FACING NORTH

 

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Ninety billion galaxies in this one tiny universe—
a billion seconds make thirty-two years.

No matter how many ways we conceive it,
this generous wedge called Ursa Major
more than fills my sight.

But now, as I turn to put out the lights
and give my dog her bedtime cookie,
my eyes become the handle of the great Milky Way,
and carry it into the house.

-by Dan Gerber


“Facing North” by Dan Gerber from A Primer on Parallel Lives. © Copper Canyon Press, 2007.


 

THE LAST WORDS OF MY ENGLISH GRANDMOTHER

 

 

by William Carlos Williams

There were some dirty plates
and a glass of milk
beside her on a small table
near the rank, disheveled bed—

Wrinkled and nearly blind
she lay and snored
rousing with anger in her tones
to cry for food,

Gimme something to eat—
They’re starving me—
I’m all right I won’t go
to the hospital. No, no, no

Give me something to eat
Let me take you
to the hospital, I said
and after you are well

you can do as you please.
She smiled, Yes
you do what you please first
then I can do what I please—

Oh, oh, oh! she cried
as the ambulance men lifted
her to the stretcher—
Is this what you call

making me comfortable?
By now her mind was clear—
Oh you think you’re smart
you young people,

she said, but I’ll tell you
you don’t know anything.
Then we started.
On the way

we passed a long row
of elms. She looked at them
awhile out of
the ambulance window and said,

What are all those
fuzzy-looking things out there?
Trees? Well, I’m tired
of them and rolled her head away.


From The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. © New Directions Press, 1991.


 

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William Carlos Williams
Poet
William Carlos Williams was a poet closely associated with modernism and imagism; he figures among the group of four major American poets born in the twelve-year period following 1874, including also … Wikipedia
BornSeptember 17, 1883, Rutherford, NJ
DiedMarch 4, 1963, Rutherford, NJ
SpouseFlorence Williams (m. 1912–1963)

Cucumber Fields Crossed by High Tension Wires

 

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by Thomas Lux

The high-tension spires spike the sky
beneath which boys bend
to pick from prickly vines
the deep-sopped fruit, the rind’s green
a green sunk
in green. They part the plants’ leaves,
reach into the nest,
and pull out mother, father, fat Uncle Phil.
The smaller yellow-green children stay,
for now. The fruit goes
in baskets by the side of the row,
every thirty feet or so. By these bushels
the boys get paid, in cash,
at day’s end, this summer
of the last days of the empire
that will become known as
the past, adios, then,
the ragged-edged beautiful blink.
“Cucumber Fields Crossed by High Tension Wires” by Thomas Lux from The Street of Clocks. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001. Reprinted with permission.


Thomas Lux is an American poet that holds the Margaret T. and Henry C. Bourne, Jr. Chair in Poetry at the Georgia Institute of Technology and runs Georgia Tech’s “Poetry at Tech” program. Wikipedia

BornDecember 10, 1946 (age 69), Northampton, MA
EducationEmerson College (2003), Emerson College (1972–1970)

Bio: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/thomas-lux

HOW TO TAKE A WALK

How to Take a Walk
by Leo Dangel

This is farming country.
The neighbors will believe
you are crazy
if you take a walk
just to think and be alone.
So carry a shotgun
and walk the fence line.
Pretend you are hunting
and your walking will not
arouse suspicion.
But don’t forget
to load the shotgun.
They will know
if your gun is empty.
Stop occasionally.
Cock your head and listen
to the doves you never see.
Part the tall weeds
with your hand and inspect
the ground.
Sniff the air as a hunter would.
(That wonderful smell
of sweet clover is a bonus.)
Soon you will forget
the gun in your hands,
but remember, someone
may be watching.
If you hear beating wings
and see the bronze flash
of something flying up,
you will have to shoot it.
“How to Take a Walk” by Leo Dangel from Home From the Field. © Spoon River Poetry Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission


Leo Dangel

Poet Details

b. 1941

Leo Dangel was born and raised in South Dakota and attended colleges in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Kansas. He earned both a BA in social science and an MA in English from Emporia State University.

Dangel’s collections of poetry include Keeping between the Fences (1981), Old Man Brunner Country (1987), Hogs and Personals (1992), and Home from the Field (1997), a Minnesota State Book Award nominee. His most recent collection of poems is The Crow on the Golden Arches (2004).

Dangel has taught at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota.

ASPHALT

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Asphalt
by Al Ortolani 

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The road crew hired temps
between semesters
to stand beside the hopper
shoveling. The foreman
disliked college students.
He never learned our names,
referenced us by the tools
we carried—Skip and I
were Shovels, scraping the hot
mix into the conveyor.
Ronnie the college drop-out
advanced to Rake.
He followed the paver,
flicking the screed ridge
to a smooth seam.
All summer I shoveled the city
streets, made-do with whatever
shade I could catch. Each day
at five, we cleaned the tools
with diesel and putty knives.
Then we sprayed our boots,
kicking our steel toes against
a bar of rail line. We wet rags
with the diesel and scrubbed
our hands and faces.
Then I drove home, a towel
on the seat, another on the arm rest.
I hung my work clothes
on the fence behind the house.
They appeared capable
of walking off on their own.
“Asphalt” by Al Ortolani from Paper Birds Don’t Fly. © NYQ Books, 2016.


http://www.alortolani.com


 

Al Ortolani

Picture

Jack and Al
 Al Ortolani’s prose and poetry has appeared in Rattle, New Letters, the New York Quarterly, The Midwest Quarterly, The English Journal, The QuarterlyThe Laurel Review, Prairie Schooner, Word Riot, Camroc Press Review, and others. He is the author of one chapbook, Slow Stirring Spoon, High/CooPress, two collections of poetry, The Last Hippie of Camp 50 and Finding the Edge, both published by Woodley Press at Washburn University. His third book of poetry, Wren’s House, a collection of haiku, published by Coal City Press in Lawrence, Kansas. Book four, Cooking Chili on the Day of the Dead, was published by Aldrich Press, CA. His fifth book,Waving Mustard in Surrender, was released from New York Quarterly Books, New York, New York. His sixth collection, Francis Shoots Pool at Chubb’s Bar came out in February 2015 from Spartan Press in Kansas City, Missouri. Soon to be released will be Paper Birds Don’t Fly, New York Quarterly Books, and Ghost Sign with J.T. Knoll, Adam Jameson, and Melissa Fite Johnson from Spartan Press in Kansas City, White Buffalo Poets.

Ron Padgett

The Writer’s Almanac for June 17, 2016

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Hug
by Ron Padgett

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The older I get, the more I like hugging. When I was little the
people hugging me were much larger. In their grasp I was a rag
doll. In adolescence, my body was too tense to relax for a hug.
Later, after the loss of virginity—which was anything but a
loss—the extreme proximity of the other person, the smell of
hair, the warmth of the skin, the sound of breathing in the
dark—these were mysterious and delectable. This hug had
two primary components: the anticipation of sex and the plea-
sure of intimacy, which itself is a combination of trust and
affection. It was this latter combination that came to character-
ize the hugging I have experienced only in recent years, a hug-
ging that knows no distinctions of gender or age. When this
kind of hug is mutual, for a moment the world is perfect the
way it is, and the tears we shed for it are perfect too. I guess it
is an embrace.
“Hug” by Ron Padgett from Collected Poems. © Coffee House Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

 

Today, 6/12/16, is the birthday of avant-garde American poet, essayist, and translator Ron Padgett (1942) (books by this author), who once said: “If you match yourself up against Shakespeare, guess what? You lose. It’s not productive. Better to focus on the poem you’re writing, do your work, and leave it at that.”

Padgett was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father was a bootlegger who also traded cars; his mother was a housewife who assisted Padgett’s father with bootlegging. Padgett was a precocious reader as a teenager, drifting toward Baudelaire and Rimbaud. He said: “When I got to adolescence, I became more and more gloomy and introspective and serious and angst-ridden.” He and a few friends started an avant-garde literary journal called The White Dove, which lasted for five years. They weren’t shy about writing to their literary heroes and soliciting work. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and LeRoi Jones all published poems in Padgett’s small magazine.

Padgett went to New York to attend Columbia University (1960), where he fell in with a group of poets who favored stream-of-consciousness writing, vivid imagery, and spontaneity. It was the 1960s, and Padgett, Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, and Ted Berrigan drew inspiration from the art galleries, museums, dancers, and artists that surrounded them. Padgett inherited Kenneth Koch’s teaching position as a “poet-in-the-schools” (1969) for the Teachers & Writers Collaborative, and stayed for nine years. In the beginning, he was paid $50 for three class visits, which he could do in one day, and which paid for an entire month’s rent, utilities, and his phone bill. He loved teaching public school children. He said that whenever poets visited a classroom, “We were like heroes being welcomed home.”

Padgett’s collections of poetry include Bean Spasms: Poems and Prose (1967, with Ted Berrigan); How to Be Perfect (2007); and Alone and Not Alone (2015). His collection How Long (2011) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Padgett says: “Almost everything that’s happened in my poetry is what you might call organic. I don’t do much pre-conceiving. If I start to sound too much like the Ron Padgett that I’ve read before, I stop myself.”

On writing his poems, he says: “If I don’t make line breaks, it’s a prose poem. The line breaks are part of the dance of the poem. If I’m not dancing, I don’t know what steps to take. I don’t know whether to turn or to bow or to move quickly or whatever. I don’t know what to do if I don’t have the line breaks.”

 

Certain People

 

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Commentator Frank Deford advises the White House press office not to let the president be photographed in a golf cart again.

by Richard Jones

My father lives by the ocean
and drinks his morning coffee
in the full sun on his deck,
talking to anyone
who walks by on the beach.
And in the afternoons he works
part-time at the golf course—
sailing the fairways like sea captain
in a white golf cart.
My father must talk
to a hundred people a day,
yet we haven’t spoken in weeks.
As I get older, we hardly speak at all.
It’s as if he were a stranger
and we had never met.
I wonder, if I
were a tourist on the beach
or a golfer lost in woods
and met him now for the very first time,
what we’d say to each other,
how his hand would feel in mine
as we introduced ourselves,
and if, as is the case
with certain people, I’d feel,
when I looked him in the eye,
I’d known him all my life.


“Certain People” by Richard Jones from Country of Air. © Copper Canyon Press, 1986. Reprinted with permission.   (buy now).

SPOTLIGHT ON LAWRENCE KESSENICH

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Wild Turkeys

by Lawrence Kessenich

I watch them from my office window

pecking at pebbles on the blacktop,

pink heads, iridescent feathers,

stick legs moving with surprising grace.

 

Living in the woods behind the office

park, they tolerate our diurnal presence,

unmoved by creatures four times their size

invading in steel and glass.

 

Ben Franklin preferred them for our national

symbol, and they act as if they deserve no less.

 

How different would our nation be if we

had chosen these gentle grazers—who

nonetheless defend their nests—over

a bird who scours the earth for prey?

 

American though they are, these turkeys have

no allegiance. They only need a patch of earth

to scratch, a place to raise their pink young. And,

come to think of it, do any of us need more?

 

“Wild Turkeys” by Lawrence Kessenich from Before Whose Glory. © Future Cycle Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)


 

Communion

During Lent, season of discipline,

I drag myself early out of bed, ride

to Mass with Mom and Mrs. Crivello,

warm in the front seat between their

woolen coats, soothed by familiar perfume.

Headlights carve the ebony darkness.

The women talk in low tones

about people I don’t know, the thrum

of their voices reassuring. I doze

for seconds that seem like minutes.

In the half-acre lot, we park among

a small band of cars huddled near

the entrance of St. Monica’s. Inside,

stained glass windows, a feast of color

in daylight, are black. The church is barn-cold.

Candles burn, bells ring, prayers are murmured,

songs sung. The church warms slowly. I sit,

stand, kneel between the two women,

rituals washing over me like soft waves

on Lake Michigan in August.

Later, I carry the sacred mood

out on my route, dispensing papers

like Communion to my neighbors.

 

“Communion” by Lawrence Kessenich from Age of Wonders. © Big Table Publishing, 2016. Reprinted by permission.  (buy now)

 


 

Becoming Bostonian

 

I hear the music of seven languages

on a four-block stretch of Harvard Square,

see the copper glow of the Hancock

Tower at sunset, feel the familiar

bump of cobblestones under my feet.

Mark Twain said people in New York ask

“How much is he worth?” while Bostonians

ask “How much does he know?” That burning

desire to discover keeps the city humming,

yet we’re grounded in history, too,

still treading on sidewalks made of

baked clay. I stand

one night on Beacon Hill, gaze up at the

few stars city lights allow to shine,

feel myself stretched between past and future

the pull of the earth on which

our forefathers stood, the pull of the moon,

which they could not have dreamed their descendants

would visit. Or perhaps they did.

One historian reports that

“there were books on Beacon Hill while wolves

still howled from the summit.” Perhaps some

Englishman closed his book one night and stood

where I stand, dreaming of what we’ve become.

 

“Becoming Bostonian” by Lawrence Kessenich from Age of Wonders. © Big Table Publishing, 2016. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)


 

https://thisibelieve.org/essay/441/

In My Father’s Tears

Lawrence Kessenich – Watertown, Massachusetts

As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, December 17, 2010

My father and I disagreed vehemently about politics and religion in the late 1960s. He was a World War II veteran and a colonel in the Wisconsin National Guard. I was a long-haired student at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, helping to organize antiwar demonstrations. He was a devout Catholic. I was an agnostic. My younger siblings remember all too vividly the violent arguments he and I would have. There was nowhere to hide from them in the small home where we lived. Once, my father ended up chasing me around the kitchen table, intent on hitting me for the first time in his life—and then he broke down crying.

The memory of those tears says more to me about who my father was than the memories of our arguments. He was a man who cared passionately—about the people he knew and loved, but also about people in need he didn’t know at all. He taught me to care with the same intensity. I never doubted that he loved me, even in those moments when I felt least understood by him. And his life spoke eloquently about how much he cared for the less fortunate. He and my mother always did charitable work—preparing and serving meals for homeless people at St. Ben’s parish in Milwaukee’s inner city, for example—but after my father retired, he took his social action to a new level.

He was admitted to a lay ministry program sponsored by the Milwaukee Archdiocese, a program that introduced him to contemporary theology and the history of Catholic social action. This was heady stuff for a man who had never gone to college—one of the greatest regrets of his life, by the way. Suddenly, my conservative father sounded like someone from Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker Movement of the 1930s. He became incensed about how unconcerned the wealthy people in his suburban parish were about the plight of the less fortunate. When he graduated from the program, he became the Social Programs Coordinator for his parish, and until he died at eighty-one, he was a thorn in the side of his fellow parishioners, continually exhorting them to give more to, and do more for, those in need.

It is in large part because of the example set by my father, Arthur Kessenich, that I believe I have a responsibility to give of myself—not just to those I know and love, but to those I would never know if I didn’t seek them out: the poor, the disabled, the imprisoned. It is because of my father’s example that I try to tithe, to give 10 percent of my income to charity; that I spend two hours a week assisting a blind man; that I help lead Alternatives to Violence workshops in prisons.

I don’t do it out of guilt or fear of damnation, but out of love. Because I saw love in action, in my father’s tears and in the way he lived his life. Because of him, I believe in love.

Lawrence Kessenich was formerly an editor at Houghton Mifflin, where he encouraged W. P. Kinsella to write Shoeless Joe, the basis for the movie “Field of Dreams.” Mr. Kessenich now makes his living as a marketing writer while spending his free time writing poetry, essays, short stories, plays, and novels. He lives in Watertown, Massachusetts.


 

Lawrence Kessenich Reading Poetry on Poet to Poet Writer to Writer with Doug Holder

 

 

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Lawrence Kessenich

 

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HOMEWRECKERS

 

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“They are tearing down my childhood home today,” he said, wishing instead he were already dead. “I should not watch. It is a sad thing to see,” he said, thinking softly of the past, wishing it could forever last.

images-1“I wish I could have done more to save it,” he mused, feeling the blues as it oozed from the news.

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“I ate watermelon at the kitchen table, sweet as summer’s breath,” he said, tasting the juice that his mind reproduced.

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“We had many a memory in that house,” he understated,

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watching as his reality was castrated.

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“I wonder it I was happier back then than now,” he exclaimed, unashamed that he had no fame. “Probably not,” he said to himself, knowing he had not mastered laughter in the face of disaster.

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“Some folk’s homes become museums,”he pondered as his thoughts wandered. “I was never that important,” he concluded, as he brooded.

 

 

 

Goodbye to James Garner

james-garner

Goodbye to James Garner
by Kim Dower 

Fans loved him as RockfordMaverick,
a man’s man, had your back, cool,
did the right thing. I loved him
for being Doris Day’s husband
in a movie I cut class to see,
fifth grade, played at the Riviera,
only old men and me during the day,
went alone told no one, but I had a gigantic
crush, he was an ob/gyn, she was a mom,
marriage in jeopardy, couples in movies
stayed together in the sixties, while out
in the world it was all falling apart, women
poised to flip their lives, marching into a world
of miniskirts, riots, shame, pill box hats, flinging
our boxy pink suit jackets and pumps into the sunset,
not even James Garner could have saved us, and this week
more unrest, more wars, I’m stuck on the headline
James Garner Dead. When I was ten I needed a man
I could count on—even a man holding aces and eights.


“Goodbye to James Garner” by Kim Dower from Last Train to the Missing Planet. © Red Hen Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission. (buy now).