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?
Girl Scout Picnic, 1954
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
is to ride in triumph through
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
the young man I had met there tucked
my napkin under my chin and
handed me a nutcracker for the shell.
I was from
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.
To a Young Son
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.
June Beisch, a
· VIDEO June Beisch's last reading
This morning, I stepped out
onto the deck
and into the cold, sharp
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
My favorite aunt was unmarried, half deaf
and lived alone in a smoke-filled room
Once beautiful, she still had her vanity.
Her hip, mangled in surgery,
gave her a spasmodic gait, she flapped
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.