Thoughtful poems mark Bugle contest

By Michael Kleber-Diggs
Bugle poetry judge

This year the Park Bugle invited its readers to submit poems on the themes of adversity, challenge, change, endurance or perseverance.

Sixteen thoughtful poems were submitted, and they explored the themes in their own unique ways. The Bugle asked me to serve as contest judge.

There is a poem about the weight of grief, a poem where beauty in nature is invaded by pandemic concerns, a lovely piece about childhood imagination and a tight consideration of white privilege.

I read a tight, meditative poem about weather and earth and possibility, a prose poem and a haiku stanza poem. The pandemic and the possibility of escape is seen in the months of the year and as seasons pass, widows converse while a flower is pressed, a familiar avenue is offered as a way to view a life and time.

There’s a thoughtful and insightful poem about Minnesota history and God, and a musical and sonic suggestion about how best to live. In the order I read them, the submissions ended with a smart prose poem featuring Frederick Douglass and an inventive visual metaphor for the circular nature of memory.

After a few reads through, six or so poems stood out for me. I had a difficult time picking a winner among them and even more difficulty picking which poems would finish second and third and which ones would be left outside the top three. I find myself grateful for every poem shared and for all the ideas and possibilities they advance.

First place—“Gaia Speaks: How to Stand with Me”

Beyond its necessary messages about self care and abundance, noticing and surrender, I admire this piece for its cadences and sounds and for its structure. We can’t withstand challenging times, we can’t face adversity and persevere, without perspective and without loving ourselves. Our world is grand. Our animal bodies are complex and prone to hunger. Let’s take it all in. Let’s indulge our senses, “give way and go under.” Let’s be grand too and epic like poetry, like life.

Second Place—“Every Day of Our Pandemic”

“. . . you look frail to me and still . . .” I felt disoriented within this lovely hectic poem. Desperate to cling to the beauty blossoming outside and constantly disrupted by reminders from our interior spaces. It felt familiar. “Every Day of Our Pandemic” articulated the compulsions of this time for me. And in the end, when, even still, the weary heart chooses again its frail beloved. Well, okay, my goodness. I’ll do that too. Let’s all do that.

Third Place—“Yurt of Memory”

The page presents many possibili­ties. English text can be read left to right and set in paragraphs or strophes, or we can arrange text to amplify our ideas. e.e. cummings and Layli Long Soldier have done this work well, so have others.

“Yurt of Memory” works so well with the idea of the page. It helps us expand what’s possible with ink and pulp. It is also a fine work away from its dazzling form—a swirling and lush poem, elegant in its phrases, inventing in its presentation, and provocative in its arguments.

Am I allowed to say I had a difficult time leaving “Resolve” on the outside looking in? Well, I did. “Resolve” makes such smart use of every word. It’s simultaneously right there and deep enough to linger.

Michael Kleber-Diggs, who lives in Como Park, is a poet, essayist and literary critic.

Bugle Poetry contest winners

Michael Kleber-Diggs, a poet and literary critic from Como Park, served as judge of the Bugle’s 11th annual poetry contest.

All poems were anonymously passed on to Michael with no knowledge of their authors.

From among 16 submissions, Kleber-Diggs chose “Gaia Speaks: How to Stand with Me” for first place. The first-place winner, Mimi Jennings, will receive $50.

Second place goes to Alice Duggan who wrote “Every Day of our Pandemic.” And third place goes to Renoir Gaither who wrote “Yurt of Memory.”

Winning Poems:

First place—

“Gaia Speaks: How to Stand with Me”
by Mimi Jennings

Croak at dawn.

Drum. Trumpet, bellow, thunder, be my voice.

Whinny, whistle, breathe

in all you need.

Glisten, swell

unfurl, snake, flourish, relish, slake, gush

dance in rain. Whirl

shake making love.

Wonder. Fall silent

listen to your stars

dream your place, tremble, kneel.

Yield, give way

go under

as if drowning. Crumble, echo, break

go to wrack. Windows

lit all night,

drift, what-if

remember like water—be the shape

of the shore. Take

no name

In spring tingle

yawn, find others, eat when you’re hungry.

Heed my yes, take up space.


Second place—

“Every Day of Our Pandemic”
by Alice Duggan

every day the flame on the stove —

oatmeal swells in the pan

every morning the windows

burst with green —

snug around our lungs

a thin tissue of safety —

upstairs an extra bed, someone

could isolate there

I plant the parade of color, under

the window a zing of white

but we could both

be sick at once

white lifts the purples and blues

those ground weavers —-

you look frail to me and still

pole beans will climb the trellis

tomatoes bloom and bear fruit

I hear myself renewing old vows

it’s you — I choose you —

weariness pulls at me it’s critical

to plant every seed

zinnias to glow beside

the gentle yellow of lilies

their green hearts

Third place

“Yurt of Memory” by Renoir Gaither

All Other Entries:

Bulk, Bulk Up

By Ted Bowman

My grandson had often spoken about bulk

It was a common term when he gave me his update:

Weight gained, weights lifted, and rotations done

Last week I bulked grief

The size and weight surpassed all previous losses

My body ached for days; it still does

I didn’t think I had it in me

It was as if I was in a gym

Moving from one regimen to another

There are many metaphors for grief

A hole, empty bed, and roller coaster

All attempts to find words for losses

Until last week, I had not thought of bulk

My athletic grandson gave me a new metaphor

I would not call it a gift

But when a grandson dies, the grief has bulk

That fills one’s body and spirit

I had few muscles for this challenge

When I bulk

I would prefer to do so voluntarily

Chips, chocolate and chilled beer

Come to mind; I know them well

I would even lift some weights

Work out on rowing machines

For my health or by doctor’s orders

But don’t ask me to bulk up on grief

The Tree House

By Jack Neely

Remember your childhood tree house hideaway?

For me it was a little kid imagination highway.

The place to repel your enemies or little brother

Who at that time pestered you, like no other.

Sometimes it was the refuge where one goes

To escape all the family’s questions and woes.

It was the place to look down: and be in control,

Free of grownups – not having to pay the little kid’s toll.

It was the place with buddies to act-out a pitched battle,

Or a quiet refuge to escape your sister’s incessant prattle.

Mom sent paper and pencil or lunch up in a pail

But she really scolded us when mud balls set sail.

We fought off marauders with slings and sneers,

And World War II enemies with rifles and bandoleers.

But today, would we be a terrorist plan-spotter,

Or ignore all the conflict and just read Harry Potter?

I’d like to climb that tree again, not so naive,

To try again to live dreams I used to believe.

But we grew up to learn much too soon,

That reality shadows them like a hazy moon.


By Anne Sisel

Admitting I have white privilege is a start

I was not taught about black history

The murder of George Floyd woke my heart

What to do should not be a mystery

Our call is to listen so we can change


By Henry Benjamin

When the clouds come

As night-blue mountains,

The wind can dance

And whisper in every shade,

The earth draws upon itself

For want of further light,

And the world appears a page

Stark and boundless,

This I will have been

The Visionary

By Ruthann Ives  

Like the branches of a tree, I reach up and spread my arms wide to take in the strength and beauty of nature. The great sky, the sun, and the fresh oxygen, all of which nourish my being.

The heart of me, my trunk, my core, honor all with love, and spread light and energy to all that sit at my roots and take refuge in my shade, my protection from rain, and contemplate that there is more out there than meets the naked eye.

The journey ahead promises growth, understanding and PURE JOY.

My roots run deep, they have been encouraged by drought to search for water, for life source, support, to encourage my whole being.

I am the beauty I’ve searched for, from my arms outstretched, to the roots of my feet.

I stand strong and take in the strength from the things that give me strength.

I stand in peace and give peace.  All that come near me find comfort.

Haiku for Change

By H. Uyen Nguyen

Oh Adversity

Oh why we have to face it

Oh what a Challenge

What does not kill us

Makes us stronger they do say

And to that I say

Possess Endurance 

Change for the better not worse 

Have Perseverance 

During COVID-19

By Marilyn Benson                                                   

I wake up at 7 am, sleeping later than usual.

I lie quietly, listening to my husband’s even breath.

But then, I remember, the virus is here.

My breath leaves me.

I want the seeming safety of sleep.

I remember those mornings twenty-five years ago

         when I woke up happy,

And then remembered

         that I had breast cancer.

That this new day was chemo number three or four or five,

Or that today was the mammogram.

But those years did pass,

         and I am here.

Last spring in Covid 19 time I walked.

I visited the animals at the university barns,

         the ewes and their forty-nine lambs,

The Holstein calves and their mothers.

I talked to them, asked them how they were doing,

They do not wonder what is next.

March, April, May, June, July, every day I walked.

The magnolias blossoms fell.

Lilacs and redbud faded.

The small spread of prairie bloomed with bee balm,

         and milkweed,

The trees flourished.

I learned the difference among oaks,

         by their leaves— white, red, and burr.

I read that the larch drops its needles in autumn.

One morning I found the lone black walnut tree,

         allelopathic, toxic to other plants.

August, September, October, November,

The leaves fall.

December, January, February, March,

I walk.

I watch for ice.

I wait for green.

I go back to the animals who are not reminded

of the virus wherever they turn.

Sometimes on my morning walks,

I can almost believe that the virus is not here.

Working Through It

By Wally Borner


Working through the barriers

         Whether from self

              or fractured community

                 or nature’s foibles.

To persevere through all

         No self pity

             no blame

                 no cursing fate.

This, our job, to get through.


         Gaining in midst of the mass of stuff

             Following through,

                 helping out


For net gain, forsaking loss.

         No lethargy,

             no victims,

                 no ignoring.

That, our goal, to set aright.


         Victory, not from defeat, but giving up.




Nothing new under the sun,

         It’s  common to man,

             it’s “why not me,”

                 it’s finding the best.

Here, well lived, memories left

Widow Talk

By Marilynne Thomas Walton

I talk a lot to widows.

They tell me things,

like leaves, torn

bleeding from

red thorned trees.

I press their words

in old phone books

till they are marrowless,

chewed juiceless and sallow.

They spew their words painfully:

“my beloved Rudy…,”

or, “I held him in my arms,

and sang a child’s German hymn.”

One woman saw her late husband

as a strange bird outside her

cottage-curtained kitchen window.

(I forgot to ask what he was singing.)

Now the time of talking is ended.

I shake out the dried words

and they crumple like disgruntled children

 flinging themselves to the rumpled

bedspread of nutmeg ground.

Soon the words will have blown away,

bit by bit.  And then all our widows’ words

will have commingled into

a blue silk sky, clasping

the golden marble of the Sun.

The Avenue Extends

By Michael Whitney

This avenue extends east west

diagonal across its own morning shadows.

Too long to walk at once, I can go halfway.

Take a break, have a snack,

hum a tune, catch a breath,

watch a bus, a car, a bike, a car,

two cardinals defend against a chattering jay.

Ready again, this avenue extends

by windows of stores and shops and shops and boutiques

marts quickie and speedy, convenient and easy.

Homes and houses, churches’ church basements,

church basements’ funeral luncheons.

I am tired and exhausted

but always make it halfway.

Rub my feet, rest my head,

ration a snack, catch a breath

Watch a preschool parade

young friends with always a straggler to encourage

reach their own church basement long before

The noon sun disappears all tiny shadows.

Inspired and encouraged, ineffably supported,

ready again to walk halfway.

Evening remembrance along the coliseum

twilight of the last fair day.

Limp-limbed kid candle waxing over parent shoulders

Goers going home tired not weary

I am a straggler, straggling

Always again make it halfway.

Rest my feet and rub my eyes

Watch a bus, a car, a car, a truck, a car, a bus, a bike

Pavement, pavement, asphalt, pavement

Too far too long cemented to the sidewalk

Portion out the final ration

tiny bite, a car, another bite, a siren

Inside chorus finds purchase in my idle

But sings no comfort of repetition:

We know your plan, graphed your progress

To eternity forever you’ll never make it.

Half of forever is nearer to nothing.

No worth halfway, no loss of the lost,

snacks unshared, breaths uncaught.

But today they are wrong and wrong and untrue,

This avenue extends today to all I can remember

praised and honored, extolled and exalted

forever and to all eternity of preschools and basement luncheons

beauty uncurated, peace unsought, unlost in repetition

forever and to all eternity who make it halfway.

The Rabbis and the Mohican Storyteller~

By Ethan Nosanow Levin

A Mohican storyteller told me

A Dakota woman would walk for

three days

to give birth at Bdote

seventeen thousand Dakota grandmothers and grandfathers, women and children

marched after the war from the

Western frontier

To two-and-a-half acres in the

valley there

every day

three to four would die

the soldiers would descend the hillside

to collect the dead

When the grandmothers and

grandfathers heard

the way their bodies had been treated

in Mankato

They buried their own

in the mud under the


The rabbis told me that a man named Akiva

Left his wife to live in squalor

So he could read a book in the

wilderness and

return a wealthy man

he declared Bar Kokhba the Messiah

not Jesus of Nazarene

Because Bar Kokhba fought for the

people then,

amidst the death throes of a

world that would shake Akiva

into confidence

that a man could save a people

and a land from its own


To survive among the other and

return a wealthy man

It was a wealthy man, said the Mohican storyteller, who corrupted and named corruption for himself, the names of our homestead, Ramsey and Sibley

they propagated the roots a decade


for the tree that would bear fruit a

decade later

They would harvest to the benefit of the Nations

to the detriment of its leaves

And the rabbis still teach

Of Akiva and his wealth of Torah

of his insistence to study

Upon pain of death by Turnus Rufus

upon the impression of pins and needles

He was able to let leave his lips

The last call to listen

Adonai echad

The Pruning

By Verne Jones

A wild bush without restraint

Shaped by mother nature


Now a geometric form,

Shorn but not diminished,

The wild instinct prevails,

For now, a gift for a discerning eye,

 a job for the sculptor.


The pruning of a human takes a village,

Clip! – Family dynamics

Clip! – Religious mores, values,

Clip! – Educational bias

Clip! – Social mores, customs


The sculptured human, pleasing to the Tribe,

Polished and compliant.

The spirit confined, meeting the mold

But not extinguished

Untitled UUn

By Barry Carter

The shadow of a finger moves through a dream that passes through angels with black wings assembled like numbers on a clock, their eyes are opened by slumbering echoes of chains and locks. The legacy of Frederick Douglass remains, fists must rise with the ghost of George Floyd to interrupt the finger that will rewind the clock of racial consciousness.
Frederick Douglases words breathe through pages of books.

Atlanta graves of murdered children, Ku Klux clan chandeliers. Winds return like books to streets, crevices, forests collapsing mountains grieve. Between launch and impact angels reenact the lives of slaves as bullet kills Martin Luther King.

Divine waters of heavens birthing pool in the eyes of an unborn child to find different coloured versions of progeny, Douglass walks arm in arm across water with incarnations.

The moon fades in a raven’s eyes as it gazes upon a child in the ghetto who doesn’t see the snowman he has built, crying. History dissolves in propagandas cup as polemicists trample the earth to produce their wine. Young radicals are the prayers of an abolitionist listening somewhere.

The Flood

By Susan Warde

What with this wet weather

I’m building me an ark

and loading it with two of each:

matched brass candlesticks,

book ends and my slippers,

a couple of dinner plates in case

some pirate boards my ship. 

And if not pairs then complements:

that brown bowl fissured 

by age and a wooden spoon;

a cup and saucer for my morning coffee,  

a tulip and a vase to put it in.  

I’ll take a footstool, and a rocking chair 

that, placed upon the deck,

will tilt with each wave’s swell. 

I’ll need some music, too, and so 

I’ll pack the purl of robins

and the crows’ cacophony 

to amend the endless thrashing 

and the silence of the sea.

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