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


CurlyCreative Commons License Kate Russell via Compfight

I wrote a poem to help feel the loss of my friend’s mother, a friend of mine, too.


That afternoon he paused
to lean over his chainsaw and
refill it with gas, oil;
he sharpened,
then tightened the chain;
brushed the dust
from the air filter;
cleared the spark plug.

In the sudden silence,
crickets whispered
from the shade
of the thick grass.
Golden light. A
kingbird paused
on the branch
of a dead elm.

That evening, a mother
would die,
while morphine dulled
the pain in her body.
Her eyes closed
to this loved world,
beyond repair.

Surface Tension

Water Striders j_arlecchino via Compfight

Surface Tension

None better, this golden day
on the bank of Canoe Creek.

Late afternoon slides
into long-shadowed dusk.

A mayfly, as we do,
swoops too close

to the surface, then squirms
to free itself.

And now I see

the water is carpeted in insects,
some wriggling, some not.

One of many, now
they float downstream.

– Steve Peterson

Paper Flowers

Here’s one of my poems that I posted earlier on a long-ago site, inside the dog... You can read more about that trip to Chile here.

A few years ago I found myself in a small cemetery outside the tiny town of Caspana in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile visiting the grave of the mother of someone I had recently met.

Under a bright blue winter sky we told stories, burned some coca leaf, and poured wine into the parched desert soil. As it soaked in, I thought of all of those named and unnamed whose time had come and gone, and whose souls were now scattered across the years.

After watching some of these Poems in Motion, I’ve been playing around with animating poems. Here’s yet another attempt, this time using that poem of my experience in a graveyard outside Caspana.


What I’m Sayin’

The Coffin Works - 11 the justified sinner via Compfight

I’m on a poetic exploration of the Beatitudes (and my own history) for National Poetry Month. You can read more about the project and watch a powerful speech by Rev. Barber, who lays out a compelling moral vision that seems steeped in the Beatitudes.

In the last day or two I’ve been looking into the original Greek for “meek” from the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” I’m not at all pleased with the connotations of the English word, meek, although there is a power in humility. As it turns out, some have translated the original Greek word, πραεῖς (praus) as a gentleness that comes from humility, or strength that is under control, or a calm and quiet inner composure.

These twists on the theme of “meek” made me think of a story I heard when I worked on the Rez in northern Wisconsin, and that story made me think of the role humor plays in resistance. Indian humor, is both humble and very, very sharp. Maybe this humble-clear-sightedness is what I can salvage from “meekness?”


What I’m Sayin’

Nearly lost in the dim light
that filtered between the blues
from the speaker over the bar,
the man’s voice lowered to a whisper. You
think that’s a bad job, he murmured —
we’d been talking one of those crazy talks
both funny and sad about the worst jobs
we’d ever had. His eyes crinkled, Out here
on the Rez there aren’t many jobs and
the only ones we get are the ones none
of you white guys’ll take. His words
disappeared into his beer. I swear
this is true. He swallowed.
This guy I know
had the worst job there ever was,
no lie:
You know those crucifixes
they sell in the religion stores? Well,
his job was to nail those little
plastic Jesuses to the cross
as they came down the line. Every day.
Every hour. Every minute. He’d be there
nailing a little-bitty Jesus to the cross.
Day in. Day out.
Try doing that for a while.
See what THAT does to you.
He leaned back to let it sink in,
his arms hung heavy down,
then he leaned forward again.
And you know what’s even
worse, he rasped, that
factory’s closed down now
and the Indians are all gone,
but now there’s some people
working, doing basically
the same kinda thing
‘cept –
they’re doing it in a shirt and a tie,
and they get paid lots
of money to do it,
if you hear
what I’m sayin’?

– Steve Peterson