One Brilliant Day

Via the Vesterheim Museum, Decorah, IA
Via the Vesterheim Museum, Decorah, IA

One Brilliant Day

A stolid Lutheran, in the photo she was
strapped into those boxy black shoes,
practical armor for the day ahead,
and for most of her life, until she began
to see things that others could not,
Anna leaned into her life, every day, as
she leaned into that well pump handle.

There was Anton, shot up as he waded ashore at Tarawa,
the gathering of uniforms, the knock at the door;
and the sale of the horses after the bank foreclosed,
the neighbors gathered in the barnyard, the move to town;
the slow loss of Emil’s mind as his heart gave out.

But now, as the shutter snapped,
on one brilliant day in March,
she was there, once again,
at the well pump. Capable hands
grasped the cool handle as she leaned in
to draw from the depths
her daily ration of the living water.

– Steve Peterson

Notes

This post is a response to a challenge issued by Mary Lee Hahn at her blog, Poetrepository. She found some family photos this summer at her home place and thought it would be fun to write poems about them in April.

Since I don’t have a flock of family photos handy right now, I’m using historical photos from various places. I spent the last several weeks exploring and finding a group of photos to think and write about.

The photograph in this post comes from the Vesterheim Museum, our local Norwegian-American museum. At school we’ve worked with them (they are excellent!) on some immigration and history projects. This photo comes from some of that work.

I have no direct connection to the person in this photo, although it could easily have been my grandmother on my father’s side of the family. Through the 1950s she lived on the farmstead, a hardscrabble farm in north central Minnesota. During all the time they lived there, they hand-pumped water from a well, kept animals of many types, raised some row crops as well as oats and hay for the horses. They barely got by. When grandfather died, grandma sold the animals, tools, and machinery and moved from the farm.

The events in the poem are not from my family’s story. As the son of a teacher and a Lutheran preacher in small town Illinois, I spent a lot of time during my youth in church basements talking to people. I got a real appreciation for the lives of those who lived in the rural midwest.

Moses

Moses

Only a flash of crimson
against a sullen sky —
impossible fire,
fleeting comet — alights
on a bare branch dripping
in the orchard. He leans, tilts,
and lets loose a song so clear,
so filled with yearning,
the dark seas part.
The promised land
beckons.

— Steve Peterson

Little Rock, 1957

Little Rock, 1957

What happens to
a dream deferred?
Langston Hughes asked.
For the children at school, I
ready that photograph
of the Little Rock Nine —
the one with the mob,
mid-shout, trailing a
stoic Elizabeth Eckford
dressed in white, clutching
her books with one arm,
ram-rod straight
ahead stare, eyes
on the prize, no one
to watch her back —
and I wonder, also:
what happens
to a hatred inured?

– Steve Peterson

 

Notes

I wrote this for the comment section at Mary Lee Hahn’s poem place last year for April Poetry Month. But as I look around at our current politics I wonder if all this practice with hate just makes us more accustomed to hatred.

March Ice

IMG_0831
Photo by Steve Peterson

March Ice

The puddle that melted in yesterday’s sun
froze again last night, first
from the edge, the shallowest part,
then inward where the water held fast
to a memory of warmth, even as the
darkness settled in. Lately, I’ve heard
the ducks down by the creek
remind each other that the trip north
was a good idea, although some
weren’t so sure, feet freezing as they were
on the shore ice. Even so, there’s a chance
the puddle will melt again today.
You know, sometimes it takes awhile
for the message to arrive, a while
for the heart to accept what it
does not want to hear.

– Steve Peterson

The heron knows something about waiting

Blauwe reiger / Grey heron Judith via Compfight

The heron knows something about waiting

The heron knows
something about waiting.
And the roots of the
bellwort, too,
deep down in
the still cool ground, they
wait for the soil to warm
just so before dropping
a bead on the surface
to explode, a yellow
burst against such
fine greenery.
Maybe,
if I stand still as a reed
near the pond and listen,
maybe, if from within
the ground that surrounds,
and if the earth tilts just so,
I might hear the call, sense
the movement, feel
the warmth, then
know the moment
is good and right
to emerge.

— Steve Peterson

A Box Too Small

Spring nature tanakawho via Compfight

A Box Too Small

There was a cartoon I remember when I was a kid, one where this guy opened up his closet to look for something inconsequential, a shoe for instance, and then kept pulling out stuff — a lamp, a sofa, two tires, a roast turkey with all the trimmings, a circus elephant, a hockey goal, way more than could possibly fit in that tiny closet. Some spaces are too small to contain what they hold. Like the other day, from high above in the ash tree, a meadowlark ripped a song so full of vigor and delight that there’s no way a single breath in that small body could have held such joyous enthusiasm. Too small that breath, for sure, but there he was anyway just letting it fly, like Jack had finally leaped all the way out of his box and now he had to tell the world of his escape.

– Steve Peterson

Crows Gather

Oh, crow Pascal Hassenforder via Compfight

Crows Gather

Crows gather in the woodlot
near the creek. One floats

into a tree, followed by another,
then more strung across the sky ‒

from down the valley more than a dozen
in all, caws from the last of them

puncture the orange dusk. How
like my heart, these crows that float,

that meander across the cold-blue sky
and alight in the trees, hunched and peering:

watchful, timorous.

Silence grows in the frost
on the dark side of the trunks.

– Steve Peterson

Dust

Dust StormCreative Commons License Rajiv Bhuttan via Compfight

Dust

All things are
connected, they say
even the flutter
of a butterfly’s wing can
raise a typhoon
half-way across the world.
They say the dust that
rises in the warm,
March sun was born in
the core of a distant star.
Toward the end, it burst
and scattered itself
across the galaxy and
into the house where
it collects quietly under the bed.
They say there is a
moment when the old
becomes new, when the new
becomes old again, the disconnected
reconnects. To everything
there is a season. They say ashes
to ashes, dust to dust.

– Steve Peterson