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Author: Steve Peterson

I teach fifth grade in Iowa.

Bait Shop (Minnesota, 1970)

penguins_2013-IICreative Commons License andronicusmax via Compfight

Been thinking about those things that separate us, one from the other, and the imaginative leaps that connect us. And fish.

Bait Shop (Minnesota, 1970)

Leeches
a whole mess of them in a tight bundle
unravel and flutter, searching
for a meal under the cold water
that fills a handmade concrete basin.
In a wooden box,
worms lie in rich darkness
under mouldering newspaper,
beneath a fluorescent light
that hangs from a chain.
Even at 10, I had begun to see that
while I lived most of my life
on the familiar side, in the sun and the wind,
there was much that lived
in the unseen and barely imagined;
that even a small garage
along a dirt road in northern Minnesota
hid secret knowledge
of what happens beneath;
that like the old fisherman who shuffled
from his house to the shop
when I opened the door,
a guy could spend a lifetime
learning to see
beneath the surface.

— Steve Peterson

Drawing the Circle

singing-frog-in-watercolor-by-frits-ahlefeldt Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig via Compfight

Summer is winding down. I can see it in the trees’ leaves, the way they turn ever so slightly towards yellow, as if they are tired from the effort of their summer’s work. But everywhere, too, compulsion and desire.

Drawing the Circle

They came
like a division of tanks
shiny and clattering
these dragonflies
clearing swaths
through the insects
that left the safety
of the prairie grass,
propelled toward the light
above
a cotillion of swallows dance
through the dragonflies
and higher yet,
on the far side of the valley,
tired from the long summer days
shadows lean heavily
on the east side of trees
leaves
faded toward yellow,
spent from their obligation
to make something
from next to
nothing
now stands in the way
of the growing darkness,
the trill of the
toads’ desire
to draw the circle
close.

–Steve Peterson

Storm Lessons

shades-of-grey Jeremy Hiebert via Compfight

Here is a poem I wrote earlier this summer after watching a storm come across the lake at the family cabin. Thunder echoes off the trees that surround the lake.

Storm Lessons

What can I learn
from a summer squall
that rushes across the lake,
whipping up whitecaps
and turning the soft, blue water
a sullen, spattered gray?
That darkness
arrives quickly sometimes?
That both calm and tumult
can occupy
the same surface?
That what moves in
also moves on? These are
important things to consider
on a late afternoon
while the dragonflies
wait out the rain
under the eaves.

– Steve Peterson

A Photo of My Mother from Years Ago

Recently, I spent some time at the family log cabin in northern Minnesota. The cabin is filled with lots of memories; my folks bought the place the year I was born (1960) and it is the only place on Earth that I return to every year of my life. The trees I planted when I was in grade school are tall and wide now. The rock walls my father built are covered with moss and lichens.

In an old photo album, I found a photo of my mother from a trip there that she and Dad had taken years ago while she was still teaching. I vaguely remember the trip except for a feeling that they were heading north at an odd time of the year. I was busy with my own life, I guess, so it didn’t register. In the album I found a delightful photo of my mother from that trip, her eyes so sparkly and open, her hair covered with snowflakes. I realized that I had never seen this expression on my mother’s face before. Photos are interesting that way. Sometimes they crack open the door to rooms that others rarely see. Those glimpses make us more complex, they make us more human.

LightCreative Commons License Alexandra E Rust via Compfight

A Photo of My Mother from Years Ago

In a musty album
tucked in a cabinet
in the back room of the cabin,
there is a photo of my mother
taken years ago during a trip north.
That she had stolen
a few days from teaching kids
to head to the summer cabin in November
was surprisingly irresponsible. Yet
after that first set of illnesses –
I understand now –
spending time together
became more important. So,
as the shutter snapped,
there she was — delighted
by the early snow that met her,
surprised by its arrival to a place
she knew best
in the warmth of summer.
Her smile was warm and open.
For a moment, she didn’t feel
the wet snow on her hair,
or notice the gray sky
that loomed behind.
Enough
that she had pried open a crack
big enough to squeeze
from a bushel of work
a few drops of
sweet connection.

– Steve Peterson

Two Haiku from Up North

Here are two haiku from my recent trip north. The woods are several weeks behind Iowa, so the trees are still green-tipped and the skimmers (dragonflies) are plentiful! White-throated sparrows sang in the balsam scrub and warblers sang among the aspens.

Fir or Pine Needles Stuart Rankin via Compfight

 

dark pine needles
backlit against the gray sky –
distant thunder rumbles

 

the fir’s youngest branches
offer dragonfly
a place to rest

To Make the Crooked Straight

For the want of a nail…Creative Commons License Jim « JP » Hansen via Compfight

The last few days I’ve been visiting the family cabin in the north woods. A small place with an outdoor privy, it was built from local tamarack and spruce logs in the late 1940s. While it isn’t fancy, it is filled with all sorts of memories of my extended family. Here’s a poem about my grandfather that tries to be about more than a can of old nails.

To Make the Crooked Straight

On a rusty metal shelf
that stood on the dirt floor
of the shed behind the house:
three rusted Arco cans
filled with bent nails
pulled from a thousand used boards,
and, also, with hope —
to save the unsavory
to make the crooked straight
once again.

– Steve Peterson

Between the Water and the Air

Dragonflies are hatching. Skimmers and darners are darting, catching mosquitoes, midges, and whatever else they can find. This poem is about that, but also about the moments that make life rich, and how easy it is to miss them. Gratitude.

Ringed Boghaunter (Williamsonia lintneri) Dragonfly - Male David Marvin via Compfight

Between the Water and the Air

Maybe a different day
would have passed unnoticed
like the rabbit, hunched and silent,
who watches you make your way
through the pasture grass.
Especially under a leaden sky
that promises all day rain,
it is easy enough to miss
the significance of things.

But there, at your foot,
pausing for a moment
between the water and the air,
a dragonfly’s transparent wings
glint wet and new;
and within them the whole
threatening sky, the leaning
grass, the dying elms that rim
the field, your peering eye,
this entire large world
are caught
in a web of veins.

– Steve Peterson

Below the Surface

2015_11_09_lhr-ewr_159Creative Commons License Doc Searls via Compfight

Here is a poem from my writing notebook that I’ve been playing around with. Last night was so beautiful. I stayed outside long after the fire in the fire pit had died down and the stars had come out.

Below the Surface

Blue whales are large,
but not the largest of living things,
though ask anyone and that’s the
first opinion offered; unless

they mention the giant sequoia – if we
make it past our blindness of plants.
But even that behemoth,
towering 350 feet in the air and wide enough
to drive a car through, is dwarfed by

the mass of a simple fungus*
in Oregon, nearly two and a half
miles across and almost entirely
underground, except for the
mushrooms that carpet the ground
when conditions are right.

Who has not wondered, on a warm spring
night while looking at the stars,
whether things are more connected
than they appear, whether what we see is
not what we get, but something

much larger, much grander
than we can imagine?

* Here’s a story about that fungus, if you are interested.

Hickory Buds

 

 

Photo: Steve Peterson
Photo: Steve Peterson

I had my last day of school on Friday and, while I love my job, I really need some time to think and write and remember what that other life is like. So, the hickory buds took on even more meaning than they usually do this time of year. I’m looking forward to writing more, but first, a trip North, canoe paddle in hand.

Hickory Buds

Again this year, after swelling through April
the hickory buds burst one day in May.
All of a sudden and everywhere
they heave open their doors
and fling themselves into the light.
How I am like this some days, too,
furled, tightly packed, cramped,
I wait, feeding myself
the energy stored in my roots,
then, suddenly, unfurled,
grasping and stretching I leap
towards the brightness of May.
Who, in the long run, can say
which is better? Both are necessary;
the one depends on the other.
Although, I know right now
which one I will choose.

– Steve Peterson

Performance Art

Here’s a small poem that came from another Ben Shahn photo, which was left over from an attempt at a poem every-other-day during April. (Click here for more on my fascination with Ben Shahn.)

From the New York Public Library
From the New York Public Library

Performance Art

We write our lives
in the small things we do:
bare feet on the cold floor,
the bed made, sheet and quilt
pulled up just so;
hands dipped into a basin,
the still-damp towel
hung to dry. Your smile
warms me when I enter the kitchen
after the cold night.
We write our lives
in the things we do.
Our penmanship grows
better with practice.

– Steve Peterson

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