National Poetry Month – Libby Swope Wiersema

I actually met Libby through Facebook! She was a fellow Kakalak poet so we have mutual friends. After exchanging messages, we finally met in person and became real friends.

In her short, tight poems Libby has a way with descriptions and turns of phrase, that leave her images lingering well after reading the poem. She invites readers into her world, settles them in and tells her stories. With Libby’s gift of picking just the right sensory details, readers not only see the poem. They smell, hear, and taste it.

From The Season of Terminal Cold, published by Finishing Line Press, posted with the poet’s permission.

Picture of Mama, General Dynamics Christmas Party, 1962

to the lady with the starburst of rhinestones

pinned at the waist, I want you to know

you were an exclamation point,

a declarative dressed in a black cocktail dress,

punctuating an office stark and cold with metal desks,

paper bells strung from the dropped-ceiling heavens.

Your girlfriends stand to one side, martinis tipped,

pensive faces shifted away from the lens

that you locked eyes with, brazen

as the band of boy-men who circled

as if you were a Cadillac,

their eyes begging for the keys.

 

How We Melt Into You

We believed we could just take off

and land in womanhood, skipping

like a needle on a 45 to the best part of the song.

 

Lingering in the bedroom in the mornings,

we plotted ways to mimic

our mother’s most mysterious arts –

 

The painted, arched brows,

the burgundy lips that left their feathery print

on the paper of her cigarette,

the magenta of her nails filed to blunt arrows.

 

We begged Aunt Jane, an Avon lady,

for rosy buds of lipstick samples, for waxy sticks

of Hawaiian White Ginger to coat our wrists,

took sooty hubs of Number 2 pencils to our eyes.

 

Our garishness masked maternal gifts

we already carried but could not see:

her bones curved into the dove of my cheek,

her fluidity to your sienna hair flipped to a wing.

 

We aimed to melt into her one day, like the red

Crayons we fed through the Easy Bake Oven,

our fingers braving a blistering dip in the cake pan

to make us some nails like Mama’s.

 

End Stage

My body curls over her

close to the rattler,

her breath – a snake uncoiling.

 

Almanac

Blades of grass have died to bayonets,

and the basil pearled its tips to an early seed.

even the slender throats of daisies

dropped their coral heads weeks ago –

that’s what a brute this season has been.

 

In June, the family came to say goodbye

to you. We quivered against one another,

grieved over our loss in the contrived cool of a church.

It was a steamy 94 outside that day.

 

July’s drought broke, but only on our brow,

I awakened each day, parched and sweating,

my water glass, a sentinel among the mementos at my bedside:

a lock of hair, a photograph, a few spoons of ash inside a shell.

 

Now, the Carolina August tilts, a cup of fog

that spills across the calendar. I pencil a dot

on the 31st to mark your birth, a period

At the end of the month when the mercury dips

to a bearable 82 only one day in ten.

 

I wrote my first poem when I was eight years old. It was inspired by a book, “Paul the Peddler” by Horatio Alger. My grandmother would read to my sister and me each night. We were mesmerized by the tale of the underdog Paul, a dirt-poor boy who improved his lot in life through honesty, industry and a bit of good luck. I wanted to honor his ethics with my little poem.

If I could drink wine with a poet of my choosing, it would be the late, great Anne Sexton. Her work sparked my adult poetic pursuits and love for other confessional poets like Sylvia Plath and Sharon Olds. Oh, to be so vulnerable and exposed through my poetry. I want that kind of courage.

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