A Word From the Publisher
This weekend, I have been toting up all I’ve learned publishing the poetry that has enriched these special issues of Persimmon Tree.
I’ve learned that a golden shovel is a poem that uses the words from another poem as the last words for its lines, and that it can be simultaneously evocative and original. (See Luci Huhn in this issue.) I’ve learned that poets still use old forms, like sonnets, and put them to remarkable and contemporary effect. (For example, Joyce Ritchie in issue #2.) I’ve learned what a ghazal is. (See Susan Sailer’s lovely version in #1.) I’ve learned that poets today can manipulate lines and stanzas so that a poem may, to an untrained eye, masquerade as prose – until you read it, or hear it, or think about it. (I won’t cite to that one, because I don’t quite want to admit that I might have been the one who was fooled.) And I’ve learned that rhyme and doggerel are not the same thing at all, and that rhymed or unrhymed, a poem is a poem is, like a well-played sonata, a moment of sheer insight. (See and scan and read and recite and enjoy all the poetry in Persimmon Tree, rhymed and not.)
And that’s only about the form and process of writing and reading poetry. Here’s some of what I’ve learned – or relearned – about what poetry has to say. I’ve learned that there are as many ways to describe the same phenomenon as there are poets to describe it – and that each and every poem will be worth experiencing, because each will offer its own perspective. I’ve learned that, thank heavens, poets do have exactly the gift we say they do: they see the details – and the bigger picture – in ways the rest of us try to see, or almost see, and would not have managed to see, were it not for the poets’ help at getting us there.
I am grateful to all the poets whose generosity in sharing their work with Persimmon Tree enabled me – and 10,000 or so other readers, too – to learn these lovely lessons. And I’m grateful to the members of the Persimmon Tree editorial board and staff, none of whom had to contribute to these extra issues, but each of whom willingly and generously did so. Cynthia Hogue read and admired your poetry, contributed her own, solicited additional poems from her circle of established poets, and wrestled with WordPress (a web building program that, sadly, does not share our love or respect for poetry). Elizabeth Zimmer helped to choose the work that went into the corona issues – a task made insurmountably difficult because there was so much good, deeply felt, thoughtful work from which to choose – and edited/proofread every piece. Marion Leopold helped to choose the prose. Gena Raps contributed her performances, which have been a thrilling addition to these pages, and, in this issue, her photography as well. Kitty Cunningham wrote a memory piece for us. And Laura Laytham put it all on our website, no small or simple task.
Thank you, poets. Thank you, everyone. Stay well.
The scan shows this
rare and specific tumor
on her rare and specific brain.
Her husband strips down
in the garage, streaks
to the shower
before holding her.
Her children cannot help
but touch her, their touch
good medicine. Her smile
Already she has packed up
her classroom, closed,
her 2nd graders foraging.
A single mom delivers
The not-knowing scalds.
Google soothes and terrifies.
Seeking care means
risking not just her life
but the lives of all
who touch her.
Holy, then, all hands
that seek to heal,
all hands that reach
to ease suffering.
pulses, shape shifts
script never seen before
written on thin air
We without wings
watch in awe, exhale delight
wonder as cloud turns, disappears,
appears again against the sky
In murmuration scientists say
each bird keeps track
of seven others, maintains distance
so each can fly – one starling and one thousand
We, too, keep distance, know our neighbors,
safeguard the flock on air waves;
it is sometimes dark, but then we turn as one
and catch the light
Hope Is That Thing with Feathers
If that is all we have, if that is all there is –
looking backward to this, looking forward to that –
then they sit side by side like two well-burnished things
that we must choose between. With
one looking upward as if it were a fallen, feathered
nest, crafted and well-used, now collapsed. That
other one looking out to where birds perch
in the new color, the dogwood, the forsythia, in
their songs that name the next season, the
sweet diving, floating, souls.
if hope is the place that sings
the loudest, if April is not the cruelest month, the
spring wind could begin with it a wobbly tune –
big ifs, I know – spring could blossom without
a musical plan, without much sound, the
sky might bring on high-pitched strings, soft air, words
and lyrics that are so few, so light, they rise and
find themselves above a prayer-path in a ridged place, never
ending stone path that spirals to a careful stop,
though it nears the very precipice, at
the place where circling separately gathers us all.
(Written in the form of a Golden Shovel, using the words from
Emily Dickinson’s poem as the last words in the lines.)
Lessons in Breathing
Too long a shut-in,
screened against the threat
of deadly snare, I’m joined
by millions on this spinning globe.
I step out on our balcony,
sit, surrounded by the green,
breathing its innocence,
lending me panache,
a honeymoon of stanzas
without words, a poetry
conferring fertility, arriving
through the mystic charity of chance.
Picture & Perform
Sheltering in Place
over the still morning where a raven sits
on a naked branch, calling for his mate.
Three does pass by, stop and look in at me,
limpid eyes. I wonder if they pity
my enforced isolation.
Ping, ping. My computer tells me
I have just received texts
from fellow writers and poets.
Welcome, my friends, into the sheltering
place of the mind, where words dance,
twirl, and form themselves
into stories and poetry
and none of us is alone.
The raven’s mate lands next to him
on his branch, they rub beaks,
and fly away. The does
have blended with the forest.
I pick up my pencil and begin to write
“I am at my desk, looking out the window…”
Disinfectant and Daffodils
with our feeble immune systems and droning TVs
but food is food and we drove to Safeway,
parked three blocks away, waited for an empty cart
swabbed it with our dwindling supply of disinfectant
pulled on our too tight rubber gloves and went in
no soup, no rice, no eggs, no chicken, no milk,
no bread, no pasta, no TP, no paper towels
we found one can of black beans, four pale tomatoes,
a bag of spinach, a frozen pizza, a box of Lucky Charms
and five bottles of desperately needed Merlot
we waited in a line snaking down the aisles
trying our best to stay six feet apart
the checkout clerk gave us a broad smile, as though
she was genuinely delighted to see us despite
deadly germs that could spread to her three kids
bored and cranky, fighting over the iPad
and her grandfather who is almost eighty-three
she handed us a bundle of slender green stalks
held together with a rubber band
I thought they were exotic leek or some unknown herb
she said they were daffodils
skeptical, I took them home and stuck them in water
three days later I walked into the kitchen
the sun was shining on a vase of yellow flowers
I thought of Safeway’s empty shelves
where once was and will be again
where does blue end white
where the artist’s scissors cut away
is that invader or
stones or cells
does it matter as we
m o v e away
from one another
except dark waves
edge toward tints of blues
circling one another slow as wolves do
at the overlap of territory. To shop or gas up
we don masks, sterile gloves, our minds fixed
on a virus with hooks to snag our lungs.
This waltz is new, not like our tango
of legs in mango bed sheets
or arms snarled behind each other’s sweating necks.
No one wants to sweat now a fever throws
up a death flag. We all just want to breathe.
This waltz is the distance between the heartbeats
of stones, no ballroom class where we mashed
into one another’s hips. Like winter monks
we hunker in our mud huts, swabbing them down
with alcohol wipes, bleach and fear.
This waltz of isolation circles our endangered globe
clearing sky of vapor trails, factory blasts,
and constant airline roar. Our arms unlearn caress,
hands scrubbed raw, as we shelter over our screens
for roll calls of infections, crematoria ash,
hallelujahs lifting on a spring breeze.