Bio Note: I live on a farm along the Susquehanna River, just before that river crosses the border into Pennsylvania for the first time. There I and my husband have raised Morgan horses since the 1970's. My three full-length books of poetry are Crave (from NYQ Books); Appetite for the Divine (Ashland Poetry Press); and Remorseless Loyalty (also from Ashland Poetry Press).
Author's Note: As a founding faculty member of the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University, I have had a recurring relationship with the city of Wilkes-Barre, PA as we are in residency there for about eight days twice each year, in January and June. Like many places in the Northeast, Wilkes-Barre has its struggles economically, while also, still, boasting much in the way of natural beauty, interesting architecture, and fascinating histories.
Christmas in Public Square
The electronic bird calls of the blind crossing signals carol the Christmas tree guy-wired to the hardwoods in the center of Center City: a misshapen dowager of a spruce bespangled in rumpled rows of colored lights, her tiara star askew. In her heyday Wilkes-Barre had been the Diamond City, black diamonds of anthracite coal. Over time oil and gas siphoned off much of coal’s kingdom but it was the Knox Mine disaster of 1959 that sealed things. Are we surprised to hear how old the story is, how often we repeat ourselves? Mine officials sent the miners down to burrow illegally beneath the Susquehanna. When the riverbed caved in it took three days of jamming railroad cars, culm, whatever debris came to hand into the voracious whirlpool that opened before the wound could be staunched but by then twelve miners, and the fortunes of Wilkes-Barre, had been swept into the web of mines now irrevocably plugged by ten billion gallons of river water. O Shepherds, o silent night, beneath this tree, in the hollowed-out heart of one more once-prosperous American city, as evening settles into night, a lone policeman in his idling patrol car watches wreathed in silvery exhaust.
Originally published in North American Review Vol. 301 No. 2 (Spring 2016)
Author's Note: My husband and I recently had a geo-thermal system installed at our home, which we love, but for forty winters before that our primary heat source was wood heat, a direct and visceral connection that has little in common with thermostatically-controlled heating systems. You are never not aware that a live fire is burning in your home.
A wood stove reminds you what it is you have brought into the home each time you unlatch the door and thrust the dead weight bundle of a log into the roil of that indifferent heart. Backing out of the drive on some errand or another you look back to the house and hope to read reassurance in the blue whistle of smoke the chimney exhales, but carry the gnaw of worry with you nonetheless: in your mind the house could already be engulfed, the fire poised in that critical instant of barbaric elegance when the flame shapes to the fuel it is consuming, the house transfigured to a construct of lurid light, the very image of your losses. That imagined radiance compels the mind far beyond any refutations you can invent fueled by the certainty that time is the flame and no one ever returns to the home they left.
An earlier versoin of this poem was published in Appetite for the Divine (Ashland Poetry Press, 2010)
Author's Note: Since the dawn of the technology, photographic images seem to have sparked poetry, based on the image itself, the circumstances which produced it, or often both together.
Christmas in St. Petersburg, 1966
I didn’t even know any photographs survived of that trip but here’s one of those oddly-shaped snaps Mémère’s Brownie box camera used to take: the five of us lined up awkwardly, not quite touching, individually squinting into the Florida sun. What strikes me is the sheer bulk of the four near-grown children. Centered among us, our father looks diminished, a forty-seven-year-old man who has brought his children home to his mother’s house for Christmas. His tender smallness under the stark blue of that southern sky recalls to me four months before the photograph was taken: the five of us waiting in the church vestibule behind the sleek mahogany of my mother’s coffin, so small, so tender even a sixteen-year-old had sense enough to step up and take his hand for the long walk down the aisle.
Originally published in Louisiana Literature Vol. 21 No. 1 (2004).
©2021 Christine Gelineau
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