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.”
“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.
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
as if drowning. Crumble, echo, break
go to wrack. Windows
lit all night,
remember like water—be the shape
of the shore. Take
In spring tingle
yawn, find others, eat when you’re hungry.
Heed my yes, take up space.
“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
“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
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 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
Change for the better not worse
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,
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 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 cursing fate.
This, our job, to get through.
Gaining in midst of the mass of stuff
For net gain, forsaking loss.
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
By Marilynne Thomas Walton
I talk a lot to widows.
They tell me things,
like leaves, torn
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
to give birth at Bdote
seventeen thousand Dakota grandmothers and grandfathers, women and children
marched after the war from the
To two-and-a-half acres in the
three to four would die
the soldiers would descend the hillside
to collect the dead
When the grandmothers and
the way their bodies had been treated
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
return a wealthy man
he declared Bar Kokhba the Messiah
not Jesus of Nazarene
Because Bar Kokhba fought for the
amidst the death throes of a
world that would shake Akiva
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
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
By Verne Jones
A wild bush without restraint
Shaped by mother nature
CLIP, CLIP, CLIP
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.
CLIP, CLIP, CLIP,
The pruning of a human takes a village,
Clip! – Family dynamics
Clip! – Religious mores, values,
Clip! – Educational bias
Clip! – Social mores, customs
CLIP, CLIP, CLIP
The sculptured human, pleasing to the Tribe,
Polished and compliant.
The spirit confined, meeting the mold
But not extinguished
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.
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.