A great garden of verse: Read all the entries from our 2018 poetry contest

After spending several days poring over the 24 poems submitted to the Bugle’s 2018 poetry contest, our judge, Naomi Cohn, summed up her task with this: “What a great crop of poems!”

The prompt for this year’s contest was “cultivation,” and the poems were judged anonymously by Cohn, a St. Anthony Park poet and creator of Known by Heart, an enterprise that brings writing experiences to older adults and people with disabilities.

Cohn chose a first-, second- and third-place poem, but “there were so many poems that tempted me in one way or another,” she said. “Cultivation was a rich theme and a lot of different pieces called to me.”

Like the first-place poem—“At the season’s first outdoor farmers market in Minnesota” by Sarah Clark—“there’s always more gorgeous produce than I can possibly take home,” Cohn said. “These poems feel like a small sample of the variety of what poems can do for us, what people can do with a poem.”

Cohn’s first-place choice is a poem that “captures in image and form the giddy exuberance of an important moment in our seasonal calendar,” Cohn wrote. “I love the image of people ‘diving into buckets of rhubarb’ and how ‘Peapods inspire ravenous, flirty lines’ plays around with both writing and the long lines at the farmer’s market. The writer uses the pantoum and its repetition to good effect, but mostly this poem just makes me impatient for the first outdoor farmers market of the season.”

The second-place poem, “Bidding Farewell to Gibbs-Nelson (Northwest) Greenhouses” by Neil O. Anderson “called to me with its voice, abundant detail and unique perspective on the history of a particular patch of ground in our local landscape,” Cohn wrote. “A poem can’t preserve a building, but this writer is helping the history of a place live on.”

Rose Gregoire’s “Valentine’s Day” took third place. “Kudos to this writer for tackling current events and the perennial question of how we each, individually, respond to the incomprehensible,” Cohn wrote. “I connected to the honest voice, the sense of truth, in this poem, how for this writer, the path through is in ordinary acts and language.”

We gave Cohn the leeway to choose honorable mentions in the entries, but she chose not to “because there would have been too many.”

She’s right. A great crop of poems was entered in this year’s contest. And here they are:

 

First place

At the season’s first out-door farmers market in Minnesota (a pantoum)

Spring is exploding with asparagus.

In the North, we are over winter’s old menu ­—

now old men dive into buckets of red rhubarb.

Peapods inspire ravenous, flirty lines.

We are trading old winter’s menu for

new baskets of mizuna, arugula, green garlic, and spinach.

Peapods inspire ravenous, sultry lines.

I am seduced by radishes

and feel dizzy from baskets of mizuna, arugula, green garlic and spinach.

Wild ramps and morels are more fleeting than gold.

I am seduced by radishes

and the spring wind’s warm caress.

Wild ramps and morels are more fleeting than gold.

And now old women too dive into buckets of rhubarb

reveling in the spring’s wild caress.

Spring is exploding with asparagus.

Sarah Clark

 

 

Second place

Bidding Farewell To Gibbs-Nelson (Northwest) Greenhouses

St. Paul Campus, University of Minnesota

Corner of Cleveland and Larpenteur Avenues

1/11/05

 

Seems like yesterday—maybe today—

that we moved the mum flats

into the southern bay at the northwest greenhouses

—hauling them out of the snow-covered

hot bed frames

every February,

forcing out green shoots

for cuttings to root

and grow again in fields

of St. Paul, Morris, Grand Rapids, Waseca,

Crookston, and Lamberton for the breeding program—

only to dig them again,

lay to rest until forcing time

in yesterday’s Februaries.

The circle is broken—

now you’re to be torn down.

I’ve snuck inside to have one last glimpse,

catch the voices speaking

now that the heating pipes are forever quiet.

The dripping water, running from mum flats

through the transite benches to rock-covered floors,

is tentative—on edge.

I hear scuffling footsteps of Dr. Widmer—

my dear advisor—whose gentleness in hand

on shoulder speaks in holiness:

“True, these houses were old and leaky

but they got us through the 1950’s,

year-after-year ‘til now.”

“These are our roots,”

gently pulling a crown out of the flat

“while they’re still white, alive

plant them in your soul.

There to grow and bind, nourish togetherness.”

 

2

Now, I pause in thoughtfulness

and wonder

what and how I should tell you—

my new Greenhouse Management students—

of the northwest greenhouses rooted in me,

reverberating in our brand-new,

state-of-the-art greenhouses—

a century beyond Gibbs-Nelson and Dr. Widmer.

Fill our eyes, ears, heads, hand

with the deliberateness of well-rooted perennials

so that,

when turning on the water spigot one last time,

the watering hose fills and floods across our lives

and, at our feet,

encircles our roots we send down

to anchor us

in a sense of place.

— Neil O. Anderson

 

Third Place

Valentine’s Day

The world is spinning in my head

A day of cards, flowers, love
Hate, hurricanes, famine, fire
Glaciers melting
Oceans rising
Seventeen dead in school shooting.

And I must vote, march, pray, witness
Feed my family, pay the bills
Fix the faucet, write to Congress
Repair a rip
And mend my world

The world is spinning in my head
Around the sun among the stars
Until a crack of sunlight
Floods my eyes
I walk the dog, talk to neighbors
Feel the warmth of coming spring
Cultivate calm, focus, faith
Grow a small hope

— Rose Gregoire

 

the plow

brother, put forth your plow.

sink your steel in the flesh of the earth,

refresh the sweat on your brow.

let the harrow reveal

the worth of your debt. an acre may heal,

but seldom forget.

sister, sow the grain.

scatter your seed in the vein

of each row, and never mind the crows

and their chatter. they know not the will of the rain,

nor the grace of your growth or

the face of your strain.

reaper, abandon the chaff.

leave half of the seed, and on the land

your epitaph. what do you need?

your scythe is your ink,

your honor your toil.

are your spoils what you think?

is your harvest at hand?

you are the beholder;

do your shoulders ache?

let your pain recoil

and your burden

burn —

burn —

burn —

with midnight oil

let your hunger smolder

and your spirit quake,

and turn, in its wake,

the soil

that makes you

—sharon perrone

 

 

Cresco, Iowa

That is a country of old men; in land

Aged, rooted as gnarled trees, in soil

Once reaching skyward tall, striving to stand

Against storms, now bent from years of toil.

Acres of corn, cattle at his command,

Now the combine rusts, the tractor needs oil.

Growth harvests into death, tattered scarecrows,

Wrinkles of strength, but the trembling now shows.

 

Days, like dirt, slip through his hand unheeded

Eased with talk and beers and friends in their bars,

Lonely, dying, useless, not now needed

Caught in old houses like preserves in jars

That She once canned, from gardens She seeded.

Caught by the earth, river wind, sun and stars;

Waiting out the end like corn, autumn’s head-high:

To be born, to grow deep roots and to die.

 

Dawn begins to color lightly the sky.

By the grey ashes of the night’s fire

Two young lovers wrapt in each other lie

Trickt by summer’s long, long days, the gyre

Seems suspended, stopt for them ever by

Youth, summer, love.  But each is a liar.

See in the old man’s failing eyes, he knows

This is his home, old land.  The season goes…

— Nan Hackett

 

 

Cultivating Gratitude

With appreciation to columnist Ellen Goodman

 

Years ago, the columnist wrote

When grateful begins to grate

A title some call a grabber

It grabbed my naïve self-assurance

 

She wrote appreciatively of her man

The one doing so much more

Than earlier men would ever do

She was grateful and she was mad

 

That she was still the reminder person

For what seemed like obvious tasks

Pick up milk, get toilet paper

Grateful had begun to grate

 

For years since that column

Grumpy and grateful

Described my waffling reactions

Her words had pricked my maleness

 

To ponder long held male patterns

And womanly reminder traditions

Gender tensions were being stirred

The columnist’s voice is still heard

 

Can men walk the talk I asked

Can the road not taken for years

Become a pathway to gratitude

Where grateful begins to grow

 

Yes, gratitude can expire

Like the slow leak of a tire

Relationships erode over time

You never see it coming

 

Gratitude requires cultivation

Acts of kindness can become common

Words and deeds can become congruent

“Thanks for helping” becomes circular

 

Educators write about life-long learning

The class is called cultivating gratitude

The male I was would think this poem strange

The man that male became is grateful it is

 

—Ted Bowman

 

 

Elegy for Edward Jucht

They had their children late in life.
Ed died at sixty-nine, his wife
a widow for some thirty years.
I was too young to shed the tears
a grandson should, too young to miss
a man I barely knew, to kiss
his forehead at the funeral home.
They dug the South Dakota loam
he’d cultivated all his days
then lowered him a little ways
beneath the surface of the earth
that kindly nurtured him from birth.

He was a tiller of the soil
his life a testament to toil.
He caught an amber wave and rode
it to the end. All that he sowed
was promised to the fruited plain.
From spacious skies he welcomed rain
to which was added each day’s part
of pain and pleasure. He knew the art
of wresting from the clotted clay
his daily bread. He knew the way
to win a nation’s heart was through
its furrowed fields plowed straight and true.

Great ziggurats of bales stand guard
over his sepulcher. His scarred
and weathered hands are finally still.
The road that always wound uphill
has ended in a field that needs
no plow nor disc nor rake nor seeds.
The angels bear his soul away
to where no weed or blight can stay.
The prairie sings a lullaby.
Never too cold or hot, the eye
of heaven shines upon the face
of one who’s found his resting place.

— Dave Healy

 

Incidentals

The route grows fresh with each detour.

Peace tells the same lies as wars.

Upstairs overstays the welcome of downstairs.

Solitude gentrifies dreams.

 

The minority deadheads the majority.

Laughter gins capriciousness.

Kindness circumscribes malevolence.

Infinity curates ephemerality.

 

Haves cleave to have-nots.

Never hoodwinks always.

Stillness decants realpolitik.

Cobwebs even odds.

— Renoir Gaither

 

 

Music for My Love

I play

 

She listens from her jumper

Keeping the beat

Bouncing

 

The keys rise and fall,

Melodies familiar and old—

Bach and Chopin for me

Mozart’s “Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman” for her

 

No longer content to listen

I lift her out

She crawls, stands and reaches,

Resting her hands on

One, two, three keys

 

She plays

— Megan Crosby

 

 

Inside This Box

Seems there’s a bear sitting beside us.

Somewhat aloof. Reads a thick text,

 

here in the dark.

 

Our tea is cold, our pie lacking.

Some growth in crumbs

 

doesn’t excite us. Now a bull gores the

steep cardboard sides. He is the cause

 

of our spilled tea.

 

The bear puts his textbook aside.

Bites the bull’s neck, who bleeds

on the floor.

 

It’s why they call it The Dismal Science.

 

If, going forward, in the fourth quarter,

we get ourselves outside this box —

 

where it’s become a little bit sticky —

we’ll go plant some peas and potatoes,

 

shall we?

— Alice O. Duggan

 

Seeds

The seeds of love were sown

long before we met

when the stars and our souls aligned

on some unknown celestial plane

a spiritual contract was signed

 

We came together in this life

as ever, fully human

a cosmic collision of hearts ensued

as we joined in perfect union

 

Fulfilling this life’s promise

of amends

we hugged and held on fiercely

savoring salvation once again

 

Cultivating those loving seeds

like a skillful master gardener

we saw to their every need

with warmth, nourishment and water

 

Our tree of life flourished

often rooting through rocky soil

buds bloomed, leaves fell

life cycles no climate could despoil

 

At this advanced and wizened age

I will probably leave you first

knowing what few know

for what all others thirst

 

Love is love

in the relativity

of space and time

I am yours

and you are infinitely mine.

— B. H. Nicholson

 

 

There Is a Certain Something

There is that one thing that distinguishes

An educated, thoughtful person from a

Brash man child or buffoon.

A certain … I don’t know what.

A thing that causes pauses, teaches, induces reflection.

 

It’s hard to put your finger on,

Like the most pliant and soothing gel.

It’s hard to define it, but you can see it

In kindness, consideration, respect for the elderly and vulnerable

Among us.

 

To tell you something I do know:

With great power comes great responsibility.

You can see it when a big, powerful school boy

Takes a frail waif under his wing, protects him,

Or shields her from harm.

 

A refined bearer of arms knows more

Than how to work his gun, more than

How to hit her target.

In those absent few there is a grudging understanding

Of paranoia, of history, of our forbears’

Colonial status.

 

It never dawns, that

All decent men detest weapons,

That fear mongering reaps the whirlwind,

That you can take everything away from many people with one bullet,

Or just by pointing a gun.

But you can not take away my education, or that thing that

Keeps me human. That … I don’t know what.

— Paul Picard

 

[no title]

We met on a brittle Sunday

in January weather, dark and dripping

With crafty ice on the sloping stair

of the path downhill, and the wintry air

songless, but for crows.

 

In April, the sun was higher.

You were brisk with life and humming

an antique air grown green and new

while I stood, fretful. This much to do

before the season’s close…

 

Through Summer our friendship thickened

and held me to earth. You, airward turning

abandoned earlier cautious sowing

and I observe these, wildly growing:

thorns absent a rose.

 

October comes; the song is muffled

with gold brocade. The leaves cascade

one on another, their warp and weft

obscure all effort, and I am left

to wonder how it goes…

Did I look for you, my fickle, floral friend –

Or did the garden choose me, in the end?

— Andrea Blain

 

The Planter

All day yesterday

I was an old woman

in a Millet painting—

Sowing, reaping;

I scatter seeds out

of a cloud of

white cotton apron.

Falling from tributaries

of my blue veined hands

I throw them, fling

as if I had spring chickens

to feed.

 

The dead forsythia

does not care

with its closed yellow eyelids

over in a fence corner,

blinded by day or night,

if the rain never comes.

Pushing my little crescent seeds

on end like boys in mud

turning tumbling cartwheels.

Laughing, see what

the old woman

has done.

— Marilynne Walton

 

 

Palimpsest

For decades she has scribbled in her yard:

composed a text of shrubs and trees,

spelled out beds of bulbs, deleted

at a stroke an element

of irises and planted trumpet

lilies in their stead. Glossy

rhododendrons glow in shady spots,

and scrawls of phlox and daisies in the sun.

Early drafts still trace the plot.

The curve beneath the oak reads

as clear as when it first was dug.

A birdbath crowns a stubborn stump

and stones now sunk and mossy

mark amidst the ferns an older path

that leads to compost and the potting shed.

Revised, the garden’s grown in beauty.

 

Not so the gardener. Her face is slumped

and furrowed, rewritten by the years.

Another author’s been at work, inscribed

those arcane hieroglyphs, though

hints of former selves are seen,

early chapters of her youth:

the same sharp nose that sniffs, appreciative,

a lilac’s brief perfume, and wideset eyes

that, narrowed in the slanting sun, assess

the placement of a yellow rose.

— Susan Warde

 

 

On Checking the Crocuses in Spring

He gives her his arm, and she leans against him.

They descend the stairs one at a time.

They’re checking to see how the crocuses are,

They need to know that they’re doing fine.

 

Esch spring for the last fifty-four years,

They’ve watched the crocuses sprout.

Every April they’ve come to gaze

As the blooms appear without a doubt.

 

Two grey heads bend over to check the yellow spears

That he only yesterday,

While cleaning the yard of winder’s debris,

Released from their blanket of hay.

 

How many more springs will they get to do this?

How many more will I be allowed to watch them?

—Betty Lotterman

  

Changes

The willow tree branches twisted like a vine.

New fresh green buds emerged on every branch.

The buds opened like a caterpillar cocoon.

Inside was a blanket of dainty, silk petals.

The blooms sprang out from every direction like a butterfly.

The rain fell delicately on each petal,

Leaving a crystal gem of dew.

The days past, gust of winds whistled through the winding branches.

The silk blooms fell to the ground below.

In their place sprouted out red, yellow and orange,

Making the tree look no more delicate,

But a blaze of fire.

The bright glow of fire started to dim with each day,

Until the glow was replaced with ashes.

The willow had no more delicacy or glow,

But stood naked in the winter frost.

Yet it stood firm in its place,

Rooted deep in the ground.

 

Changes may come to a man

Just as a tree grows through seasons,

Yet he remains rooted, deep in the ground.

— Melissa Morrison


A Cultivated Villanelle

Invention is the modern norm,
(Make it new, wrote Ezra Pound)
Yet I love traditional form.

I love a haiku. Autumn midnight storm,/
Mt. Fuji echoes thunder!/ Rain on leafy ground.
I love invention, it’s the modern norm,

Yet I love a tanka too. Autumn midnight storm,/
Thunder clapping with one hand,/ Rain on leafy ground,/
My kimono’s wet! I love/ Traditional uniform.

Triolet? Love her too. Autumn midnight storm,/
Rain on leafy ground,……Refrains abound.
By the way, I love invention, it’s the modern norm,

Yet I love a sonnet too. Autumn midnight storm,
Rain on leafy ground/ Flushes out the round-
Worm whom I love,/ Tradition calls her vermiform……

And how I love a villanelle to keep me warm
These autumn nights when thunderclaps resound!
I LOVE INVENTION!/ Have I told you by the way/ It’s the modern norm? Yet I
LOVE TRADITIONAL FORM.

— Michael Penfield

 

 

‘Neighborly Day’

Wagon wheels rollin’ over concrete cracks,

Chatty girls, jumping rope ’n’ playing jacks,

Baby strollers bouncing by,

Boys on skateboards appear to fly,

Runners jog ’n’ bob and weave en route,

Kids on Rollerblades — squeal and shout,

Dogs on leashes wag and scamper,

Nearby flowerbeds, grandmas pamper,

Sidewalk sales and sidewalk chalk,

Mommy groups on the go, laugh and talk,

Children skipping ’cross the lawn,

Purring kittens stretch and yawn,

A fresh lemonade stand down the block,

Come on, neighbors, let’s take a walk,

Scooters, skates ’n plastic swimming pools,

Grandpa’s sprucin’ up the ol gardening tools,

Friendly families out barbecuing,

Just one more “Neighborly Day” worthwhile doing . . .

—Cindy Speltz

 

 

To the Woods I Go

To the woods I go to feel all of the energy that surrounds the forest

To the woods I go to imagine a world better for those who live in it

To the woods I go to let out all of the feelings I have kept bottled up inside

To the woods I go to listen to the birds chirping like a thousand tiny bells,

the trees swaying like waves in the ocean, and the wind howling like wolves

at the moon

To the woods I go to wonder of what the future may bring

To the woods I go to believe that there is good in even the worst of people

To the woods I go to cope with the deaths of the people I loved the most

To the woods I go to dream of a better future for all

To the woods I go to witness the cycle of life, to death, to life again

To the woods I go to read stories read many times before

To the woods I go to be me, just me, only me

—Braden Hubert

 

[no title]

My Dad worked on the St. Paul campus at the U. Started as a young man in 1924; ended @ 65 in 1971- Had to take 2 years off for WWII from 1944-46. Drafted into the army @ 36, the last and oldest group to go. Found out later, young men called him Grandpa. Meanwhile at home Mom and the 2 young girls 7 & 10 had to make due, took in washing, did cleaning and sold the car. Rcvd a pewter plate for all his years (47) which has a place of honor in our home.

Moved to Lauderdale in 1939 from the west side of St. Paul to be closer to the U. Took the street car all those years, a nickel each way, didn’t have to pay to park.

Horticulture was his game, even answered the home phone that way when he forgot. “Horticulture Greenhouse”

He was in charge of the fields along Larpenteur Ave. In order to plan for retirement built a greenhouse in our backyard in 1960. Ran it with Mom working by his side for 19 years. His dream of a lifetime fulfilled.

He loved his job at the U, in charge of students growing experimental crops; he mentored them all & taught them what to do including a 10 no trump game or two at lunch. Even taught Dr. Leon Schneider, they became fast friends to the end.

Eventually became Head Gardener; the entire farm campus was his domain; loved it like his own.

The church was full on that last day to honor the man who taught them all he knew.

When I drive by Larpenteur Ave. today I imagine a man cultivating fields on his tractor giving me a wave as I go by.

— Coreen S. Blau

 

 

Amazing Glaze

Inspired by our recent snow/sleet/ice storms

 

Amazing glaze how slick the walk

That failed a wretch like me!

Once I was up

Now I’m down

’Til a poor lad

rescues me!

—Ilze Bakuzis

 

 

Smile Smile, Who’s Got a Smile

A Bit of Nonsense, A Bit of Dirt

for Jude

 

Let’s see what I can cultivate today

By goofing off

 

Practical smiling til it felt natural

Dialed it down to amusement

By looking sideways

That produced a slightly downward angle

Toward the rest of the world

A frown

Not what I was looking for

 

So back to the mirror

Copying my smile from an old photo

I had to laugh and lo and behold my smile appeared

 

Then I got my pick and shovel

And went into the garden

Where real cultivation happens

Being in the overw;helming

Realm of Nature

I don’t just smile

I beam

—Cam Cardelli

 

Seeds

The seeds of love were sown

long before we met

when the stars and our souls aligned

on some unknown celestial plane

a spiritual contract was signed

 

We came together in this life

as ever, fully human

a cosmic collision of hearts ensued

as we joined in perfect union

 

Fulfilling this life’s promise

of amends

we hugged and held on fiercely

savoring salvation once again

 

Cultivating those loving seeds

like a skillful master gardener

we saw to their every need

with warmth, nourishment and water

 

Our tree of life flourished

often rooting through rocky soil

buds bloomed, leaves fell

life cycles no climate could despoil

 

At this advanced and wizened age

I will probably leave you first

knowing what few know

for what all others thirst

 

Love is love

in the relativity

of space and time

I am yours

and you are infinitely mine.

 

 

 

 

 

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