Free Poetry Project

free poetry dnt

Image by the Duluth News Tribune. That’s my poem that’s pictured!

The city of Duluth has a poet laureate. The current laureate’s name is Gary Boelhower. One of the ideas he put forth during his nomination process was to organize a free poetry project in our community. He made it happen, and now people can pick up poetry printed on cards at a dozen locations around town, including bookstores, coffee shops, and cafes.

Eleven local poets offered poems, including me! I offered several poems that haven’t been published yet. I chose fun ones that I thought would have popular appeal. One of them, titled “My Facebook Identity,” happened to be featured in a newspaper photo that accompanied a story about the project. To learn more, read the story.

I’m honored to take part in this sprinkling of poetry across our city!


Solastalgia: The Psychological Impact of Environmental Change


Leah Prussia, College of St. Scholastica.

Earlier this month, I attended the St. Louis River Summit. This science conference about the largest river that empties into Lake Superior (on the U.S. side) has gradually been incorporating more presentations that aren’t as “sciencey” as usual.

One of them caught my interest. Presented by Leah Prussia with the College of St. Scholastica, it was called “Solstalgia: An Intersection of Shared Knowledge.”

“What is solastalgia?” you may ask. Solastalgia is an English term for the mental or emotional distress that people feel from harmful environmental changes. It’s made up of “solace” and “nostalgia.” People feeling solastalgia no longer receive solace from their environment. Due to changes, they feel nostalgia for the way the place used to be. It’s a relatively new word, coined in 2003.

The changes can be from environmental catastrophes, such as volcanoes or floods, or from human-made changes like development or climate change.


St. Scholastica students gathering stories about people’s experiences with solastalgia.

Prussia, a social work professor, had her students at the Summit to collect people’s stories during lunch. I told them the story of a grove of trees near my home where I used to play with other neighborhood kids. I was devastated when the grove was cleared for a new house.

I remember complaining to the neighbor boy about it while we were on the swing set in my back yard. He said I’d get over it. That was almost fifty years ago!

I’m obviously still not over it if I can remember the pain I felt at the change. Have you ever felt solastalgia?


What it’s like to have Cataract Surgery

As the anesthetist wheeled my hospital bed down the hall, I looked up at the rectangles of passing florescent lights overhead, stereotypical of every television hospital scene ever filmed. Maybe it was a side effect of the sedative he gave me, but the thought that I was in a bad TV movie amused me.

I was going into surgery to have my old dirty cloudy eye lens plucked out from my right eye and replaced with an UltraSert lens, corrected for my nearsightedness and with UV and blue light filters! Years of squinting into the sun and just plain living had caught up with me. I’d been seeing haloes around the headlights of oncoming cars for years. Things had gotten so bad recently that I started avoiding driving at night.

This surgery was going to give me a new lease on seeing. My friends who had undergone the procedure told me it was a piece of cake, but I was skeptical about staying awake and having someone rummaging around in my eye innards. It didn’t help that the day before my surgery, news reports came out about a woman who committed suicide because her Lasik surgery went wrong.

At least I was having a different procedure done, but it still gave me pause.

Well, I am still here to say that I’m looking forward to having my other lens replaced later this week. Although I didn’t feel that sedated, I was apparently relaxed enough that they didn’t need to strap my head down to keep it from moving.

The doctor opened my eye with a speculum. They irrigated my eye with a saline solution and that’s about the only thing I felt. The main thing I had to remind myself was not to try to blink or struggle against the speculum.

What did I see? The white light that the doctor used to look into my eye. I saw the light the whole time through the 20-minute procedure. I couldn’t really tell when my old lens was gone and the new one was put in – I always saw light, although I guess from stories I’ve heard, other people see a red light or blackness. There was one point when my sight seemed to take a more internal turn, and I got impressions of things floating around inside my eye. Perhaps that’s when I was lensless.

From the time I got to the outpatient clinic to the time I went home took about 4 hours. You’ll need a friend to drive you home and back later the same day to the clinic for a follow-up exam by your doctor where s/he will check the pressure of your eye and make sure everything’s okay.


A blurry photo of my fashionable night eye guard that I wore for a week.

Be prepared for a lot of different drops put in your eye. Post-surgery you’ll be on an eye drop regimen that consists of a steroid to keep the swelling down and an antibiotic to prevent infection. At night, you’ll need to wear an eye guard for the first week.

The worst part of the procedure was only having one good eye to work with for two weeks. Although I got a clear lens placed in my eyeglasses over my good eye, I found I couldn’t tolerate wearing my glasses because of the lack of depth perception. So I’ve just been going around with one clear eye and one fuzzy eye. So if you notice any spelling errors in this post, that is why! But I’ve been making due the best I can in the meantime, and I’ve been able to drive all right (20/30 vision in my surgeried eye makes me legal to drive).

I also went out and bought a brand new pair of nonprescription sunglasses — first time I’ve been able to do that in years! The surgery seems to have made my eyes more sensitive to light, and the sunglasses are helpful.

A creepy side effect of the surgery is that, in the right conditions, I can see reflections from the artificial lens in my eye. I can tell that it’s not natural – kind of like having a robot eye. I wasn’t expecting that. But I guess it’s worth it to have better vision.

Anyway, wish me luck on my next surgery, and if you are scheduled to have it – I’m here to attest that it really isn’t so bad. It may even free you from glasses. And no, my doctor is not paying me to say any of this!

The Gauntlet


Shopping for lotion, I enter the store.

A clerk approaches and asks if I would like a basket.

“Why yes,” I say.

As I walk to the rack that carries my lotion (named Hello Beautiful)

the clerk asks if she can help me find anything.

“It’s right here,” I say proudly, having found my lotion by myself. “Hello Beautiful.”

She triumphantly points to another rack nearby

where lotions sit with the same name and a different label design.

I ponder the new ones, wondering, why can’t they just leave it alone?

Whenever I find something I like, the powers-that-be

change the recipe, change the label, change the scent, change the price.

I put the lotions in my basket.

I walk through the store where another clerk

asks if I’ve found everything I need.

“Yes,” I say.

She leaves, downcast at my satisfaction.

I stand in the checkout line,

almost to the end.

It’s my turn and the cashier looks into my basket, dismayed.

“Oh, don’t you want any spray? It’s twoferone!”

“No thank you.”

She tisk-tisks and rings me up. Asks if I have an email address.

“I don’t like to give that out,” I say.

She give me a look, bags my purchases and starts to hand them to me.

I expect a request for my social security number before she

lets my lotions go, but no.

She has my money and I am free now,

having survived another pass

through the capitalist gauntlet.

Five Things to do in Freeport, Bahamas


Taino Beach, Grand Bahama Island

I meandered away from the white snow of Minnesota to the white sands of the Bahamas for a week in February. My friend Russ and I stayed at a resort on Taino Beach in Freeport. Here are 5 things we did that you might want to do too, if you’re ever on the island.

Port Lucaya Marketplace

This shopping and dining center is named after the native people who used to live in the Bahamas, the Lucayan. Since the International Bazaar is defunct in Freeport after several hurricanes, this is your best bet for retail therapy and live music. High-end shops (Columbian emeralds, anyone?) mix with tourist stalls that sell T-shirts.


The conch stand at Port Lucaya Marketplace

We had drinks at the Corner Bar (best pina colada I’ve ever had!) and another day ate a wonderful lunch at Zorba’s Greek Restaurant (which serves the second-best pina colada I’ve ever had). The conch stand always had a line of people waiting to taste this sluggy wonder of the Caribbean. If we’d had time, we would have eaten at Cappuccino’s, an Italian place known for its dinners.


The second-best pina colada I had during our trip (at Zorba’s).

Rand Nature Center

Take a walk on the wild side in this 100-acre natural area. It’s named after the Rand Family, who were early Freeport settlers and philanthropists. For a $5 entrance fee, you’ll get a short talk and orientation to the visitor center and then free run of the place. Grand Bahama Island is very flat, so the walking is all easy.


The pond at Rand Nature Center

You’ll walk through Bahamian pines and past a pond full of turtles. Besides wild lizards and birds, the trail takes you past cages with a captive red-tailed hawk, Bahama parrot, and a couple of boa constrictors.

Once back in the visitor center, take a look at the gallery, which features work of local artists. Our visit was very peaceful and restorative.

Wave Running

A WaveRunner tour of the island is on the opposite end of the excitement spectrum from the nature center. Our resort offered an exhilarating ninety-minute tour along the shore to Peterson Cay National Park, known for its healthy reefs and tern habitat.

This trip was Russ’s idea, so I let him do the driving. I hung on for dear life as we bounced on the turquoise waves. Our guide, Ricardo, showed us where dolphin shows take place, and we got to look through the fence and see a dolphin or two. We also motored along Millionaire Row, a canal lined with expensive homes.

DSC05161Then Ricardo took us back out to the sea to the cay, stopping once to point out a $20 million home along the beach. A couple from Massachusetts was with us on the adventure. Denise and Michael were able to keep up with Ricardo better than we were, but paid for it with two impressive falls off their machine.

As we neared Peterson Cay, Ricardo stopped and took a chum bucket out of his machine to feed the sea turtles that frequent the area. Unfortunately, they weren’t around, but he left some offerings for them anyway.

Once on the beach he dropped six tiny hermit crabs in my palm and seemed disappointed when I didn’t freak out. We only spent enough time at the cay to take some photos, then we went back to the waves. Normally, the tour stops at a beach bar on the way back for drinks, but we were so putzy, we didn’t have time.

Once we were back to the resort, Denise said, “I feel like we survived something!” Russ and I had to agree, but it was a fun adventure.

The Perfume Factory

At least one business is still in operation in the defunct International Bazaar in Freeport. It’s the Perfume Factory, where they make colognes for women and men. They produce an impressive variety of fragrances all onsite by hand.


The Perfume Factory in Freeport

During our short tour of the “factory,” we saw their mixing room and production line. After the tour, our guide gave us samples to smell. My favorite was “Island Promises” for ladies, which is a mix of jasmine, lilies and patchouli. Russ liked the “Lucyan Bay Rum,” which features cloves and bay leaves.

If you don’t like any of their pre-mixed colognes, you can make your own and give it your own name. They will keep the info on file and you can order it again in the future.

Garden of the Groves

On a day when it was too stormy to snorkel, we took a bus tour that included a stop at the Garden of the Groves, which is a manmade natural attraction. It features a café with a view of a waterfall. If you feel like getting married, there’s even a chapel onsite.

We got a half-hour tour with a talkative guide who gave us the lowdown not only on the garden, but on local culture as well. If you feel like meditating, there’s a labyrinth for that, plus winding trails through lush vegetation.


Garden of the Groves

In Which My Writing Inspires Theft

45400919_10155548206416386_4915007419303591936_nHere’s a peek into the glamorous life of a local author. I was at the mirror in my church bathroom today when a lady going into a stall stopped and said she enjoyed reading the cover story on American martens that I wrote for Lake Superior Magazine recently.

She saw the magazine in her doctor’s office and since she knew a new issue of the magazine was coming out soon, she thought it would be okay to take the magazine so she could send it to her grandchildren in Japan who love learning about northern wildlife.

I thanked her and told her that there are martens in Japan, too.

Afterward, the more I thought about it, the more tickled I became that she valued my story enough to steal it. Although, perhaps she needs to listen harder to the moral messages during the church service!

A Tribute to Mary Oliver

I happened to be reading Mary Oliver’s “Dog Songs” book of poems over the course of several evenings when I heard the news of her death last week. What a momentous passing for the poetry world! The thought that she will never write another word for the world to read is depressing. I’ve been in a funk for a few days.

One of my friends said that when he heard the news, it hit him like that scene in “Star Wars” when Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan is destroyed by the Death Star; a giant scream passes through the galaxy, heard only by those who are strong in the Force. In the case of Mary Oliver, I imagine many poets emitted silent screams when they heard the news.

20190121_143759I’ve long been a fan of her work. I even was able to see her read in person in the hinterlands that are Duluth way back in 1987. Her autograph is on my copy of “American Primitive” as proof!

I appreciate how Mary made poetry accessible. Her consistent weaving of themes from the natural world and the sensual world spoke to me unlike the work of any other poet.  Thank you thank you Mary Oliver for having the courage to put your words to paper and the perseverance to publish them!

I’d like to share with you some of my favorite poems from “Dog Songs,” which, as if you couldn’t guess, are poems about her dogs.

These lines are from one entitled “Her Grave,” and they echo thoughts I have almost every time I walk my dog:

A dog can never tell you what she knows from the

smells of the world, but you know, watching her,

that you know

almost nothing.

In that short phrase, Mary explains the different worlds that dogs and humans inhabit, yet how closely they are connected.

Another favorite is, “The Poetry Teacher.” This poem describes how the university gave Mary a “new, elegant” classroom to teach in – one where her dogs were not allowed. She would not agree to that and instead moved into an old classroom in an old building. She kept the door propped open and eventually her dog would arrive with his friends . . .

all of them thirsty and happy.

They drank, they flung themselves down

among the students. The students loved

it. They all wrote thirsty, happy poems.

Then there’s “The Wicked Smile,” about a dog who seems famished for breakfast and “talks” Mary into feeding it, only to “confess” afterward that someone else fed him breakfast already.

While her dog poems are not quite as strong as her people-oriented poems, they are certainly worth reading. You won’t look at dogs in quite the same way afterward.

May you all write thirsty, happy poems!