Archive for the ‘Sample Poems’ Category

With Mother’s Day this Sunday, I’ve been thinking of not only my own mother, but of the wonderful women going back generations in my family. One reason I know about those women is because both Mom and her mother, Grandma Martha, always told great stories, whether about their own pasts or about the female family members who came before.

One of Mom’s stories stuck with me because I was so impressed with her mother’s resourcefulness. Mom’s paternal grandmother was known as Grandma-Up-Dayton because she lived above Dayton, Ohio — in a community called Vandalia. Grandma-Up-Dayton lived in a rather rustic home with an outhouse and an iron wood-burning stove. She turned out unbelievable breads, pies, and other goodies on that stove, which my mother recalls with fondness and admiration.

It was a long drive from the southernmost border of Ohio to north of Dayton. Something that happened on one of those return trips was the foundation for that story of Mom’s that impressed me so. It involved a flat tire, a pie, a car key, and the talents and resourcefulness of mothers:


When I see chocolate pie I think of
a pie I never tasted, the one
my mother likes to tell about
from her childhood: She’d traveled
with her parents and sister to visit
Grandma-Up-Dayton, a remarkable
cook who baked glorious creations
in a wood-burning stove. When the
Applegates motored up from Cincinnati,
Grandma-Up-Dayton packed the car
with culinary plunder for the return trip.

On the way home that evening, their car
had a blowout. It was past dinnertime
and the girls needed something to eat.
While Grandpa wrestled with the flat,
Grandma took a chocolate pie
from Grandma-Up-Dayton’s stash of goodies.
There was no knife, so Grandma
used a car key to slice the pie. My mother
remembers how good that pie tasted,
they were so tired and hungry,
with so far yet to go.

When I see chocolate pie, I think
of this story and those three —
of Grandma-Up-Dayton, blessed
with cheerful generosity
and baking prowess; of Grandma,
blessed for life with calm resourcefulness;
and of my mother, blessed with a talent
for keeping the past alive
and for helping me understand
the kind of women I come from.

(c)2006 by Nancy Breen; “A Chocolate Pie” first appeared in Best of 2006: The 69th Annual Ohio Poetry Day Contest Awards

UPDATE: My mother has written a special blog post telling all about Grandma-Up-Dayton, her unusual house in the country, and her baking — not to mention the full story of the car key and the chocolate pie. Go to Lillian’s Cupboard for nostalgic details, period photos, and even a chocolate pie recipe!



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I guess I shouldn’t let April pass without posting a poem. This is from my chapbook How Time Got Away (Pudding House Publications, (c)2005). The night I’m writing about happened over 30 years ago.


Spring again, a sadness to swear by.
Lamplight filters through the shadow
of a neighbor’s death. In a back bedroom,
my father, cricket caught in a skeleton’s ribs,
sings “Old Ninety-Seven”
softly to himself. The breeze hooks
the melody like a mail sack,
slow train style. The breeze is antic,
doing spooky things to the front room curtains.

I sing, too. I sing this warm evening,
front porch and rocking chair. No one
has rocked me for years, but tonight
I cradle myself, humming
the flannel lullabies.
Beside the porch rail, the lilac
murmurs appreciatively.
My voice tests the night as quietly.

In an upstairs window
of the dead neighbor’s house,
a slip-clad figure pauses and springs.
The gauzy after-image
is eerie, more ghostly than an appearance
by the deceased himself.
Someone lowers the shade as tenderly
as the lid over a blank eye.
My father and I fall mute, tunes
collapsing in our throats like parachutes,
splendid billows of rapture
thinning to silk and cord.

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In honor of Halloween, I posted a poem called “A Horror Story” here, where I explain the circumstances that inspired the piece.

On this blog I thought I’d post a couple more Halloween poems. Happy haunting, everyone!

A warped pumpkin face leered
from the ring-marred bar top.
We peered through eye holes
at an electric beer sign where
the Cincinnati skyline brightened
with noon-time radiance.
From the jukebox a banshee yowled
her hair-prickling lament.
Hunchbacks lined the bar,
breathing smoke, red ash
singeing their knuckles.
They watched us without moving,
eye sockets shadowed,
foreheads purple and green with neon.
The bartender had the eyebrows
of a madman; he was
not to be trusted, shiny-cheeked
and glib. From a cauldron
of wrapped sourballs he clawed
a crackling fistful. Our paper sacks
rattled, we backed away. One
of the zombie hunchbacks shifted.
C’mere, youngsters. The dull nickels
he fished from his pockets
were doled with yellowed fingers.
Gloom deepened as the beer sign city
plunged into midnight. The moaning singer
gave up the ghost, a heart-stopping silence.
We shoved each other out the door
as the madman cackled at our backs,
mixing and pouring his poisons.
(from Best of Ohio 2004, © Nancy Breen)
He showed up for open mic night,
poems inked on the stiff bandages
across his crusted palms.
It took him half the evening
to work up his nerve, took half
that long again to totter
between the folding chairs
to the front of the room.
The crowd murmured,
grew excited. This promised everything
they’d heard poetry was about–
death, a voice echoing
from the grave, deterioration
and its impact on the poet’s art.
He opened his mouth to recite.
Stale breath blew dirt
and dried moths. He started
with an imagist poem
about the Nile at sunset,
another about shadowy camels
in sandstorms, ended with a brief verse
about how everything depends
on a little green scarab
glazed with dust in the burial pit.
The audience grew restless.
Where was the decay? Where was the madness?
He knew he’d lost them.
Their indifferent applause mocked him
as he humped into the night.
He became a recluse after that,
dressed all in white gauze,
wrote batches of poems
he tossed into a sarcophagus.
Future generations would discover his work,
declare him the genius he knew he was.
And after all, he
was the living dead.
He’d last long enough to see it happen.
(from How Time Got Away, © 2005, Pudding House Publications)

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