Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

you and me, babe

by Kim Groninga and James D. Autio
Prickly things find float on breath
and stab at little legs asleep,
knee scabs from sidewalk skip.
You and me, babe, bowl of stew
where stems and shoots will grow
and loop. Reach for our salted lips--
staid and honey under canvas flaps
near the fire pit. I'd rather hedge 
this land, this life, than break bread
or boundaries, or bones of birds--
that which the wrinkle crutch dreads
though, with slight conceal, we're fond
of death. We've seen his eyes. We've found
his hairpin path through calcium and brine
adrift in a pickling jar, alone and sane
to make dance for atone soirée
and still. For this we pay.
Our currency is wire and wound.
Pride for the love we feigned
as twill misers at the edge of wealth.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Goldfinch (acrylic on canvas)

The Peddler on the Road

The device on the trolley is sold as is:
starter cord frayed and a hobo’s filthy lips
to the spigot. Now, the sack of wire
and glass vacuole is yours for a song.
Your former wife, I recall, was the one
who took out a superfluous part
while adjusting the toaster slot.
Hell, have it. It’s yours.

Sunflower image found online:


We are the hollow stems.
We are shades of color.
Our eyes follow the sun.

When rain comes we bow our heads,
cool water trickling down our necks,
seeping through soil
to fill the empty spaces.

And that cold on our toes
is like life from the Earth, itself,
struggling to climb toward the sun.
We are the conduit.

We are the quivering leaves
when night-rats return to claim the field,
but barn owls won’t bother themselves
about our trifling concerns.
They swoop. They snatch.

The crunch in hayloft rafters
leaves us free to be,
to mill about outside.
Our eyes await the dawn.

We are the hollow stems.
We are faces giving praise.

       *      *       *
This poem won first place in the Connecting with Art: Firing the Imagination Writing Contest. 
First published in The Rapids Review: A Literary Magazine, 2004.

To Sharpen Partially Subordinate Furrows

Smiling unicorn, a bucket full of rainbows.
Snout down in the trough.

Lächelndes Einhorn, ein Eimer voll Regenbogen.
Schnauze unten in der Abflussrinne.

Corne une souriant, une auge pleinement arcs-en-ciel.
Lèvre vers le bas dans la gouttière.

Hoorn een dat, een trog ten volle regenbogen glimlacht.
Lip naar beneden in de dakgoot.

Hoorn that, a trough fully rain arcs smile.
Lip down in the gutter.

Hoorn qui, une pluie de cuvette entièrement courbe sourire.
Lèvre vers le bas dans la gouttière.

Hoorn which, a rain of basin entirely curved smile.
Lip downwards in the gutter.


The rain of the washbasin Hoorn which bends smile completely.
In lip lower part of groove.

A chuva do washbasin Hoorn que dobra o sorriso completamente.
Na parte mais inferior do bordo do sulco.

La pluie de la washbasin Hoorn que pli le sourire complètement.
En partie le plus inférieur du bord des sillons.

Η βροχή του washbasin Hoorn παρά πτυχή το χαμόγελο εντελώς.
Εν μέρει πιό κατώτερος του χείλους sillons.

The rain of washbasin Hoorn despite aspect the grin completely.
Partly more inferior verges sillons.

Der Regen des Waschbeckens Hoorn trotz des Aspekts das Grinsen vollständig.
Teils untergeordnetere Kanten sillons.

La pluie du lavabo Hoorn malgré l'aspect le sourire moqueur complètement.
Affiler partiellement subordonné sillons.

Rain of the Hoorn wash-hand basin in spite of the aspect the smile mocker completely.
To sharpen partially subordinate furrows.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


      Pack rabbits hunt by night.
Moonrise poplar lace shimmies,
pearls rapt in foil fall
on dark broth,
and still we return
to lake edge, shirtsticky
boot through sledge tar.

We pawthunk and amble
downbank, become iridescent.
Crystal juiced and waylaid,
shorts on a bush, your
soft shore legs glow so.
We leap (as bunnies),
break black scrim and backfloat.
You cup a fine course; I
allow myself eddies and swerves.

     On shore,
the beasts empty bloodruts
with mournful wails.
For you, love,
I’d jimmycarter rabbits with a canoe paddle.

First published in the now defunct The Fulcrum Online.



Sunday, September 19, 2010

Eagle (acrylic on canvas) by James

Nind Inaabandam / I Dream

     Nind izhinam.

Zhibaii waassaychigan nindinaab agwaching.
Gokookoo’oo migwanag ogidj’ waassaychiganaatig dush mitashkossiw.
Migizi nin waabama mitashkossiw kashkibiday biminakwaan.
     Migizi nibo.
Wanashkid migwan nin manaysin.
DNR gaween oganabaynjigaymin.

     Nind izhinam
nin kashkayndam.

     I’ve had such a vision.

Through the window I look outside.
Owl feathers on the window frame and on the grass.
I see an eagle on the grass; he is tied up in rope.
     Eagle, he is dead.
I want a tail feather.
The DNR, they won’t allow it.

     I’ve had such a vision,
and I am sad.

      *      *      *
I awoke from this very dream feeling troubled. The owl feathers covering the sill had something to do with my mother. The eagle outside, even in the context of the dream, represented the spirit of my Anishinaabe ethnicity, and it was bound. It was dead. I had the intense urge to avail myself of the opportunity to collect the eagle's tail feathers, especially because it was just lying there for the taking, but I hadn't earned the right to possess them and it filled me with a profound sadness. In the dream, I thought of the DNR and sort of put the blame for my inability to hold the eagle feathers on them, on the laws of White people, but I'm both Anishinaabe and Finnish (mostly). I'm Indian and I'm White. The conflict between the paradigms of different people exists within me. 

Now, the language... 
When I awoke, I felt strongly that this poem needed to be written in the Ojibwe language. I don't speak Ojibwemowin (the language), though I know a few isolated phrases. I first wrote down the dream in English, and then translated it into Ojibwemowin with a bilingual dictionary compiled by the "snowshoe priest," Frederic Baraga. As I translated though, I had to alter the original English version to suit phrases and contexts that I could find in the Baraga dictionary. I'm sure my Ojibwe words and syntax are awkward and off. What exists here is really a cross-cultural exchange, most likely far from exact in meaning, but yet an attempt. I hope the basic idea comes across.


She has too many doilies.
She sets flagrant desserts aflame.
She’s both a wisecrack and a wound.

She’s got witchhazel on cottonballs
            in a mason jar.
She boogies, but the imprint
left on the settee turns a little lurid.
She says Sobriety
            is exceptionally hard to implement,
            though she don’t dig the reefer.

She draws badgers
            shooting laser beams, cauterizing wounds.
She defends oncologists.
She points out Losing one’s arms
            wouldn’t diminish the ability
            to master complex mathematics, though
            it might affect one’s ability to hold a pencil.

She yells to the sidewalk gimp
            One hell of a prosthesis!
            and makes his highbeams shine.
She doesn’t blame doctors.
            How could they know?
            How could they possibly know?

She sees barbed wire as slag in the brine.
She has a believe robot.

      *      *      *
In a math class at Anoka Ramsey Community College, I had a quirky red-haired professor. She would often say odd things, though they were (usually) astute and circuitously apropos. Many students felt that she was off-the-wall and simply weird. I liked her. She was fun to watch and to listen to. This poem has almost nothing to do with her. All the italicized quotes in the poem come from my former math teacher, though they've all been moved to a new context, and the "she" is not her. (I do, however, think of her sometimes when I revisit this poem.)

Once I began the repetition of "She..." lines, I stepped out of the way and allowed the character to take shape. Images appeared from disparate places: Anne Shirley's bosom friend, Diana Barry, hoped to get many (one might even say too many) doilies for her wedding, singer extraodinaire: Ani Difranco has a body part "built like a wound that won't heal," my old friend Jody was the witchhazel/cottonball, my ex had a grandfather who lost a leg in World War II and spent the rest of his life bursting the confines of his wheelchair with joie de vivre, and my wife and I have both lost loved ones to cancer. 

The final couplet is pure James, as far as I recall. Oddly enough, my former poetry writing group had many problems accepting this ending to the poem. Some felt that it made no sense (as though it needs to). Some objected to having the pair of lines coupled (coupleted?), and thought that either alone would work better. Some simply objected to "believe" in that context, and suggested that "belief" would make more sense. I've always liked that couplet. I dunno. What do you think?

Do you like robots?

First published in the seemingly defunct The Fulcrum Online, Fall 2004.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Family Forges

1.   Family forges hollow tubes, bizarre illusion as a milieu,
silvered pipes, distorted faces reflected like chrome
ozones capped at the poles, spinning, forces flung from center.
Medieval torture ride of a merry-go-round microcosm.
As a child turns clinging to cold rods, keds braced
to try to hold a place while slipping bits.
Such laughter mocking the enwraptured package
while gummed string under cellophane
layers heavy the sidewall flaps.
Every subsequent nailscritch produces lessened access.
While whirling toward death and doom,
to make even more of that thought.

2.   Like the quease in the queue
when the shadow of muscle mountain
bears down on littler one. Need relief.
And the blackness envelopes,
has him hold place until can pass
the urge, exchange a stage for one
of feigned contrition teetering atop porcelain,
publicly exposed. Still,
from the shadow pit, a smirk
hisses out control tendrils as crackling wires.

3.   On cable tv, a king’s fool sparkled cueball dome
houses carnival wonder to pull rebirth from a dark age.
Lozenge lisp that calls out the dragon’s breath:
anaal nathracht uthvas bethud dothiel dienvay.
Uther strips Igraine, one recalls later
when a nun does such to not knock.
That smile stings harsh.

4.   Childhood humiliation of a lead pipe log
fallen from a passable height onto the glass surface
of a bog hollow with each cutting critique.
But the swamp god is a smithy
making flame roar against the cold of the snuff element,
and forging sharp steel from the collected raw ore
of metal filings scraped off tubes and pipette tips
by the nitpicking teeth of bullheaded razorfish spirits.

5.   I’ve heard little sister’s cry splinter
as I’m near cornered by formica,
worn handle of a kitchen knife
clutched in a protector’s palm.
The intake brandy breath of a hobo.
Like Uther and Igraine, things just never the same.
I hear the hiss of pipes, the whisper of snuff gas.
Back to the range, a pilot warmth
from within fills my hand as guide. And a quill
dipped in black humour enters a kitchen beating.

6.   I am neither the land nor am I the king.
I hold no golden chalice, wield
no sword culled from cold water.
I’m naught but a scribe, a latter day pendragon
moving through thickened fog with tomes clutched tight,
padding forward a forgotten foottrail, all the while
drawing dragon’s breath from the forges of a family stove.
Anaal nathracht uthvas bethud dothiel dienvay.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Village Rain

We stroll, you and I.

        This is the lane
where every home wears a hedgerow;
garden gates hang ajar. A man
thrashes wet shellac against a fence
while neighbor kids cackle in the thicket.

        This is the market square
where venders hawk vegetables.
This is the church where we were
to marry. The steeple still probes the sky.

        This is the tree by the river
where you kissed me first.
Seedlings clutch at dirt as dark clouds sag.

        Here stood the footbridge
where I took your hand.
You pulled it back and went to Prague,
and took that bridge with you.

        This is me, still sighing
to see your linens wriggle on the line,
to call to you, and together
we’d rush to pull the wash.

Instead, you scuttle Czech streets;
        I vodka tonic,
and massive fluffs engulf the grey putty.

*      *      *      *      *      *
This poem was written in January 2004 and it first appeared in print a few months later. Its genesis was a torrid breakup in the early 90s. While I've enjoyed an average number of relationships in life (I'll assume), there have been only a few incendiary loves. 

Now, in my writing there is often an identifiable connection to my life and experiences, but that connection is tertiary to the needs of the individual topic and the requirements of the mechanical aspects of the piece. I grew up in a town of about 30,000 people, a part of a larger metro area of a quarter million people. As an adult I have always lived in a fairly large city. For some reason, recurring imagery in my poems casts me (or the speaker ...whatever) as having lived in the rural Midwest: small town, farm boy and all that. Uh, no. I've never been sure of where that comes from, other than being a construct of my interests and mindset.

Nevertheless we stroll, you and I (shudder). Even back in 2004 when I wrote that line, I was ambivalent about it. In fact, it has come and gone so many times over the years that it has now become transparent. If you hold your computer screen close to your face (you may do so now) you will be able to look through the font of that one line and you'll see into a candlelit bedroom wherein a lonely poet sits penning verse of emotional longing into a book with a padded cover. 

The next stanza starts setting a scene. Most of this poem seems to be setting the scene. I can see in this poem an interest in the phonemic patterns and structures of language which are currently forefront in my writing. Thrashing wet shellac is more about language than about village life, and coupled with kids cackling in the thicket, the images were my attempt to capture a bit of Norman Rockwell Americana undergirded by a darker, quietly festering scaffold. Sylvia Plath wrote a poem in which there is "Viciousness in the kitchen! / The potatoes hiss. / It is all Hollywood, windowless, / The fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine." 

I've always loved the image of the seedlings by the river: dark rain clouds are descending, the air is charged with a pre-storm electricity, and the little sprouts clutch into the moist soil to brace themselves for an onslaught. I wouldn't write an image like that now, but for the era from which it comes it was an inspired thought.

The footbridge is an actual place in Minneapolis' Loring Park, though the holding of the hand occurred between two friends, one of whom I had a crush on. I appropriated the image and recast the actors playing the roles. A girlfriend I had loved did in fact dump me to travel around Europe. In a wistful moment, the poet/speaker imagines a life of domesticity under similar atmospheric conditions, BUT... reality intrudes: she's gone, he drinks to forget (or is it to remember?) The large clouds wrap and consume his thoughts.

First published in The Rapids Review: A Literary Magazine, 2004.