Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mary Jo Balisteri and Winter in Wisconsin

In a few days, I will be posting photographs and poems from the Yucatan, but tonight I'd like to show you Mary Jo Balistreri's winter poems.  When Mary Jo had sent me these poems, we were on track for a snowless winter in Maryland, but since then....Snowzilla has come and gone.  In the meantime, here are some winter poems for you to enjoy.

One Wisconsin Winter Morning

He opens the curtains
to trees, alabaster sculptures in a garden of white.
In the bone chill of zero, the scouring powder of snow
erases edges, transforms lake and land to a snow-filled stage.
Stillness outside. In the white room, a hush
where his daughter lies blanketed, and will soon breath
one last time. This morning the snow-covered branches
resemble a cemetery,
as though angel arms hover over slabs and monuments.
In the frozen silence, he listens for sound, any sound.
He hears only his own ragged breath

clouding the window.

Wisconsin Drenched in Winter Quietude

Late in the day, early December, a sheen of luminosity
like the varnish on a Dutch landscape offers silver instead of gold.
The sun, turned cold, replaces autumn’s honey-thick amber
with a pearl large and lustrous.  

Cloud banks along the horizon construct snow-cappped
castles in opal iridescence, their buoyancy reflected
in the pond. Slate-grey silhouettes of hickory and oak,
their shivering leaves shake frosty air.

Silence stirs under flannel skies and snow
flurries in the argenté air.
Pillows of purest white nestle in bare limbs,
land on red mittens.

Children want a taste and offer their tongues.
Feeling the lightness,
they swallow melted stars

in the new community of winter.

Layered in Winter
            Washington Park, Milwaukee, WI

Muffled in mittens, snowsuits and scarfs,
with skates tied and flung over shoulders,
we headed for the neighborhood rink—
smoke, pine, ozone-fresh air.

By the time the swirling smell of hot chocolate and music
from the loud speaker reached us, we were belting out 
Wake Up Little Susie right along with the Everly Brothers.

Snippets of chatter and laughter swallowed our voices
as we elbowed our way through the crowd of kids
going to, coming from the warming house. The potbelly stove
tossed a blast of heat at the cold we carried.

On long narrow benches, we squeezed together, bodies bent
nearly double. We peeled off boots and tightened laces,
were already dashes of sliver speeding across ice.

We’d play “crack the whip” or “I send,” show off, skate
backwards, or spin one-legged arabesques, ice chips and crusts
of snow flying when we missed and slid on our bottoms.

Risk was everything.

As we grew older, Washington Park was a fever—
Friday night dates, moonlight and lanterns, Skaters Waltz,
Chances are, and Don’t forbid me.
It was holding hands, arms around each other,
that first trembling kiss.

Years later, Elvis is wood smoke, and wet wool,  
a cold sweep of winter that unlatches
memory’s trunk.

Lost parts of us glide near, and we reclaim
silver blades under stars, images of runes etched
on ice, our first love raised from the dead,
the kiss ever moist on our lips.

We were the air, and everything,
everything was possible. 


This evening Angelee Deodhar sent me some haiga and haibun that she has created from Mary Jo's words.  All three of us would like to share them with you.

I've been playing a lot of older jazz lately, so I'd like to play some newer artists now.  Let's start with Gerald Clayton's "All The Things You Are":

Here is his "Peace for the Moment": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yK0eDZmO0Dg

As sunny winter days are colder days, I'll finish with his "Sunny Day Go":  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5w-dhh2YZQ

I am going to add the Andrews Sisters' medley that Angelee has found.  The Andrews Sisters are among the many musicians born in the 1910s.




  1. The last two lines of the last poem resonate with anyone once young and now lucky enough to remember the innocence of dancing or skating to “Chances are.” Hard to explain that hope to the Facebook generation.

    “We were the air, and everything,
    everything was possible.”

  2. Thank you, Donal. We were lucky weren't we. Especially that we can bring it back and we are right there. What an exhilarating time.

  3. Wonderful winter poems Jo/Marianne thanks for sharing
    love and light angelee

  4. Thank you Angelee and John. I so appreciate your words of encouragement.

  5. Really beautiful ! Love the " frozen silence " and listening to the sound ! Very vivid '! Warmly, arvinder

  6. Angelee , always enjoy the way you write ! Very inspiring , very evocative ! Love, arvinder

  7. Jo, My first comment must have got lost. I have spent most of my life in south Louisiana hence no snow. When I read your beautiful poems they remind me of music, the song Snowfall by the Manhattan Transfer. Thank You Jo for words and music.

  8. Jo, these are very beautiful. I am especially taken by "One Wisconsin Winter Morning" and the following lines from II:
    "Lost parts of us glide near, and we reclaim
    silver blades under stars, images of runes etched
    on ice, our first love raised from the dead,
    the kiss ever moist on our lips."
    Thank you for sharing, Raveesh

  9. Thank you JT and Raveesh,
    I appreciate your comments very much.How lucky we are to be able to share poetry on this wonderful site.

  10. A very calming read, very soothing on my nerves.

    A massively felt, but quietly stated, thank you.

  11. What a surprise today, Raamesh. Thank you so much, my friend.