participated in the resistance to the Greek dictatorship (1967-74) and international feminist groups. Lapidus holds degrees from Swarthmore College (history) and Harvard Divinity School (feminist and liberation theologies). Her poems have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies and in three collections: Ready to Survive, Starting Over, and Ultimate Conspiracy. She has also completed a fourth, Experience Is What You Get.
 
Ethel Paquin has lived in New England and Arizona and taught fiction at the University of Arizona Writing Works Center. Her short stories, columns and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Acorn Press, Woman’s Day, McCall’s, and other magazines. She has published young adult books and collaborated with Dr. Wm. Masters on his memoir In The Right Place, at the right time. Her last book, Johana Harris: a Biography, was published in 2012. Since then she has concentrated on poetry. Her poems have appeared in Conatus, The Connecticut River Review, and Birdsong, an anthology of poems about birds.
 
Deborah Pfeffer received a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Southern Maine where she was awarded the Machenson Prize for philosophical writing. Her poetry was published in Caribbean Compass and Ekphrasis, Poems Speaking To Silent Works of Art. More recently two of her poems were published in the anthology In the Company of Women. Pfeffer won the Book Award for both poetry and non-fiction at the 2015 Ocean Park Writers Series. She continues to write from the inspiration of the natural world as she finishes Mates, a travel narrative of five years living aboard her sailboat, Piper.
 
Maurya Simon is the author of ten volumes of poetry, including her forthcoming book, The Wilderness: New & Selected Poems, 1980-2016 (Red Hen Press, 2018), and her novel-in-verse, The Raindrop’s Gospel: The Trials of St. Jerome & St. Paula (Elixir Press, 2010). She is a Professor Emerita and Professor of the Graduate Division at the University of California, Riverside. She lives in the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California.
 
Meredith Trede’s Tenement Threnody is from Main Street Rag Press, Field Theory from Stephen F. Austin State University Press. A Toadlily Press founder, Out of the Book was in Desire Path. Extensive journal publications include Barrow Street, Cortland Review, Friends Journal, Gargoyle, and The Paris Review. She was granted fellowships at Blue Mountain Center, Ragdale, Saltonstall, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Nicholson Political Poetry Award, and a NYFA travel grant. Trede has a Sarah Lawrence College MFA, a New School MA, and a BA from The State University of New York, Oneonta. She serves on the Slapering Hol Press Advisory Board. www.meredithtrede.com

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3 thoughts on “East Coast Poets

  1. kath jonathan

    A terrific selection of poetry that grows deeper with each reading. I particularly loved the poems of W. J. Herbert and Maurya Simon and the mothers in so many of the selected poems.

  2. CATHARINE LUCAS

    Thanks, Margo – for your neat summary and review — so much here that moved me. Poems are what we write to cope, when life–or death–become inexpressively challenging. Telling is the greatest comfort. Hearing is also a comfort. As is sharing. Thanks, poets, all!

  3. Margo Berdeshevsky

    A powerful selection of poems to meet this winter season of cultural birth, and yet so many deaths. Thank you Maurya Simon for the eyes and courage to choose. So many of these poems feel to have Dickinson hovering near, whispering her “Because I could not stop for death…” And yet, each one pulses with a different life, something to make a fellow poet read and reread. (Kathryn Kelly’s unusual ghazal, making me rethink the form and wish to try my own hand at one, yet again. Henrietta Dahlstrom’s final “halleluja, a kick and a breath of life amid the nearby mix of tender and ironic widows in other selections. Jacqueline Lapidus’ biting final and earned call to “Remember him with love.” Each poem, a slightly bitter winter fruit. Thank you, poets, for such sharp cuts and tastes.

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