Vol. 7, No. 8     An Online Chapter of Missouri State Poetry Society    August 2008



When I think about poets, I hardly ever think of hippopotamuses, and when I think about hippopotamuses, I hardly ever think about poets.  But when I do think about poets and hippopotamuses together, I nearly always think of the poem by T. S. Eliot called simply "The Hippopotamus," in which Eliot evaluates the state of the Church of England in 1915-20.  In this satiric poem comparing the True Church, as he calls it, to a hippopotamus, Eliot says the church will miss heaven, but the hippo will gain it.  Read the poem at   What an unusual comparison, we might comment, and then proceed to think of unusual comparisons on our own.  We have the right to be proud of such imagery.  I once wrote a haiku about the birdbath in our backyard: "seven starlings make / a chocolate-chip cookie / out of the birdbath."  Now I am not insisting on the greatness of my haiku, but nevertheless one of my wife's friends who bought the book containing the poem said she never sees a birdbath without checking to see if it is a chocolate-chip cookie.  The image lives for her, and when I heard this well-educated woman's remark, the image lived for me again and I was unreasonably proud.  As a result, the well-educated woman gets an extra academic degree or two when I tell the story.  Eliot's poem must have pleased him very much.  He was deeply concerned about the Church.  Within ten years he embraced the teachings of the Church he once satirized and thereafter wrote the great Christian poems "Ash Wednesday" and Four Quartets and the play Murder in the Cathedral.  Accept the challenge to make vibrant imagery a goal for your next poem.


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Poems by Members

Missouri State Poetry Society

Summer Contest

Spare Mule Online

National Federation of State Poetry Societies
Strophes Online


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Ted Kooser, former U. S. Poet Laureate, in response to an interviewer for National Public Radio, stated that his "project" as laureate was to establish a weekly column featuring contemporary American poems supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska.  This column appears in online publications (such as Thirty-Seven Cents) as well as hard-copy newspapers.  Poets are asked to contact their local newspapers to inform them that such a column is available free to them and to relieve the editor by explaining that all of the poems that will appear week by week are accessible, not obscure, poems. 

American Life in Poetry: Column 169

I remember being scared to death when, at about thirty years of age, I saw an x-ray of my skull. Seeing one's self as a skeleton, or receiving any kind of medical report, even when the news is good, can be unsettling. Suddenly, you're just another body, a clock waiting to stop. Here's a telling poem by Rick Campbell, who lives and teaches in Florida.


My heart was suspect.
Wired to an EKG,
I walked a treadmill
that measured my ebb
and flow, tracked isotopes
that ploughed my veins,
looked for a constancy
I've hardly ever found.
For a month I worried
as I climbed the stairs
to my office. The mortality
I never believed in
was here now. They
say my heart's ok,
just high cholesterol, but
I know my heart's a house
someone has broken into,
a room you come back
to and know some stranger
with bad intent has been there
and touched all that you love. You know
he can come back. It's his call,
his house now.

American Life in Poetry: Column 171

Sometimes I think that people are at their happiest when they're engaged in activities close to the work of the earliest humans: telling stories around a fire, taking care of children, hunting, making clothes. Here an Iowan, Ann Struthers, speaks of one of those original tasks, digging in the dirt.

Planting the Sand Cherry

Today I planted the sand cherry with red leaves--
and hope that I can go on digging in this yard,
pruning the grape vine, twisting the silver lace
on its trellis, the one that bloomed
just before the frost flowered over all the garden.
Next spring I will plant more zinnias, marigolds,
straw flowers, pearly everlasting, and bleeding heart.
I plant that for you, old love, old friend,
and lilacs for remembering. The lily-of-the-valley
with cream-colored bells, bent over slightly, bowing
to the inevitable, flowers for a few days, a week.
Now its broad blade leaves are streaked with brown
and the stem dried to a pale hair.
In place of the silent bells, red berries
like rose hips blaze close to the ground.
It is important for me to be down on my knees,
my fingers sifting the black earth,
making those things grow which will grow.
Sometimes I save a weed if its leaves
are spread fern-like, hand-like,
or if it grows with a certain impertinence.
I let the goldenrod stay and the wild asters.
I save the violets in spring. People who kill violets
will do anything.

American Life in Poetry: Column 173

Poets are especially good at investing objects with meaning, or in drawing meaning from the things of this world. Here Patrick Phillips of Brooklyn, New York, does a masterful job of comparing a wrecked piano to his feelings.


Touched by your goodness, I am like
that grand piano we found one night on Willoughby
that someone had smashed and somehow
heaved through an open window.

And you might think by this I mean I'm broken
or abandoned, or unloved. Truth is, I don't
know exactly what I am, any more
than the wreckage in the alley knows
it's a piano, filling with trash and yellow leaves.

Maybe I'm all that's left of what I was.
But touching me, I know, you are the good
breeze blowing across its rusted strings.

What would you call that feeling when the wood,
even with its cracked harp, starts to sing?

American Life in Poetry: Column 170

I've lived all my life on the plains, where no body of water is more than a few feet deep, and even at that shallow depth I'm afraid of it. Here Sam Green, who lives on an island north of Seattle, takes us down into some really deep, dark water.

Night Dive

Down here, no light but what we carry with us.
Everywhere we point our hands we scrawl
color: bulging eyes, spines, teeth or clinging tentacles.
At negative buoyancy, when heavy hands
seem to grasp & pull us down, we let them,

we don't inflate our vests, but let the scrubbed cheeks
of rocks slide past in amniotic calm.
At sixty feet we douse our lights, cemented
by the weight of the dark, of water, the grip
of the sea's absolute silence. Our groping

hands brush the open mouths of anemones,
which shower us in particles of phosphor
radiant as halos. As in meditation,
or in deepest prayer,
there is no knowing what we will see.

American Life in Poetry: Column 172

I don't often talk about poetic forms in this column, thinking that most of my readers aren't interested in how the clock works and would rather be given the time. But the following poem by Veronica Patterson of Colorado has a subtitle referring to a form, the senryu, and I thought it might be helpful to mention that the senryu is a Japanese form similar to haiku but dealing with people rather than nature. There; enough said. Now you can forget the form and enjoy the poem, which is a beautiful sketch of a marriage.

Marry Me
(a senryu sequence)

when I come late to bed
I move your leg flung over my side--
that warm gate

nights you're not here
I inch toward the middle
of this boat, balancing

when I turn over in sleep
you turn, I turn, you turn,
I turn, you

some nights you tug the edge
of my pillow under your cheek,
look in my dream

pulling the white sheet
over your bare shoulder
I marry you again

American Life in Poetry: Column 174

I'd guess you've all seen a toddler hold something over the edge of a high-chair and then let it drop, just for the fun of it. Here's a lovely picture of a small child learning the laws of physics. The poet, Joelle Biele, lives in Maryland.

To Katharine: At Fourteen Months

All morning, you've studied the laws
of spoons, the rules of books, the dynamics
of the occasional plate, observed the principles
governing objects in motion and objects
at rest. To see if it will fall, and if it does,
how far, if it will rage like a lost penny
or ring like a Chinese gong--because
it doesn't have to--you lean from your chair
and hold your cup over the floor.
It curves in your hand, it weighs in your palm,
it arches like a wave, it is a dipper
full of stars, and you're the wind timing
the pull of the moon, you're the water
measuring the distance from which we fall.



Megan Parker

All day you’ve been extending your arms
waiting to be acknowledged.
You’ve weathered hardship and rested in the sun
now waiting to share with someone
the strength you have found.

All day you’ve been extending your arms
waiting to be seen and felt.

So, I will put aside my resignation
my shy fear of appearances.
And when I reach out my hand to shake yours
droplets of laughter from your cool leaves
fall around me,
and I am blessed.

Harding Stedler

Where ducks and geese
guard shorelines of Willastein,
I sleep with open windows
and listen to their night sounds.
Without cause for alarm,
the nights are tame,
my sleep uninterrupted.

Feathered friends will alert me
in times of danger
to intruders' footsteps
and impending harm.
Most often, they bask in moonlight
on harmless shorelines.
Through window screens,
I send them snores
to soothe their fears
of reptiles and bands
of roving coyotes.

They fan the daybreak
and feather for me new thanks
as I put my feet to floor
and allow my thoughts to fly.

Dave Gregg

We met about peace
when the fighting started

Rebels and cowards
versus brave-hearted

We fought about break time
battled at lunch

We couldn't do breakfast
so argued for brunch
I moved to adjourn
instead we declared war

This is what meetings
on peace are for

Mark Tappmeyer

You tell me this story:
You’re ten
in the backseat of a ‘52
before seat belts
you and three younger sisters.
Your mother driving.
A screech of tires, someone screams.
The sideways drift of the car
that comes to rest on the shoulder.
You’re asked, 
Are you OK?  Are you OK?
which you are, which everyone is.
But your mother is pale
and before turning back to the wheel
tells the four of you
Next time, on my signal, dive to the floorboard.

It’s forty years later as you tell me this
still wondering what the signal is
and if you will recognized it when it comes.

Pat Durmon

Between the two of them
no beans, no cornbread,
no fried potatoes, no tomatoes
only broth and careful thoughts.

Between the two of them
four ears and soft talk come
late on starry nights
countering long hard days.

Between the two of them
significant feelings
surprising sparks
hearts ease-out of cages.

A small miracle.

Jennifer Smith

Two pairs of pointed ears angled toward the floor
Two kitty motors very loudly purr
One strand of yarn slowly snakes between the two

Good kitties exercise each morning before eight
“Come on people, let’s play! Hurry – don’t be late!”
Again the strand of yarn slowly wends its way

If the kitties nicely play a treat they will be given
Shrimp or clam or tuna bites, crunchy nuggets – yum!
A little later, there they sit, on the floor like bookends.
“When the other one gets up, perhaps we’ll play again!”

Pat Laster

the former pea patch
grows a crop of head-high weeds
this hot, dry summer

leggy hibiscus
against the rock wall
first bloom this summer

dog days of August
two white-robed clerics preside
at graveside

in the mesh of grass
and fern . . . an orange mushroom--
a dragonfly rests

child on the same pew
smelling of chlorine
a swimming pool bath?

Tania Gray

Our garden grows
under the nose
of Kappa Sig
who mostly doze

Our yen to plant
is ‘cause we dig

Our plot is small
but overall

Our fam will eat
on easy street
a summer feat

Jean Even

In all my ways I’m consumed with the love of God.

In my decree for Him; His righteousness floods my soul.

He’s taken my burdens, I no longer carry them on a rod.

He’s removed the yoke from my neck dropping it in a hole.

In all His ways He’s anointed me with the oil of joy.

Valerie Esker

charred forest
green saw palmetto tip
points skyward


Phyllis Moutray

Serial killers, a novelist notes, 
     are common in fiction
          but remain uncommon in fact.

Highly publicized, leads a poet to wonder,
     are serial killers today's Old West
          competition for Top Gun


 Top Workshop Index





Laurence W. Thomas

I live in a museum
surrounded by a family
of reminders, a house
peopled with accumulations.
Antiques that mother bought
already as antiques
now fifty years older
hold congress in my rooms.
The scions of the generations
I adopted by default
populate a house
whose walls resound
with conversations
between old books and pictures.
I hold intercourse
with the remains of aunts and uncles,
friends and neighbors
each artifact a reminder
as I frequent the gallery
that I alone remain, curator, survivor.

Dewell H. Byrd

I’m not afraid of the wind and rain,
Ragdoll’s holding my hand.
Papa’s coming home,
Papa’s coming home today.

We’re watching for his big boat.
White sails on top stretch high,
high into Heaven.  There,
near the lighthouse;  hear the horn?

Sea keeps rolling--- green and white
like Mama’s new gown.
Waves hiss in pebbles at my feet,
cold water makes my toes pink.

Papa’s been gone a long, long time.
Ragdoll stares at the swirling mist---
Papa will come when the sea is green---
the sea is turning green, green, green.

White foam is turning cream
like Mama’s party face when there’s
company.  A string of pelicans
watches for him, dives for him.

Hurry home, Papa, cold fog is rolling in.
Ragdoll and I will find you, Papa.
We’re coming, coming into the sea.
Where is your hand, Papa?


Henrietta Romman

Dear pencil, you taught me
With truth and honesty
What no one else could do.
You showed so well, so true,
You walked along each page
You helped along each stage,
I learned to hold you tight
To ease my pain, my fright.
For school was not to be
Where we would sit, be free.
School was, and is, a place
Of hard work. Just a race.
Dear pencil, you gave me
Sweet blooms and bees to see,
So well you did obey
My right hand every day,
All that my eyes have seen,
You traced, you drew so keen
That all may watch and know
Your clear and hidden glow.
For many years you were
My friend with willing care.
YES! I give you credit,
My work . . . none need edit.
Let every student know
God watches high and low.
To help us He made you,
Glory! For what you do,
Say not, " I am some means
For helping kids and teens."
Dear Pencil, we owe much
Just for your magic touch.
Lift up your head with joy,

Julia Bartgis
I sat on the porch, still,
a stranger climbed the hill
waving a metal wand.
He traveled toward my pond.
as the contraption hovered
over land covered
with freshly mowed grass.
Eyes alert, he would not pass
by any treasures tucked in dirt.
His checkered red shirt
worn big and loose 
hindered not his goose-
like strut when the detector tapped,
Tap, tappity, clap, clapped
to a sure and steady beat.
He planted his feet
as he excavated with no care
my landscape.  How dare
him whoop with wild
excitement like a child
at Christmas time.
A dirty nickel or dime
did not interest me
because I could not see
the old coin’s worth
that he resurrected from the earth.

Diane Auser Stefan

 Uninvited guests we were

as on our walk today,

we came upon a solemn feast,

a most unique buffet.


Those near the food stood aloof

in shiny black from head to feet.

They glared at us with beady eyes,

no welcome did they speak.


They set about devouring the meal

as each waited, then took a turn.

We stepped up and nearer, but were stopped

by icy looks that seared and burned.


And so we left this exclusive buffet

hosted not by duke or earl,

by rather by some ol’ black buzzards
feasting on a road-kill squirrel.

Steve Pentcuff

I think I shall place a large pile
of recycled loose leaf on a little raft
in view of several children playing
on the outskirts of a nice village.

And I think I shall send it off
in flames, floating down the river,
in hopes that word of "the great
lost works" might add to my mystique 

and push me past mediocrity
toward a lore of less obscurity.


Tom Padgett

Like archaeologists we tested shards
around a table littered with our past--yearbooks, programs, photographs from high-school days.
"Whose picture's this?" you asked.

But no one knew. "She didn't graduate
with us," you said. "Her picture is not here.”
You pointed to a newspaper with rusted edges
that told of our commencement years ago.

"A Thelma something, wasn't it?" I tried.
"A Thelma Lee," I added on. "Oh, no.
You mean Thelma Lee Flood," he said. "She lived next door to me and was a grade ahead of us."

He stirred the pile and took a fragment from
a previous age. Then one across the room
spoke, "In our junior picture she is gone.
She must have left when we were sophomores."

I turned an album page. "I have her here
among some snaps that date much further back."
I held the data toward the group. Again
we drew a blank. No theory covered her.

Then one who just came in applied her science
to the task. "We used to sign these things,"
she said and flipped the photo from the page.
"She's Thela Hargrove--wrote her name right here."

"That's right," you said. We all agreed,
amazed that we so easily forget the friends
that formed our time, and jealous of the one
to be credited with this significant discovery.