Archives for posts with tag: poetry

licensed romrodinka
At Meiji Shrine
by Rick Lupert

I
Long path from train
through gates, large like trees
A sea of umbrellas come

to visit the enshrined souls of
Emperor Meiji and his consort
the empress.

We wash hands
ritually like before a Jewish meal.
We bow and clap.

We drop coins in box.
People hang votive wood notes
like prayers in a Western Wall.

This is not an ancient place
But it is quiet like history.
Until young boy with his

bird sounds video game
forces us to move to a
more quiet corner.

The soul of the emperor
is broken up by rain drops.
We take him away in our wet clothes.

II
Young girl with Totoro Umbrella
visits Meiji Shrine. Totoro is
patron saint of umbrellas
and giant bunny as far
as I’m concerned.

III
I interrupt Addie’s moment to say
I would like to have a beverage with owls now.
Without a word she waves her hand
summoning me to hand her the backpack.
Who who.

IV
There are many places
I’m not allowed entry to.
I’m thinking of converting so
I can get some better pictures.

PHOTO: Imperial Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan, dedicated to the deified spirits of the Emperor Shoken (1852-1912) and Empress Shoken (1849-1914). The shrine was formally dedicated on November 3, 1920. Photo by Rom Rodinka, used by permission.

Lupert 1
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I write my travel poems on location, typed into the Pages app on my phone while experiencing whatever it is the world has to offer. They’re almost unfiltered notes directly from my brain to the page to the books they show up in.

PHOTO: The author at Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan (July 2019). Photo by Rick Lupert.

Lupert 2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rick Lupert has been involved with L.A. poetry since 1990. He is the recipient of the 2014 Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center Distinguished Service Award and was a co-director of the Valley Contemporary Poets for two years. He created the Poetry Super Highway  and hosted the weekly Cobalt Cafe reading for almost 21 years. His first spoken word album Rick Lupert Live and Dead, featuring 25 studio and live tracks, was released in March 2016. He’s authored 24 collections of poetry, including The Toyko-Van Nuys Express (Ain’t Got No Press, August 2020), and Hunka Hunka Howdy, Beautiful Mistakes, and God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion, and edited the anthologies Ekphrastia Gone Wild,  A Poet’s Siddur, A Poet’s Haggadah, and the noir anthology The Night Goes on All Night. He also writes and draws (with Brendan Constantine) the daily web comic Cat and Banana and writes the Jewish Poetry column “From the Lupertverse” for Jewish Journal. He is regularly featured at venues all over the world. Follow him on Facebook.

Author photo by Addie Lupert.

China Haikou Century Bridge Night
A Street in Haikou
by Don Kingfisher Campbell

my love records
from her cellphone
a 15-second video
and pushes send

a blue shirted florist
sitting on a lime
green plastic stool

arranges his
just watered
plants for sale
on the sidewalk

where an orange
bucket sits full
of grouped flowers

his parked van
with an open
rear hatch fronts
a row of curbside
motorcycles

one cyclist
on this sunny palm
tree lined avenue

wears a yellow helmet
and sky blue soccer shirt
as he buzzes past

a multi-story tower
of residences
in the background

the unsurprising
power pole strings
overhead in a clear sky

cars, SUVs, and vans
line the parking lot
of this mini-mall
where leaves catch sun

and green framed open
double glass doors
lead to a faux
marble tiled floor

a potted elephant
eared plant and a
waiting green desk

sports a bright
orange tray and
an empty black
high backed
swivel chair

under a row of
ceiling hung
cone shaped
white spotlights

her friend with a blue
mask on her chin and
fake fire and smoke dress

crouches over a printed
paper while a young short
cropped black haired man
looks across at her as

she signs the mortgage form
on a round glass table
with a wicker base

my fiancée is outside
waiting to walk with her
to the bus stop where
they travel through traffic
to blaring pop music

could be Long Beach
if I didn’t know she is
7000 miles away as we

wait for two governments
to agree on when she
can safely return to me

PHOTO: Haikou, Hainan, China, and Century Bridge by Gui Yongnian, used by permission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Haikou is the capital of the Chinese province of Hainan, a group of islands in the south China Sea. Haikou is situated on Hainan Island, the largest of the group. During 2015 and 2016, large-scale city improvements took place as part of a province-wide initiative called “double create”– described by government sources as a campaign to create a cleaner, more civilized city. The initiative focused on traffic and commerce, but has also improved the overall appearance of the city, tackling air pollution from industry emissions, and aiming to ensure the safety of drinking water sources. (Source: Wikipedia)

Haikou

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: A place I have never been, except through the eye of my fiancée’s cell phone…

IMAGE: Still from cell phone footage shot in Haikou, China.

CAMPBELL

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Don Kingfisher Campbell has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, is listed on Poets & Writers, founder of POETRYpeople youth writing workshops; publisher of Spectrum magazine; and leader of the Saturday Afternoon Poetry reading series in Pasadena, California. He has taught Creative Writing in the Upward Bound program at Occidental College and for 36 years has been a Guest Teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Want a poet in your classroom, library, bookstore, coffeehouse, or event? Please email: donkingfishercampbell@gmail.com

licensed david evison
American Colossus
by Yvette Viets Flaten

Chiseled out of native rock,
I don’t expect this seated colossus
to spring to life before me.
Not in any mobile way. But it’s as if
the stone catches breath and his eyes
take light, and although I am among
a throng, I am not. Just he and I,
alone, it seems, the tramp of others
tamped across the echoing hall.

I feel I’ve met this man before, have seen
those hands at a feed store or farm supply.
At the farmers’ market, shucking corn,
or setting up a table with his prize honey.
He’ll give you a taste, from a plate, straight
from the comb, and shoo a wandering bee
aside, a gentle sweep.

I recognize the slope of his shoulders
against his seat, a man tired from his day
of work, but not cowed down. In need
of rest, but without defeat. I expect his
chair to rock.

His eyes shake me most. That level gaze.
The steady bead he draws upon my soul.
I hear his mute exhortation, to me, to sort out
what is right, and his incandescent charge–==
to walk down the steps, resolved.

PHOTO: The Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, by David Evison, used by permission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Lincoln Memorial honors the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Dedicated in May 1922, the neoclassical site is a major tourist attraction, and since the 1930s has been a symbolic center focused on race relations. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) served as president of the United States from 1861 to 1865. He led the nation through its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis in the American Civil War — and succeeded in preserving the Union, abolishing slavery, bolstering the federal government, and modernizing the U.S. economy. Lincoln is considered America’s greatest president.

Flaten1
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In July 2016, my husband and I visited our son and daughter-in-law during the summer they lived in Washington, DC. From their small apartment in Georgetown, Dan and I would ride the Circulator on a daily adventure to discover something of our nation’s capital. Of all the monuments we toured, the Lincoln Memorial impressed me deeply. It was neither as remote as the Washington obelisk, nor as meditative as the Jefferson Memorial. It was vibrantly alive with humanity. And this photo captures it exactly. When I thought of writing about a landmark, the memory of the humanness of that monument and the humanity of Lincoln himself was overwhelming and sparked my work.

Flaten2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Yvette Viets Flaten was born in Denver, Colorado, and grew up in an Air Force family, living in Nevada, North Dakota, and Washington State as well as France, England, and Spain. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish (1974) and a Master of Arts in History (1982) from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She writes both fiction and poetry. Her award-winning poetry (Muse Prize, Jade Ring, Triad) has appeared widely in numerous journals, including the Wisconsin Academy Review, Rag Mag, Midwest Review, Free Verse, Red Cedar Review, and Barstow and Grand. In May 2020, she was interviewed by Garrison Keillor as part of his Pandemic Poetry Contest. Yvette’s poem, “Riding It Out,” was one of 10 winners. Find her interview with Garrison Keillor here.

licensed david edelman
Lone Mountain Poem II
by Gerald Nicosia

Watch several shades of grey and silver clouds
Like fog but not quite touching ground
blow east over the rain-soaked greenery
of Lone Mountain
rugged promontory in the heart of San Francisco
preserved by the Catholics
for college campus
but for me a source of meditation
from my lonely apartment window
and hear those clouds say
Think of all your friends who will die
and trust that they’ll always live
in the thought of those who read
the poem about them which you write
while watching several shades of grey and silver clouds
vanishing like unanswered koans
over the spiky evergreen illusions
on a hillside of the Lone Mind.

PHOTO: The Lone Mountain campus of the University of San Francisco by David Edelman, used by permission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lone Mountain is a historic hill in west-central San Francisco, California, and the site of the private University of San Francisco (USF) – Lone Mountain Campus, which in turn was previously the San Francisco Lone Mountain College for Women. It was once the location of Lone Mountain Cemetery, a complex encompassing the Laurel Hill, Calvary, Masonic, and Odd Fellows Cemeteries. (Source: Wikipedia)

licensed andrei stanescu

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “Lone Mountain Poem II” came out of a period in my life that was both very difficult and very hopeful. I had spent four years traveling the American continent, researching and writing my biography of Jack Kerouac, Memory Babe.  Then I ended up spending another three years wrestling with publishers to see the book published intact. It had bounced from City Lights Press to Harper & Row, San Francisco, and finally to Grove Press in New York. Grove had hired an editor for Memory Babe who essentially rewrote the book, and it took the better part of a year to convince the publisher, Barney Rosset, to restore the book to its original form (a struggle in which the late Michael McClure aided immensely). I had little money to live on during those years, and found a home more often than not with my elderly, widowed mother Sylvia.  But that situation was complicated by the fact that my mom could not settle on whether she wanted to live in Chicago or California, and was continually bouncing back and forth like a Ping-Pong ball. At the time this poem was written, we had rented an apartment together on Anza Street in San Francisco, right across from Lone Mountain. There was a Catholic university and former women’s college on the other side of the mountain (really a very steep hill), but the side my second-story window looked out on was just a bleak escarpment of rock with a lot of bushes and a few brave trees rooted into it. It was 1982, in the days before cellphones, computers, texting, or the internet, and I would wait anxiously for the mail every day, in hopes of good news that Grove Press had finally agreed to publish the biography as I wanted it. To pass the time, when I wasn’t reading or writing, I’d sit in the bay window, watching the ever-changing clouds and fog that seemed to perpetually engulf the mountain. It was in one of those quiet, meditative hours that “Lone Mountain Poem II” came to me. I think that I was so tense with emotion considering the fate of this book, which had consumed so many years of my life, that I needed to see that it was also just one more cloud that would eventually vanish–like those clouds I watched vanishing over Lone Mountain–but also with the hope that it too, like the rest of our world, would leave some trace in memory.

PHOTO: San Francisco, California, in the fog by Andrei Stanescu, used by permission.

nicosia 1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: After moving from Chicago to San Francisco in 1979, Gerald Nicosia became part of the post-Beat circle of poets in the Bay Area. In 1983, he became nationally known with his biography of Jack Kerouac, Memory Babe. Beginning with Lunatics, Lovers, Poets, Vets & Bargirls (1991), he also began publishing books of his own poetry, and this fall will publish the sixth volume, a collection of his poems remembering the Beats called Beat Scrapbook.  Nicosia also organized and took part in hundreds of public poetry readings in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Chicago. He has read his poetry throughout the United States and abroad, at such notable sites as Bob Holman’s Bowery Poetry Club in New York, Bob Weir’s Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, California, the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, Wales, and Shakespeare & Company Bookstore in Paris. He was a close friend of the late poet and playwright Ntozake Shange and is currently working on a full critical biography of her.

licensed mark skalny
Notre-Dame de Paris
by Sarah Russell

Paris is a woman because of Notre-Dame —
the center, the mother, austere, protecting.

As a student, I lived nearby on Rue de Seine,
a lapsed protestant who found peace in her alcoves
with their candles and dusty saints, her cool scent
like ancient, cherished books, my steps on her stone floor
echoing to her heights, a child in her embrace.

She nurtured my loneliness at Christmas with songs
of birth and hope, with foreign words and rituals
that somehow felt like home.

Years later, when flames rose from her ancient bones,
I became her child again, helpless, afraid no one
could save her. I wept as her spire fell, as sirens keened
in minor key.

Today, sheathed in scaffolding, she remains the center,
the mother — resilient, still sustaining me as she is healed.

PHOTO: Notre-Dame Cathedral on the banks of the River Seine, Paris, France. Photo by Mark Skalny, used by permission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Notre-Dame de Paris is a medieval Catholic cathedral on the Île de la Cité in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. Considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, construction began in 1160 and was completed around 1260.  (Source: Wikipedia)

licensed ninlawan donlakkham

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I didn’t realize how much Notre-Dame meant to me until I saw her in flames on April 15, 2019. I felt I needed to be with the throngs who gathered there, who loved her as I did. I’ve had the good fortune to travel a great deal in my life, but Paris and Notre-Dame are where I return again and again. I feel at peace when I see the cathedral. It is a touchstone for my life.

PHOTO: Interior of Notre-Dame de Paris by Ninlawan Donlakkham, used by permission.

Russell

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sarah Russell is a Pushcart-nominated poet who has published widely in print and online. Her two collections of poetry, published by Kelsay Books, are I lost summer somewhere (2019) and Today and Other Seasons (2020). She blogs at SarahRussellPoetry.net.

licensed alexey stiop
In the Cracks in the Wall
by Elaine Mintzer

I’ve come to the Western Wall with nothing tangible,
not even a clean piece of paper
to add to the missives scribbled
on everything from the finest linen pages
to scraps from torn leaflets or bank receipts.

But I find an old shopping list in my pocket—
honey, cinnamon, almonds, milk—
and I think, but do not write Dear God,
because in my cosmology, God knows
this is for Him. I add—
peace, health, hope.

I press the note into the rock.
In my mind, God sees the list and says,
Go then, to the store. I have need
of dates, of figs, of olives.
And while you’re at it,
pick up that milk and honey.
We’re running low.
I answer, “I’m here. Send me.”

I touch my forehead to the Wall.
There is no one Voice, only the murmurs
of countless tongues in prayer.
A dust devil lifts a few notes from their crevices.
They skitter at my feet.
Heat, rain, and a cleaning crew
will take care of them.

The wind plants its own message
between the blocks of Jerusalem limestone,
seeds that sprout and flower
where no prayer has penetrated,
where without a pruning hand
the thin roots of the voiceless weeds
may someday bring the whole thing down
onto the sea of supplicants.

PHOTO: The Western Wall (Wailing Wall) and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem by Alexy Stioup, used by permission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Western Wall, also called Wailing Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem, is a place of prayer and pilgrimage sacred to the Jewish people. It is the only remains of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.  Dating from about the 2nd century BCE, the wall measures about 160 feet long and 60 feet high. The Western Wall now forms part of a larger wall that surrounds the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine dating from the 7th century CE. (Source: Brittanica)

western wall 2

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have been to 50 countries on six continents, and I find the more I travel, the more pleasure I get from connecting the dots of place, history, cultures, and human interactions. I’m terrible at entering text on my phone, so notes I jot down during my trips are frequently indecipherable, though sometimes the energy of the places just radiates from the screen.

PHOTO: A woman places a prayer note (kvitel) between the stones of the Western Wall. Photo by Yoninah, used by permission.

Mintzer2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elaine Mintzer has been published in journals and anthologies, including Beloit Poetry Journal , Calibanonline, Slipstream, Panoplyzine, Lummox, Sugarwater, Lucid Moose Lit’s Like a Girl anthology, The Ekphrastic Review, Cultural Weekly, Rattle, and The Lindenwood Review.  Her work was featured in 13 Los Angeles Poets, and her first collection, Natural Selections, was published by Bombshelter Press. Find her on Facebook.

licensed michael bednarek
Kilimanjaro
by Hana Njau-Okolo

Kilimanjaro
You are
I am
Melting.

Those patterns etched into your face
Are tears carved under my eyes
Draining through the mask.

A glacial screen
The landscape of my life
Frozen into the familiar.

Snowcap
Washing away
As men in their folly
Plunder the spoils of the earth.
Face-to-face you say
Do not weep for me
Weep for yourself
And for your children.
For the Sahara
And its spreading.

For your soul
Marooned on an
Island of dreams
Unfulfilled.

PHOTO: Mount Kilimanjaro at sunset, view from savanna landscape in Amboseli, Kenya, Africa. Photo by Michal Bednarek, used by permission.

Njau-Okolo2

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem was inspired after my visit to the home of my late grandparents after two decades of living in the U.S.  I was saddened by the lack of snow on Kilimanjaro, and the lack of acknowledgement of global warming. I also pondered on what I had accomplished in my years of living away from home.

PHOTO: The author at the Nairobi National Museum next to a statue of Dr. Louis Leakey, a British paleoanthropologist and archaeologist whose work was important in demonstrating that humans evolved in Africa.

Njau-Okolo1.jpg

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Hana Njau-Okolo is a Kenyan-Tanzanian born writer who lives with her husband in Atlanta, Georgia. The mother of three adult children, she is a writer of short stories who blogs at mamashujaa.blogspot.com. Her short story “The Shady Taxi Driver” was published in the 2012 African Roar anthology series out of South Africa.

licensed byelikova
Crossing Sunda Strait By Ferry
by James Penha

Krakatoa puffs smoke rings off port gently
intimidating like the Times Square Camel Man
I loved in my youth, and so how to imagine
the little mountain’s father exploding into dust
roiling these waters like flames of hell leaping,
devouring shores and towns and thousands
of innocents. Turner had painted such conflagration
through a cold East Cowes smog borne
of Tambora, that once majestic volcano
three islands east of here. I might as well imagine
airplanes crushing New York skyscrapers into plumes.

Fifteen years ago this strait swelled
insouciantly as if it had not known or felt
the tremblor off Sumatra’s north that smashed fists
of the seas into the faces of Asia and killed them
as surely as a lifetime of Camel cigarettes drowned
my father. Oh, how blameless is this earth I sail!

PHOTO: Boat near an eruption of Anak Krakatoa, a volcanic island in Indonesia. Photo by Byelikova, used by permission. Editor’s note: On December 29, 1927, Anak Krakatoa (“Child of Krakatoa”) emerged from the caldera formed in 1883 by the explosive volcanic eruption that destroyed the island of Krakatoa.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have crossed the Strait from Java to Sumatra many times over the last decades. Before December 26, 2004, I looked at the smoke rising from the “child” of Krakatoa and imagined the destruction of both islands’ shores in 1883. Still can’t get that out of my mind. But added to it now is the even more horrible Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that decimated again these same shores and so many others. COVID-19, as I write this, has killed more than twice as many human beings worldwide as that 2004 disaster. We live on a very demanding planet.

EDITOR’S NOTE: On December 26, 2004, at 7:59 a.m. local time, an undersea earthquake with a magnitude of 9.1 struck off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Over the next seven hours, a tsunami triggered by the quake reached across the Indian Ocean, devastating coastal areas as far away as East Africa. Some locations reported that the waves had reached a height of 30 feet or more when they hit the shoreline. The tsunami killed at least 225,000 people across a dozen countries, with Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives, and Thailand sustaining massive damage. Indonesian officials estimated that the country’s death toll exceeded 200,000, particularly in northern Sumatra’s Aceh Province.  (Source: Brittanica.com)

Penha

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived in Indonesia for the past quarter-century. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his work has lately appeared in several anthologies: The View From Olympia (Half Moon Books, UK), Queers Who Don’t Quit (Queer Pack, EU), What We Talk About It When We Talk About It, (Darkhouse Books), Headcase , (Oxford UP), Lovejets (Squares and Rebels), and What Remains (Gelles-Cole). His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. He edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Find him on Twitter @JamesPenha.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: My author’s photo frames me against a different Sumatra volcano.

licensed freebilly
Tacoma to Portland in Two Hours
by Leah Mueller

Uncle Sam billboard near Centralia
hovers above I-5 traffic,
a hose of relentless verbiage
spraying letters at passing cars.

Xenophobic word balloons:
rants about Democrats, immigrants,
social program funding. I should
look away, but instead I crane my neck,
read every word at 70 MPH.

Settling back against my headrest,
I scan the crowded interstate.
Everyone wants to go to Portland,
or San Francisco, or perhaps all the way
to Los Angeles. I pass the remnants
of the Winlock monument, with its
sad discards of spiritual tokens.

A gargoyle once lit the way,
crouched inside its glass case,
eternally glowing beacon.
now darkened. The owner dead,
hubris scattered like litter to the gods.
Metal shards still point towards gray sky.

I can’t roll by the Winlock exit
without remembering the defunct motel
I stayed in with my ex, when
our van broke down on the freeway.

Illuminated sign flashed “TEL” as
we bickered about our flat tire.
Long night spent with our light on,
fearing an attack by roving maniacs.
Motel since razed, broken
sign permanently extinguished.

Behold the splendid Mattress Ranch:
gaudy, dancing barnyard animals
advertise beds for humans.

Vancouver Hooter’s clock once read,
“Waddles, time to eat.” There was always
time to eat at Waddles, until there wasn’t.
Old neon now replaced by cheap replica.

Finally, the iron bridge
and welcome to Oregon sign.
Red Lion on my right, $69.00 on Priceline.
Paul Newman partied in the hotel bar,
gazed out at the Columbia River
while clutching a cocktail in one hand.

I plan to follow suit, after a shower.
Portland extends weird but loving arms,
as it has so many times before.
Neon deer sign glows in the distance.

PHOTO: Portland, Oregon, downtown and Mt. Hood at dawn by Free Billy, used by permission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pictured above, Mount Hood is a potentially active stratovolcano located about 50 miles east-southeast of Portland, Oregon. The highest mountain in Oregon, Mt. Hood offers the only year-round lift-served skiing in North America. (Source: Wikipedia.)

PortlandOR-WhiteStagSign_2016_SMorgan
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I’ve made this trip from Tacoma to Portland more times than I can count. I always enjoyed passing the time on road excursions by taking stock of landmarks along the way. They reassure me of how far I have gone, and how many miles still remain. These objects are always waiting for me in the exact same spot. The sense of permanence is comforting, even if I don’t care much for the actual landmarks. Recently, I moved away from the Pacific Northwest and bought a small house in southern Arizona. It’s disconcerting but exciting, because I have to assemble a whole new series of familiar sights whenever I travel anywhere.

PHOTO: Portland’s White Stag sign at dusk. Built in 1940, the sign was designated a landmark by the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission in 1977. Photo by Steve Morgan, used by permission.

Mueller2 copy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leah Mueller is an indie writer and spoken word performer from Bisbee, Arizona. She has published books with numerous small presses. Her most recent volumes, Misguided Behavior, Tales of Poor Life Choices (Czykmate Press), Death and Heartbreak (Weasel Press), and Cocktails at Denny’s (Alien Buddha Press) were released in 2019. Leah’s work appears in Blunderbuss, Citron Review, The Spectacle, Miracle Monocle, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, and other publications. She won honorable mention in the 2012 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry contest. Visit her on Instagram and Twitter.

licensed Mahmoud Masad
Tales of the Mohawk Valley
by Eleanor Lerman

The old are cities coming back to life again: Oneida, Utica,
            Syracuse, Ilion
Their motto of service and industry has replaced even the
extremes of upstate weather as the topic of conversation on
            everyone’s lips
Brickface has been repointed, geraniums snapped into
            new window boxes
and the papers have added food columns and sections on the arts
The spirit is municipal, the worship, Presbyterian, and everyone
is busy, busy—even prayer is jobbed out for a purpose
Keep the frost off the asparagus, the trout eager for
            the sportsman’s hook
In the summer, contented people fall asleep in Adirondack chairs
and their dreams are scented by valley crops and hilltop flowers

But in your mother’s house on Eller Street, with Canada
            in the window,
the wind sweeps in, already thinking about winter. This is
the Leatherstocking wind that closed the old factories, that
brings the headless horseman and blows the witches into the yard
            to steal our housecoats from the line
And in your mother’s house, progress has not reached us:
I sleep too much and you have managed to remain unemployed

Every afternoon, the pots and pans bang out their grief: who will
            make our stew?
Who will pour out the batter for our flapjacks? Every night
the house weeps and refuses to be sold. Every morning,
I try to make it to the store, and every street is like a bridge
            across a mill basin
and the mill wheel is turning and we are the labor of its years,
            the poor grist

So come. If the house will not join with the community, just
            lock the door and walk away
We can cross the Mohawk Valley while the seasons are
            still turning,
walk beneath the waterfalls, across great table of broken schist
to where the earth has cleaved open and peer into its iron heart,
            its silver veins
At the end of the valley there is a lake with a monster who lives
            in a deep, cold pool
That can be our destination: we can buy a guidebook and
            some chocolate
and picnic on the shore. Thus will we partake of the bounty
            of the state,
participate in its rejuvenation. We will blend in with the
tourists, be indistinguishable from people with money and
            plans and things to do

We will ride a boat that glides above the monster’s house and
speculate with strangers: How do you think he makes his living?
How has he survived so long, unknown, unseen, and free?

Originally published in Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds (Sarabande Books, 2005)

PHOTO: Aerial shot of the city of Utica, New York, by Mahmoud Masad, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I work in the early mornings. For the past 20 years, my office has been a purple couch and there is always a little dog sleeping next to me as I work. This poem is a remembrance of time I spent living in the Mohawk Valley in Upstate New York.

limelightHires

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eleanor Lerman is the author of numerous award-winning collections of poetry, short stories, and novels. She is a National Book Award finalist, a recipient of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts for poetry and the New York Foundation for the Arts for fiction. In 2016, her novel, Radiomen (The Permanent Press), was awarded the John W. Campbell Prize for the Best Book of Science Fiction. In 2018, her novel, The Stargazer’s Embassy (Mayapple Press), received an American Fiction Award. Her most recent novel, Satellite Street (The Permanent Press, 2019) has been named a finalist for both the Montaigne Medal and the Eric Hoffer Award. Visit her at eleanorlerman.com.

PHOTO: The author sitting on the steps of The Limelight cafe in Chelsea, New York City.