Poetry and Fiction
As the Black poet J. Saunders Redding said: The relationship between a people and their history is the same as the relationship between a child and its mother; history not only tells a people where they are and what they are—history also informs us what we still must be and what we still must do.
Swatting mosquitoes in the rhubarb,
I watch you pull husky potatoes from the earth.
You roll them in your palms and scuff the dirt from their bulging eyes and moony grins.
Here’s Mister Potato Head!
It will leave nothing. Nothing. The future comes, ripping the asphalt up—black, jagged slabs.
Her 80th birthday—“Surprise!”
She smiles from the party photo, her last…
Proud back with a chest high in the air
Swaying with desire
Never knowing when to bend
Afraid to break
Walking into the wind…
Fool that I was with my scissors…
Every generation has its historical moments
Of collective grief and disbelief
Moments we forever remember
Exactly where we were when . . .
The deaths of Kennedy, King, Clemente
The space shuttle Challenger explosion
When the planes hit the towers on 9/11…
It’s spring! DerFrühling! Printemps!
Ring bells! Play the sackbut and shawm!
Excel. Rise and shine…
My name is not “Exotic . . .”
My name is Freedom
My people are worth more than eye
candy and shallow praise,
My people have no home, no country
We are from stolen territory…
Some days trees are all I see.
Today they’re getting fringed in leaves
at the crown. Underneath
there’s a huge ball of root
that nobody sees except my son…
My boys viewed their mid-1980s births
in the old Midway Hospital on University
between Porky’s and Ax-Man
as an embarrassment, a slight
their Saint Paul mom had designed to punish them
by withholding the polished corridors
of HCMC in their own hometown…
Just beyond the hem of the lake’s blue skirt
the sky turned suddenly jaundiced,
a weighted stillness, not quite your own, descended, and even the black pine
and birch hovered motionless
in a calm that bore no calm at all.
jagged rocks dusted red
bleed rose water from ancient springs
who was baptized here
saved and sustained by sacrificial land…
A rock on the ground,
next to the rock a tree,
on the tree is a bird,
its feathers like the river…
It hadn’t occurred to me until someone at work brought it to my attention that this winter has been going on for eleven years. I said, “That can’t be. Surely not.” But then I got thinking about it. It was eleven years ago November we moved into this house. You remember, snow was just beginning and we had so much trouble getting the refrigerator down the driveway and through the door.
Made in black and white
Frayed upon the edges
Free of wrinkles despite
That they were not then
My father’s parents
Looked so in love…
Tell a child she is composed of parts
(her Ojibway quarters, her German half-heart)
she’ll find the existence of harpies easy
to swallow. Storybook children never come close
to her mix, but manticores make great uncles…
The world is filled with empty promises.
It’s like when you tell a person you love them,
and they say it back,
but after that
y’all never speak again…
I remember hearing Kurt Vonnegut, who
was speaking in Saint Paul, say that when
the aliens arrived on a desolated earth,
we should leave them a message, carved in
the walls of the Grand Canyon…
In praise of buses rattling through the streets
In praise of passengers jostling for a seat
In praise of a transfer I didn’t need to buy
In praise of snow falling from the sky, and my down coat
Bought secondhand but warm…
It is not carelessness…
The midnight sky is bright
with the light of new snow.
Rooftops have gone missing…
We live in an urban universe
Between street lights, stars, moons and stop signs,
from distant planets unrecognized before we met within
stories of broken barriers spoken by elder OGs of these histories…
Cops know that hands can kill us
always, watch the hands
hands comfort, carry, bring safety
they hold, caress, and lift us…
It was an after school program for kids. I was ready like a manatee
is ready for ping pong. Just a little clumsy after
being tucked away in a collegiate cave while this city extols Saints just down the street. . . . I’ve still got a lot to learn.
Like how those science quizzes didn’t apply in the van ride. . . .
Where passing is keeping everyone buckled for just 3 more blocks.
Kimberly woke up this day and sat on the side of her bed, thinking. She opened her window. Just like the day before, it was wet and dark and raining. There were no birds in sight, no singing. The sun was hiding.
There once was a strange man named Hicks
Who yearned to create limericks…
My father has “old age of the eyes.”
That means he’s going blind
slowly from the inside out.
He says I look like a model
with my hair swooped back.
He points out a covenant of blackbirds….
She stands with bare feet
On a marble bathroom floor
The temperature outside has
Reached up to the predicted low for today
These days she keeps mostly to herself
No one else can bear it…
We come from separate compartments,
they from carrels,
I, from my usual routine,
form a circle, except
for the young man next to me
who turns away.
It is love and sensing the departed is present
somewhere between being able to be
reached or not. Neither alive nor dead.
It is searching, hopefully, for him…
Riva, sounds simple
But is made up of tangled detail
From the blood in Israel
To my flesh in America…
We flip through the pictures
You are moving
We listen to each song
You are undoubtedly alive…
It’s autumn. Leaves have taken over
the back porch and I sit at the
window, hungry for soup.
You have been gone for
I loved you, and I probably still do
And for a while the feeling may remain
But let my love no longer trouble you,
I do not wish to cause you any pain…
There is no seat you want to sit in, no place
that you belong, so you choose one near
the middle, closer to the back than the front,
one with a kid in it, wearing a faded jean jacket
and striped watch cap. A skinny kid who stares
at his hands, lying in his lap. His fingers are slender,
stunning—and you are ashamed that you notice.
I wanted a class photo, your name on a staff list.
From old city directories I have pieced together
a list of the schools where you taught—
Cleveland, Lafayette, Edison, Ericsson, Drew—
not a one of them standing in the next century.
Old photos at the History Center show their stern facades.
And what of the faces looking at you every morning?
I would like to propose
the following techniques
as viable displays
when encountering the suckitude
as developed and employed
by my son Dylan,
the demonstrative kindergartener…
Outside Merriam Park Library, a rusty black
bike shares a lock with another well-worn bike
stowed in the metal rack. Both nose
their front wheels into the stanchion like
Laurence “Larry Ho” Hodgson (1874–1937) was a unique combination of poet and politician, a prolific writer who produced thousands of poetic and prose works.
Let us think on the porch darling. Sit anywhere you like. I sit here because it fits me.
I can get up quickly, if need be, possibly never return.
You stay here with the morning sun dripping on your forehead.
Ceres, Goddess of Corn, grieved and raged
for her stolen daughter. They say she withheld
the harvest. But corn was already here…
One day, Darby and Marcella were quietly having lunch at a Galtier Plaza skyway table. Both worked at Cray Research, he in testing and she in quality assurance. Marcella had just unwrapped her jelly sandwich when Darby popped his question. “What’s the difference between an elephant and a flea?” Marcella opened the small spiral notebook she brought every day to lunch, and began to write the question down, but then paused. She removed another notebook from her purse and flipped through it rapidly. “Aha,” she announced. “October 14th.”
The kid loved basketball. He never had a basketball to speak of, but the school had plenty. The kid had a favorite. It was old, smooth, and had the feel of rough paper. It bounced as high as any of the new ones. The kid felt alive when it bounced back perfectly. The kid knew the concrete playing field—all the broken spaces and the cracking cover of the court. The kid knew how to angle and fly by the arms and legs of others. All for that beautiful sound: swoosh.
as does the
it is impossible to miss the red bird
the only ember alive
this snowy March…
Homemade snow pants of thick wool, ice caked on my jacket sleeves and on my mittens: I head out with my best friend, Rita doll…
I like the cold so brisk and fresh
it cuts through clothes
and crimps nose hair…
It was around 9:55 a.m. I was waiting for the library to open.
I saw a cute Ethiopian girl coming toward me. She had dark brown skin, short hair, and a pretty baby face.
“What time is it?” She asked me. Her English accent was very good.
We speak of it
as though it were a place,
a battlefield strewn
a burial ground
of shattered statues
hooded with snow.
“Pho all the way around,”
The leather jacket boy says
While the girls compare nail polish…
Just landed on my windowsill.
Thought about coming in…
My momma never told a lie, she couldn’t when the truth was clear
Through stretch marks and crow’s feet, the truth is what she told me
Not through words, but through the curve of her hips
The gleam in her eyes . . . the memories on her lips
She is so beautiful, that her skin can’t even keep her concealed
She is so beautiful, that in her early days
she carried another life inside her, manifested the fire
Sending her existence higher…
Sniffing flowers sweet as honey,
Begging for donuts.
Near glass jars of jam,
My feet hit the ground in front of
Bright red strawberries…
The sweet smell of lilacs
drifts over the city like a blessing.
Yesterday was winter,
today blooms radiant spring.
Cafe tables unfurl up and down Selby Avenue,
an old man shares a croissant with his dog,
joggers and tubs of pansies claim the sidewalk…
My feet are cold—the car
is cold—the car sounds
like a bucket of bolts
Rolling down a hill—
it’s so cold that my breath
falls like ice from the roof…
Pale vision on an early day:
two gray wings gliding flat
balance on the body’s straight line.
A trill rises from the meadow….
Before I was born
There was movement
Paddles pushing pent up people through oceans of pain
That explains my fear of water
When I was born
There was movement still
Saint Paul Poet Laureate Carol Connolly: Poem for the Second Inauguration of Mayor Chris Coleman on January 4, 2010
We stand on the edge of a New Year, full,
it is, of endless possibilities. Somehow, we
climbed the steep hills of the year just past,
none of it easy, our seven hills dotted
with lights steady in the dark of night, hills
alive now with the beauty of a new snow that
stopped traffic everywhere.
David Haynes, an African American author and St. Louis native, lived in Saint Paul for many years and taught fifth and sixth grade at a downtown public school. He has written several adult novels, and decided to write for younger readers because he found a dearth of works for that age group that were set in this city. “Business As Usual” tells the story of a cookie-selling enterprise among two rival groups of sixth graders, with a few life lessons about people and economics woven in along the way.
Old Saint Paul, up and down your ripped up sidestreets,
kids roam, hands deep in pockets, snapping ice with each step.
Their mothers poke out of houses,
“Time to come inside,” they say,
waiting to hang blankets off shoulders
and brush the child’s hair from his face.
I search the concourse for the family,
a family whose people
were swept away by a river red with blood.
Swept when a secret war ended.
Swept from the mountains of Laos,
Swept in one day from the steamy jungle
to Minnesota’s pre-dawn dark.
Gathering in St. Paul 40 years after Selma,
the speakers’ arms pump and flail;
the voices of the preacher and senator ring out
and we step into the stream like revelers,
cheerful on the buoyant morning,
walking the half-mile from Central High School
to Concordia College.
On the coldest day of the year,
a man stepped onto the 21 bus
carrying a vase of lilies, shell
pink, tall as a child in his arms.
He sat behind the driver
with the flowers in his lap.
Of course I heard voices in the night,
felt the presence of dying,
that white, fringed place.
Shallow breath, narrow entrance—
the door to death opened.
Then came steroids
and their lack of inhibition.
There was terror. I admit it.
On the south shoreline
of the Mississippi
in Saint Paul
one black eagle
breaks the tree line…
The department’s floor personnel—Bobbi, Tess, Shaun, Alice, and the stock boy, Luis—received word in that week’s pay envelope, but rumors had been circulating for some time that the store was closing. It was, after all, impossible to ignore how the shelves were not being restocked. “No mas,” Luis would shrug, his palms turned upward, when one of the sales associates asked why a particular item—like those fleece-lined shoe inserts the old ladies liked so much—hadn’t been replenished. “A little shipping problem,” Mr. Beechner, the head buyer, had assured Alice, the oldest among them, when she’d worked up the nerve to ask. “Central’s working on it,” he said, then marched off in a rush. He was always in a rush.
—even though I drank wine,
and then only half a glass—I felt I
owed it to myself and to the guests
who’d sat politely through the reading
—and to everyone in every
college and university 20th Century
American Literature class
The moon has landed
on earth, printing her
craters and hills..
Funny how two people
can get the feel of each other in two bars
two bars of a tango
a woman from the top of the world
a man from the bottom of the world
in the middle of a circus
in the middle of an industrial zone en el Rio Plata
in the middle of Buenos Aires.
I raise my baton,
a rake, a half-chewed stick:
dry leaves crackle, snap
tympani for the horn toot
of geese flying south.
This fall, our son’s chosen
to grow his hair out long.
He keeps his tresses clean,
Otherwise lets the fields lie fallow,
Doesn’t cultivate with comb and brush.
One woman on Grand stares so long
at his hair, she trips over the curb…
She was working first
shift at Taco Bell
when out of Hong Kong
and the two-fisted guns
and that scene in the kitchen
where he rolled through flour
for dumplings and rose white
faced as the angel of death…
Workers performing advance utility relocation work in preparation for light rail construction in Lowertown have stumbled across what local authorities believe may be a long lost royal complex that is likely the final resting place of Boreas the Brrrave. It is not unusual for the refuse of bygone eras to turn up during large scale excavations such as that which has been taking place in Lowertown this past summer. Similar work on the Hiawatha Line in Minneapolis uncovered scores of bottles, household items and more than a few horseshoes. The quality, variety, and sheer volume of items discovered beneath 4th street have, however, prompted calls for a halt to further work on the project – if only temporarily.
I am a Hmong boy who lives to eat rice.
I wonder how much rice can feed the world.
I hear the sound of Mama packing the rice from the “vab”
I see the steam from the freshly cooked rice that makes my mouth water…
The bluffs near Shepard Road were steep, nearly
Worn away, over time, by the flooded
Sweep of the river. Minnow pools survived
Those years, there by the edge of the city
Near the cliffs…
You resist when I take you down, refusing
to end your dance with the October breeze.
Flapping, twirling in your many threaded cotton
gowns, which contain the smells of maple, grass
and the geese sound, which blew in
and won’t release.
Just one more day A yellow daisy day A too hot sidewalk, barefoot day A last mosquito day A sunset at the beach day One scorcher day to hold midwinter At bay Marcie Rendon, White Earth Anishinabe: Saint Paul was her first home in the urban area in the infamous...
Founded in 1994, New Foundations is a non-profit organization located on St. Paul’s East Side that provides permanent, supportive, affordable housing and comprehensive on-site services for homeless dually diagnosed chemically dependent and mentally ill adults in recovery and their families.
A pint of raspberries rests
in the lap of a pint-sized child.
Lolling in her stroller, she’s
living in the lap of luxury…
As our Saint Paul Saints begin another season this year, here are a couple of stars from a bit ago. Ila Border, the first woman to play in organized baseball, and Darryl Strawberry, down on his luck from stardom from the Yankees. Both players earned the applause and joy of Saints fans in 1998.
It’s 8 p.m. at City Hall and the lights in the mayor’s office are still on. He sets down the stack of reports he’s been reading, glances at the clock in his office, and reaches for his briefcase and keys. It’s time to make the rounds. He flips off the lights and walks down the echoing corridors of City Hall to the door. Everyone is long gone.
So we moved from my small town in western Minnesota
to St. Paul where I had to go to Murray High,
with more people than in the entire town of Sacred Heart…
“You’ll get a ticket parked that way,” I called.
A slim black woman in cleaning clothes
that workers wear at Regions Hospital
had parked her rusty car along the curb,
but pointed south, the wrong way on that street.
It’s clear I’ve missed a few stellar odes
on my way to do the laundry—cracks
in the canon, Li Po and Heaney’s gold.
I drive across the High Bridge
with Saint Paul sprawling
before me, built on hills like Rome itself.
Forty-five minutes in the 2000s
Is enough time to write
A small book of poems
But they never seem to come
Until you’re furthest away from a pen.
The old man was not really in a rowboat
under the Mississippi River bridge.
He was in the process of turning
inside himself, as we all will do one day…
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