Sunday, November 20, 2011

June Beisch; Hla's cactus

Holy Ghost

by June Beisch,

The congregation sang off key.
The priest was rambling.
The paint was peeling in the Sacristy.

A wayward pigeon, trapped in the church,
flew wildly around for a while and then
flew toward a stained glass window,

but it didn't look like reality.

The ushers yawned, the dollar bills
drifted lazily out of the collection baskets
and a child in the front row began to cry.

Suddenly, the pigeon flew down low,
swooping over the heads of the faithful
like the Holy Ghost descending at Pentecost

Everyone took it to be a sign,
Everyone wants so badly to believe.
You can survive anything if you know
that someone is looking out for you,

but the sky outside the stained glass window,
doesn't it look like home?

"Holy Ghost" by June Beisch, from Fatherless Women. © Cape Cod Literary Press, 2004.


Girl Scout Picnic, 1954

by June Robertson Beisch

The parade began and the Bryant Jr. High School band
marched through the streets of Minneapolis
wearing white shirts, blue trousers, playing John Philip Sousa

Lance, Jack, Sharon and myself on drums,
strapped to our knees so we could play,
arms akimbo, drumsticks held high,

drum rolls, paradiddles, rim shots, flams
while the trumpets groaned and the bystanders
cheered us on in the rain-drenched streets.

The Girl Scouts strutted ahead of us wearing
their green uniforms, berets and badges
waving the Girl Scout flag, and smiling,

We could do anything after this, we felt,
twirling our drumsticks between our fingers
Such joy seems unimaginable until I conjure it

Not even Wordsworth's memory of
a field of daffodils comes close to it
The picnic later at the Minnehaha Falls Park,

then walking home much later in the dark
still filled with the sounds of it.
To march at thirteen through the streets of Minneapolis

is to ride in triumph through Persepolis.

"Girl Scout Picnic, 1954" by June Beisch, from Fatherless Woman. © Cape Cod Literary Press, 2004.



by June Robertson Beisch

On first seeing it, I was repelled
by the idea of eating something so
exotic looking and sinister,

having read Jean Paul Sartre's line
about crustaceans having a dubious
consciousness. But I was in New York, and

the young man I had met there tucked
my napkin under my chin and
handed me a nutcracker for the shell.

I was from Minnesota, raised on
lakes and brook trout. I, too, was
uncooked and formless, like the creatures

who take on the shape of their environment
My first taste was delicious, but the
third was even better and by

that time I was a real New York girl
who wore skinny black dresses and false eyelashes,
able to handle myself with any

crustacean, dubious consciousness or not.

"Lobster" by June Beisch, from Fatherless Woman. © Cape Cod Literary Press, 2004


To a Young Son

by June Robertson Beisch

Today I passed your room
and you were slowly quietly
combing your hair.
It was a pleasant, calm moment.
I felt the silence of the room
and could almost hear you growing.
You combed without a mirror,
your eyes distant and pale,
your head slowly nodding
like the head of a stroked animal.

Xerxes the King sent out a spy
who returned to camp, astonished to say
that the Spartans were all stripped to the waist
their bodies gleaming in the Aegean sun
and they were all carefully combing their hair.
The king was afraid then.
The Spartans were preparing to die.

I turn slowly from your doorway
and return to the linen closet where I
will fold this memory in my heart
among everything that is clean and fresh and white.

"To a Young Son" by June Beisch, from Fatherless Woman. © Cape Cod Literary Press, 2004.


June Beisch, a Cambridge poet who previously lived in Concord for many years, published a collection, “Fatherless Woman,’’ in 2004. The poem “Skunks’’ below was the last poem she wrote before dying on May 26 and is not part of the collection. The other two are from her book. All are reprinted with permission from her family.


· June Beisch, 70; launched new career after discovering poetry in her 40s

· VIDEO June Beisch's last reading


This morning, I stepped out
onto the deck
and into the cold, sharp

morning air
and the cold sharp scent
of a skunk

lurking nearby, close
enough to remind me
that some are up early

sorting through life’s detritus,
hoping to uncover
its purpose or meaning,

some are reconnoitering,
hoping to discover
just who is the enemy, who the friend.

Last night, I sat reading poems
from a new anthology
and after a while, I put the book down,

lowered my head, my heart
aching. I was filled
with the most delicious

sadness. I was no longer in the
everyday, ordinary world but
was transported to the one of

beauty and of sorrow

and I saw then
how much we need sadness

and how sometimes, reading poetry,
you come upon a sudden
sharp whiff of truth and it

enters your life, it hurts you,
and it can even
set you free

“Aunt Bobby’’

My favorite aunt was unmarried, half deaf
and lived alone in a smoke-filled room
at the Curtis Hotel in Minneapolis.

Once beautiful, she still had her vanity.

Her hip, mangled in surgery,
gave her a spasmodic gait, she flapped
down Oakland Avenue to visit us
like a tall crane who’d had a few.

I loved the sight of her, ran to
the frazzled, overpermed head, the
too-bright ruby lips, the strong perfume.
For all the appearances of inutile femininity,

she was to me, a half divinity.

The auntness of aunts, their
bemused, hat-askance objectivity.
They belong to no one and to everyone
and can offer a child another reality.

How many times she took me home
to her apartment hoping to give
my busy mother a small reprieve
handed me a pencil and drawing pad

then made me feel like Michaelangelo.
Now thinking back, I wish I had
given back just half of what she gave to me.


The Christmas cactus of Hla Aung
Burmese refugee of some years back
blooms this year
at the Odd Fellows
just in time for Thanksgiving

Hla kept that plant alive
though times
were tough