Buying Time

After a visit to the parents, I see what sixty-plus years can do.

Photo by Heather Zabriskie on Unsplash
Photo by Heather Zabriskie on Unsplash

Buying Time

4,000 extra minutes
on the flip phone,
that’s what Dad thought
Mom might need
when he was gone:
“to get her through
those first months.”
He was planning ahead,
he said:
finally, new countertops
and brighter lights
in the kitchen;
the deck rebuilt,
more solid, without
yearly re-staining, too;
a more reliable car;
a quieter ceiling fan;
bird seed packaged
in portable plastic milk jugs,
ready for the winter.
62 years come with an
extended life warranty
against breakdown
and loss.

– Steve Peterson

Night Terrors

Because this happened in Grand Rapids, MI, and it continues to happen all over the US.

Night Terrors

the middle
of the night,
in the glare
a squad car light,
police wrenched
the arms
of an
eleven-year old
Black girl
her back,
handcuffed them
she screamed
in terror.

She could
have been
my classroom
this year
simply being
a kid.

arms twisted
her back,
she screamed
she had
the stories,
the videos;
she had learned
how this


– Steve Peterson

How To Spot an Agate

photo by Steve Peterson

I sat down to read Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s (@amylvpoemfarm) terrific new book, Poems are Teachers, for inspiration for my teaching. As it happened, inspiration found me, first.

As I read, I savored teacher-poet, Mary Lee Hahn’s (@MaryLeeHahn) poem, “Riches”, and remembered an ongoing conversation I’ve had with one of the kids in my class this year, someone who appreciates agates and cool rocks at least as much as I do.


Here’s what came of all of that: a reminder to slow down and gather with small stones.

How to Spot an Agate

First, you must find a place
Where the small stones gather.

Look to the beach
Where restless waves rock.

Go to the roadside
Where tires rarely tread.

Or, if courageous, to the graveled center,
Where hither ignores yon.

Then sit. Plant yourself, as if a tree.
And open your eyes.

Adjust your gaze.
Look past all shape.

Look beyond every color.
Catch the glint, instead,

The brilliant shaft,
A moment’s reflection.

That jeweled spark?
That is what you seek.

Reach out.
Hold it to the light.

– Steve Peterson


Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

It’s been busy ’round these parts, which makes my life no different than everyone else in my world. Still, I’m not without some agency in all this craziness. This poem contemplates how “slow” also, sometimes, means “open.”


Beetles discover the heartwood,
something I’m trying to do
every day; maybe
I will stumble upon
an unnoticed place
deep under the bark; maybe
I will learn to find
that dark-quiet, too.

The clam that
backs into a rocky crevice
will open its shell
and take in the ocean; maybe
I will learn to filter
what I need
from what should be
left behind.

– Steve Peterson



Two Tanka

Fall is coming to NE Iowa, and with it the falling leaves and the fog in the valley.

Here are two tanka – ish poems. One is about a moment I experienced in the woods the other day. A leaf detached itself from a nearby tree. I heard it strike the ground. The other? Hmmm…besides the fog? I’ll let you ponder that.


There are times you can hear the future whispering


Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

It was hot the other day and my mind wandered back to a childhood memory, a joy I remember from the end of those long, hot summer days after my bath and before bed. Parents downstairs finished up the chores.

I lay near the giant exhaust fan (pre-AC), sang notes into the blades, and marveled at how the fan made them sound so different. A song sung into the end of a summer day.

There are times you can hear the future whispering

like when the sun
sets slowly,
at the end of a hot day:

then I am
nine years-old,
lying on the varnished
floor near the window fan
at the end of the
upstairs hall;
parents, not yet old,
not yet missing
parts of themselves, but simply
downstairs in their hurried thirties, alive
amongst the clatter of dishes,
in the murmur of voices.

On the floor,
I lean to keen a
single note, like
a bagpipe’s drone,
into the fan’s deep,
curved blades,
which grasp and wrap the
sound around itself,
as if it had gone outside
into the lightning-bug night,
then arrived back inside,
crumpled and worn;
as if what I sang was
a message, a blues-note
bent under the weight
of a journey that
takes years to complete.

– Steve Peterson

There is a Cross

Rusty Nails and Large Snakes Shawn Kent via Compfight

If Des Moines (my state capital) is fly-over country, then I live in a section of that neglected land that slides by even further out of sight. And so it was that a mostly forgotten roadside shrine on a dirt road to a town that died 100 years ago got me thinking about all of the lives and stories and changes that have created the landscape around me.

There is a Cross

in the ditch of a dusty
county road that
leads to nowhere
but a town whose bones
have been picked nearly clean.

In a shaft of sunlight
over that quiet road,
late-summer midges
rise and dive, just as
they always have.

Plastic flowers long faded –
a name flakes
off the weathered wood.
Last crickets gather in
the dusk, in its shadow.

– Steve Peterson