Digging a Grave in the Rain

Yesterday I buried an old dog, a friend for the last 10 years. I read Mary Oliver’s, At Blackwater Pond, to myself during the day, then to her soul as I lowered her body into the grave. I placed the poem over her heart.

photo by steve peterson

Digging a Grave in the Rain

She sleeps on her bed. Restless,
waiting for the vet to arrive,
I take up my shovel
and walk out into the rain
to find a spot in the tall
grass, the goldenrod,
a place to plunge the blade
into the earth. I peel back
the sod, then work to remove the clay,
heavy on the shovel.
Water drips off the brim
of my hat into the growing hole.
I know there are worse tragedies
than this; even just today
children scream for
their parents from inside
their border cages;
others starve in Yemen.
So much heavy clay.
Rain soaks through
to my skin.

– Steve Peterson

Deer in the Headlights

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

This poem is about an event that happened a couple years ago, one I’ve been trying to understand. What does it mean? That chance events mark a place where futures diverge? Something about the nature of tragedy? How responsibility is real, but whose edges are sometimes not clear?

Deer in the Headlights

Returning from a friend’s house late at night,
the car’s headlights are needles
that poke a hole in the darkness.
The motor’s hum. A blur of dark trees
in the side windows. The crackle of
gravel under the tires.

Cresting the hill, I head down
into the valley, the road narrows
and winds. Around a curve
my headlights suddenly
pin a shape to the road. I crunch
to a stop. A fawn stands still.
Ears erect, eyes open, unblinking.
Frozen in the light.
Long seconds pass.
It begins to move.

And then I notice:
with front legs straining,
she drags her useless
hind quarters behind, crushed
by a car like mine that
crested the hill, late at night,
to collide with her first journey
into the night.

She makes her way slowly across
the pool of light, like
an actor on stage, and
disappears into the dark ditch.
I open the car door and
step onto the road —
out the door and under the silent stars,
into the verdant smell of May.

– Steve Peterson

Inner Beauty Can Fade, Too

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

“Inner beauty can fade, too.”
– Sarah Manguso, 300 Arguments

Remind me: the heart’s inner rooms
can contain exquisite beauty, carried within them over
the year’s long haul; can nourish and shelter, too — yet, do still need
tending for it can fade like a
radiant tapestry set too close to the sun’s bright light.

– Steve Peterson

Here I’m playing around with the golden shovel poetry form as inspired by Mary Lee Hahn’s #NationalPoetryMonth project at Poetrepository.

In my case because of the subject matter, I placed the words of honor on the inside of the poem.

Left Behind

Have you ever gone into the house of someone who has recently died? Their life lays out there before you. The profound. The mundane. A jumble of unfinished business.

Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash

Left Behind

What do you leave behind
when you die? Strange,
little things, once
beneath notice, stand still
as if the blur of this life
was, say, paused by the
TV remote you had placed near
the newspaper crossword puzzle,
partly completed.

A tube of toothpaste
lies by the bathroom sink,
squeezed and rolled
neatly from the bottom.
How did I not know this
about you? The collection
of Gorilla Tape in the
drawer? So many colors!
Neat files of bills labeled
in your last shaky handwriting.
My own desk is a mess. Toothpaste
crumpled, its top lost. A hole
in my heart. What do you
leave behind when
you die?

– Steve Peterson

Lean Times

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Lean Times

Early robins visit
the shriveled apples —
too high
in the branches to pick
last fall.
So, I left them
to the winter’s
cold wind
a tree full of
crafty birds.

–Steve Peterson


Three Stumps

Textures Madacor via Compfight

Dad’s death on Feb 4th will unlock many poems, I’m sure. Here’s one.

Three Stumps

Three stumps squat in the woods.
Three mossy stumps,
the last of a forest of trees
we dropped together,
my father and I,
before he fell, too,
taking a world with him
on his descent.

– Steve Peterson


PS. And, so I’ll have it here, I’m including this bit I sent to my colleagues at school so they could know him just a bit.

Dear good folks of DMS,

Thank you so much for your kind words of support and for your gift after the death of my father on Sunday evening.

I was lucky to have known him.

I wanted to tell you just a bit about him, ’cause, from his example, I believe in stories.

Dad grew up on a hardscrabble farm in north central Minnesota. He was born in the family house at the beginning of the Great Depression, though he recalled that his family never knew when the Depression started and stopped. They grew their own food and sold small amounts of corn, wheat, beef, pork, milk, and eggs for cash and grew oats and hay for the horses. There was no indoor plumbing, they hand-pumped their own water from a well and used a kerosene lamp and gas lantern for light until Dad wired the house (and barn) when he was in high school. His mother finished the 8th-grade and his father finished 6th-grade.

Dad became a Lutheran minister who served churches in Illinois for 37 years.

I learned many things from Dad, including these:
* Words are beautiful, they matter, and they can be savored;
* Even if you don’t know how to do something, start, keep your eyes open and improvise until you get it done, but most importantly: start;
* Making art, building stuff is important, even if you don’t think you are an artist or a builder;
* It’s okay for a man to listen with his heart;
* Serving others is good;
* Laughter feels good (and sometimes heals);
* Second chances are possible;
* And a whole bunch more…

Again, thanks for the kind words and support.

With high regards,