Louis Jenkins’s Favorite Poem

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Louis Jenkins reads at Zenith Book Store in Duluth, Minn.

Laconic prose poet Louis Jenkins gave a reading at a book store last week in Duluth.  He’s one of my favorite local writers (even though he lives in a Minneapolis suburb now instead of Duluth), so I went. I think of him as Duluth’s Earnest Hemingway. He has that larger than life quality and talent. A chance encounter with him once even inspired a poem out of me. (See “Two Poets in the Cereal Aisle.”)

The Poetry Foundation website describes Jenkins’s poems as having “a tight focus on the mundane particularities of ordinary existence, using deliberately flat language to comic and often heartbreaking effect.”

The last time I went to one of his readings years ago, I left my cell phone on. My children were home with a babysitter, and I wanted to be available. I told the sitter only to call me in an emergency. Right when Jenkins was reading a poem, my phone went off. I was in the middle of the crowd and everyone looked at me. I was too mortified even to turn off the sound; I just fled the room with my ringer intermittently blaring.

The call was not an emergency. After mildly chastising the inexperienced babysitter (I am a Minnesotan, after all, we can’t afford to get all riled up), I sheepishly returned to the reading, waiting until the crowd was applauding to cover my entrance.

At last week’s event, you can bet I turned that sucka OFF. Jenkins read from his new book, “In the Sun, Out of the Wind.” Afterward, he took requests for readings from his other books and he answered questions.

One memorable question came from my friend and partner in crime, Sharon. She asked which poem of his was his favorite. His response was, “The next one.” He went on to explain: “Sometimes you think, ‘I got pretty close with that one,’ and those are the good ones. Other times you wonder, ‘Why in the heck did I write that?’ ”

Another person asked him what he thought of living in the Twin Cities. “Bloomington’s a lot like Duluth,” he said. “It’s only got one good restaurant.”

The topic of actor Mark Rylance came up. In case you haven’t seen the Tony awards lately, Rylance is the actor who, for the last two Tonys he’s won, recites a Louis Jenkins poem instead of giving an acceptance speech. Rylance and Jenkins even did a play together based on Jenkins’s book, “Nice Fish.”

Although age has taken its inexorable toll, Jenkins still has a twinkle in his eye when he reads, and his wit is unmistakably intact. I felt privileged to see him once again, and to sit through the entire reading this time.

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Lost Lights

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My grandchildren
will never see
the lighted tunnel
with the penguin for wishing.
(Rub its head.)

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Image by Amanda Jo Dahl.

They will never see
the sugarplum fairy
high in the tree;
the unicorn that changes colors;
Cinderella’s carriage
bedecked with white lights.

They will never walk
the driftwood path
to the dark and quiet lake;
the stars overhead
dimmed by green laser lights on the sand;
city lights pulsing on the hillside beyond.

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Image by Amanda Jo Dahl

They’ll never drink hot cider
in the garden house;
never roast marshmallows
in the outdoor fire here;
never laugh at their reflections
in the low slung, slanting mirrors.
When they are older,
they will never kiss that special someone
under this frosted mistletoe.

My grandchildren
will never know this tradition
unless
I spark the light
behind their eyes
with words.

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This is a tribute to a Christmas lighting display on Park Point in Duluth, Minn. Marcia Hales (seen lighting a wish lantern in my photo from 2015) has invited the public to enjoy the display in her yard for years. She recently announced that 2016 will be the last year for her display. I wrote this poem very quickly after spending last evening in her lights.

 

UPDATE: Jan. 7, 2107 was proclaimed Marcia hales Day in Duluth. It was supposed to be the last day for people to visit her light display, but after the proclamation reading, Marcia announced the lights will go on! She’s getting a lot of community support to keep them glowing into the future.

Trail Cam in the Office

TrailCam

True story. This happened in my office last week.

 

We’re caught
inside the camouflaged box that’s mounted on a pole
in our office.
Eyes wide, coffee cups in hand
we walk down the hallway
feeling like someone is watching.

What strange natural rituals
will the camera catch —
Mating habits of the white-collar worker?
Dominance displays of the office alpha female?
A furtive mail boy stealing candy from a desk?
The shy engineer emerging from a conference call?

I suspect all the mother wolves who have had their birth dens invaded,
all the nesting birds who just want to feed their young in peace
would enjoy the sweet revenge
of these photos.

©2016  Marie Zhuikov

Nobody Dies in Spring in Duluth

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Marsh marigolds. Credit: Brian Robert Marshall [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

April is National Poetry Month in the U.S. I couldn’t let it pass without posting a poem. This is one I just finished, inspired by a poetry class taught by Duluth Minnesota’s Poet Laureate Jim Johnson, based on Philip Appleman’s poem, “Nobody Dies in Spring.” Try your own version! It’s a fun exercise. I hope this Spring finds you well.

Nobody Dies in Spring in Duluth

Nobody dies in Spring in Duluth.
That’s when we hold gloved hands
with total strangers on the Lakewalk.
We sing sweet nothings to our dogs,
who have been lying by the fireplace
all winter, gazing up at us
with walk-hopeful eyes.
Kids yell and splash bikes through street potholes.
High school students don shorts
when the mercury hits forty-five.
Fathers take a year’s worth of family refuse
in pickup trucks to the dump.
Pussy willows sprout gray fuzzy nubbins
for mothers to cut and bring inside.
Shy yellow marigolds beckon in marshes.
White gulls cry and fly over melting snowdrifts.
The sun reaches down with tentative warm caresses.
Nobody dies in Spring in Duluth.

©2016 Marie Zhuikov

 

Please Vote for my Poem on Goodreads!

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By Jonathunder – Own work, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27488865

I swear this is no April Fool’s joke. I entered a poem in the Goodreads Newsletter contest and it’s one of six finalists up for vote. The winning poem will be featured in this month’s newsletter, which Goodreads says is read by 20 million people.

My poem, “Inevitable Scones,” is currently in second place by ten votes. If you are active in Goodreads, please join the Poetry Group, read my poem and vote for it if you like it.

This is the first time I ever entered a poem in this contest, and I am amazed it was picked as a finalist. I’m also excited that it has the chance to be read by so many people. For those of you already a member of the Goodreads poetry group, here’s a direct link to the voting.

Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. (Pacific Time) on April 2. Every vote counts!

* * *

UPDATE, 4/3/16:

Well, my scones poem didn’t win the Goodreads contest. Even though, as my brother would say, it makes me the first loser, I am at peace with my poem’s strong second-place finish. I’m excited by it! This is the first time I’ve entered a poem in a national competition and it’s validating to see my little book-inspired nostalgic ditty place well. Thank you for the pains you took to vote, and for your encouragement.

Bobcat Fog

Fog

Buddy and I went for a walk along the lake in the fog this evening. I love fog. It’s so . . . atmospheric. Makes you feel enveloped, safe in a wall of mist, moving mysterious through the world. Of course, Lake Superior was gray, too – water and sky indistinguishable, quiet.

As a fog-lover, I live in the right place. The dynamics of the lake and the hillside in Duluth make for a larger than usual number of foggy days.

During my walk, I was reminded of the Carl Sandburg poem about fog – how it comes in on little cat feet. He wrote that about Chicago – seeing fog in the harbor. But cat feet just don’t cut it for Duluth. Our far north fog is less domesticated, a bit more dangerous. If I were to write a haiku about fog in Duluth, I would describe the fog as coming in on bobcat feet.