Category Archives: POETRY

Holding Pattern

by Elsa Johnson

Last night’s late season storm     pummeled     the Norway spruce     

as if wind’s huge fist                                    held him by the scruff                

and wrung   and wracked him                 All his long lovely limbs     

flailed      at the blows              In quiet times    each black branch 

descends through curves      or lifts              Each dark descending

bough           or branchlet                  scrolls     calligraphy     upon

the sky                                       One day  soon                 or distant      

wind will break him         —        but today?           He is the master      

of the comma                  the pause                      the pendant swish

Meditations at the Winter Solstice

by Elsa Johnson


Night comes early        this time of year             Short twilight

days          fade to dull   washed over dim                  northeast

Ohio winter days                                      edged to collapse   — 

dark         into deeper darkness                           Entire days of

not-day-not-night          almost-but-not-quite            gloaming

Solstice    in a few short days                                  Not a good

climate for   New Grange effect                                   The sun  

so rarely shines                            one would not think to build

a long      cold       slot of stone                        for sun to creep

up    and back down   again             One might wait years    —

How many                  millennium                        would it take

to connect                cause and effect                in this climate?    

Brighter gloaming on   snow-glow nights                   Brighter             

nights than days                                   when snow is grounded


When I was young             I stacked my skis          outside my

door       strapped them on       on winter nights            floated     

almost       soundless      past blackened woods     and     fields

gleaming       bright      in darkness                 (hint of borealis

in blue-black sky)    But these days      creep     to Solstice  —

to beyond                               when     we begin to look for  —

notice     hope     for                       the almost     imperceptible

lengthening      of curtailed light                          toward larger

hours                  The bulk of winter looms ahead             cold

and beautiful                                   but someone has to shovel

walk    and drive         —        at this age one feels     once     is

enough         :        Lake effect weather          dark       to aging

bones               that wish to strap on skis        and flee        fear

less           into wild and quiet         snow-stunned          nights

Happy Halloween from Gardenopolis Cleveland!

poem and images by Elsa Johnson

To celebrate the holiday, we have a poem and some pictures of local yard decorations.

Vulture on the World Tree

It was         new territory to us                                                     We

rode the air currents to get there                                    up-drafts

We spread our wings out        wide                          the tips tilted

up      the wind    riffling    through them          There were three

of us         circling               We smelled dead things           We eat

dead things          The scent of dead things travels              When

we catch          that           smell                    we will fly a long way

A meal should be dead        but not ripe  :                     You need

presence in the land of the dead                                  You need a

tree       that stands alone                    You need to see what else

is out there    in that land                            We can clear a corpse

in a couple hours        —        thorough        —       we don’t notice 

what it is                                                     If you have a dead thing

to get rid of                                             you can do worse than us

Of Birds and Bugs and Trees

by Elsa Johnson and Tom Gibson

A few years back I was cruising on Facebook and ran across a posting that showed a humming bird gripped in a praying mantises’ claws. They looked about the same size and it wasn’t clear the mantis was going to win a meal. Reading further in that posting I discovered it turned out that the hummingbird got away – that time. But that image stuck in my mind, and so one day I sat down and wrote a poem about it.

Lady Mantis Prays Before Lunch

Dear Lord                       I am devout          about            devouring

Every day          I raise my arms         and pray                    claws

clenched tight                 please    send me      something bright

and beautiful       to bite                                        I am no different

than the stealing fox            or soaring kite                       Send me

red twig gossamer                                            a dainty damselfly

in flight                                   I’ve heard   she  is a mighty huntress

too                  though     I do not understand         her weapons

Dear Lord                                     how much      better       beautiful

tastes to bite                                     Just yesterday           as I clung

to a branch                     one bright     bejeweled     hummingbird

flew by and           snap !              oh!         the joy       of the green

struggle !                              I held him for a long      long      time

feeling the heat of his heart                                   We both prayed

Then very recently my co-editor Tom Gibson sent me a link to a story that tells how some praying mantises routinely prey on hummingbirds, complete with pictures of the gruesome feast. I include that link here. Perhaps it is time to think about where we hang our hummingbird feeders that is nearly impossible for mantises to climb or jump to. Not this year, of course … the hummers are gone. I hope they missed the hurricanes.

 NYT article about praying mantises and hummingbirds

I miss their background chitter – one day it is there, omnipresent in the air, and then it’s not, and that’s how I first know they’ve flown. But every year there is one humming bird that lingers on for about another week after the others have flown south, and that little bird and a neighbors’ locust tree inspired another poem about humming birds. It anthropomorphizes the tree (oddly—not the hummingbird) which of course is a ‘no-no’, except I think it’s legitimate to look a something and try to imagine it’s inner life. I’ve never been particularly compliant about ‘no-s’ — why start now?

Black Locust     Missing Hummingbird

For two days she sat                                 and watched a swarm of

honeybees       lay waste her feeder                         golden bodies

fuzzed over its sticky surface                                 avid for syrup 

while she perched                                           at the very top of me

chipping her feisty song of chitter                                         that all

summer long                   my leaf-ears      loved        to listen to  

this time in such protest!                                  (and a long journey

ahead of her                    the ways deep                       the weather

unpredictable                                                        her kin       already

flown)                      Why  so many ? !            In the morning when

my heartwood woke          its         slow          fall          awakening

she’d flown                                            perhaps hungry because of

bees            My leaves grieve                  All around me        the air

is vacant                                              Only the hard of me endures

Then in the August of  2016 my street got hit particularly hard by the min-tornado or micro-burst that went through, which was especially damaging to the black locust trees – of which, on my street there are many, very old, very tall, and very brittle. And the locust that every year succored the last hummer before she left had its head struck off, allowing me to ‘see’ that loss through the eyes and heart of the hummingbird. A little over the top — it is, after all, a projection of my own feelings. We cannot really know what the hummingbird feels.

Hummingbird Missing Black Locust

He lost his head            you see                          Soon after dark

when that    sudden     wind came through         like a smack

to the face                     He was there                  then he wasn’t

I did love him                      the way a bird       does        love

a tree                    sitting      way up       high      in his green

top-most branches                           chitting             about    how I

could see     everything     up there                                 my cousins

forever            fighting                                    over the stiff         red

nectar flowers                                 at that big blue nest    where

the two-legs live       across the street                                His head

cracked                            then fell                    crashing onto another

two-leg nest          shattering him            smashing that nest

awry                                    I think the two-legs miss him     too   

If he could grow another       head                           I wish he’d try

Be Here Now

by Elsa Johnson

What else              would one write               on a fairest day?

Yesterday      overhead                         the clouds flew by like

fluffed white dragons                strung out       horizontally —

battalions                no       legions !               lined up against

perfect blue                  Today’s heavens have changed three

times this last hour         wisps first         tattered         as if

breath ripped apart in some great battle                     then

infinite           pale         and        totally        cloudless        sky

Now?         Dragon spawn                         Today is all sea rush

a constant in-rushing         wall          :        Sound        wave

upon wave               wearing away                 relentless and

without emotion                  Thus     what else can I say    but

Great Spirit               Dragon Breath             oh   cloud and air

let me be present        Here         :          Let me be           now

To Be Called   :   Testimony

by Elsa Johnson

I will speak now in other voices       :        whippoorwill        legend        saver of lost souls

haunting the wood’s edge in springtime                                calling the dusk moths home            

I will speak now in the voice of chipmunk              quicksilver             placer of sunflowers

seed-side-down                    offerings made                           for one more day’s safe grace

I will speak in the hawk’s voice         :        sharp-shinned huntress                          shrieker 

gifter of quick death         she of the ice-cold heart           the silent swift-moving shadow                         

and in the vulture’s voice          :          gleaner                  wing-rider                  wind-soarer                                                               whose presence is                                   the priesthood                                              of death

I will speak now in other voices       :       hummingbird chitter               high in the tops of

linear locust trees          :          small       writhen       ring-necked snakes                alarmed                               

loosened from sheltering stone          :         Yellow-jackets          that sting         and chase        

to sting again            and night-time horses                     bolting                       lightening

flares                         thunder-claps                            and   I will speak for the un-wild deer                 

quiet-eyed                at the yard’s edge                             browsing the bushes without fear                                                             

I would speak for what does not speak     :     the  cruel devouring mantis      the delicate

damselfly she sometimes hunts                     for bumblebees         butterflies          drunk 

in the milkweed         the goldenrod                      all that multitude of            tiny insects        

buzzing flowers         :           in red crocosmia         sprawling                        purple pungent

oregano                           yellow-eyed blue buddleia                          crystal-crusted daylilies             

star-burst filaments of    cimicifuga                                                            and bee-glad phlox                                                   

I   too    will stand to speak for the wood drake            and for the still water on which he             

rests in beauty       For the great heron            the night heron              the ‘fisher’ flashing    

low     over the water                for the geese        drifting      among the reeds       the lily

pads        and for the strong-jawed turtle         waiting                                       lurking below   


I will learn and speak the language of lichen                                         of grey-green filigree

coating stone                hiding time                                      the language of the aging oaks

riddled by borer        riven with wilt                                     I will learn the codes of worms

of microscopic mycorrhizal fungi           leaf mulch             and leaf mold              decay       

the language of           the mysterious complexity of dirt             duff           ruffled rhubarb        

and all that driven             erotic              unfurling of spring                                     new risen                               

out of the driven        luminous         dying         of fall                            I will speak for them

and  this voice too    :    ocean   :     least knowable           greatest of all              her words

of hush and sibilance      of susurration      that mystic speech          that echoes        down

our own chambered seas       words        of the wet world         that tell us                we live     

not          as we think         on our own terms            but helplessly           :          Hear that            

internal roar             Feel the great wave’s pull                the irresistible draw of its wash                     

its tremble        tumble        its untranslatable speech made up of        songs            of all

the large and lesser creatures of Sea             I will speak for them        :          sharp tooth

and finned tail      tentacle and gill          I will speak for what cannot speak            even

for that vastest whale         wrecked        broken       on the broad beach            by plastic

I will speak in other voices                                                                                 to bear witness



How the Orgy Begins

by Elsa Johnson

Honeyberry leafed out    last night                                           Her pale

tiny flower buds are straining                         ( wait!   wait!       There

are no pollinators yet! )                                                    The first grey-

green buddlea leaves    uncurl —                                      Poking amid

half-digested leaf mold                                                    fragile carcass

of insect           :          possibly bumblebee            :           and    there

a scant handful of                                                    ultra violet     irises

while here               the rhubarb                  in its red                 unfurl-

ing                      so      almost     obscene                     like a bright

vulva        aroused from dirt                                      Last year’s debris

shouts           take me!   ( away! )              while this year’s new life

claws   out of the ground                And the sparrows call    :   what? 

who?/ where?/ there!    Is it time? —  now! /now! / quick? / quick!            

Good Planets Are Hard To Find

by Elsa Johnson

the bumper sticker said            and here we are                                   stranded

in this black vacuum of space filled            beyond full          with cold pinpricks

of far    and farther     distant stars            We are no longer ignorant creatures

cowering     beating our ape chests in fear    in domination           We know we

are not the center of      the ever-expanding universe            We know the sun

does not revolve around us                                           but we are still the center

of   our  universe             in this sense the worlds still spin around      not our

planet              but            we who ride her              A fine point     but telling  :           

Good planets are hard to find

Where is the awe      commensurate to truth?     Out there amid the glittering

of infinitude          the ice-hot brilliant stars    in the blank of space            there

are surely other planets         blue         fragile        like ours                       Do we

imagine        we will find one          once we’ve fouled this one ?              Escape

to a place that               once we found a way to get there                    would

no longer   be   there                      Would be going               faster               faster                      

Perhaps ridden by its own                       brand                                            of doom                 


by Elsa Johnson



Thou —

                               are the granite                                               and         the cloud —

                               the eagle       and         the fly hatching in the flesh of the kill —


                               the lily                                  and the dung in which it sprouted —


                               the ache in the crotch of the tree where the bough ripped off


                               and                                               the hot rushed flower of spring


                               You are the sun scion                    blinding the day-dark stars —


                               both war-call and whisper

When the sky is turned on itself        When one lies over a barreled bench        like a sacrifice

on the face of the curved earth         with the sky found          in the bottom          of the bowl

under the grassed dome of heaven             You are the world made right         then wrong

then right again :   Life                       and the life it feeds                     and the life that feeds it


germ at the seed’s core                  the last shock of birth                      fresh love’s first stroke

the wound’s whimper                                                                                        a great glad belling        




There is a bench in Forest Hill Park that is shaped like a barrel. If you sit on it and then lie back so that you are draped over it on your back, looking up at the sky with your head in an up-side-down position, looking down the length of the Great Meadow, a curious phenomena occurs: The world becomes a bowl. It is like being inside a snow globe, with the grass that was at your feet now overhead, and the trees reaching into the sky, but the sky now the bottom of a large bowl. The way the ground has directional slope disappears, homogenized by the strength of this bowl perception. I’ve asked various eye doctors why this perception of space as bowl – no one can give me an answer. It any of you, dear readers, have a clue why this might be, please tell us. 

At any rate I’ve tried to write poetry about this phenomena in the past, without success, but recently while writing a poem, I found the barrel bench and its effect creeping in. One of my poet friends calls it a psalm.



Indications of Advent on LaDue Reservoir

by David Adams

My kayak glides into December

like a bright red blade in a landscape

faded grey and brown and green beneath

a sky that hovers like a single cloud

as edged and delicate as mica.


Yesterday I watched my mother slap

her palm against her heart and fix her eyes

hard into her mother’s century—

shawls billowing chenille and silk,

a row of glads lake acolytes

leaning from a breeze that cannot end.


Hoe strangely might the World insist…

There was a chord with someone’s name.

There was a vase that spilled its prayers;

they rolled like candles. They were stars.


A string of gleaming decoys spin and bob

unnaturally in the freshening wind.

All brands of hope float here in ways

so small you’d think that living any life

at all was just a matter of addition.

But the mergansers are not fooled

and cluster near the dam far out of range.

I can hear the whispered curses in the reeds,

and I remember that the reedy hours that wave

and ring us all our lives hold every

whisper ever heard or lost or dreamed….

In the middle of this water I just stop


and feel the drift to stillness nearly perfect

but for me, balanced on an edge so fragile

between acceptance and tomorrow

as the wind and waves ripple into agitation.

It can be too late for wonder.

Still, to feel blessed just now…who knows?


The paddle dips and pulls,

a breath of water tracing the parabola

towards the longer lights of winter,

towards home, wherever that is.