The Swim Mask

Did you take delight in the sound
of the belt on my bare legs?
Did the red welts please you?
Did you hear my stifled weeping and rejoice?

Or were you just grouchy for having
to welcome
us into your home
—you can’t turn family away, after all—
resentful of having your space invaded
while Mom and Dad got back on their feet?

Would it matter to you now, after 35 years,
if I told you
what I told you then?

Auntie, the lens of the swim mask
was already coming
out of the gasket,
and I was only trying to fix it.

No, I wasn’t hiding it behind my back
I was to blame—
I was hiding it for the same reason
prey conceals itself from the predator.


Blue mist, bluer stillness,
rising up
from the hollow

to the ridge where I wait
not wanting to return
to the blue house

on the hillside where
he still sits inside shaking
from the effort of squeezing

my throat until I turned
blue in the face and finally
he let go and I left with

nothing but a pair of blue
jeans, huddled here turning
blue as the night chill

comes on, night coming
to hide the guarded faces
of those who hear and know

and do nothing but sit behind
windows translucent-blue
with age and wear

and hope that someone,
somewhere, sometime
will do more than hope.

School Days

I pass them every morning now
as they wait for the belching yellow bus,
standing sheep-like in sociable little groups.

Others wait off to the side,
weighed down by heavy books
or ill-fitting years, the “strange ones,”

and I find myself hoping they haven’t
quietly discovered the secret
we grownups desperately try to keep—

that we are thrown into this world
by some comical god
or chancy Randomness;

that we are all just trying to make
our dizzy way through life
knowing nothing much will come of it.

The Chase

           Squeezed tight
in the corner

beating hard

           in my temples,
a strange mixture

           of delight
and fear,

           the thrill
of the chase

           or of being chased,
these childhood games

survival instinct,

           skills essential
in this universe

           where everything
is out to get us.

           Perhaps this is why
I still always sit

           with my back
against the wall.

Rejoice With Them That Do Rejoice, and Weep With Them That Weep

I learnt pretty quick that some ways
of acting don’t go over
with just everybody, like that time
Mr. Wayne came to the church picnic
grinning and bouncing
up and down on springy legs
and I thought What fun Mr. Wayne
is a-having, and I couldn’t figure out
why Miss Wayne, his wife and pillar of faith,
was mad as a fire ant and seemed
to be wanting him to leave.
I said, Look at Mr. Wayne,
Mama, he’s having hisself a time,
and Mama’s face got hard
like the Heavenly God’s
on Reckoning Day, and she
shooed me away.

I caught on that Mr. Wayne’s
happiness likely came from
that flat bottle in his hip pocket,
and when they finally got him
to leave, pretty quiet considering,
I thought that if they’d seen
what I’d seen, Mr. Wayne
standing in a dusty furrow
beside his old blue tractor,
and he never saw me but I
watched him standing still a good long while
with him just looking up, and me thinking
of all this and I wondered if maybe
they should’ve let Mr. Wayne
bounce and grin a spell.

For dVerse Poetics. Claudia is hosting tonight, allowing us to exercise our storytelling skills. She has a whole long list of subjects or objects to include in our stories; I chose the tractor and the liquor bottle. Those two things just jumped out at me, reminding me of an episode of my childhood, and the story kind of wrote itself from there. We also had the option to go fairy-tale with this, but I opted not to take that route. I’ve been working (none too swiftly) on a series of poems in this particular voice of a rural boy, trying to remember the sentence phrasing and cadence of my childhood. Seemed to be a good choice to narrate this story. Stop by dVerse, check out Claudia’s prompt, and tell us a story!


Alan Shapiro: Now


Alan Shapiro


my daughter on the swing explained,
“doesn’t exist,” and she leaned back
and kicked her legs out and swung
the swing up high and higher toward
the lowest branch whose tip bent
slightly as a finch alighted. “How so?”
I asked, and she said, “Well, Daddy,
because now is the past of soon, and soon’s
no sooner now than it’s just now,
which is then, which then makes soon
a not yet now, and now a not yet then.”
She laughed, and the chain ropes
she was clutching leaning backward 
tightened straight out at the apex
of the upswing, her tiptoes
each time closer to the branch 
whose tip bent under the finch
when he was there, then trembled
for a moment after when he wasn’t.

–Alan Shapiro

Poppy’s Brush Pile


Poppy’s Brush Pile

Poppy liked to tell the story
about the time he did a little
yard cleaning and had a grand old pile
of brush and leaves, probably
about ten feet high more than likely,
and reckoned he couldn’t
bag it all, that Ketchem’s
didn’t have enough bags to sell
even if he’d wanted to, so he
figured on it awhile and settled on
a big burning as the best way—
shortly the pile would be gone,
and while it was a-going he could
set on the porch and just watch.

So he took a dry bunch of leaves
up under the pile and dropped
his half-smoked Marlboro.
One tiny spark and a smidgen
of smoke and nothing else.
Well, this ain’t working
worth shooting, he said.
Then he went to the porch
and got a-hold of the morning paper,
crinkled it all up, stuffed it
in the pile and lit a match.
The paper burnt quick
and awful hot but petered out
before doing its business—
‘bout like my pecker, Poppy said—
so he went back to figuring.

Then he remembered that five-gallon can
of regular gasoline he had sitting
in the shed, and he wasn’t about
to let a damned brush pile
make a fool of him. He took the can
and scrabbled to the top, standing
like the precious good Lord
come again on Mount Olive,
and dumped the gas all over the pile.

‘Course it took awhile to pour
five gallons, so in the meantime
the fumes worked their way
all into the little pockets
of air. As you might guess
but Poppy didn’t, not quite yet,
when the match was dropped
the blast blowed him
clear into the flower bed,
heels heavenward. He said he smelt
singed ass-hairs for two weeks after.

He liked to tell this story and say,
See there, honey, even if you reckon
you got the best idea, you still
might want to figure awhile.

For dVerse Meeting the Bar. I have been absent from the bar for a few months, and sincerely missed everyone. Peak season at work, tons of overtime. I still was able to do a fair amount of reading, but very little writing. Just couldn’t find the motivation, the inspiration, the whatever it is that makes me put pen to paper and try to make sense of my world. 
Anyway, our host Tony Maude has us hearkening back to previous prompts, and since I missed so many I felt a lot of freedom. This poem is meant for the prompt Victoria offered, in which she invited us to write close to home, personal, in the common speech of daily life. I actually had another poem ready that I wrote last night, but things happened and I didn’t submit. Then as I was falling asleep I thought about this story, so I wrote it out this morning. 

Jane Kenyon: In the Grove

(Image from:

In the Grove: The Poet at Ten

She lay on her back in the timothy
and gazed past the doddering
auburn heads of sumac.

A cloud–huge, calm,
and dignified–covered the sun
but did not, could not, put it out.

The light surged back again.

Nothing could rouse her then
from that joy so violent
it was hard to distinguish from pain.

              –Jane Kenyon


I return today to Shingle Creek,
walking in the fine fall afternoon
alone. Wading through the shallows
to the east bank, right where the creek
cuts close to the old Bronson place,
I feel like the last ancient Israelite
crossing the Red Sea, barely ahead
of Pharaoh’s chariots.
                                     Crouching low
under the barb-wire fence I swish
through the shin-high grass, the humming
dragonflies hunting insects, shining
their blues and greens
in the lowering sun.
                                 I hear
a tractor in the distance, the rumble
carrying far in the clear air,
and I think about that day
we ran, you and I, making paths
through the field, pretending we were
dirt bike champions, shifting gears
by the rising tone of our growls.
For hours we ran, stopping just to catch
a lazy red corn snake sunning
on a sweetgum stump.
                                     I know
that with these old knees
I couldn’t run like that now, not by
any luck or necessity; and you,
old friend, only in memory
will ever run here again.
For dVerse MeetingTheBar. We are writing about friends, friendship, loss, in honor of Dave King. Dave was a regular contributor to the online poetry world (at least until his health limited his participation), and his kindness and craft will be missed.

Maureen Ash: Church Basement

Ted Kooser is not only a great poet, he is also a great judge of poetry. This is one of the finest poems I’ve read in a while. Copied with permission from ALiP.

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American Life in Poetry: Column 424

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It’s a difficult task to accurately imagine one’s self back into childhood. Maybe we can get the physical details right, but it’s very hard to recapture the innocence and wonder. Maureen Ash, who lives in Wisconsin, gets it right in this poem.

Church Basement

The church knelt heavy
above us as we attended Sunday School,
circled by age group and hunkered
on little wood folding chairs
where we gave our nickels, said
our verses, heard the stories, sang
the solid, swinging songs.

It could have been God above
in the pews, His restless love sifting
with dust from the joists. We little
seeds swelled in the stone cellar, bursting
to grow toward the light.

Maybe it was that I liked how, upstairs, outside,
an avid sun stormed down, burning the sharp-
edged shadows back to their buildings, or
how the winter air knifed
after the dreamy basement.

Maybe the day we learned whatever
would have kept me believing
I was just watching light
poke from the high, small window
and tilt to the floor where I could make it
a gold strap on my shoe, wrap
my ankle, embrace
any part of me.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Maureen Ash. Reprinted by permission of Maureen Ash. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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