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Photo by Nate Bell on Unsplash

I’ve been playing around with Taylor Mali’s Metaphor Dice. It’s been fun. I first learned about Mali’s dice while reading Bud Hunt’s post (Bud the Teacher) about a automated metaphor generator he created for a makerspace he attended.

All this inspired me to create my own metaphor generator out of a Google Sheets add-on and a bunch of concepts, adjectives, and nouns. Here’s a link to that sheet if you’d like to try it out yourself.

A metaphor that got generated automatically formed the spine of this poem about my father, whose death in February stays in my mind.

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your goblet
of wine,
toppled and shattered
on the floor,
lies next to your body.
shards of glass.
wine soaked
into the carpet.

loss is a sharp stem

thorns. a single
yellow rose
in a vase
on the altar
above your ashes.

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

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

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,
steve

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

Heartwood

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.”

Heartwood

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

 

 

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

Maintenance

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.

Maintenance

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.