February 1, 2017

Three Poems by Steven Petersheim: "Castaways of College," "The Chase," and "Dormant"

Steven Petersheim is Assistant Professor of English at Indiana University East in the Whitewater Valley region of Indiana, where he teaches American literature and writes poetry between pilgrimages to Walden Pond and runs through the woods of Hayes Arboretum. His poetry has appeared in Wilderness House Literary Review, The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature, and elsewhere. Much of his poetry explores the conjunction of nature, memory, and human activity – some of it drawn from memories of his Amish childhood.


False start. A crocus speckled with snow,
green grass bowing under the weight of un-
finished winter, dark twigs not yet summer-
dried but revived with the wet of now, frost-
feathers prick the slanted souls waiting
for the sun’s light heat to transform a world
prodded from dormancy into infancy
anew, not ready quite to emerge
into many-colored summer beauty.
This spring bounds back and forth, teasing hearts
that want to hope again: a new cycle,
forever new.

Castaways of College

I sit and look, casting my eyes past
the window-frame that holds me back
from running with the little dog below
running with a group of girls running,
the one I love among them. She runs,
calls others round her, pushes them
all the way to the state meets, her long legs
powering their way down the street
and off to meet after meet.

I sit until she’s gone, then turn my eyes
to watch wandering locals, garbage looters
sifting through cast-off junk of college students
about to go back home, wherever that might be,
and then I see another classmate running loose,
sprinkles of the coming rain caught by the wind
casting his crazy Einstein hair even more askew,

and my mind goes back to another window
where I used to sit, doing homework
and spouting off random shouts to relieve the pent up energies
of my antsy body until my mother told me to run
as fast as I could down the country road to the little creek
a quarter mile from our house.
                             Then I was the one running
in the rain, bushy hair bounding, moisture spattering my shirt,
my face, my bare feet, slapping life against rocky pavement
glistered with cooling wet.
                              In that life of long ago,
I crawled one day out another window I had discovered
in my romps through the outbuildings of our old farm.
Casting my body through that window space, I reeled back and fell –
hurtling down, quickly down – the gasps breathing out from body and soul.
A bush caught me that time, I recall.

As I look out now, thrusting my soul through the open window
into a world stuffed with motions of mind full of constant questions
of how and occasional whiffs of why, I sense but cannot speak
the closeness pressing down on me
leaving me little room to breathe, to feel, to see
beyond a kind of solemn forgetfulness that insists
we are in a fated world of our own making, all alone.

I turn back from the window, back to my books,
my heart astir, my spirits roused, ready to see in my mind
Crusoe’s island, quixotic scenes of emblazoned knights,
garlic strewn round a room guarding against the deadly undead,
a sighing but savvy beauty looking out at her forbidden lover
being thwarted or not, a Miranda ruling her island with
her aging father, a Satan hurled and smoldering,
always smoldering in Pandemonium, an Aladdin
with his magic lamp, and other assorted images
that help stave off inertia of the soul, looking through the glass
with something like more gasping in my soul.

I joined her finally one day
for pizza and beer
when we finished our senior year,
the festivities provided by proud professors
who thought us prime material
for something more. Another night
we walked with friends to Penny’s Diner,
where the jukebox cranked out old tunes
and we sang along, “Some times
in our lives, we all need some-body to lean on.”

And there she is, standing beside my soul –
I gasp, wondering why I ever believed in being alone
and take a deep breath of our life together.

The Chase

Her eyes on him
in the schoolyard,
his eyes catching
hers on him,
he rivets himself
onto the slide,
and scoots
his body down.

Catch me if you can.

It didn’t matter
who said it first—
all they remember
is the chase,
young love running,
panting together,
hands stretched
to the wind,
hearts bounding
in their ribs,
eyes wide
in a field
of grass.

~Steven Petersheim

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