Transparent Words - Poetry


Sherry O'Keefe

Trombone Paper (in response to 1. contralto)

The birch tree and its givings (in response to 3. children)

Graft (in response to 8. spinning girl)

Saturday Market (resonse to 20.b old men and young)

Mercy Tin (in response to 21. immigrants)
Tante Berta(in response to 21.immigrants)

half-way dance (in response to 24. dance)



Trombone Paper (in response to 1. contralto)


Oh when the saints

She wraps her prayer
with a fevered bow
in wrinkled trombone paper
ribboned with trademark dotted eighths
and allargando sorrow.

Oh when the saints
keep marching on

She works her words
with each stuttered step
toward his graveside marker.
When her genuflection crumbles

onto patient prairie grass
last year’s wind leans in
to listen closely as she prays
to the sound of broken chord.



The birch tree and its givings (in response to 3. children)


Just as brown bears

circle and settle,

as black crows caw

over cornfield stubble

so I break trail

through last night's snow.


Under barbed wire,

over a cat-tail ridge,

down to the rocky banks

of the frozen Rosebud Creek.

I climb the trunk of one white birch,

searching for his folded note

twined about the twigs.


How did he braid

faith and  hope and my heartbreak

into a knot of willow rope?


He writes:

Just as the bear rises,

just as winter leaves,

carve me out another chance

on the bark of our birch tree.




Graft (in response to 8. spinning girl)


In the northwest corner
of a neglected orchard
where no one walks but me
an apple tree grows,
with sucker roots
that tell the tale
of splintered slivers
of whittled wedges
of one good tree gone bad.

One touch after sundown
one breath before moonrise
I slip inside that forest.
The crickets chirp,
the wind lays down.
I play Johnny Appleseed.

Too dark to see,
my fingers search
for pliant, giving bark.
I coax errant offshoots
to weave and graft
to the still solid healthy trunk
that long has borne
the faded heart and feathered shaft
declaring D L’s love for me.


Saturday Market (in resonse to 20.b old men and young)


They walk the morning
market paths
of Broadway and Stonebrook
he, with his bucket full
of plastic army guys
she, with her sack
of leather ribboned books.

Disarming charm,
unwitting grins
trade in casual talk
of baseball teams,
the neighbor's cow, and how
it’s almost harvest time.

Maple shadows
point out when its time
for the two to head on home,
he, with a sprinkle
of her hazel eyes
she, with all his
ocean blue.



Mercy Tin (in response to 21. immigrants)


She arrived with mercy

in an old bandage tin,

the hinged lid,

with sliding clasp,

groaning each time

it was needed.

There were patches for faith,

rolled gauze for trust

and tubes of forgiveness



She hung it by her kitchen stove

next to the match dispenser

below the ‘kwitcherbellyachin’ motto

her gramma-great burned

into a left-over slab of barn door.


She filled it with sunrise blush

and the center skip in hopscotch,

sprinkled in a somersault’s pause

and the tug from a six pound trout line.


Whatever you take out,

you put back in

was the way she always lived.



Tante Berta (in response to 21.immigrants)


She searches yesterday’s pocket for coins

to take to market . She’s shopping for

tonight’s meal, something to go

with the wedge of cheese

wrapped in wax paper,

cooling in the tin

on the ledge outside our kitchen window.

Three squares of folded brown paper

and lengths of knotted string rest

in her bicycle basket as she

pedals the path to the 

bread store  and

the butcher.

Twice she

pauses to count

her  coins,  to think

about  tomorrow’s  meal,

then she stops at the newsstand

to trade three twists of dried  rosemary

for one large cone of bearded burgundy irises.

Cheddar and bratwurst, rye bread and

butter churned from our milk cow.

Silverware clatter and shuffled

feet,  our meal  steaming

on  mended  platters.

We bow our heads

but   while   she

prays, I vow

to chew











half-way dance (in response to 24. dance)


the way to dance with her mustang soul
means he must ride down from his mountain ranch--
away from his corrals for the two-year-olds
with the simple sign
that hangs on the gate
with the letters of trust
burned in.

the way to him means she must head west
and think about
how water from his valley
is all upstream from what she once held dear
til he spoke about the sign
and how one touch from his inner knee
tames a wild heart.



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