Springtime and other feelings we need right now, with poems by Barbara Stout, James McGrath, Gilbert Arzola and Shirley J. Brewer.
I don’t know about you, but I thought this winter would be better than last winter. We wouldn’t feel as isolated. We wouldn’t feel as anxious about COVID. We’re vaccinated and boosted; we can have our lives back. But No, here we are again, this time dealing with the Omicron variant. It’s just so depressing. That’s why we’re going to do an episode about hope. And even though a couple of these pieces are more about spring than winter, I think we need them now.
In 2016, Barbara Stout said, “I wrote this poem as I felt myself moving from a dark place in my grief for my dead husband to a brighter place. I expressed that process, that journey, in metaphors from nature, from the ‘process’ that the natural world goes through in early springtime, the season of renewal.” Here’s her poem “Thaw.”
I have intruded into April,
season of uncertain promise,
and have brought Death with me
from January where he stole my husband,
froze me, even to the marrow of my love,
and fractured life with ice and loss,
then left me in this springtime warmth,
helpless, melting, not sure what to make
of the pink-frothed cherry, the dappled hellebore,
or green-gauze life pulsing everywhere.
But this morning, when I glanced
across a distant field,
lambs looked like dogwood blossoms,
and, in the warming woods nearby, wild dogwood
looked like flocks of lambs.
“Thaw.” Barbara Stout from Passager Issue 60.
James McGrath said that when he was a kid, he spent a lot of time outside. “Nature has always been my mentor,” he said. “One of my favorite places was the swamp near my house. There was so much in the swamp world, that I never felt alone. And when I went home as it began to get dark I’d bring clumps of solitude with me.” Here’s James McGrath’s poem “Spring Cleaning.”
Light the fire.
Throw all books and hiking shoes
and patchworked dreams
into the flames.
Add the layers of family blankets
and the collection of butterflies.
Make oils for burning of old photographs
and the scratched 78s of Frank Sinatra
and the dead flies from window sills.
Don’t look into the cardboard boxes
with their flaps folded in on one another.
Just drop them heavily into the flames
and step back.
Some will throw sparks.
Some will sizzle and smell bad.
Empty the desk drawers
of post cards
and foreign postage stamps
and the lists of people met
and lost on trains and boats.
late one night when the ashes have cooled
Walk under the Big Dipper.
Put your face up.
Close your eyes.
Let the dipper pour its waters over you,
stripping away your clothes
and your skin.
Your muscles tight.
Your blood chilled.
Your feet planted.
Your bones transparent, and begin again .
Meet the sun.
Look at your new clothes.
Open your mouth.
James McGrath’s poem “Spring Cleaning” from Passager Issue 36. James McGrath went on to become the 2015 Passager Poet.
The 2019 Passager Poet was Gilbert Arzola. Here from his book Prayers of Little Consequence is his poem “Why My Mother Believes.”
Without ever having seen it
the stream knows there is a river.
Even a drop of rain can remember the ocean.
How can you believe I ask her.
In her bones she says,
she feels it.
The way a butterfly’s wings
can raise the curtains with a breeze.
Look there she says:
the ground, a tree,
Gilbert Arzola’s poem “Why My Mother Believes.”
We’ll end with something entirely different, from someone entirely different, the irrepressible Shirley Brewer. Here’s her poem “Pampas Circumstance” from Passager Issue 53.
My friend said she’d bring Gazpacho
for lunch; I thought she meant her Argentine lover.
I picture him in gaucho clothes: trousers and a poncho,
a triangle of curly black hair
visible on his swarthy chest — a macho calling card.
His feet shod in well-oiled boots, leather
the scent of cattle bred on a high plateau
where a masculine moon
rules the desperado sky.
They’ll arrive on his horse, a giant speckled white.
Her man’s thick cowboy fingers
tango lightly on her knee — his chili-tinctured breath
releasing heat and words that make her blush.
When he speaks, his moustache straddles his tongue.
I rush to meet them at the door,
only to find my friend alone
clutching a plastic container of soup.
Gazpacho, she says.
I look beyond her, swear I see in the distance
a horse’s tail disappear around the shadowed bend.
“Pampas Circumstance,” Shirley J. Brewer.
To buy Shirley’s book A Little Breast Music or Gilbert Arzola’s Prayers of Little Consequence or to subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com.
You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, Audible, and a host of other podcast apps.
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.
Due to the constraints of online publishing, poems may not appear in their original format. Photo of Barbara Stout by Jeff Hofmann.