House of the Tomato

If a woman wants to be a poet, she must dwell in the house of the tomato. -- Erica Jong

Regional website for the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, in partnership with the Reader's Loft.

GREEN BAY / NORTHEAST

Celebrating, sharing and inspiring poetry throughout Wisconsin.

Featured Poems

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APRIL 2014

Featured Poems


Old Toes

Sarah Gilbert

Appleton

It made me laugh

when the doctor diagnosed

chilblains.

Like I had just stepped

off the prairie

or from a Dickensian street

my feet wrapped in rags.

Like my toes lived in a time

of ague, the grippe, rickets,

scurvy, dropsy, and the vapors,

when doctors used

leeches and whiskey

and arrived by carriage

clutching a black bag.


The Polar Vortex Traveled South for the Winter

Sarah Gilbert

Appleton

Two weeks ago the thermometer

crept above freezing

two days in a row.

 

I had dreamt of walking into my garden

no snow cover, asparagus pushing

through leaf mulch.

 

And though that February morning

snow still covered all,

I walked under birdsong

 

turned my face to palpable sun

rather than away from biting wind.

Snowmelt seeped from drifts

 

and I lifted my voice with the birds

singing of spring and stirring sap

praises and thanks and hope.

 

This March morning my boots

make subzero creaking noises

but those birds and I are still singing

 

and the light stretches longer.


Screensaver

Sarah Gilbert

Appleton

Screensaver goldfish

drift lazily by

waving their fantails

moving their lips

while bubbles

percolate from blue gravel.

Lucy the cat

sits mesmerized

tilts her head

watches

lifts a soft paw

bats and bats again

but the fish know

she’s not really there.


Said to Be Safe

Molly Sutton Kiefer

Minneapolis

from City of Bears,

dancing girl press

The city is said to be safe

                in the bowl

made by mountains.

                Imagine a tornado

climbing that.

Last summer, its hunger

was so big, the trees in her backyard

shattered,

leaned into one last, lonely sleep.

                Two red-tailed

hawks spoon mice away,              rest on the last bough.

We watch to see where,              among the stars,

                it will green again.


Channels

Molly Sutton Kiefer

Minneapolis

from City of Bears,

dancing girl press

Beneath the surface, hairs drift, coral song,

beaded bubbles of air strung, a whistle.

Algae or duck weed, the rift of black bear

in the Mississippi headwaters, guard hairs

softened. Hunched, drifting, tepid bathwater

and stillness, soothe of water on skin,

the only sound is water’s lick against shore.

 

Feral, crow song, clawed hands scratching away

at ligament growth, hips unhatched,

menacing paws splayed on quilt top, move

to the basin of my belly, matching streaks

of purple hibiscus, those stretched juices

left hours just after the lover.

 

I find my belly swinging low

with some creature who patters around at night,

who wakes me to stretch a square of muscle,

the only one left, to prod and remind me

this again and over: it’s not yours, the body, any more.


Shapeshift

Molly Sutton Kiefer

Minneapolis

from City of Bears,

dancing girl press

A girl shaped like a bear. A bear-shaped girl.

A girl inside the maw of a bear. A girl with a breath like a roar.

A roar beneath me. Well-trained. Shields and pistons.

A wet field. Cupped hands in a fountain.

The chill that travels there. Bones like a dancer.

Skittering. A pelted promise. Wearing my pelt.

Dance by a firepit. A girl shaped like a girl. 


I Beg to Differ

C. Kubasta

Oshkosh

The most beautiful bodies are like transparent glass.
— Czeslaw Milosz

                             --you are not glass, though becoming colder.

Tobacco & sheepskins, will always remember you to me.

 

Through the mail comes carefully folded cardstock & paper, each

bearing a verse from that old book that means nothing. Words in

flowing script, an old writer’s trick to make the mundane essential,

the banal beautiful.

 

Who is the comedian who says we do not understand the dead? He

says he can prove this, because coffins have pillows.

 

The undertaker who zips you up has a pillow, full size, polyfill;

even a pillow cover beneath the case, as if we have to worry about

the oils from your hair, the sweat living bodies leave even when

they dream.

 

You will leave no mark here, but I watch, amazed; the body bag

quilted, felt inside, the exterior ripstop & rainproof.

 

*

Albert Fried would be critical. But [her] primary fault is what I

called “facticity” – [her] invincible love of documented minutiae,

[her] tendency to lose [herself] in the complexities of the most

trivial event.

 

See above: the material of the pillow

 

See above: the stitch of the body bag

 

See above: the smell’s component parts

 

Can a poet not be in love with details? Can we not fathom the

unfathomable, create doctrine out of fancy?

 

See Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, H. of Sawtry, 1180

 

… No event, no document, is trivial; if it exists it must be examined

critically and fitted into the factual scheme of things. Facticity

gives [me my] freedom, [my] power.

 

*

There is a poem from years ago, where I detail each bulb planted in your

yard, the inventory of cutting flowers, the shrubby herbs in the patch that

never got enough sun.

 

Yard overgrown with oregano each mowing unbearably like a woman’s

sweat, the smell of ourselves, proof of the putrid beautiful bodies we

inhabit.

 

The poem ended, “There are so many poems \ I have not written yet.”

 

But that was years ago, and we thought you near death. Who knew what

a long time between then and now –

 

After ten years, you’ve shed the husks of yourself until I can lift you with

one arm.

 

I hope my fervent wishing did not prolong it. By the time I reversed the wish

it was too late. You, the vessel wherein we planted all our desires.

 

Rationalizing you would want this, or that, or that you would want

nothing, but the body would not listen.

 

*

Forgive me, in the words of another poet, I was not there.

 

These are the things we should do:

 

touch the body as it cools

watch the face’s last look as the zipper closes

lay down in the bed you lay down to die in, recognizing none of the scent

 

I say you are paper because you are insubstantial, fragile as onionskin,

                resisting touch.

 

I say you are paper because you will burn, except for the bits of bone

                extracted in a fine sifting.

 

I say you are paper because that’s all that remains. Old pictures,

your college scrapbook of hat receipts & dance cards.

 

I say you are paper because it is more precious than glass, than

gold. Without it, without you, I would carve into stone. I would

write with a stick in the sand. I would steam the windows and

leave indelible finger marks on the glass.

 

*

And it is too easy to say that death happens then like the closing

                of a book

but I probably will say it, someday, in another terrible poem.

Terrible as in “b. Of a person: outrageous; behaving in a shocking

or outrageous manner; c. Exceedingly incompetent; of shockingly

poor performance of quality.


Convents

Sandra Shackelford

Green Bay

Convents lock their doors at night,

to keep perfection in,

the hollow sound of cold slamming steel

stopping questions before they're asked,

the brutal period coming at the end

of dogma that decrees,

                 It is God who is the only worthy benefactor of love.

 

A perfect tyrant

he sits upon his great gold throne,

a notorious father

coveting his daughters like a porno king.

He licks his chops and thumbs through a book of virgins mounted

in paper prisons,

four-cornered innocence contained

in shiny celluloid squares.

 

Salvation dangles from his fingers

like a watch,

a teasing bauble promised and withdrawn,

his children never free from the chains

he attaches to his love.

 

This father works his girls

claiming his reward in intact hymens.

A hunter of flesh

his den reeks of their captivity.

 

Now and then

one escapes.


T. A. J. 6/75

Sandra Shackelford

Green Bay

You, in your art deco bargain dress

with the flapping canaries startled pink;

 

Perched ravin poet with the Sassoon hair,

how swell you locked leaning

on a wrought iron rail

waiting a mind to trap and

tell your stories to:

 

sea captains rising

on exaggerated waves, your words

and casual connotations pitched

from your tongue, sharp forked

eyes keen on approval.

 

You did your best

imitation of Sand beneath a piano.

Yawning

you read magnificently gestured sonnets

erecting

     cocks monumental

          cocks flamingo

               COCKS, the burning ltalian kind,

 

punctuating each perfect phrase with

organs big enough to obliterate

Byzantinc domes. I never could

get away with that! Nor sink

my teeth into your countless facts:

 

     "How angry was your mother anyway?"

 

     'Why she had twenty-seven birds for God’s sake!"

 

You filled rubber dildos

with water and froze them

in ice cube trays. Stuffer

of pig marzipans in mailboxes, giver

of gifts that suited you -

 

I got a unicorn and a visit.

Flitting,

you lighted in my woods and defoliated

 

                my flowers, stomped

                a crossing guard and startled

                lavender haired ladies. Seeking confirmation

 

you flew away, depositing

in my hand wrinkled

copies of poems you had retyped.


The Great Pretender

Sandra Shackelford

Green Bay

I broke the rules in school

more than once

felt the sting of sister's angry ruler against my open palm

daring to engage in simple pleasures forbidden

by the sterile practitioners

of The Theology of Thou Shall Not.

 

Oh yes

Slap

I went to YMCA dances on the sly

every Tuesday from 7 to 9

folding into the arms of the boy

in the red plaid shirt.

a small animal burrowed

I inhaled the scent of his mother's iron

my breasts coming to ripeness

in the muscled cage of his wide receiver chest.

 

Oh yes

Slap

Steam rose from my Ship 'n Shore blouse

as his hands rode the crest of my rock and roll hips

covered in prickly virgin wool

standard issue for Academy girls

our hymens like our hearts

now and forever faithful

to Another.

 

Oh yes

Slap

My fingers brushed the skin on his blemished neck

as we returned to primitive roots

bone on bone

combustible

we invented fire

grinding, oh yes,

beyond childhood

as rain fell on those nineteen-fifties nights

the seent, oh yes, of lilacs staining the lavender air

as we clung

Yes

Yes

YES

to the loveliness of innocence

for one last spin around the moon.


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