May 11, 2018

Three Poems by Steven Petersheim: "The Windburned People," "Numb Love," and "Mnemosyne"

Steven Petersheim is a professor and writer living in the Whitewater Valley region of eastern Indiana, where he teaches at Indiana University East. He enjoys hiking and exploring cultural and natural landmarks with his family. His poetry has appeared in Wilderness House Literary Review, The Wayfarer, and elsewhere.

The Windburned People

They told me this was fly-over country
the first time I flew in to see, to put down
one foot after the other, a way-station on the way
to somewhere else – easy in, easy out, so they said.

But the cornfields (scoffed as they were)
lifted tendrils to wave at me, perhaps to sweep
indifferent cobwebs from my brain and to trail
silky leaves across the sky, combing blue with green –
laughing, sighing to see the busy people trapped
in a world of concrete and metal and other matter
less real than the water that works its way up
into roots and out into air and streams that rise
with the evaporation of the masses crossing
in this country of cows and grass, wind and sun.

And rising out of seemingly nowhere, skyscrapers
and arches and twisting interstates cut the air in two,
mocking the flatness of the land – at least until
a twister levels all to flat again. Then we stop and stare
terribly like the dead, not sure how to live again unless
it means remaking what was made or meant to be made,
some tower to slice the heavens as we clamber up and up
to the tiptop of human achievement, gods of this world
at least until disaster throws us again from our pinnacles.

Out in the country, though, are the windburned people
who work the land, who see its rhyme and reason
in a way our brick and mortar institutions seem to twist
to trophy wreaths and beautiful bleeding thorns and thistles.
The windburned people, living out there away from strictures
that keep out nature, sometimes stop to listen
to the earth groaning, laboring, wiggly-worming
under the weight of a human race that goes on and on
with only the rarest of looks toward the land its mother.

I’m not from these here parts – I think that’s how to say it 
round here – but I’ve come to like the way the land stretches out
like a friendly goddess, more like a rock sanded flat on top
covered with soil. I want what the windburned people keep
around – I want more much more than I know to say I want.

Numb Love
  A Sonnet

When you appear before my burning eyes,
I pause and think upon my blessed state,
with no more need for bleeding sighs and cries,
for you transmute my bitter-turning fate,
your stirring presence like a soft caress.
And I of all my faculties possessed
delight in you who give me happiness
by bringing smiles to me, in thought at least.
Yet when I think upon your sudden going,
the rush and crush of life now in the press
that pours out wine of love no longer growing,
then I can no more think, no more express
the vanished dreams. New life it seems has come,
leaving some part of me breathing numb.


You rarely speak unless spoken in song,
rarely move unless moved toward,
rarely remember unless remembered –
and sometimes that is almost enough.

How can I gesture, with all my halting,
toward epic tones like those you intone?
How can I reach, with all my longing,
the hidden springs from which you spring?
What must I do, with all my wandering,
to dance into the circle which you encircle?

What is it to remember, to make whole again
those dreams you send me, dreams you sent them,
up on your high mountain, searing the souls
of prophets and seers who proclaimed and saw
with body and mind and soul knit in harmony?

What is it to re-member my soul fully in tune
with what you have written into my straining body,
with what you have planted in my human psyche,
with what you whispered me of divinity?

O Muse, send music to my soul –
my soul that aches for words that breathe,
words that weave through my mind, through my body,
through my living, through my moving, through my being.

~Steven Petersheim

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