Poetry Society of Vermont
founded in 1947
photo by Linda Tyler

Spring Workshop Poems 
by Popular Vote
May 2017

Cambridge Garden Revisited

Today I returned to the garden 

near Harvard Square.

It is just as I remembered 

when you brought me here

forty Aprils ago. You took my hand 

and led me through the stone archway. 

We sat together on this granite bench 

to talk awhile as we waited for your 

doctor's appointment that afternoon 

before returning to Vermont. 

Today, sparrows still chatter in ivy

that clings to bricks of the college hall, 

muting distant drones of city traffic 

on the other side of the garden wall. 

Uncut grass is freshly green,

a wayward breeze from the harbor

stirs yellow jonquils beneath 

a rose-budded apple tree. 

April sun warms the corner

of the garden where I sit alone  

and watch a robin run across the grass, 

stop, cock its head to listen for beetles.

A window opens in the building near by;

undisturbed, the sparrows still chat in the ivy.

I rest on the bench and close my eyes to listen

to Harvard’s chapel bells toll the noon hour,

a lonely sound that echoes that spring day

in 1970 on our Vermont farm, when you

found a final escape from your ravaged mind.

You took a knife and climbed the pasture hill 

into the quiet woods. There, by the brook, 

you took your life with the silver blade, only days

after your appointment with the Cambridge doctor.

Ann Day First Place


This is the poem
that wants to bring you
a hot cup of coffee
when you are nodding off,
wants to put a hand on the shoulder 
of your blue velvet jumpsuit
when you are unsure.
It wants to take the shade off
the lamp, to stop wars, cure
illness, tell your family
how much you love them. It wants to give
twenty dollars to the young woman

at the intersection holding the sign.

But it is only a white plastic lawn chair

left in the woods all winter,
invisible in the snow, and will be lost
again to summer’s green confusion,
unless, now, in April, you see it
through the basket of branches -
something white and empty
shaped to hold you —
and you think, “I could walk in there,
through the mud and dead leaves,
and look around.”

Diane Swan Second Place

The Graveyard Tree

Some would argue it simply wasn’t true

that the tree was planted when the church was new;

but no one is alive who knows what year
it first appeared. And there is no one here
who can remember a Sunday morning without

becoming distracted (even those most devout).

It is nearly impossible to determine

how many an interminable sermon

was made to seem to pass a little faster

when beyond the Palladian window behind the pastor
a robin perched on a bough to sing its song
and nothing in the world seemed dark or wrong.

     But storms would come and winter winds would blow

and limbs succumbed beneath the weight of snow. . . .

That great tree’s height made fearful one old man:
he lived alone in a tiny house that bordered

the yard and after a fitful night he ordered
that the tree be removed. What right had he?
And who was there to speak for that mute tree?

An axe-man needing money was quickly gotten
to say that woodpeckers proved the tree was rotten;

though given its age, there was hardly much decay.

The tree was felled, cleaned up, and hauled away

(during organ practice with the church choir)—
and no one now can show he was a liar.

But oh, that man may regret his temerity

and come to miss that stalwart graveyard tree;

even squirrels hunting nuts, running helter-skelter

when he is lying there without its shelter.

Marta Finch Tie for Third Place


In paisley shops

I am drawn to that cloth,

but dignity denies

my urge to clutch it

in my hand, lose

my face in the fringe

of the shawl

that once covered the curve

of our concert grand

with its patterned,

soft, Scottish wool

in amber, salmon,

gold and white,

woven with the sound

of Dvorak's

“Song To The Moon”

from Father's violin,

and candlelight,


on Mother's auburn hair.

Inga Potter Tie for Third Place

The Morning After

Once, when I was teaching Tender Is the Night

a student asked, “Is it true about Fitzgerald? 

Did he really write about his wife, Zelda,

really share her words and letters with the world?”

“So critics say,” I answered, “but I believe 

he was also writing about someone else— 

an heiress named Sara Murphy, a debutante 

who threw a ten year party on the Cote d’Azur, 

where Hemingway met Picasso and Pauline, 

his second wife, while Parker and Dos Passos 

exchanged stories over sherry on the sand.” 

“And did Sara ever forgive Fitzgerald?” 

she persisted. “I mean, were there consequences?”

“Well, Fitzgerald made her famous,” I replied,

embroidering my account of those picnics

where the glamorous, sophisticated Sara

presided like Nicole in Tender Is the Night

wearing long and willowy gowns with pearls wrapped

around her neck as she sat on the sun-bleached sand—

pearls that would become iconic, remembered

thereafter as worn by the elegant Nicole, 

bone white against her tanned back, lovely and hard, 

while that party continued into the wee hours, 

a soiree as sparkling as a vintage champagne. 

Older now, I see things less romantically,

and, less captivated by Fitzgerald’s cadences, 

I would recite a list of consequences, 

bitter residue of his poison-rich prose.

For of course Sara never forgave Fitzgerald—

she knew his betrayal 

       was the same as goodbye.

Carol Milkuhn Tie for Fourth Place

A Boy’s Wagon

     That’s me in the grainy black and white snapshot;

1953 in my grandparents’ yard.

Baggy pants and Lone Ranger suspenders that

Hiked the cuffs above my socks.

Pale arms, tee shirt, crew cut, cowlick,

Full face to the morning sun, casting

A shadow twice my length—

A skinny two year old boy.

     In my hand is the long black handle

To a red metal wagon—new and empty.

Back then they were called coasters.

     I’ve been pulling that wagon ever since;

Up the gradual slope, the straight and

Narrow road my parents set me upon.

     Everything I loaded in that wagon

Was my own doing, nothing I couldn’t pull.

Oh, some burdens may have slowed me down,

But they seemed to fall away—

At just the right time.

     I’ve been undeservedly fortunate.

If ever the wagon wanted to tip,

I stopped to rebalance the weight.

     As I approach the sunset at the top

Of the rise, the load is lightening, is diminished.

My wagon should be empty when the road ends.

     There I will turn it around, grease the wheels,

Sit in the back with feet dangling off the front, 

Hold the handle in my lap—

And coast.

     Coast downhill past all the places I’ve ever been,

Waving to my wife, and farther down, my children,

As they pull their wagons up the same slope.

     Gliding to the bottom, the beginning,

There I will share a toast with my parents,

And thank them for such an adequate red wagon.

 David Stauffer Tie for Fourth Place

Spring Workshop Poems 
by Popular Vote
May 2016

Proverbial Thoughts

They said to take one stitch—it would save nine;

as if that’s all I’d ever have to do

for everything in life to turn out fine.


It felt secure, being told what easy sign

(some minor snag) to pay attention to.

They said to take one stitch: it would save nine;


but hidden defects often undermine

a mend. Were they mistaken in their view

that everything in life would turn out fine?


What of indelible ink, or blood, or wine?

Why was it just to me and not to you

they said to take one stitch? It would save nine,


they kept insisting—as if to draw the line

at ripping up whole cloth to start anew.

For everything in life to turn out fine,


I need not seek an ancient anodyne,

since I see now that it was never true

(when they said take one stitch, it would save nine)

for everything in life to turn out fine.


 Marta Rijn Finch  First Place


 Taking the Back Road


 The back road through Danby Four Corners

is shrouded in fog and damp muggies,

maples are distant shadows in pastures,

swamp grasses bend with wetness.

Light rain begins to spot the windshield,

I don’t close the windows.      


I drive up the hill toward a farm:

white, paint-peeling house on the right,

gray-boarded, tin-roofed barn on the left.

I slow as a tan, black-legged Jersey

saunters across the blacktop.

I stop, turn off the motor and wait.

She stops — gazes — waits,

in the middle of the road.

In a moment, the rest of the resident herd

erupts from a dark opening

under the rusted, over-hanging barn roof.

Black, white, red-spotted, manure-rumped bovines

wander down the road past my parked car,

empty udders swinging with their lazy pace.

A wet, pink-pimpled muzzle

is thrust into my open window.

Another cow inspects the left rear tire;

others stand and stare, tails swinging,

until the rubber-booted farmer

quietly moves his herd

down the road toward the pasture gate,

his face wrinkled with a smile.

Rain splats on the pavement.

I begin to roll up my window.

The farmer looks my way and waves,

“Nice day,” he says.


 Ann B. Day, Second Place



The Job of Crows


 The crows began holding court

in February.


They sat in council like conferees,

Like black flags at meeting

in the tops of trees.

Dark sentinels of the gate,


Masters of the lock.

Not greeters,

A jury of deciders …

Whether to let the fool in or not.

They take themselves so seriously.

It could go either way.

Don’t blithely expect Spring …

Until the crows have had their say!


 Janet Hayward Burnham, Third Place



Senior Princess of So Many Springs


 Bluets pushed up in a little array

in our yard. You walked up the hill

with a falter. This was a new wrenching

thing, this stumble, a lean and a catch

to your walk. By the lone purple crocus,

you padded to pee, a too slender calico

old lady. It was your time, but I asked if


you could wait for a last good day. I knew

you were wondering, as you went to the door,

Is this it? This day? No, Dear, it is

cold, windy and rainy, only a harbinger


of your good day. So you waited, snug

on a heating pad, in your home hospice

care. You look good, they said. Except

for today, when finally the air through

the earth drew us both outside. Barefoot,

I followed on spongiform but sunny ground

and grass. Unseen to me, urine trails


of interlopers you dismissed with a flick

of your tail. Stalked, stumbled, sniffed;

in Royal fashion, you surveyed and I


humbly followed the tiny marvel of you

in such outside largess. That last good day,

O Senior Princess of So Many Springs,

the decision of highest love for you, I made.


 Karen Ruth Richardson, Fourth Place


A Nest of Dreams


 Like serpents

my dreams postpone their birth

until all eyes are lidded

all minds distracted, limp.

They slink in suddenly

and I

reliving the primitive awe

of ancestors

am struck dumb by their presence.


These unblinking trespassers

upon my fertile ground

have mastered immortality

increasing in size and power

shedding skin to accommodate

a new and unfamiliar flesh.


And when they plot to braid themselves

into my hair


I pile pillows on my head.

And when they order me to kiss the cobra

like a Burmese charmer

I force my frozen voice

to pierce the darkness with my screams.


Awake and shivering

I touch my tangled hair

dry lips, cold skin

and contemplate the old belief

that when a serpent swallows prey

it becomes that which it has consumed.


Curled tightly in my nest of sheets

I lie in wait for slants of rising sun

to slither down my skin

and show me who, or what I am.



Regina Murray Brault, Fifth Place



 Why would we want to poison the earth

to kill a dandelion?

Signs of rebirth, bright yellow cheer

in a sea of spring-new green after winter’s monotony

of brown, grey, white?

Who cares what the neighbors think?

Is value truly set by

a conformity of green?


Dandelions, like us,

grow old and grey,

but unlike us do so to

delight and propagate.

Wisps blowing in the wind,

propelled by gusts or children’s breath,

glimpses of the Holy Spirit,

settle to earth, seeding future growth.


Dandelions — yellow hope,

reminder of nature’s resilience,

if it’s not too late.


Think of the grass, the so-called weeds

that spring up in sidewalk cracks, around the city’s trees.

Even if we, by our indifference or lassitude,

allow the death of what we take for granted now,


and too much ignore how much we love,

even then,

even then there will be spring and newborn green

and yellow resurgence.

There are dandelions in Chernobyl.


 Ann Cooper, Sixth Place

Spring Workshop Poems 
by Popular Vote
May 2015


Iowa, August, 1933

                From a photo on US Postal Stamp


I lie on our unmade bed,

gauze curtains limp against an open window,

a late-day sun hangs in summer haze.


Is that the uneven rhythm of his pick-up,

drumming closer, motor cutting,

truck door slamming? Are swirls of dust

settling back onto leftover hay chaff

in his truck bed and parched dooryard stubble?

I hear his boots stomp up the porch steps,

water splashes from the pitcher into the blue bowl

that still waits for him on paint-peeling porch table.

Soap lathers on his cracked, grimy hands

as the long day’s dirt washes away.

Brown, soapy water

splats onto dooryard dirt.

He dries his hands on the nail-hung towel,

fresh from this morning’s clothesline.


I wait for the clunk of dropped boots,

his dinner pail placed by kitchen sink,

the shuffle of stocking feet,

his voice calling my name.

Silence washes over me.

I don’t get up to start supper,

set the kitchen table,

feel his arms around my waist.


Instead, I turn away

from his side of the bed;

empty now since snows of last winter

swirled over the frozen barnyard

and against the kitchen door.    


 Ann B. Day, First Place

If Not For the Birds


 A large, darkish bird tail-hooks a landing

on the gnarly trunk of our tallest sugar maple.

A pileated! His crest, a sunlit flash of red,

as he shakes loose icy chunks of bark

that fall lightly on the snowpack

some forty feet below.


Just a moment later, a tiny chickadee sails

into the open garage, staying only long

enough to check that all the garden tools

are neatly stored for winter and to see

the birdseed bin securely covered

to keep the mice out.


Sadly, it seems that neither finds me

quite so interesting as I find them.

Perhaps we humans are too cliche,

like that early one that always gets...

the one in the hand that’s worth...

or killing two with a single...  


Now that woodpecker and the curious

little chickadee got me to wondering.

Even with an arsenal of stones, why

kill a bird? Worse yet, two? Time

for us to find some new cliches,

before killing becomes one.


 David Mook, Second Place

 Falling Into You




   Being there

     Where you are.




   Trying hard

     Not to stare.


Losing me

No more me

   Just me

Losing me

Into you.




   Falling into

     Falling into you.


 Michael J. Farrand, Third Place tie

A Woolly Bear Crosses the Line


Near that graveled place

where travelers pull off

to read their road maps,

one caterpillar

intersects the asphalt

slowly inching to the other side.


His brown and orange stripes

shiver ripples

as he leaves the safety of his haven,

straddling the middle line,


that all the fare available

on both sides of the road,

grows old and dry,

and every leaf

will soon taste of October.


This mid-life woolly bear

only dreams of flying high

come Spring, but thinks

it may be worth the risk to look

for days of youth in tender grasses

he now must belly-up to

for want of wings.


 Regina Murray Brault, Third Place tie

Protestations: a Poet Abroad


 I’m not with them. See the way they choose

what’s been ordained by others: some guidebook

has told them what they mustn’t overlook

or what a sonnet is. Those parvenus

fresh off their bus — They cry, “Voilà, Vaucluse!”

and swarm about the verdant bubbling brook,

for they’ve just read how lovely Laura shook

poor Petrarch’s world to then become his Muse.

It’s true, her image as a souvenir

does tempt me. I offer no apologies

for this small stone; and now, perhaps the surest

aide mémoire would be a photo, here

beside the hallowed grotto. But still, please —

Don’t let me be another faceless tourist.


 Marta Finch, Fourth Place tie

Halloween in New Hampshire


 Hundreds of campaign signs line the road into Nashua,

signs for sheriff, governor, congress and president

share front yards with pumpkins, spider webs, guillotines,

black cats and a headless horseman. There are dark

horses who don’t have a ghost’s chance of winning,

but they won’t admit they have no more hope


than Franklin Pierce returning from his Concord grave

for one more try. New Hampshire is a battleground state

and nobody is spared. At the President’s Nashua campaign

rally police in flak jackets stand guard with automatic weapons.

Across the street, pumpkins grimace on front porches.


Afterwards the President’s motorcade pulls onto the turnpike  

escorted by dozens of howling police cruisers and black

Secret Service vehicles. At dusk red and blue lights

flash on pumpkins and skeletons.


Each election year past presidents rise

from graves to defend their legacies. A week later

it will all be gone — candidates, campaign signs, ghosts

and the President’s motorcade rounding a curve.



George Longenecker, Fourth Place tie