National Poetry Month: BJ Buckley

I first encountered B.J. Buckley’s work one of the times when I was a judge for the Poetry Super Highway annual contest. I love this poem “Butter” and am pleased to feature it this year on my blog. 

Do you have any childhood memories connected to food? Does anyone not? Bread and butter are intimately linked to my memories of childhood happiness, specifically watching the homemade pita loaves puff up in the oven as they finished baking, and then spreading butter on them so soon it melted while the knife was still spreading it. That smell is still, to me, the scent of joy.

Butter

The cats are on the table licking butter
from my supper of stale discount bread,
whole grain loaf passed over in this whitebread
town. It’s nearly Christmas, and this memory
from childhood – December and real butter
in defiance of the lack of cheese or meat.
My father never shook the dust of Ellis Island
from his shoes. Year’s end he pinched
so on the Holy Morning we’d have oranges
in the toes of our stockings and nuts in their shells,
almonds and walnuts and filberts, Brazil nuts
and pecans, and ribbon candy made by the Cockney
man who had a tiny grocery, Greek cookies from
Mrs. Panopoulous whose first son had ended his own
life years before my sister and I were ever born.

My father drank his coffee half milk and so much
sugar that even we with our Irish sweet tooths
could barely get it down. I know from letters he wrote
to Bridie, sister left behind and never married,
that he longed for fish from the Shannon where it met
the sea, for Kerry butter, which you find now
in every market as if it were nothing special.
Those December dinners of whole wheat
thick spread with yellow are what I most remember,
more than the scrimped-for ham and sweet potatoes,
black olives and cranberry sauce in cut glass dishes,
the good silver hidden all year under my parents’ bed,
next to the string-tied shoebox with the captured
leprechaun from the Old Country and the suitcase
of graying photographs, the loved and lost
whose names were faded as their faces.

The cats are licking delicately their soft paws,
their pretty whiskers, cleaning their foreheads
and their ears. They smell of kibble-fish
and Kerry butter, of milk and wheat, a scent like
the hands of my father, making us our suppers
in the solstice dark, and then his thin clear tenor
that sang us off to sleep.

                                          at Yuletide, 2019

***

B.J. Buckley is a Montana poet and writer who has worked in Arts-in-Schools/Communities programs throughout the West and Midwest for over 45 years in schools, libraries, hospitals, senior centers and homeless shelters. Her work has appeared in Whitefish Review, ellipsis, Sugar House Review, December, Sequestrum, About Place Journal, The Comstock Poetry Review, and many others. Her book Corvidae, Poems of Ravens, Crows, and Magpies, with woodcut illustrations by Dawn Senior-Trask, came out from Lummox Press 2014. Her most recent work, the chapbook In January, the Geese, won the 35th Anniversary Comstock Review Chapbook Prize. Visit her website here.

Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 28: Patricia McMahon

Tonight’s poem comes from the wonderful Patricia McMahon, who — among other things — is the director of the Moss Wood Retreats, a writing experience in Maine that I have been to twice and dearly loved both times. You can read about those experiences here and here, if you like. (Fair warning, that second like contains a poem I wrote the last time I was there.)

This poem of hers, “The Last Time. One Sixty Seven, Seventh Street,” reminds me that nothing is permanent and ghosts are everywhere. And that’s okay, too, because it is a gift, not to be taken for granted, to feel the full range of emotions. I love the vivid descriptions here, how they carry the reader through this tiny landscape, pinging us from loss to joy to nostalgia to reminiscence and back through that catalogue again.

The Last Time. One Sixty Seven, Seventh Street.

The white gate no longer swings open,
the hinge rusted, the bushes, once small
and filled with bees to run from, screaming
for fun, are grown too tall, too wild for this small
space. A narrow concrete path leads around
back where the sapling is a great tree taking
most of the yard over now. But the green pitcher
is still moist on the outside on this summer’s
night, iced tea filled with fresh lemons. Mint
as well, when she grew it by the tulips on the
other side of the house. She wrapped them in
wet paper, carried to the kitchen. The mint is no
longer there. Not a tulip in sight. Still, the pitcher
will hold a handprint on this evening. Peach cobbler
would have been there.  Pastel pajamas for
the three girls on hot nights.  Seersucker. Lying
in the bedroom across the hall from the one with
a big dresser. And big shoes in front.  A big man.
Her side table piled with books. Over here
a silver brush and mirror, a cut glass perfume
bottle.  Jesus gazes down from one wall to his
mother Mary on the other side, while my father,
who has left the everyday behind, has slipped out
of time, stares across the room where my young
mother’s ghost combs her hair with the long handled
brush. The children are nowhere to be found.

***

Patricia McMahon writes poetry for adults and literature for children (patriciamcmahonbooks.com). The author of fourteen books, a graduate of The Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, Patricia has worked in publishing, as a bookseller, and is Past President of the Foundation for Children’s Books. The founder and director of The Moss Wood Retreats, each June finds her organizing writing retreats in the loveliest spot on the coast of Maine (mosswoodretreats.com). A committed traveler, she has lived on four continents; currently, Houston, Texas is home. 

Poem-A-Day: Paula Billups (again)

This year I will sometimes feature more than one poem by a particular poet, and this weekend belongs to Paula Billups. (I posted her poem “Christmas Letter for 2016, A Hard Year” yesterday.)

Today enjoy “A Delicate Milk Floods Winter.”

***

A Delicate Milk Floods Winter

 

A delicate milk floods winter
overwhelming my intentions with
early fog,
making faint the resolution to
meaning, to spin yet another
tale – for no one, for nothing.

I used to be so deft at that.

Now if such impulse rises
I stare it down blankly
as if addressing
a sudden stray cat staring
greenly back serenely
shrugging off the gathering chill
taking a long-known meeting
(or else a common standoff
to reward
the maker of the first sound.)

Neither of us can think of
a thing worth saying
that words could hold.

The mercury dives. And that idea,
hazy, deep, abandoned and
unbiddable, ignores my invitation,
winks slowly to show me who’s boss
and fluidly turns – an eddy in the year
fades back to the giving darkness
that lifted it –
a lace pattern once so crisp and
diamond-clear distilled to
icecream thoughts
all melted.

***

Paula Billups is a visual artist whose work takes in the media of painting, drawing, collage, artist’s books, installation, and collaboration. She bases her studio practice in Boston and Berlin and exhibits internationally, most recently in Cuba, Toronto, Berlin, and Luxembourg. Core themes of her work include interior shamanic processes, hidden and lost knowledge, and contradiction of the human desire for omniscience. Poetry has been a running thread of her creative life since the age of ten. She writes a blog at paulabillupsart.blogspot.com and files her poetry at paulabillups.tumblr.com. You can learn more about her work at www.paulabillups.com.