Poetry

Reflections on the Day After Thanksgiving Abroad

There was no turkey, no dressing,
no jellied cranberry sauce, can-shaped and sliced.
There was no pumpkin pie.

There were mashed potatoes, lingonberries,
and meatloaf, but no day off work. It was just a Thursday,
and we might have been thankful

the stores were at least open,
so there was no rush to complete the shopping
for wine and last-minute ingredients for dinner.

We might have wished (had we thought of it)
that our youngest wouldn’t wake in fever
at 1 a.m. and need to be kept home

on Friday, causing a missed day of work
that in America would have been a day off anyway.
Still, these frustrations bring up in me

a thankfulness such a day as Thanksgiving exists,
one day each year we are reminded to be thankful
(as we so easily forget), thankful

we have any days at all, whatever they might be full of.
But next year, for heaven’s sake, let’s make a pie.

Because that Summer

for Lotta

Because that summer we met the sea air
was warm and the wine flowed
freely in the ship’s cafeteria;
because, like you, I was on holiday and not
worried about mundane responsibilities and
such details as country of residence;
because as we talked deep into the night, I could not
find a reason to stop; because I wanted
to live in Europe and because you had never been
to America; because I did not know
how to say goodbye; because when
I asked you to meet me in Barcelona,
you said you’d meet me in Florence; because
when I asked you to meet me in Iceland
you said you’d meet me in New York;
because after months of phone calls, me
on my back porch in Minnesota, you
on your bed in Finland, and because of
things I can’t even remember now
I proposed aloud why don’t we just . . .
and you said quietly well, okay.

Waking under stars in wartime

Basim opens his eyes from sleep,
looks up to open sky. In another poem

this might be a dream. But in this one,
splinters of wood and concrete

where his wife had slept, a gooey
wetness on his back, his bed

collapsed in a crumpled V.
For reasons he will not know

until tomorrow, he cannot get up. Tonight,
he calls out to the daughter he covered

and tucked into bed just hours ago,
she who brought his evening clothes

when he came from work, would sit close
as he watched tv, as he hoed the garden.

He calls to his wife under stars that
twinkle, silent and cold as fire.

 

(Read the news story that inspired this poem here.)

Saved by Form

I set the timer for fifteen minutes, pushed start,
then sat, waiting for Inspiration. First I tried
this, then that. Then “the other thing,” but
eight minutes later, still, I had no poem!

Then, with six minutes to spare, huzzah! I was saved!
By Form! Two stanzas! Four lines each! No rhymes!
Less than a minute left now, but nothing to fear.
I knew I would be done by the end of this line.

9/27/08

Voileipäkakku

Saturday morning in Espoo.
Puddles in the gravel driveway
My wife has driven away in the rain
with our first daughter to
gather mushrooms in the forest.

These days, I barely recall my American routines
Five years abroad, I am practically European.
Our second daughter naps. I prepare for
my brother-in-law’s birthday party.
Voilepäkakku, coffee early on, and

later, for some, drinking in the city.
The stillness of this house in rain
is something I have come to love.
Rubber boots and coats by the door, through
which my wife and daughter will soon return.

June 21st, 1977

Elvis stopped, twice; grinning sidelong
That toothy, twinkling, contagious smile,
Then continued on. “Unchained Melody.”

That night he held the world in his arms and squeezed.
“I need your love, I need your love.”
Six Tuesdays later he was still squeezing,

But on Wednesday I got up, and Elvis did not.
We should remember our mothers.
We should sing for them while we can.

(Note: This poem is a loose imitation of “The Mower” by Phillip Larkin.)

Kirk’s Original Hardwater Soap

 

The smell of Kirk’s Hardwater Soap is how I best remember my grandfather.

There are a few other memories of him as well,
like once when he got mad after hitting his thumb with a hammer.
And him not getting mad when I spilled red paint
all over the basement workbench and floor.
Then there was his long open back gown when I visited
him in the hospital before he died of cancer when I was seven.

There is a memory too of him washing himself
in Kelly Lake, after swimming out to the sandbar,
but mostly it is the smell of that soap.

Photo taken in Times Square, 2010

It’s been on my desk since I started this job, that framed
print of the selfie we took in Times Square –
September, 2010, our first date – the Golden Arches,
and the red stripes of TGI Fridays behind us,
me in a light-yellow shirt, you in a turquoise scarf and a
necklace you still have. Glasses we’ve both since replaced.

I don’t notice it always, but today I do, recalling
the different time and country in which it was taken.
Then, we did not know our future – my moving, our children,
the unending mettle required of us all – but clearly, we knew
something, my arm around your neck, hand on your shoulder,
my thumb pressing your upper arm, holding on.