Poems from the Central States


 

It was an honor to be asked, once more, to judge a Persimmon Tree contest as well as a pleasure to read so many fine poems. On such different topics. Nature poems, political poems, travel poems, poems about one’s job, one’s marriage, one’s happiness, one’s angst. I’m glad to say that we women of a certain age are all over the map. And that’s only good. But what I noticed especially this time – not necessarily in the poems I picked to feature, but in the whole batch of them – were the many poems about mothers. Not so much about being a mother, but poems about one’s own mother. Funny, isn’t it, how we can never seem to get out of the old stewpot that was our childhood, no matter how old we get. And the older we get, it seems the closer are our ties to our mothers, dead or alive, for good or ill. 

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I was struck with how this batch of poems seemed to reflect a certain ambiguity – the gray area of ambivalence that poetry often comes out of and thrives in. Reading these poems was a treat. Thank you, Persimmon Tree, for the opportunity.

 

Twelve Poems

 

Donna Pucciani

 
Donna Pucciani

 

Snow in March

 
Yesterday we hung up the birdhouse
on a bare elbow of the backyard maple.
 
Today, snow whitened its small roof,
its open circle large enough
only for wrens fleeing the city,
not for the fat robin
who will lay her eggs in a nest
above our back door.
 
It was a light snowfall,
like the feathers
of the birds themselves,
airy enough to let
the birdhouse swing slightly
in dark gusts of wind.
 
Where to land, to stay,
which domicile or island
to inhabit, is the question
we ask ourselves—which
disappearing glacier,
which hillside that slid down
the mountain in the rain,
which cracked earth in a war zone,
which town built on a fault,
which country that does
or does not like strangers?
 
We’ve settled here with the birds,
just outside Chicago.
Wanting light and warmth,
we’ve set the clocks ahead,
hoping to breathe spring
into the garden, to seduce
the green tips of crocus
into a purple bloom
right through the snow’s
last call, up towards
the dancing birdhouse with
its little hole inviting wrens.
 

Wendy Taylor Carlisle

 
Wendy Taylor Carlisle

 

Sticky

 
I grew up southern with the South’s casual cruelty
and sticky love. I learned from the past
 
as it was passed to me and leaned on Evvie
who, when I was post partum, took me over
 
and crooned about spider web tea and how
it would be alright, honey, who never stopped
 
moving, petting, rocking, straightening, chopping.
In those days I lived with mom-worry
 
and a small bone of husband-fear.
Evvie’s face in the screen door was a soothe,
 
her palm on the sheets an ease. I leaned into her
bright blouse. We had little. She had less.
 
Who knows what she thought? I didn’t ask.
We had our ways to be and if she questioned mine,
 
she never said. For me, her kindness was the way it was
and if it wasn’t love between us, I never guessed.
 

Sigi Leonhard

 
Sigi Leonhard

 

the day I envied the cows

 
            around the bend of the highway, on the hillside
            suddenly, the cows: large bodies, parallel
            to each other, as if posing for a picture, all looking
            in the same direction. the prairie grass, withered
            to September white, trembled in synch
            with the fuzz inside their ears. could it be
            that they all lifted their heads into the breeze
            as if to taste it, to sense the possibility of adventure
            out here on the prairie? that they greeted
            the luminous day rising above their field? what do we know
            of the cows except for their milk, and their flesh
            when we need it? cow consciousness – it never seemed
            more obvious than that day on the highway
            when I looked at them with envy, then drove on
            into town, to a job, a desk, a purpose
 

Wendy Cleveland

 
Wendy Cleveland

 

Didn’t Quilt for Pretty

 
Women bend over a wooden frame piecing quilt scraps –
feed sacks, faded jeans, cotton and wool – tired and threadbare.
 
Strip by strip the worn stuff is joined in fading light,
light that flows through the dusty west window
 
and basks on backs of those who have labored all day,
backs bent under hard Alabama sun beating on babies slung
 
in muslin or carried in wombs that lean toward the dirt.
The garden hoed and beans pulled, women baste backing
 
with even stitches to cotton batting, thick and soft
to lie beneath when frost clings to frozen ground.
 
Elbow to elbow women croon and quilt their worn fabric
with knotted thread to cover both the living and the dead.
 

Dawn McDuffie

 
Dawn McDuffie

 

Walking West on the Selden Street Bridge

 
I’m ready for my own street: young chestnut leaves,
chilled daffodils unready to bloom. I’m careful
not to step into snack wrappers or picked over
chicken bones. But this pale young man slumped
in clutter, limp as road kill, round-faced as a child,
seems asleep but not asleep, his inhalation shallow,
syringe fallen away from his palm. I call the police
and watch his frail breath, dandelion hair fanning
out like sunlight, like the headdress young King Louis
wore to dance Apollo’s triumph over darkness
in the Court Ballet of the Night. This youth could be
a royal twin dressed in jeans, dazzling in red cowboy
boots. Sirens gather until technicians carry him out
from his nest of trash and scraps. Below, traffic never
slows or stops. I whisper, Dont slip under. Attendants
rub his wrists, make him stand. He won’t die today
on his couch of winter leaves and tin foil stars.
 

Gail Goepfert

 
Gail Goepfert

 

Hunger

 
They won’t last long—
            these two-dollar February daffodils. 
Buds tight at first,
            then swift to bloom.
                        
I’m not ashamed of my reaching 
            always combing
                        for light and luster.
 
I need these fistfuls of beauty to survive.
 
            In the in-betweens
I teach myself to breathe
                        mouth these words—
Allow the wisdom of the body
                        to release what it no longer needs.
            Give it to the sky to hold for you.
 
And then with a two-fisted reach, I gather
                        what’s offered
            fingers snagging
                        all they can hold.
 
The sky, the horizon a double-sweet
                        trifle of color
            dawn and dusk.
 
The lark. The larksong.
 
My eyes rivet on the pond’s
circling koi    splotchy
                        orange and black
                                    white and red
bodies like loaves—
                        not knowing
            they are food
for the ravenous.
 

Amy Haddad

 
Amy Haddad

 

Cafeteria – 2013

 
Friday night at the hospital,
way past dinner time.
The Subway counter is dark
behind its metal cage. Vending
machines, always open, hawk junk
food and sodas. What’s left in
the food line is scummy water,
empty steam tables. Lemon
custard drips from the frozen
yogurt machine. The despair
of burnt coffee lingers.
A few shocked souls
in mismatched clothes
stare at turkey breast, corn and
cold fries. We point at food
we don’t want. Go eat. We
are told. You need to eat,
the nurses repeat to get us out
of the unit, out of Mom’s room,
out of their way.
We carry our trays to
tables in straight rows, sit
beside people we don’t know,
holding our forks as if
we have never seen silverware.
 

Judith Waller Carroll

 
Judith Waller Carroll

 

My Mother Fixing Supper

 
Every night at suppertime, my mother sang.
Clues to what she was cooking were sprinkled like salt.
Cry Me a River she’d croon as she sliced onions,
slid them into bubbling butter,
We’re in the Money if she’d splurged on steak.
Once the food was on the table and my father seated,
it was napkins on laps and mind your manners,
but while it was cooking, our kitchen
was as raucous as a dance hall,
my sister and I twirling past each other
as we laid out knives and forks,
steam rising around my mother’s face
as she drained the potatoes,
another song beginning
as she scooped flour from a canister,
whisked it into hot grease, and still singing,
turned it into gravy.
 

Jane Desmond

 
Jane Desmond

 

Morning’s Newspaper

 
Erdogan is strong-arming again,
changing Turkey’s constitution by decree.
 
Putin is plotting cyberwar and
Trump is in Moscow, glad-handing.
 
An eleven-year-old girl in India
is held captive by construction workers
in a luxury compound
and raped for a month.
Parents have no clue.
 
In Thailand, soccer team boys
get trapped exploring cave,
Divers plot rescue as
World Bates its Breath for days.
 
Nicaraguans march with placards in the street.
The killings begin.
 
Even the cedars of Lebanon are
weeping,
ancient history dropping
brittle leaves as climate changes wreak
 
more havoc than just one
day’s newspaper can contain.
 
In the backyard
my dog does crazy-eights,
nose down, tracking
last night’s rabbit party’s lingering scent
 
As the sun rises, and
the day’s horrors from all across the world
scream silently,
leaving bruises
as I slowly
turn the pages of the news,
sipping coffee too hot to swallow.
 

Pam Kress-Dunn

 
Pam Kress-Dunn

 

Sleepwalker

 
Here to see our daughter,
five-year-old Amy knocked on the door.
Midnight frost hovered
 
in the night air, about to settle like dust
on the prairie’s broken wheat stems
and her bare arms. In her white
 
undershirt and panties, she’d tapped
so quietly we almost didn’t hear that
small leaf scudding against the door.
 
Had my husband still been punishing me,
she might have frozen there. But he let me
take her in, pull a blanket from the sofa
 
and wrap her up, a tall doll delivering herself
to us, her blue eyes wide,
her blonde hair long and chill.
 
Clearing his throat, he called her parents,
who came from down the street, talking nervously
of sleepwalking and insufficient locks.
 
They took her home, and it was quiet.
He got another beer and looked around,
still deciphering that stern, small message.
 

Catherine Senne Wallace

 
Catherine Senne Wallace

 

Hurry

 
what will you give me
for this moment
 
just passed
this moment
 
no longer moment
yet past
 
what will you bargain
for the moment to come
 
to come this one
now here
not yet over
 
how fast will you run
to catch up to the past
 
that is not yet the now
you seek
 
and where will you run
to let go of it
 

Alice Friman

 
Alice Friman

 

Mirage

 
Across Kachemak Bay
black mountains rise like judgment
towering above the inlet, black
streaked with snow. Black,
white. Nothing in between.
 
When suddenly like a phantom
floating across the water,
a fishing boat chugs past, and there
we are again, steaming out of Freeport
with Captain Charlie. Little family
bundled up against the cold.
 
And it must be close to noon 
for there’s Mother doling out
the egg-salad sandwiches loaded
with lettuce for health and green
good fortune. The bay too, a green
bounty crowned by white flashes
of gulls skimming low over the stern
to eye what the wake churned up.
And look, there at the rail, chumming
for fish, that’s my father, roaring
his smutty songs with mother laughing
because they were in the open air
and free to let themselves be—Oh
dare I say it—happy. What difference
if the fluke or flounder weren’t biting,
for wasn’t it fluke enough their being
at peace for just this once? On the scales
of judgment, shouldn’t that day—snatched
from the angry current of the rest—count?
Add up to something? That day when the gulls
weighed in, balancing the light on their wings.
 

Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the author of two books of poetry and five chapbooks. Her new book, The Mercy of Traffic, is due out in 2019. For more information, check her website at www.wendytaylorcarlisle.com



Judith Waller Carroll is the author of What You Saw and Still Remember, a runner-up for the 2017 Main Street Rag Poetry Award; The Consolation of Roses, winner of the 2015 Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press Poetry Prize; and Walking in Early September (Finishing Line Press). Her work appears in numerous journals and anthologies and has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. She lives in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas with her husband, the novelist Jerry Jay Carroll. A red fox is a frequent visitor.  



Wendy Cleveland grew up in Pennsylvania and later earned degrees from Ithaca College and the University of New Hampshire. After teaching high school English for thirty years, she and her husband relocated to Auburn, Alabama, with its loblolly pines, dogtrot houses, and kudzu. She is a member of the Alabama Writers’ Forum and a graduate of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Wendy’s poems have appeared in YankeeRed Rock ReviewPersimmon Tree, and Glass Mountain, among other journals. Her first collection of poems, Blue Ford,was published in 2016.



Jane Desmond is a scholar of American Studies and formerly a modern dance choreographer. She has published several non-fiction books, but only recently started writing poetry, thanks to the encouragement of wonderful Maine poet laureate, Stuart Kestenbaum. This is her first published poem since one appeared in her high school literary magazine.



Alice Friman’s seventh collection, Blood Weather, is forthcoming from LSU. Her last two books are The View from Saturn and Vinculum, for which she won the 2012 Georgia Author of the Year Award in Poetry. Other books include Inverted Fire and The Book of the Rotten Daughter, both from BkMk, and Zoo, Arkansas, which won the Sheila Margaret Motton Prize from New England Poetry Club and the Ezra Pound Poetry Award from Truman State University. She is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, is included in Best American Poetry, and is the winner of the 2016 Paumanok Award. Professor emerita of English and creative writing at the University of Indianapolis, she lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she was Poet-in-Residence at Georgia College. 



Gail Goepfert, an associate editor at RHINO Poetry, is a Midwest poet, photographer and teacher. She has published two chapbooks, A Mind on Pain in 2015 and Tapping Roots from Kelsay Books in 2018. In 2019, her first book, Get Up Said the World, will be released by Červená Barva Press. Recent publications include Penn Review, Postcard, Poems and Prose Magazine Kudzu House, Stone Boat, Gyroscope Review, and Sugar House Review. More at gailgoepfert.com.



Amy Haddad is a nurse and ethicist who teaches at Creighton University in Omaha, NE. Her poetry and short stories have been published in the American Journal of Nursing, Janus Head, Journal of Medical Humanities, Touch, Bellevue Literary Review, and the anthologies Between the Heart Beats and  Intensive Care: More Poetry and Prose by Nurses, both edited by Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, Iowa. She is the co-editor of The Arduous Touch: Women’s Voices in Health Care, Purdue University Press.



Pam Kress-Dunn (MFA, University of Nebraska) of Dubuque, Iowa, has published poetry in literary and medical journals, staged several plays, and written hundreds of personal essays, many disguised as newspaper columns. She retired from a long career in assorted libraries – public, academic, and medical. Now she is a contributing writer for the MigraineAgain website, and blogs at SiegeOfWords.com. Her new goal is to write about her twin granddaughters without sounding all Hallmark-y.



Sig Leonhard was born in Germany and studied at the universities of Bonn (Germany), Nantes (France), and at Stanford, where she received her M.A. and Ph.D. in German literature. Her published scholarly work includes articles on Goethe, Christa Wolf, Ingeborg Bachmann, Monika Maron and East German film. She has published poems and short stories in anthologies and literary magazines. Her novel Stimmen (Voices) was published in Germany in 2009. Her play Truth Serum had a dramatic reading in April of 2018 at the Playwright Center in Minneapolis. 



Dawn McDuffie has lived and worked in Detroit since1968. Her poems explore the landscape of the city and an inner world of memory, imagination and dreams. She’s published four chapbooks: Carmina DetroitBulky Pick Up Day, and Flag Day in Detroit, and most recently, Happenstance and Miracles.



Donna Pucciani, a Chicago-based writer, has published poetry worldwide in such diverse journals as Shi Chao Poetry, Poetry Salzburg, Iota, Agenda, and the Journal of Italian Translation. She has won awards from the Illinois Arts Council, the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, Poets and Patrons of Chicago, and Poetry on the Lake. Her most recent book of poetry is EDGE.



Catherine Senne Wallace experimented with various grown-up activities in her first few lives: English teacher to less-than-enthusiastic flower children of the ‘70s; account executive in the three-martini-lunch world of advertising; and communications manager at a bank that took itself much too seriously.  She's recently retired from 10 years of teaching in a middle school autism spectrum program, trying to make a difference in this very strange world, one child at a time.  Her poems, essays, and op-eds have appeared in numerous journals, newspapers, and anthologies. 




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3 thoughts on “Poems from the Central States

  1. Jane Choate

    Especially appreciated the poems in this “issue” which Alice Friman selected and her words about how childhood remains always there, as does our mother-child connection. Struck in particular by poems by Pucciani, Carlise, Cleveland, Carroll, Desmond, Kress-Dunn — hmmm, the C’s and D’s of the names. And A. Friman’s. So much talent among women throughout the country. Always good (and important) to see.

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