Squirrel Hill

“A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.”
            — Emily Dickinson
Eyes of the author.

Shirley Stevens

PHOTO: Shirley Stevens

Shirley S. Stevens’ poetry has appeared in Poet Lore and Time of Singing, and in the anthologies Along These Rivers, Commonwealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania, and Fission of Form. She has published a chapbook, Pronouncing What We Wish to Keep. She is leader of The First Word writers’ group in Sewickley, a mentor for The Writing Academy, and poetry columnist for The Upper Case.

On Gobbler’s Knob

We gather on the hill outside Punxsutawney
to draw tight circles against the dark.

Five thousand strong, we twist and shout
to circulate blood to our frozen toes

then dance “The Pennsylvania Polka,”
bellow “Roll out the barrel” in the snow.

At six a.m. comet candles, flares, wheels of light
burst against the dark, and I think of Stonehenge

where Druid priests lit bonfires
against the endless nights.

Our hopes volley as
sizzlers salute the whistle pig

who whispers to the handler in his top hat:
“Six more weeks.” Winter rules!
ll Poverello, St. Francis and the Wood
Response to Elizabeth Douglas’s “Phoenix”

Wood finds its way,
Francis whispers to fox sparrow
perched upon his shoulder,

Wood finds its way, he preaches
to grackle, crow, and dove--
his tunic brushes their wings.

He blesses Brothers Wind and Fire,
Sisters Moon and Stars.
Yes, he smiles, Wood finds its way.

Olive, live oak, cherry--
Francis strokes the fiber in the grain,
nods, Wood find its way.

Taming the wolf at Gubbio,
freeing the rabbit from the snare,
he leads all creatures back to the wood.

God’s troubadour, His fool,
Francis calls himself, bare foot in Umbria
gathering stones to build a church.

Francis trades his coat for a leper’s,
sleeps in a cave outside Assisi,
whistles to poppies bleeding in the field.

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison

My God, My All,
Francis dances a blessing:
Wood finds it way.
Ode to Ray Charles

When Queen Isabella asked Columbus,
"What's in America?" he answered, "Ray Charles." Flip Wilson

Don't have Georgia on my mind tonight,
only you, Brother Ray.
Grateful for your honeysuckle baritone,
how can we stop loving you?

At The Beacon,
you weaved on that piano bench,
rocked the house, shouted "Hallelujah!"
You shook a tail feather, released
gospel to R&B.

In your wraparound Ray Bans
and shiny satin jacket,
you riffed the keys, black and white,
set the Yamaha to singing.

We found America the Beautiful
in your singing even after 9/11.
Thank you for brailling notes
which make us feel
more than we can see.

You played a mean chess game, Ray,
advancing pawns to King Cole.
You sang your own song to your queen,
"I've Got a Woman!"

After pondering "What'd I say?"
you hit the road to heaven with Jack
to harmonize with Bessie, Ella, and The Duke.
I can hear the angels tapping their haloes,
nodding, "Uh huh!"