2 Poems by
Kathryn Stemwedel • St. Paul, MN
About the Writer
Kathryn Stemwedel lives in St. Paul with her daughters
Nina and Molly. She attended the School of the Art
Institute of Chicago, the Florence Academy of Art and
St. Olaf College. She is a painter, poet, teacher,
baker and candlestick-maker. She has political
objections to butchery but really likes
nursery-rhymes, fables and fairy-tales.
Bird or blossom,
Head of winter broods
A snow-swarm upon us.
A throng of trees is taken
The sky a yellowed overlord,
The bullet -black of crows,
the blood of cardinals shed,
All that the soft ampersands
Speak of innocence
Whiter than love
That walks on water to find you.
Magi crowd the streets
In red mittens and polyester caftans.
Twirling, they skid and shriek
Praises to a nameless God.
They fall hard and rise again
Marking their place with angels,
Laughing in the face
Of the ill examples we set aside.
Snow covers everything;
Dung and rotten jack-o-lanterns,
Dead gardens and ashen grasses,
Dark words uttered in anger,
Ever-bitter on the tongue of your heart .
Milk-white bird or blossom
It arrives bidden by children,
Kissing briskly the offered tongue,
Dissolving the imprints of the present
Replacing all with sweetness
In a communion of stars.
And we are given brief reprieve
Blessed by hallowed brightness
On the darkest day.
Walking down North Ridge in Chicago,
The heat-death summer, after spending my last dollar
For tonic water at the Western Dominicks,
A grocery my Grandmother would never throw a penny
For the eyes of a dead man, a place she told me was mob-run,
Old Dominick himself smug and indifferent to her embargo,
I smelled the tamale stands and corn-on-a-stick
Dripping with hot sauce and mayonnaise on the same corner
That every year Christ was nailed up in a passion play.
The girls with their long horse tails of burgundy stained hair
Laughed and stared into the windows of La Quincineria Linda
At the dresses of white cellophane; bride disguises marking
The end of something sweeter than what's to come I'm guessing
Not out of cynicism but of catching an infectious bitterness
In the eyes of adolescents swollen with unwitting life,
Their own umbilical cords still dangling, thirsting,
Unwilling and unready to cast their bicycles away
Under the cottonwood trees that fill the stifling summer
With an unappeasing snow.
That was the summer after you won big on jeopardy,
Step one of your quest to get rich and crush your enemies.
You narrowly lost your championship to a postman
Who knew the city of brotherly love. We took the money
And ran off to Prague where you tried to sew me to your side
But we ended up swilling beer and eating apple strudel
Until the money ran out in Krakow and we had to thumb a ride home
With gypsies and stow away in the bulk-head of a ship bound for
Where The Man was always getting you down so you took the train
To the Checkerboard Lounge where
Tail-Dragger one night shot another
In the face over the love of a fine woman.
You drank scotch turning the joint inside out
And later fell asleep waiting for the red-line at the Garfield
We used to close out the Green Mill dancing until you'd spill me
across the floor and talk Of Dizzy
Gillespie and how you saw him backstage in Detroit,
His cheeks blown out and calling you son and how my dad stole a
With Coyne Bechtel- both their mothers thought it belonged to the
They'd cut school on a Friday afternoon and ride north to catch
the Motown revue.
In that family there wasn't any more room for golden boys or over-achievers.
The only Spot left was for a bad seed.
Grandma gave up her flapping
and resigned herself to the
Sofa reading murder mysteries all afternoon,
attending glittering cocktail parties that
Spread out onto Kenilworth estate lawns, her shoe-shine hair marcelled,
she refused to
Bend over someone else’s life like a tub full of dirty clothes,
Consigned to housemaids and finishing schools, she brought home
of her affection wrapped up in dinner napkins and tucked in her
My father landed in jail where he stayed as no one would post bail
and later checked into the YMCA on
Chicago Avenue. He was cut from the will after he ran
off to marry a milkman's beautiful daughter.
When you told Grandma you'd make an honest women of me,
She hollered "good-night!" & "take your lethal
jokes out of my kitchen".
Grandpa added , "and here is an apple to eat on your way home".
In Prague in 1995, I left fire-lilies on the marble robe of Jude,
Patron Saint of Hopeless Cases. You called it a holy bribe
And rubbed for luck the toe of Charles the Martyr
Who was beheaded and flung into the river
Where his head bobbed eerily for hours until it flew up,
Dripping, eyes still open to graft with the right hand of our Father.
You didn't believe in God but in the church
And we fought over it bitterly until you abandoned me
Near a monument at the head of the golden stairs.
Later back in Chicago you named me quick silver and you put your
fist through the
Entryway wall. You diligently refused to be loved and not one to
I recalled how my dad hurled a sofa with a guy on it through the
picture window of the O’Conner’s sun room
had tossed a punk from a moving bus after he spit on a lady.
One bad seed deserves another.
Uncle Larry graduated from Harvard Law and took to the bottle.
Marvin married his well-heeled girl and took over where grandma
the whole damned story telescoping in on a legacy.
Ruby got bitter after Grandpa drove off her suitors one by one
and she never stopped
Hating my mother who wandered around barefoot and whistling in
her garden, growing
Carrots and ornamental cabbage all summer.
Little Joe was drafted for Vietnam but escaped away hanging
On the underbelly of a semi-truck, dropping off at some rest stop
In Pennsylvania and thumbing to St. Paul to sleep on my parent's
Until Grandpa came around to retrieve him by the ear.
“Home” where he spent the next 17 years in his room
reading up on mathematics
And playing electronic chess. We used to invite him down some evenings
to play ragtime on the piano
before the ceiling fan fell on the
soundboard and it went sour.
It was so hot that summer we laid on the bare floor in the evenings
Watching the death toll rise on T.V., drinking even the cooking
Until I got knocked up with twins. You said you’d go on the
Which lasted all of 48 hours and I'd spend whole days at the Art
Institute in front of the
Rape of the Sabine Women or sleeping
The shadows of Caravaggio’s Cupid
Who was pinned down by a wing like a butterfly,
His quiver of mis-directed arrows strewn across the earth.
I sympathized with him. You gave up writing and your dream
Of cultivating roses, for new shoes and a stiff job
On Michigan Avenue, arriving home late already drunk,
Offering cold Persian food and wilted expressions
As your companionship's collateral,
If the end hadn't always been beginning, I'd say that was it's
I was already gone like that mercury; furtive and in flashing orbs,
Grandma laughing knowingly from her corner, slowly dying under
a quilt embroidered with blue gulls
who eventually lifted her off
to rejoin with the weightless body of the sky.