Poem-A-Day 2019: Sandi Stromberg

I have some close friends, Scott and Paula, who live in the northeast now but who are from Texas. Scott’s dad and stepmom have a marvelous goat ranch and bed and breakfast out near Wimberley, Texas, in the Hill Country. When my husband and I and Scott and Paula and a lot of our close friends were all in our twenties we used to go out to the ranch every year to help clear some of the land of unnecessary cedar that was starving the narrow waterways, the streams and creeks and waterfalls. We all had desk or computer jobs, and a weekend of physical landscape labor every January was just what we thought we needed to reset ourselves.

In actuality, what we needed was time in the Hill Country, time spent on a cold, sunny landscape bright with a winter sun in a turquoise sky. We needed a bumpy ride over caliche roads, a truck’s jaunt across a bridge over a narrow tributary of the Blanco, a bonfire in the large fire pit at night while we rocked on the enormous porch and peeked at Milky Way in the freezing black sky. We needed to wander the tall grasses, a weather eye out for coyotes and mountain lions, with the shepherding dogs and each other. We needed to come back near the house to feed and pet the goats and hold their kids, to pick burrs out of our socks, to sit up all night talking books and art and Lyle Lovett and k.d. lang. We needed breakfast casseroles with three types of corn in them and Paula teaching me to make a tartine at night. We needed time to sit, time to nap. I needed time to wander off to a corner with my journal and write while Paula painted my portrait for practice.

Almost twenty years later, when we go back to visit our friends at the ranch, we still wander the land and look at the cedar bough graveyards we built, now brittle bleached by age and the elements, and take a small sliver of pride at the rushing waterfalls and streams and creeks we helped resuscitate. When we aren’t having a drought year, anyway. The Great Pyrenees, those huge shepherding dogs, are used to us now. The goats are still sweet and loud and make us squeal with delight, especially now when we take our our kids to see theirs. And never fear, the cedar just goes on and on.

We need spaces like this, even in our urban lives, our urban inner landscape, just to have a moment to sit in a rocking chair with nothing pressing upon us. It’s the only way, sometimes, we can figure out how to relax.

I love this poem tonight, from the gracious and excellent Sandi Stromberg; it reminds me of faraway friends and a place and people I hope to get back to soon.

Wimberley Winter

Country music two-steps around a worn
leather couch. Flickers of yellow and orange
rise from smoldering logs. And my pen glides
across the lined page, gathering thoughts.
Outside, drizzle fogs the air. Ice crystals
drop from leaf tips onto the redwood deck,
tinkling as clear and harmonious
as a triangle.
.                                     All is so right
with my world, I would stop time in the middle
of this moment, snuggle into an endless
Hill Country winter. But when the flames fall
into their embers, and the ice crystals melt,
my blood rushes on.
                                   I anticipate—
the way the sycamore dreams of spring buds
or the stag, drinking at Cypress Creek, aspires
to more points on his antlers. The way
a mother holds her breath, watching
her child’s life unfold, step by step.

***

Sandi Stromberg is the mother of two sons, whose steps she still anticipates, one a director of motor-yacht development in France, the other a musician/composer in Singapore. She has been an award-winning magazine feature writer, editor, poet, and translator over the past 40 years. Her poem “The English Student” was recently published in the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. Her poetry has been published in many small journals and anthologies, most recently in the Ekphrastic Review. For 10 years, she served on the board of Mutabilis Press, during which time she edited Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston.

 

Advertisements

Poem-A-Day: Sandi Stromberg

Those of you who know Houston are probably aware of its rich, diverse, thriving poetry scene. We have page poets and slam poets — world champion slam poets, in fact. There’s an academic scene thanks to the Creative Writing Program at University of Houston; there’s an underground-ish (or used to be underground-ish) scene which fosters the likes of Houston Poetry Fest, a major three-day poetry festival held around town every October; there’s a mainstream blending of all of these thanks to Inprint; we have WAT (the annual seven-day Word Around Town Poetry Tour) and Meta-Four and so many others. We have readings all over the place all the time. Poetry oozes from our humid pores and swims in our flood waters. Thanks to Writers in the Schools — whose Houston chapter is decades strong and has been a flagship and model for chapters around the country — young people’s glorious verses hang on banners from our downtown lampposts and grace the marquees of our grocery stores and pop up as art installations in public parks during April.

When it comes to poetry, Houston has got it going on.

When I graduated from University of Houston in 1997, there were half a dozen big publishing houses in the country: the legacy houses, as traditional as publishing gets (which have now been whittled to The Big Five). At that time, there were about 57,000 small presses just in Texas, and many of them focused on poetry. One of the excellent poetry presses based here in Houston, Mutabilis Press, has been around since 2003, and they have published quite a number of truly excellent volumes. I am proud and humbled to be counted among the poets whose work has found a home in their anthologies now and then.

When Sandi Stromberg, a member of the Mutabilis Press board, graciously offered one of her poems this year for this series, I jumped at the chance to feature it.

***

Displaced Person

He wore Russian winters in his eyes,
his mind filled with the smell of borscht
and, pinned to his sleeve, a longing
for the crowded boulevards and language
of his youth. He talked about his days
as a DP, the streets of New York,
his attempts to imitate an American
man’s loose-hipped walk. Professor
in an after-thought Russian department
in a Midwestern town, he lost us
with Slavic sibilants, a maze of words
that dead-ended in our blank stares
and made him shout. Sad progeny
of overstuffed lives, we were disappointments,
unattuned to the subtleties of his mother
tongue or how he survived Siberian
camps and a cancer ward. We couldn’t connect
with his gulag past though we sensed
his misfitness in the way he clutched —
between index finger and yellowed thumb —
unfiltered cigarettes. In a land of waste,
he savored each puff down to the ember,
focused on a distance we could never traverse.

***

Sandi Stromberg co-edited, with Lucy Griffith, Echoes of the Cordillera (ekphrastic poems, Museum of the Big Bend 2018) and Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston (Mutabilis Press, 2015). Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, read on PBS during the April 2017 “Voices and Verses,” and published in many journals and anthologies, including Borderlands, Illya’s Honey, Red River Review, Inprint Houston Annual Report, Texas Poetry Calendars, and three Southwest anthologies from Dos Gatos Press. She has been a juried poet nine times in the Houston Poetry Fest. Her translations of Dutch poetry were published in the U.S. and Luxembourg. You may find more examples of her published work here, here, and here.