Poetry month at school

One of the many things I love about my kids’ school is how much time and attention the teachers give to learning about and celebrating poetry.  This year and last they spent nearly an entire month reading and writing poetry in the classroom – learning as much about the technicalities of poems as they do about the art of expressing themselves.

(let me point out here that my kids are only 7!)

Last year during poetry month they came home from school and asked if they could share my dad’s (Joe Salerno) poetry in their classroom.  I didn’t have to asked them to do it… I didn’t even suggest it!  They both decided they wanted to – because it made them feel special it to know their grandfather was a “real” poet and they wanted to share it with their friends!

After nearly an hour of flipping through his books, both of the kids decided on this poem.  It is a simple and short poem about eating wild blackberries, but the true magic of it of it is how my first-graders could so easily connect with it.  My daughter told me she could close her eyes and taste the blackberry while I read the poem out loud to them.  My son made me buy them at the supermarket the next day in his honor.

This year they both brought the same poem to class again, with the same enthusiasm and the same pride as last year.  And I couldn’t be prouder of all of them – of my kids and my father.

Here it is:

Eating Wild Blackberries in Lenapahoking

Ripe berries
dark purple and red
in sunlight:

the ripe ones
always at the farthest
tips of the branches
getting the first sun
to ripen early

– each body
a tight cluster
of berry fat
softening easily
in your mouth

You have to
with your eyes closed
to understand
this quiet flavor;

each berry chewed
slowly, thoughtfully
to let the slight
shades of sweetness
reach your heart;

like a memory
only your tongue can remember
a distant taste
called “wilderness.”

Donald Hall’s “Remembering Joe Salerno”

Originally published as the forward to Only Here:

It was a lively time for poetry at the University of Michigan in the early seventies.  My friend Bert Hornback set up regular Tuesday afternoon readings, which were well-attended — a hundred at the worst, four hundred on good days.  Robert Bly and Galway Kinnell came every year; Wendell Berry, John Logan, Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich.  Joe was always there — with David Tucker and other Ann Arbor Poets.  There were readings at coffee houses, bookstores and bars.  Poetry was lively and ordinary. Continue reading

For Evan

Today I posted a poem that makes me cry every single time I read it.  I could read this poem 100 times a day and I would cry 100 times a day. But not because I miss my dad (which I do) but because it reminds me of my own son.  I know this poem is about my brother, and so I’m sure when he reads it he feels something quite different.  But for me, this poems transplants me into my son’s bedroom, at his bedside, kissing him goodnight. Continue reading

Reading James Wright’s Last Book for the first time

lying in a hammock

My favorite James Wright poem…at least until this weekend when I run out and buy every single one of his books.

This morning I created a new page on the website for my father’s poem entitled “Reading James Wright’s Last Book.”  It is a beautiful poem and I have always loved the imagery of the last Great Blue Whale sounding for the last time.  Continue reading

A poem for a Monday morning

I stumbled upon this poem early this morning.  I hadn’t read it in many many years – definitely had not read it since becoming a mom myself.  It made me smile.

My father did not live to see me become a mother, but reading poems like this make me feel like we can share in this parenting journey together – and enjoy those few precious moments of solitude (with a cup of fragrant tea!).

No Wife, No Kids, No Work

I wake alone
And throw my rested arms
Across the bed.
Not a sound in the house –
The floor is still asleep
Dreaming it is the ceiling.Opening and closing
My eye, I float for a long time,
Basking like a turtle
On the sea of late sunlight.
Later, wearing slippers
and a frayed blue robe,
I cook my breakfast.
In the sunlit, empty kitchen,
I feel like dancing
To the great silence.  With a fork
in one hand and a cup
Of fragrant tea in the other,
Restored to a separate
Life, I stand at the stove
And watch as the eggs
Fry wildly in the noisy butter.



best. dad. ever.

“A Working Man Asleep in the Grass”

About ten years ago, my mom was cleaning out old boxes in the basement. Mixed in among the piles of poems, essays, letters and books that my dad left behind, she found a complete manuscript that had never been published.

The manuscript is called “A Working Man Asleep in the Grass.”

It can be downloaded here.