Five Poems

Baker’s Pick
Russell Rowland

Photo Credit: June Marie/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

On Hold

Shadows lengthen, hours since I shaved;
the tune da capo, recorded fib recycles:
“Your call is important to us.”

In our meetinghouse, a higher call:
we celebrate recurring Advents and Lents
together—lections of patient attendance.

Once, my newly-licensed daughter
dared drive in a whiteout, to reunite
with her boyfriend. Awaiting her message
of arrival, each minute was worth my life.

When she was at Speare Memorial
for what would be Emma by caesarean,
no news was not good news. Before
my own eyes I aged into a grandfather.

Holding the phone to alternate ears today,
I had started doubting providence,
death’s distance, when the ditty cut off.
“This is Shelly, how may I help you?”



Along the Tilton-Sanbornton town line
live two of Ted’s former wives: divorcee
and widow. One each side of the line.

Sometimes the women meet and pass
on walks along the dividing dirt road—
civil in address. They don’t really have
the same Ted in common. Awkward
subject. But no noses up or anything.

Whose husband he might be in heaven
depends on what you believe about
a lot of things, divorce and heaven
included (Jesus addressed that one).

Bereavement and court decree are two
valleys walked alone, to reach in time
greener pastures, more tranquil waters,
the lines fallen in pleasant places.

Ted learned more than some men
about women, but took it all with him.

There is a drawer in a hope chest
for what worked with one of his wives,
the Sanbornton landfill for what
didn’t work with the other, and a plot
in Tilton where Ted can think it over.


Ignored by a Chickadee

Among snubs collected in a life
of putting myself out there, this

is minor: a black-capped extravert
pecks diligently at the leaf mold
within a pace of my hiker’s boots,
ignoring me and my propensities.

Weighed against fall’s fat storage,
I am of course nothing—plus
in a crisis there are always wings.

This discipline of standing still
long enough gives other dwellers
in the arboreal city time to forget
I’m here: in nature the motionless

is invisible. Chipmunks overrun
your boots. A fox comes sniffing
right up to your trouser leg. It is
a great blessing, but hunters use it.

Leaves become eyes, the chickadee
flutters up to safety, when I move
along, aware I’m loved back home.


for Emma

I am Grampy and a rock.
Climb up, agile granddaughter,
I won’t roll out from under you.

Gaze in my eyes,
as into an ornamental Easter egg.
You see the Garden earth once was,

unless I begin to weep—
then you’ll watch a Deluge make
the world anew, for animals and you.

Put up with my voice—
you will hear old funny songs
you catch yourself humming in bed.

Take hold of my hand—
I emptied it of wealth, of pretty things
like rings. Your hand was all it wanted.

I am Grampy, cannot
help it. I was born with whiskers.
Gracious years intended me for you.

Walk beside me, watch
for surprises I can already see—
the grown-up lady you, the absent me.

You made me Grampy.
But for you I would be browsing
store shelves for a name.


The Keeper Leaf

Hands held, they stroll fall’s litter
of colors. The ostensible conceit—
due diligence here helping to hide
a nervousness that often precedes
some expected consummation—

is to identify and take back home
to a bedroom only one of them
has slept in before tonight, a leaf:

an unsurpassable representative
of fall’s foliage at absolute peak.

Each contender is discarded for
the next and next, more brilliant
to the vacillating tastes of youth,

the search itself mostly pretense
that two heads are not obsessed
with intimate liberties at night,
pleasure’s forever-elusive peak;

that whatever drew them close
could never prove ephemeral,
its aftermath just barren limbs;
a dead leaf nothing much at all.


Seven-time Pushcart Prize nominee Russell Rowland writes from New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, where he has judged high-school Poetry Out Loud competitions. Recent work appears in Poem, The Main Street Rag, and U.S. 1 Worksheets. His latest poetry book, Wooden Nutmegs, is available from Encircle Publications. Email: russellrowland15[at]

Three Poems

Russell Rowland

view from porch late autumn
Photo Credit: Beth Punches

White Gloves

When the bullet hit (she never heard
the shot) she fell among the leaves
of autumn, to die as they had died,
right in her own backyard: thirty feet
from home, eighty from the woods,
says the police report. It was the talk
of central Maine. You may be aware
of that moisture in eyes when folk
feel sympathetic: this did not appear.

Recent arrivals from New Jersey, he
retired from Princeton, she his wife;
no hunters, not a gun between them.
The hunter, local man, given benefit
of the doubt—lack of judgment firing
near a residence less harshly judged
than her wearing of white gloves
outside, in season: a kindergartener
would know better. Her widower
returned to New Jersey. No charges
were brought against the hunter, who
must be elderly today, if still alive—
outdoor days past, rifle hung above
the fireplace; his bag, from forty-plus
seasons: no deer, but one housewife.


I Can’t Lose

Brown-sugar-colored slush sprays up
into the wheel wells as I drive downtown
in January. You’ll notice where the rust
has started, on a sedan ten winters old.
Still my cheeks are rosy, humor high:
if spring is soon in coming, our delight
at the crocus’s diffident emergences,
at the songbird’s acrobatic cartwheels,
will not be unacceptably deferred—
but if time slows to the crawl of plows,
and repetitive snowfall effaces walks
we just shoveled, so that April, May,
June are delayed in transit—well—
the terminal illness, the last breath,
while daughter kneads a tissue, and
son-in-law glances at his watch,
may get pushed even further back
in this many-seasoned century.
I see me winning either way.



After weeks of stoicism and tuneless whistling,
Barney finally broke down over Adeline’s box
at the edge of six cubic feet of topsoil, severed
worms, about to separate him from his pretty girl
of sixty-two years. We looked away, embarrassed,
looked instead at the dirt: restful emotionless stuff,
with its potent sexual fecundity: almost any crop
can grow—except another Adeline won’t come up.
The blindness of topsoil, against our open eyes,
the deafness of it, working its way into our ears,
the dumbness of it, impacted in our throats,
the impartiality of it, burying sinner next to saint—
we well understood the blackness inside Barney’s
one suit, as he in turn began to concede to the dirt,
to trust it with Adeline; to walk away, let her melt
into dirt forever, as into the arms of another man.


Russell Rowland is from New Hampshire’s Lakes Region. A five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he is a past winner of Old Red Kimono‘s Paris Lake Poetry Contest and twice winner of Descant‘s Baskerville Publishers Poetry Prize. His chapbook, Train of All Cabooses, is available from Finishing Line Press. Email: abba456[at]