The Poetry Lunch
From left: Judith Minty, Robert VanderMolen, Jack Ridl and Greg Rappleye, at the legendary Tip-a-Few Tavern, Grand Haven, Michigan (March 31, 2009).
Even though the plants are only a foot tall,
you, our sixteen-year-old baby, dream them ripe
with fruit, the tomatoes scarlet in their fullness.
And you come flushed from sleep to tell this wealth,
how each night you root through rich soil
to reap the harvest of your first garden.
Nineteen years ago we dreamed your sister,
the child not of our own mating, although we tried,
who came to us, all rosy, at seven weeks
and slept cribbed in the room below ours.
Three times in those first days
we woke at night, eyes blind like moles
against the lamplight, and groped the sheets,
palms flailing in the empty air between us.
We meant to find her when she cried, to make
her in that space of barren bed
our child, the fruit of love and holding,
before we opened to each other and the space
between us suddenly remembered empty, before we fled
the stairs and soothed the dream
and counted soil for what it was
and took the harvest and felt lucky.
-Judith Minty, from Letters to My Daughters, Mayapple Press, Reprinted in Dancing the Fault, University of Central Florida Press/Orlando, 1991
Water muscling to shore at twilight,
Muscling over her ribs, the water so warm
For September. Thomas Paine said,
We just couldn't stay boys
(regarding the colonists)
Or something to that effect.
Ladybugs gather, covering a peach,
Gulls screech about the deserted lighthouse.
How agreeable to discover
Someone loves you, or even later,
That you've become a fixture
In someone's stable of influences.
As you adjust your sunglasses and sip
Your merlot—a robust season
Of potatoes and cod, when generosity
Was more than a glimmer of an inn's lights.
All this time without a plan or reliable income.
She drives like Barney Oldfield
Says her Dad, arm on my shoulder,
Approaching dust on the beach track.
Just when I thought I was strongest
And most personable.
-Robert VanderMolen, from Water, Michigan State University Press, 2009
In the spring she
drops the seeds, he
covers them. He
digs up the weeds.
She cuts the flowers.
She takes the blooms
and puts them in
every room. They soar
red from the tables, sprout
yellow from the shelves,
hang purple from
the ceiling, blue
from the edges of
of flowers sit in
tiny pots on every
windowsill, in open
the sink. He stands
beside her as she tosses
all the wilted leaves
into a rusty bucket.
This house is heaven's
door, the air gathering
the bashful smells of
blossoms, roots, cut
stems, wet dirt, new
and rotting leaves.
-Jack Ridl, from Broken Symmetry, Wayne State University Press, 2007
NOT THAT HAPPINESS
Not bluebirds nesting in a wooden box
nailed to your picket fence.
No geraniums in the planter, but yarrow
where the trees begin, hawkweed
in a clearing near the black locust
and loosestrife—how you are helpless
against its beauty—everywhere
along the creek. No friends anymore
who ask about dinner, but a boy who woke
last week, singing counterpoint
to the wrens. To read, We are without
consolation or excuse, and remember
a sack of peaches from a roadside stand;
hunger the day you stopped for them.
Maxine Sullivan singing “Blue Skies.”
In winter, lullabies sung for the dead.
The shoulder roast simmering in red wine
with potatoes and sweet onions
on a day when the rain begins; your heart
sliding toward the sinkhole of November.
Who is not captive to some small happiness?
To love a field you can never own—the pink mist
of knapweed, the blue of chicory.
Or the heron that settles in the neighbor’s pond
and croaks through the last of your dreams.
You startle awake, patting your head, glad
that you are not a minnow, darting
among the muddy reeds. How it comes around,
this happiness, like a landlord sniffing out the rent.
Not what you ordered—pennywhistles, cellophane hats,
those hand-crank noisemakers—but the happiness
that finds you, scrawls a receipt, says,
“You paid for this,” whatever happiness is.
-Greg Rappleye, from Figured Dark, University of Arkansas Press, 2007