Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Park Bench

by Albert Garcia

There should be a park bench.
We’ll sit next to each other,

watching a man throw a tennis ball
to his yellow lab, sending

and retrieving the dog
whose loyalty to task is clear

to both of them. I’ll say something
to start, something I’ve wanted

to say for years, words I’ve never before
been able to put together,

and you’ll hear them perfectly,
my words like a child’s wooden blocks

you can hold in your hands,
turning them for their modest gleam.

What you say comes as a breeze
that sinks in my skin,

not warm, not cool, just
what I needed to feel and hear,

like bath water, like tea. Then
we sit, and the dog

lopes out again to retrieve
his ball. The man waits

for what he knows is coming,
and the breeze, if there,

moves between us, back
and forth, silently.

Friday, September 23, 2016

2016 Winnipeg Folk Festival


It was a good time as usual, except for a few occasions I wanted to shake my fist and shout at a passing cloud but thankfully didn't.  To sum up, it was much more of an indie pop festival this year, but there were enough moments of folk to satisfy me, mostly.  I only wish they'd finally realize they don't need to include the festival campground as part of the Main Stage audience, but at this point I'm sure any complaints are falling on deafened ears.


This year we managed to leave a day earlier than we usually do thanks to Monday being the Fourth of July holiday in the U.S.  As part of our preparations we recently bought a new used 2006 Chrysler minivan that had plenty of room which we were later fortunate to have.  We managed to line up various sitters for two or our dogs and our cat, and took our dog Ceilidh with us to Canada.  So as we left we made a couple of stops to leave a dog, Missy with Auntie Shar out on the farm in the country, and Tucker with our friend Peter in Minneapolis.  We got off to our usual delayed start, but we still were able to get on the interstate out of the Twin Cities a little before 1pm.

Tucker riding shotgun as we prepare to depart

We made quick time on I-94 to Fargo, passing through a cool front where the temperature at Fergus Falls dropped to 73F only to arrive at Fargo where it was a hot 91F.  Our minivan's air conditioning wasn't working well (we've fixed it since) so it was getting warm but we were able to get gas at a station in Fargo that had a roof over the pump so it didn't get really hot inside.  We made sure Ceilidh had plenty of water and a draft of lukecool air blowing over her and she was fine.  We then headed north on I-29 to Grand Forks and as we passed through we encountered another cool front and by the time we were close to the border the temperatures had dropped back to the lower 80s and the clouds provided some respite from the heat as well as some spectacular scenery as we passed though the storm front.  We made a quick border stop at Pembina to fill the gas tank there and get some Irish whiskey at the duty free store, and then zipped through customs without a hitch and the drive the rest of the way went by quickly.

Our destination was the home of Donna and Terry on the south side of Winnipeg near the Perimeter Highway.  Donna loves our dogs and was looking forward to taking care of Ceilidh while we were camping at the folk fest, and one of the reasons we left a day earlier than usual was so we could spend an extra day visiting and also give Ceilidh time to get used to her home away from home while Donna was taking care of her.  We arrived before sunset and were warmly greeted and Ceilidh was happy to be out of the van, finally.  We settled down to a late dinner that Terry had made that Donna saved for us and then we relaxed for another hour or so before turning in for a good night's sleep.


A very full minivan!
I got up early the next morning and fixed some coffee, let Ceilidh out, and then after everyone was up and Terry had headed off to work, Donna, Erin, and I went over to IKEA to pick up a few things and of course have the cheap breakfast.  Erin needed a pillow as she'd left hers at home and I picked up some rhubarb drink concentrate that I tried later and liked a lot, but forgot to take to the folk fest later.  Figures.  After noon, we drove our minivan over to the Bhigg House to load as much camping gear as we could into it.  As you can tell by the photo, it was a LOT.  I was grateful we had load-leveling struts on the rear axle and a 3.8-liter engine to move it all.  Erin did a good job of packing it in too, and our handy garden cart proved invaluable as the alley behind the Bhigg House was being reconstructed so we couldn't drive around to the garage and had to haul it out to the street in front.  Dave Clement didn't let us forget our festival tickets and the provincial park pass that our friend Kylea kindly lent us.  We then headed over to get groceries at our usual place that used to be a Safeway but is now a Co-op store, and Erin wanted a Games magazine at the McNally-Robinson bookstore, and we ended up spending time just browsing too.  It's a very nice (and independent!) bookstore.

After all that we went back to Donna and Terry's house and cleaned up, and we then we all had dinner and spent the evening talking and just hanging out.  Ceilidh was getting settled in, but she was still nervous around Terry who was a bit mortified, but we told him that's the way she is with big guys no matter how nice they are.  Ceilidh was doing fine otherwise though and I later at Donna's suggestion took her for a walk around the neighborhood where we found a nice walkway through a park and she barked at a kid on a skateboard because it wasn't natural for people to move like that.  She does it home too, so it wasn't a surprise that she didn't like them in Winnipeg either.  We then turned in for the night after a nice glass of wine.


We were going to leave bright and early Wednesday morning for the folk fest to get a better place in the festival campground line-up, but we decided instead to take our time this year and didn't leave Winnipeg until after 9am.  It didn't take us long to get to Bird's Hill Park via the Perimeter Highway that runs along the eastern outskirts of Winnipeg and we found ourselves driving straight to the folk fest parking lot, no line at all, and being directed straight to the festival camping entrance where we got our wristbands in exchange for our passes, so that was easy.  It's the first time we haven't had to wait in a line-up to enter the campground since 2005.  Yay!  We managed to park our minivan in the truck parking area that wasn't too far down the road, got our first cartload together and walked in via trail head 1-B and we found our campsite that was in a perfect spot thanks to Wolfgang and Lillian getting there bright and early themselves as they'd camped in the Bird's Hill park campground the night before along with all the other eager beavers looking to score prime camping sites.  So we dumped our first load and headed back out again via trail head 1-B and when we made it back out I spotted an open parking spot right across the road that someone had just left.  So I told Erin to hold it and then went and got our minivan and drove it back down and parked it there.  Sweet, and it saved us a lot of walking back and forth for the rest of the festival.

We lucked out on weather too, which was partly cloudy and mild that day in Winnipeg, which made all the work much more pleasant.  In no time at all we'd gotten it all hauled to the site and started setting up tents in our usual circle, with the usual discussion about where to put them all, which didn't take long thankfully.  I'd gotten a "new" used tent I'd found on eBay that was the same brand and model as the one we bought back in 2009 (a Coleman Tucana), so basically I'd gotten $80 worth of spare parts.  It was in great shape and we've liked having all the room (it's 16'x10'), the openness (it has four big windows to let breezes in), and the convenience of an actual door that you don't have to always zip and unzip to go in and out, plus a huge vestibule to stash chairs and other stuff under.  We call it the Taj-Ma-Tent, and hopefully it'll last us another several years or so, depending on the breezes that blow that have trashed more than a few of our past tents.

Setting up the Baggiecon camp
While I was dealing with our tent and the shower tent, Erin and Wolfgang and others were putting up our 10'x20' car port that we use for shade to sit under, and other Baggiecon campers were also arriving and starting to set up their tents too.  This year there was a smaller group of six comprised of young friends of Anya Klassen who wanted to camp more on their own than with us old folkies who had set their tents up just past some nearby trees.  We ended up calling them The Pinkies because Baggiecon's official color is pink and since we call ourselves "country mice" who camp at the folk fest (as opposed to "city mice" who stay in Winnipeg) and baby mice are called pinkies.  They did have to relocate their tents though, because one of Lana Klassen's conditions as The Mom was that their camp be in eyesight of where she was camping, not behind some trees.  There may have been some grumbling, but the Pinkies didn't take long to relocate themselves.

Still getting camp set up, with Elizabeth taking a break in the shade

Erin checking things out while Christine unloads her gear
It was a much neater site by Friday, with our Taj-Ma-Tent at the center-right.  The red caution tape was put there by Erin after someone the night before stumbled ON our tent.  Unfortunately, we can't install electric fences...
We were also treated to sandwiches and drinks by Elizabeth Clement later in the afternoon when she and Dave arrived, which were wolfed down gratefully by all of us hard workers.  Eventually we got it all put up (only moving the shade structure once to just the right spot, as camping feng shui matters) and after admiring our handiwork were able to relax, and also help others get set up as they arrived, as well as sorting out the kitchen tent and setting up a new kitchen table that Elizabeth found from Cabelas that was very nice and quite handy.  We also scored a big rack of firewood from a truck that was driving through the festival campground selling it, thus saving ourselves the work of later hauling separate bundles from the Campground Store.  As you might be able to tell, we weren't exactly roughing it.  It's like having a five day picnic with a few thousand others nearby doing the same.

We later had a bite to eat and then a few of us settled down to just play some music around the campfire.  We had just enough armless chairs to accommodate all the guitar players and it was beautiful evening to hang out, chat, and sing.  We could also hear pickers and singers from other groups camped next to us, all having fun as well.  I wandered over to one a little later, and talked with them and found they were all volunteers working for the festival this year and had been camping together for awhile now.  They said they'd camped near us before and that we were good neighbors.  It really is a nice vibe in the festival campground these days, far less rowdy than it was for the first nine years I went to the folk fest, and while some of the craziness is missed, it's a lot easier to sleep at night.


As usual, I was the first one up in camp and after checking our tent's sunshade to make sure it was helping keep our tent cooler inside as the sun rose, I made some coffee after spending a little time finding a way to light the camp stove.  It's always takes a little time to find out where everything is initially, and thankfully our fellow campers are pretty good about keeping the site organized.  It's so much less hassle when you don't have to look for everything.  The nice thing about getting up early is getting that first cup of coffee, but soon a few other were stirring and more pots of coffee were made.  It was a nice morning, mild and dry too.

Since there are no afternoon workshops or concerts happening on Thursday, it was a good time to do nothing and look over the festival schedule and mark what I wanted to see.  I'd downloaded the WFF app to my smartphone and found it was pretty handy to have the whole festival, but it wasn't a substitute for the WFF program book.  (There were no lyrics for the closing festival songs, for example.)  More Baggiecon campers arrived during the day and soon we were half a million strong, er, make that one hundred, um, maybe more like twenty or so. 

Eventually some of us took a walkabout of the huge festival campgrounds (while Dave and Elizabeth went swimming in the nearby park lake) and looked over some of the campground installations that had been set up, including a two-story yurt that I was still limber enough to climb up some handholds nailed to what looked like part of a tree-trunk to check out.  I made it back down safely too, thankfully.  There was a very cool Psychedelic Car Wash that consisted of a 10'x10' EZ-up that had been strung with dozens of brightly colored cloth rope-like "cleaners" that were tightly packed together.  So like a car getting all the dirt taken by brushed at the car wash, we festive campers got our minds cleaned of the usual cares to go and enjoy the folk fest mentally refreshed.  It was cute.

The Psychedelic Car Wash was getting plenty of business!
Then it was time to head down to the festival grounds for the show at the Main Stage.  It was a nice evening.  I'd like to say more about the music but honestly I don't remember much.  It usually isn't like that, but either I've gotten more forgetful or the music wasn't as memorable.  It's probably a combination of both.  I did head back early before the end of the last act, and we did have some nice times playing tunes around the campfire (and telling jokes, which was a lot of fun) before turning in.
My foot as I relax waiting for music on the Main Stage to start on Thursday

Again, got up early and enjoyed some early morning coffee before having to get ready to do the tarp run at 10:15am after getting a #1 tarp ticket from Polly.  So there was no problem getting a good spot at the Main Stage and I had a nice time as usual chatting with others in the holding pen who were ready to stampede, er, shuffle when the ropes dropped.  Me, I figure it's all good and that the most important thing is to not break something trying to snag that perfect tarp spot.  Thankfully most of my fellow shufflers were like-minded and kept things Manitoba friendly.

The Baggiecon tarp marker isn't flashy, but it makes up for it by being useful as it holds the tarp and stakes safely when you're doing the tarp shuffle.
Obligatory selfie after getting the tarp down at the Main Stage on Sunday
Then with some time to spare I had a bite to eat at one of the food booths, named The Walleye Wagon, which had some tasty pickerel for breakfast (not my usual fare) and then I decided to find a spot in the shade along the tree line at the Snowberry stage to hear Oysterband and Colin Hay.  Oysterband turned in a terrific set (they've been at the folk fest five times since 1989) and Hay did nicely as well, and during the set Erin arrived and joined me to enjoy the music too.  We decided to just stay put for the next workshop at Snowberry featuring banjo performers, including Noam Pikelny who was phenomenal, and a singer-songwriter who went the stage name Possessed by Paul James who was very engaging and sincere in a very sincere way.  The more rocking Brothers Comatose provided the rowdy to balance out the virtuosity of Pikelny and the sweetness of James.  A good set.

Erin looking over the festival program at the Snowberry stage
Erin and I then did a little wandering around the Handmade Village and grabbed some lunch, and later ended up at the Bur Oak stage for the Harp & Soul workshop, which featured some indie-pop acts, the best of which were The Staves from England.  It was pleasant if not arresting, and we decided to leave a bit early.  I headed back to camp to relax for a bit, before going back down for Friday night's bluegrass from the Big Bluestem stage.  In a switch from past years, when Big Bluestem was the place for more rocking music, it was now where the more folky music was going to be.  I guess that's a sign of the time and a tell that it isn't your father's folk fest anymore.  First up was a band from Toronto, The Foggy Hogtown Boys, and they were pretty entertaining and lively.  Then it was a roots band from California, The Wild Reeds, who were o.k. but not otherwise memorable, then Noam Pikelny and his band performed and did a fine set, and then I stayed around for about half the set of The Infamous Stringdusters before deciding to head back to the camp and enjoy some time around the fire pit before turning in for the night. 


It was a nice enough day when I got up and made coffee and had some yogurt, and I took a morning stroll around the campground, intending to go over to Pope's Hill but instead walked a bit in the RV section of festival camping just to see how it looked.  I think in a few years if pitching a tent has lost its charms that it would be nice to try it with a pop-up camper or maybe a camper van.  Then it was time for a quick shower before going down for the main stage tarp run, which went well enough.  I then grabbed a really good egg burrito for breakfast at Burrito Splendido and headed over early to the Shady Grove stage to get a good seat in the shade, naturally.  The 11am workshop, named "Plectrum Electrum", featured Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams, as well as Possessed by Paul James, and Rayland Baxter.  Campbell and Williams were supurb performers and he was a fine picker too.  Baxter has been a sideman for Bob Dylan, and I wasn't surprised given his chops, and he was also a fine singer.  A very nice start to the day.

After that, I hooked up with Dave Clement and headed over to the Big Bluestem stage for one of the bigger workshops of the fest, featuring Alan Doyle (of Great Big Sea fame) and his band, along with Oysterband, The East Pointers (a band from the eastern point of Prince Edward Island), and a singer from Newfoundland, Matthew Byrne.  It was a very high energy affair from Doyle and Oysterband, with a more traditional sound from the East Pointers and Byrne, and it all came together beautifully.  Perhaps the best workshop of the festival, and it was packed.  Thankfully Dave and I and later Erin had a nice spot back from the crowd that was comfortable.

I don't remember what we did immediately after that, so I imagine we got something to eat and took a break.  One of the nice things about the Winnipeg Folk Fest is that there's plenty of room to just chill if you want some quiet time out on the prairie.  There's also a kid's activity and a folk music school tent that offers something to do other than sit and listen.  The Handmade Village is always worth wandering through, and I always like stopping where there are musical instruments for sale and Erin enjoys shopping for gifts there too.  There's a lake with a beach nearby too when the weather gets warm and if you have a bicycle it's just a few minutes away, and the entire park has many miles of hiking trails to explore.  It's not a sin to go to a folk music festival and not spend every moment listening to music.
While walking around the labyrinth that's mowed on the prairie grass every year, I spotted this photograph of the prairie on the prairie, with the Handmade Village and kid's area in the background.  How meta.
As it was getting late in the afternoon, it started to cloud over and it looked like it would rain soon, and sure enough by 5:30pm or so it was raining.  Not hard, but enough to get you wet.  I had a poncho handy but was wearing shorts and sandals, so while I was dry mostly I wasn't very warm.  I decided to go to the back baggie (that's a tarp) to hear the first act of the night on the Main Stage.  It was the Moulettes, who were perhaps interesting, but unfortunately from the very start the sound was turned up so loud that even as far back as I was it was just annoying and didn't sound good.  So after about a half hour of that in the rain, I decided to just bag it and head back to camp.  One of the few times I've been in a sour mood at the folk fest.  Back at camp I decided to get under some covers in our tent to warm up and I had no problem hearing the Main Stage from zone 1A, so there was that at least.  Oh well.

It did stop raining later and we did have a nice fire and Dave Clement with Erin's help gave out mugs to five who in the Baggiecon camp for the first time, including three of the Pinkies.  The idea is to bring back the mug the next year, or whenever you make it back.  There was more music and we had some other musicians drop by to play with us who were wonderful, including a concertina player that plays with Dave in a band in Winnipeg who if I recall correctly was also named Dave.  Then I turned in and tuned out for the night.

Around the campfire early in the evening on Saturday

The last day of the fest got off to a decent start, cool and overcast but dry.  I'd had a good night's sleep and was in a better mood, and had a fun time doing the tarp run and chatting with the others waiting to claim their 8x10 foot space.  Then I again got a tasty egg burrito for breakfast and headed over to the Shady Grove stage to hear Loudon Wainwright III with his two daughters, Martha and Lucy.  Thanks to Polly being an early bird there I was lucky enough to have a seat saved for me right up front too.  They put on a great show, funny & sarcastic at times as you would expect, and even the sun came out for a little while in appreciation, at least that's what I think.

Loudon Wainwright III and family at the Shady Grove stage on Sunday
I then headed over to the Green Ash stage, where I'd told Dave Clement I would be for a set by The East Pointers that Dave had wanted to hear.  I managed to get a nice spot in the shade where the sound was good and just as the show was getting underway I spotted Dave who was with Karen and John making their way through the crowd and waved them on over.  It was a fine foot-tapping Celtic music set which I know Dave liked, and so did we.

Then I spent a little time wandering and eventually ended up thinking about going into the woods where at the Spruce Hollow stage there was a workshop celebrating some recently departed musicians, like Merle Haggard, Guy Clark, and Prince.  I got there and soon found it was so packed that I started considering what else there was going on, and noted that Matthew Byrne was playing at the Little Stage in the Woods nearby.  So I got up and and moved over there and found a nice spot to hear his solo set, which I liked very much and I ended up getting out of Byrne's CDs at the festival music store.  Byrne was modest but quite engaging and not a bad storyteller, always a plus.

Matthew Byrne performing at the Little Stage in the Forest
By then it was after 4pm and I went back to camp for a bit but soon it was time for Main Stage and since the first performer of the night was Loudon Wainwright I wasn't going to be late.  I arrived at the front baggie in plenty of time and it was almost hot, and so sunny that it was no surprise that Wainwright was wearing sunglasses up on stage.  He was first given a Winnipeg Folk Festival award for his contributions to folk music, and it was accepted with a bit of levity and, dare I say, sarcasm.  Well, it's what he does so why not?  Then Loudon did a funny, sarcastic, and at times disturbing set, the only real political one of the whole festival.  His song about Donald Trump becoming President had us all shouting "NO!" from the audience, but it was a song about guns and Christmas that really was discomfiting.  It should be.  He also had his daughter Lucy come up to join him for a song, which was a bonus.

After that, the next act up was an odd one.  Lucius is very much a pop act and they certainly were eccentric in both their singing and fashion.  Their band was very good and tight and the harmonies were sharp indeed.  That said, it wasn't quite my cup of tea but I did enjoy it for what it was.  The final act was a bad from Los Angeles, Lord Huron, and for me it was underwhelming but some in the crowd around me liked them a lot.  So it goes.  The one thing I was curious about was that I spend a LOT of time listening to music from various sources, folk, classic rock, indie, etc. and I'd never heard of them.  Then again, I listen to radio (streaming & broadcast) and perhaps they're an internet phenomena that I'm just ignorant of.  But you'd think if they were a breaking act that I'd have heard _something_.  Hmm.  Could it be time to rename it the Winnipeg Poppapalooza Fest?  (snark)

Then it was time for the end of fest finale, and I pulled up the tarp and slowly made my way through the crowd, while hearing Stan Rogers "Mary Ellen Carter" performed on the main stage, to the back where we had our own Baggiecon finale for the first time in a couple of years after being rained out twice, and we all made our circle and sang Ripple as our own end of fest ritual.  Then we did our usual singing of shanties while we walked back as a group, and we were appreciated by those around us, thankfully.  I'd hate to be annoying, after all.  Then it was time for one last fire and eventually people started drifting off to go to sleep, but I stayed up for some time just winding down and started getting some things put away.


I was about ready to go to bed after 2am when I heard from one of the campground security folks was walking by and he told me that there was soon going to be a fairly big storm front coming through, so I stayed up a little longer and took down the shower tent and put it away dry, and put all the shower gear under the shade structure too.  So I didn't get to sleep until after 3am.  As it turned out it didn't storm but only rained a bit, but we later heard that there were some severe weather further south in Minnesota so it was a real concern.  Of course I still was up early in the morning, but a little coffee helped with that.  We were lucky enough to have no rain later in the morning, so after a couple of hours it was dry enough to start putting tents away dry too, and by 1pm we were all packed up and heading out.

Taking it all down on Monday after the weather cleared
Erin and I drove back to Donna and Terry's home where we were welcomed by Cedligh who was so happy to see us, and we cleaned up a bit and relaxed for an hour or so before heading over to the Bhigg House to unload all the group camping gear and put it back in the garage  (thank goodness for the garden cart!), and then repacked our own stuff for the trip back home so that our puppy would have plenty of room too.  Then we had dinner and stayed around for the Dead Mouse party and I played music with Dave, Wolfgang, Christine, and Susan Israel who dropped by to join us.  By 11pm we headed back to Donna and Terry's and turned in.


After a good night's sleep and a chance to do laundry so we could pack away clean clothes for the trip home, we did our usual thing and headed over to Burnstein's Deli for breakfast with Dave, Donna, Christine, and Elizabeth and it was very tasty.  We left Winnipeg around 11am and had no trouble at the border (yay!) and made very quick time on the interstate and picked up our Tucker at Peter's and then Missy and Auntie Shar's just as the sun was setting and pulled into the driveway at 9:45pm safe and sound.  The cat was very happy to see us too.

The next day after getting home, I still had my folk fest wristband on.  I did eventually take it off.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

In the Hospital

by George Garrett

Here everything is white and clean
as driftwood. Pain’s localized
and suffering, strictly routine,
goes on behind a modest screen.

Softly the nurses glide on wheels,
crackle like windy sails, smelling of soap,
I’m needled and the whole room reels.
The Fury asks me how I feel

and, grinning turns to the brisk care
of an old man’s need, he who awake
is silent, at the window stares,
sleeping, like drowning, cries for air.

And finally the fever like a spell
my years cast off. I notice now
nurse’s firm buttocks, the ripe swell
of her breasts. It seems I will get well.

Next visitors with magazines;
they come whispering as in church.
The old man looks away and leans
toward light. Dying, too, is a routine.

I pack my bag and say goodbyes.
So long to nurse and this Sargasso Sea.
I nod to him and in his eyes
read, raging, the seabird’s lonely cries.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Future Plans

by Kate Barnes

When I am an old, old woman I may very well be
living all alone like many another before me
and I rather look forward to the day when I shall have
a tumbledown house on a hill top and behave
just as I wish to. No more need to be proud—
at the tag end of life one is at last allowed
to be answerable to no one. Then I shall wear
a shapeless felt hat clapped on over my white hair,
sneakers with holes for the toes, and a ragged dress.
My house shall be always in a deep-drifted mess,
my overgrown garden a jungle. I shall keep a crew
of cats and dogs, with perhaps a goat or two
for my agate-eyed familiars. And what delight
I shall take in the vagaries of day and night,
in the wind in the branches, in the rain on the roof!
I shall toss like an old leaf, weather-mad, without reproof.
I’ll wake when I please, and when I please I shall doze;
whatever I think, I shall say; and I suppose
that with such a habit of speech I’ll be let well alone
to mumble plain truth like an old dog with a bare bone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ode to the Pull-Out Couch

by Sonja Johanson

Which once belonged to your great-
grandparents, but belongs to us now,
and still works, even if the cushions
are pretty well flattened and the stuffing
is coming out from one armrest,
and the color, which was probably
once cream with red stitching, has
become mostly a muddy rust —

and which is always called a couch
and never, ever a sofa, just as
a pocketbook is not a purse, a bureau
is not a dresser, and pants are not
slacks. Only snooty people on TV
would call a couch a sofa, or rich
people, or maybe people from away.
Which we are not.

Because if we were any of those,
instead of just a pull-out couch,
we would have a guest room, with
a comforter and duvet, which no
guests would ever sleep under
because they would be staying at
a five-star hotel, where we would
join them for a five-star dinner

instead of the supper we cook
for our cousins up from Alfred,
which makes them still from here
and not from away, so they can’t
afford to go out to dinner, much
less afford a fancy hotel room
even if there was a hotel in town.
Which there is not.

And after our supper and before
we wake up early to take them
ice fishing, we pull out the couch
and give them pillows and blankets
and maybe even the granny-square
afghan, and they get to sleep by
the woodstove with the extra cats
and know that they are welcome.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Speaker

by Louis Jenkins

The speaker points out that we don’t really have
much of a grasp of things, not only the big things,
the important questions, but the small everyday
things. “How many steps up to your back yard? What
is the name of your district representative? What
did you have for breakfast? What is your wife’s
shoe size? Can you tell me the color of your
sweetheart’s eyes? Do you remember where you
parked the car?” The evidence is overwhelming.
Most of us never truly experience life. “We drift
through life in daydream, missing the true
richness and joy that life has to offer.” When the
speaker has finished we gather around to sing
a few inspirational songs. You and I stand at the
back of the group and hum along since we have
forgotten most of the words.

Friday, May 20, 2016


by Ronald Wallace

Some days I find myself
putting my foot in
the same stream twice;
leading a horse to water
and making him drink.
I have a clue.
I can see the forest
for the trees.

All around me people
are making silk purses
out of sows’ ears,
getting blood from turnips,
building Rome in a day.
There’s a business
like show business.
There’s something new
under the sun.

Some days misery
no longer loves company;
it puts itself out of its.
There’s rest for the weary.
There’s turning back.
There are guarantees.
I can be serious.
I can mean that.
You can quite
put your finger on it.

Some days I know
I am long for this world.
I can go home again.
And when I go
I can
take it with me.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Molly the Brave

by Jim Harrison

Molly was the bravest
In April she would swing out
over the river on a rope
tied to an elm branch. There was still
ice along the bank and one day
her body was found down by the weir
with a bruised head, which meant she hit ice.
One summer evening she hugged me in her wet
black bathing suit after I brought her a milk shake.
My blood became hot and moved in all directions.
When we caught frogs to eat their legs
she said, ”We are animals.” And on the hill
by the river we illegally picked trillium.
All the boys wanted to marry her.
We kept putting the wildflowers she loved
on her grave. More than sixty years
later I see clearly that no one gets over anything
least of all Molly by the river,
swinging up through the air—
                                                            a bird.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Guide to the Other Gallery

by Dana Gioia

This is the hall of broken limbs
Where splintered marble athletes lie
Beside the arms of cherubim.
Nothing is ever thrown away.

These butterflies are set in rows.
So small and gray inside their case
They look alike now. I suppose
Death makes most creatures commonplace.

These portraits here of the unknown
Are hung three high, frame piled on frame.
Each potent soul who craved renown,
Immortalized without a name.

Here are the shelves of unread books,
Millions of pages turning brown.
Visitors wander through the stacks,
But no one ever takes one down.

I wish I were a better guide.
There’s so much more that you should see—
Rows of bottles with nothing inside,
Displays of locks which have no key.

You’d like to go? I wish you could.
This room has such a peaceful view.
Look at that case of antique wood
Without a label. It’s for you.

Being Happy

by Dana Gioia

Of course it was doomed. I know that now,
but it ended so quickly, and I was young.
I hardly remember that summer in Seattle—
except for her. The city seems just a rainy backdrop.
From the moment I first saw her at the office
I was hooked. I started visiting her floor.

I couldn’t work unless I caught a glimpse of her.
Once we exchanged glances, but we never spoke.
Then at a party we found ourselves alone.
We started kissing and ended up in bed.
We talked all night. She claimed she had liked me
secretly for months. I wonder now if that was true.

Two weeks later her father had a heart attack.
While she was in Chicago, they shut down our division.
I was never one for writing letters.
On the phone we had less to say each time.
And that was it—just those two breathless weeks,
then years of mild regret and intermittent speculation.

Being happy is mostly like that. You don’t see it up close.
You recognize it later from the ache of memory.
And you can’t recapture it. You only get to choose
whether to remember or forget, whether to feel remorse
or nothing at all. Maybe it wasn’t really love.
But who can tell when nothing deeper ever came along?