Illinois State Poetry Society
Poems by ISPS Members
February 2006
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Towards September

by James L. Corcoran
Spring inches along the reaches of
the dogwoods wafting through the air
although it is still the dead of winter.

I know the smell of heavy snow and the
cold dry rain of ice that falls down like
soggy paper bits when it is too warm.

Moira sent the letters to the curious,
and the smell of hot chocolattes did
the obvious to the crowds enthralled.

We meet during the year is fine. We
get to know each other that way and
we solve problems together with the I.

We are not the vainglorious. There is
a truce in the darkness as the February
stillness reaches into our bones with ice.

We stand rock abiding. Nevertheless a
penchant to chant with a pen, we pull the
August breezes training ancient wheels

towards September.

Switchblade Timmy

by Mark Hudson
All the kids taunted Timmy
The bully would tease and jest
Till little switchblade Timmy
Plunged a knife in the bully's chest.
Now Switchblade Timmy's looking
At a decade in jail as a youth
He wasn't really the culprit
Can't you tell that this is the truth?
The lion must lay down with the lamb
Or the lamb will slaughter the lion
Your bite might be worse than your bark
Don't laugh when others are cryin'
Switchblade Timmy's in jail
He could've rather gone to Yale.
Now he's doing time in the pen
Meditating and doing some zen.
Then he takes out his aggression
To deal with all his oppression.
Switchblade Timmy,
He could've been a winner
Now he eats rotten
Potatoes for dinner.
Gone is his scholarship to Princeton
He stands in jail smoking a Winston.
Switchblade Timmy, why did you lose your cool
Switchblade Timmy, should've stayed in school
Even though it was a battlezone
You're not to be blamed, you're a clone!
'Cause every time a student gets violent
The staff at school get really silent
Kids should be able to go to school and learn
Not fight to survive that shouldn't be a concern
Dropping out of high school to stay alive
Next thing you know you're working at a dive
Feeling a sense of paranoia inside
Everyone out there wants to do homicide
You watch the news, and you tremble in fear
Your town ain't safe, Armageddon is near
So what you realize, is you're the one who is scared
When danger strikes, will you be prepared?
Switchblade Timmy started out peaceful as a dove
Then he went to jail, not learning any love
Now he wants to join the army, and work for Uncle Sam
He wants to kill legally, like a sacrificial lamb
So they take him to the service,
And he's trained to hunt and kill
Before he goes to combat
They say, " Make out a will."
He dies in combat
As he lies in his own blood
He cries out for his God
Then he dies there in the mud
He found peace in death
And we never even knew
This unknown soldier
Died for me and you.
He could've been a doctor
He could've been an attorney
But now his soul has left him
On a never-ending journey.
And he is just as worthy
For salvation as you and me
He fought the inner demons
He tried to set them free.
How many are there like him,
Rebels without a clue
A little bit like me,
A little bit like you.
The problem with Timmy
Is not for me to judge
He did what must be done
I will not hold a grudge
Some people got the fight
That's found within us all
So don't let evil people
Make you feel so small
Christ didn't come to fight wars
He was the prince of peace
He may be coming soon
Choose to repent if you please!

January Hag

by Deborah Vitello
January is an elderly woman
Her hair consists of gray clouds loosely braided
With pale blue eyes clouded with cataracts
Her breath is an icy cold rattle
She is barren
And bitter because she's unable to bear life anymore
Her bony arms made of sharp tree branches
With skin as dry as bark
Feet rooted in the frozen earth
I want to die in her somber clutch
Praying that she'll take my breath away
Long before I can miss the gentle touch of spring.

Three Ply

by Ruan Wright
When grandma died
something strengthened me
throughout the months of darkness
flapping around in my black garments
like a storm blasted tree.

We were still close
though she was eighty-three
so senile
she hardly knew me.

When I was small
I loved her
in an awkward, crooked way,
sitting at her feet watching
the length of yarn snaking through her knobby fingers
as she knit
mittens, sweater, doilies, hat.

She loved me
floating little words and sayings
over my head as she looped
muttered stories about her mother
my mother, my great-aunt Lily.

Looking up
I’d catch them

She taught me to knit,
unraveled my mistakes, patiently
going over what I’d done
untangling me.

She laughed about it,
called me silly names
like Little Moo and Ruby Roo
that stuck

I called her ‘Nana’.
She was my mother’s mother
but you couldn’t tell:

Mother was big; Nana was small.
Mother was silent, sulky;
Nana was bossy and loud.

I was a blend
but didn’t want either.
I wanted to be Mary
or Queen Boadicea.

When I was big
Nana looked up to me
from her shrunken chair.

I could draw lucid strands
out of the fuzzy fabric she’d become
and weave them into the weft I already had of her;

they slithered over her own frozen fingers
like quicksilver.

She’d be fussing over an apple she couldn’t eat
scolding my mother, me, anyone close
for keeping her prisoner, ranting
about going home,
seeing her family, her mother, her dead husband:
“I’ll be late!” she’d say,
“They’re waiting for me!”

as if a wind had moved her

sudden crisp leaves of tenderness
would fall
at our feet;
wrinkled, warm-edged words
flurrying out
of that forest of contumely.

Mother took care of Nana those last confused years.
She was patient, long-suffering, kind –
it took its toll.

They’re both dead now
and I’m just me
wrapped in a memory.

(First published in Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature
Double issue, vols. 9 and 10, January 2006)


by Theresa Broemmer
I held your baby boy last night
Warm and soft,
A sweet and tiny bundle
Cradled in my arms,
Safe against my chest.

I kissed my godchild last night
As I held him,
Perfect, angelic
So, so tiny,
Cradled in my arms,
Safe against my chest.

I met my godson last night,
Got to hold him
For just awhile
Before they took him away,
Cradled in my arms,
Safe against my chest.

I prayed for my nephew last night,
So many miles away
The only way to know him
In my dreams,
Cradled in my arms,
Safe against my chest.

The First Circle

by John Pawlik
They are the good
Who live in the shades
And tones of what they say

Seems Sunday by some degree
And it's as if
There were a library on every hill

No one becomes too emotional
There is a dignity that carries
Through every waking hour

Apart and remote
From any actual hate or love
A crowd of placid solitudes
Whose light is defused
Through milky clouds

The air around them
Is neither hot or cold
They come . . . They go . . .
They do not move


by Thom Schmidt
I can't find myself.
Seems I was just here.

Must have misplaced my self.
Hum, let me think am I over here?

Where was I last?
What had I done?
Trace my steps back.

Nothing to show, nothing comes.

Meanwhile, time goes on.

Our Graveyard

by Jonathan Foster, OFM
Our graveyard is a tiny town of grassy streets,
lined by fluttering flags
for the sometime soldiers who fought our wars,
and headstones posting the last address
of tie-clad merchants who ushered at our church.

My boyhood town has come to rest
upon this little square of land above the lake.
It is filled now. Each resident
has passed in silence off this busy road,
and through this gate, and down this graveled drive,
to sink into his own close crypt,
now landscaped with bits of lawn and flower patch.
Withdrawn into this muffled town, each stoops,

Above flicker shadows from the blue September sky
- gulls patrolling the headland -
But I think of angels, angels we've always hoped
held better news for us than what we knew in town.


by Todd Possehl
In the broken glass
of shattered lives
I find a shard like you

Two humans
in an inhumane world---
so careful not to cut

At Three Arch Cape

by Christine Swanberg
Oceanside Oregon. 7 a.m.
Low tide and empty beach.
Even the mist incandesces below
Three Arches, their peaks
Like primitive gods. A faint rainbow
Forms around them perfectly
Like a shrine. Last week's measured life
With its compromises
Like broken sand dollars, leaves.
On the great redwood's limb,
Now bleached bone-gray, our initials: JS/CS.
Who would guess a couple married
A third of a century? Still, today I walk alone,
Head farther down my favorite inlet,
Past the familiar shanties
And new condos rising: misguided fortresses
That trespass shifting dunes.
Today this beach with its shells and parables
Is my companion, and you, drinking coffee,
Reading newspapers--you're earthbound.
Only give me these mornings to keep.
Let me sit again on burnt driftwood,
My back against a dune, sing again
The prayer that ends with Sanctus, Sanctus.
The waves sizzle and stretch,
And I stretch too. Today I count myself
Among the lucky, plucking perfect agates
And holy ghost money from sand. And you
In your blue stocking cap
And black leather jacket--waving.

To music

by Beth Staas
Saturday night we took our baths,
Massaged our backs with threadbare towels,
Before we shivered ourselves dry.
Mom's gap-toothed jack-o-lantern comb
Abetted with a dab of lard
Untangled snarls of dripping hair.
We'd say our prayers, eyes tightly shut,
Knees freezing on the icy floor,
Then jump onto the featherbed.
We'd find our space by touching toes,
And softly sing ourselves to sleep
To Mozart, Schubert, Liszt and Brahms
We'd learned in school as children's songs.

On Sundays we'd parade to church,
Mom at the helm, and Dad behind,
A string of ducklings in a row.
While still in line we'd find a pew
And soon the organ's sonorous sounds
Would fill the hall and sweep us up.
Embraced by Mendelssohn and Bach
Or Handel's rich polyphony,
Our voices joined in harmony
With grandeur from a different age,
Made simple in the songs of praise.
Unknowingly, we'd touched the hem
Of garments that adorned the muse.

The phonograph and radio
Enhanced each measure further still,
With tinny sounds of orchestras,
A far cry from the concert hall,
Yet to our ears, embellishments
Of sweet familiar melodies.
The sounds of cello, violin,
Of trombone, horn, and clarinet
Reverberated on the walls.
That shabby room with faded rug,
Decrepit couch and unmatched chairs,
Became an opulent salon,
Fit for a princely potentate.

Today, with mystery dispelled
Through tweeters, woofers, sound-surround,
The Ode to Joy envelopes me.
Its universal majesty
I analyze methodically
Eclipsing hymn or simple song.
My mixers now direct the choir's
Dynamics, balance, richness, tone,
Or mute orchestral dominance.
But nothing can surpass the joy
When seated in a concert hall
To recognize the music played
As notes I'd first learned as a child.

Snow Spirit

by Jean Henning
The snow falls bright upon the land
Lighting the night sky with its own reflection
And I lie in my bed wondering
What makes my room so bright?

I rise to watch the falling snow
Its force and beauty exciting my senses
closing in on me, pulling me
into its haze ridden depths
As my spirit seeks unseen dimensions.

Just greens

by Lauren Finaldi Gurus
We wither in wait
of Later-and-Later Man,
---my decorated Iceberg and I.

United, we ill-prepare
for lame excuses,
or the cold shoulder.

I drape her in soggy paper towels,
nudge yesterday's remains
and make room for her in the fridge;
---an old trick from junior high Home Ec.

Should I divide her, leave out half---
conduct salad experiments to learn
if twenty years believing
was for naught?

I play different games.

At seven, I oust every onion,
eight, cherry tomatoes spell out
when the little hand approaches nine
I bite into the last bell pepper,
chew and spew.

By ten my ally's naked leaves
fight frost-formation;
I face my fear.
We both have wilted,
but tonight only she will perish.

St. Blaise

Armenian Bishop beheaded in the year 316
by the pagan governor Agripoulos
by Donna Pucciani
The kindly bishop
with a name like fire and eyes like smoke
was dragged off to prison in his physician's robes
when a weeping woman with a child
the color of anguish thrust herself
in his path, knelt to press
his manacled hands, imploring him
to heal the baby's throat eaten away
by God knows what corrosion.

Perhaps he blessed the boy, crossing
the air with both hands tied in front,
or held him stiffly in his doctor's arms,
letting the fevered head rest on his shoulder,
or bent down to examine the small mouth
oozing with pustules, bits of breath
reeking decay.

Who knows what gesture
of the jail-bound saint flushed the disease
from the dark hole of a child's pain
to bathe away hurt with a swig of sanctity.

It is flu season.
Believers line the aisles of a parish church
in Boston or Dublin, awaiting the cool touch
of two unlit wax candles, white as hoarfrost,
crossed on the neck. Stained glass dragonflies
flit on the faces of those who swallow
the minor agonies of respiratory sorrow,
Blaise's blessing cauterizing their throats
with the cold flame of faith.

Sculpting in Snow

by Wilda Morris
This is what
we’ve been waiting for
all winter -
six inches
of good packing snow,
cold and moist
in our gloves,
our ball growing
larger and larger
to serve as base
for a sparkling sculpture.

We might construct
a dog on its haunches
begging for food,
a penguin with a fish
in its mouth,
or Lincoln in a tall hat.
Or maybe

you and me
in buttoned coats

holding hands.

First published by
Christian Science Monitor,
February 2, 2005.

Fishing the Poetic Pond

by Shirley Anne Leonard
The poetry of olden times deserves respectful mention,
but now they say effective verse must first grab one's attention.
So lay aside convention, be original, absurd.
Use banal conversation, toss in here and there a word
that dabbles in the sordid or cavorts with the obscene,
and seldom, very seldom, stoop to tell us what you mean.

Just wander as you babble in your wild poetic trance,
bereft of form and grammar, every noun and verb askance.
By high aficionados of the art we have been told:
to reach the jaded reader you must shock him, and be bold,
to dangle tempting, baited hook and line before his head.
He's like a pampered glutted, goldfish, fat and overfed,
and if you haven't captured the first fidget of his eye,
he'll blithely swim along downstream, and pass your opus by.

Forget your Carl, your Emily, your Robert and the rest
whose simple use of opening lines would never pass the test.
Now is a reader grabbed by "I'm nobody. Who are you?"
or captured by "They offer you many things, I a few,"
or motivated by "Whose woods these are I think I know"
to be sufficiently diverted from his TV show?

You need more guts to jolt the intellectual marketplace;
you'll never make it if you concentrate on style or grace.
So hang your sordid laundry on the line for all to see;
for verbal stocking stuffers just toss in some raw debris.
And if you haven't hooked your fish in four or fewer seconds
forget it, for a more beguiling entertainment beckons-
some other hook with menu of cuisine-exotic, rare,
with juicy bait of brazen or arcane, mind-boggling fare.
So lure your prey with cunning; he may not be a thinker,
and catch him on the run with your hook, and line and sinker!

(Won Second Honorable Mention in the New York Poetry Forum Award
sponsored by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, 2005)

A Birthday Song

--for a dying African child
by William Marr
he wants to blow up with his last breath
the collapsing balloons
that hang listlessly
from his mother's chest
and watch them soar
high into the sky

on this birthday of his
on this deathday of his

Marching to the Party Beat

by John J. Gordon
An intriguing mass, the human brain:
Determined to expand my mind,
I processed disparate inputs
Embracing diversities of mankind.

Adulthood intensified this pursuit,
Striving for enlightened awareness.
Nuance, irony duly noted,
Dogma shunned; I chose fairness.

My attempt to disdain certitude
Attacked by foes as perversion.
Branded an "ambivalent coward",
I sought political conversion.

Joining The Party was traumatic;
Beliefs set by an inflexible creed.
Knowing the angst of moderation
I swore an oath, completing the deed.

Seeking conformity, The Party gives
A lobotomy to each recruit.
Relieved of all objectivity,
Common sense is rendered moot.

Some misinformed critics denounce
Party loyalty as truly sleazy,
When compared to self-reliance,
Subservience is remarkably easy.

Party promotion is assured
I will have my show on cable TV,
Preaching truth to all the faithful
Belittling all who dare disagree.

Growing weary of self-restraint?
Need certainty in every debate?
Join The Party, you will be told:
What is right, how to vote, who to hate!

Betta Dreams

by Larry Turner
My betta glides around his bowl
alone, day after day, year after year.
I try to empathize with him,
to feel what he is feeling.

I drop one grain of food upon the water,
hold the box across the bowl from him.
Early on, he learned to head for the box.
He never reaches it, outside the bowl,
but on the way he comes upon his food.

Maybe that is what we share,
with my goal, too, beyond my grasp,
outside the world in which I live,
but if I strive to reach it,
along the way I may find what I need.

Hoary Heart Ages

by Sally Calhoun
the Hoary Heart shrieks
at thoughts sublime
of youth
gone, gone,
not fully knowing its true self then,
sometimes filled with complaint
why so, the heart asks now,
having forgotten,
surely there was summer rain
sunsets fireflies
sudden kisses that could never be enough

why dissatisfaction
why preoccupied
the honeyed heart of youth spilled itself
like a vaudeville tragedian
mewling and dripping
as harsh sometimes as blood slipping from a dagger

now the quiet bliss of lamplight
makes Hoary Heart swell
and shiver less

love ofttimes leaps
but sometimes grows as faint as the distant tolling of a bell
yet is sustained by the details of an everyday routine
the coffee cup
a crossword puzzle shared
in spite of wear and tear and various shocks

one goes on living
no longer wonders why
yet breathes
the Hoary Heart beats and breaks
but will not die

from "The Saga of Hoary Heart"


by Susan T. Moss
   A dark, crumpled
heap garnished with
faded rags and square
mouth spilling profanities
in a deep, harpy voice
sat on a mid-city corner.
Her grimness spun itself
in convoluted outcries to no one,
but unwilling witnesses
were caught in
a precarious balance
between our own internal hell
and her nightmares
oozing into day.
   Oblivious to crumbled towers
or carbon-coated sky, this,
the loathsome side of humanity,
squawks her truths fired
by the other side of vanity and desire -
a place somewhere far from
the sunlight calling us
to live close to the earth
and sew our seeds deep enough -
lest, like a strong wind
that sucks life from the earth,
we fly away and can't return.

September Song

by Mardelle Fortier
My father left the Earth without farewell
Unlike the leaves. Slowly
So as to prepare us
They lost green, turned yellow,
Orange, lime, maroon.

Let me learn the lessons
Of the leaves. Let me leave
In stages: first a subdued voice
Then wise whispers as I fall.
As I begin to sing
In cinnamon rhythms of autumn
My hair will turn brilliant.
Let the strands be transformed
To all the colors of sunset:
Exploding gold, a glorious
Magenta, flaming flowering crimson,
Glowing ochre, bursting purple,
Dusty rose.

And we will leave out nothing:
I will shout “I love you”
And you will have time
For a last nostalgia
And a last embrace.

(Published in Dust and Fire 2006,
By Bemidji State University, Spring 2006)

As Far Beyond As Here

by Alan Harris
Perhaps your mind, when still, has reached a brink
Beyond which bottom, top, and sides release
Their hold, immersing all you are and think
In boundlessly profound, peculiar peace.

Set free, aware, and only slightly caught
Within the web you've spun of tickling flesh,
You feel you understand why you were brought
To live within earth's tantalizing mesh.

What sage or mystic ever wrote a line
Containing more than hints of what you feel
And almost know to be the life divine
Which tinglings from the vast unknown reveal?

Experienced have you this thunderbolt?
And savored have you since then every volt?

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