Sunday, December 21, 2008

Poem of the Week #51

One Snow Day, Before Christmas

No school or work today, but I awake
early, while the others sleep.

I putter around my house,
put away a dish, shuffle some mail.

There are presents to be wrapped
and bills to be paid. There are poems

to be written. But I will bake something
sweet instead, string some Christmas lights.

I pretend I am God, taking care of my house,
adoring its imperfections.

I know that when my people sleep,
they are closest to me. I want them to rest

while I guard the house
against the raging storm of winter.

I prepare the day, so they wake fresh,
unaware I have been loving them in their dreams.

Lisa Vihos

Monday, December 15, 2008

Poem of the Week #50

Regarding Mary

God wanted to come down to try some flesh,
an antidote to formless bliss.
He wanted to get with his creation.

Mary was one of those totally unremarkable girls
until God picked her out of the crowd, saying,
let’s use her, she’ll do. An angel came

and made a hole in the top of her head and God
poured himself in like a pitcher of heaven. She felt
her magnificence from above. She was not afraid.

When God emerged out her other end
nine months later in a pigsty, small and wrinkled,
his first thought was what the hell?

But Mary’s eyes were on the star. She saw
that there were animals to be blessed and kings
to be humbled. There were shepherds to be amazed.

There were disputations in temples
and adultresses to be saved.
There were disciples to be chosen.

There were little children to be gathered
and sheep and goats to be separated. There was
water to walk on and dead to be raised.

There were parables and betrayals and crosses
to bear. There was torture and death and a shy girl
who went forward anyway toward a broken heart.

There was a rising mystery, and a set of questions,
and among the many answers, her reply: be still
and unremarkable. Open your head to the sky.

Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #49

Thanking Atlas

O Atlas, I fear that none of us
have thanked you in a while
for holding up this heavy ball
of molten ore and air called earth.

We go about our busy lives
so unaware of all you do to shoulder
our dilemmas, sunsets, wars
and raging seas, and every plant

and creature who dwells upon the earth.
We were so light and spare in youth.
No doubt your burden has increased
in recent years. For one thing,

we were fewer and wore only sandals,
no steel-toed boots left marks upon Aegean shores.
No “Super-Size Me” issued from the oracle at Delphi.
No odious pollutants weighed down the atmosphere,

tearing holes in the ozone. To be sure,
there were onerous matters compounding the load:
rape and war and patricide to name a few.
But those people were the youthful ancients

who hadn’t yet worked out the moral code.
You could forgive them their foibles of the day
and were glad to hoist them and their troubles
on their merry way beside the chariot of the sun.

I imagine, though, you are getting rather tired
of us by now and our selfish neglect of your well-being.
It is a thankless task, it is, holding up the earth.
And if you should shrug, well, we’d be goners.

Perhaps, after all your years of dedication,
holding us safe on the mountain of your back,
we could find a way to hold down the fort without you for a day or two,
give you a break for a scotch and a massage, an evening by the fire.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Poem of the Week #48

You Dreamed I Dreamed

You dreamed
I was knocked unconscious
in a sledding mishap.

You brought me in
and laid me out
to revive me by the fire.

We were surrounded,
you report, by doll-sized
hearth chairs

and all our friends
were present
to bring me back.

But I would not wake up,
so happy was I to be
asleep inside your dream.

First, I climbed
a multi-colored staircase;
its broad steps,

I myself had painted.
Then, I ran the length
of a football field

as goal posts
sailed towards me,
passing merrily overhead.

I floated
at the bottom of the sea,
caressed by seaweed.

I waded
in a shallow pool;
was blessed by a holy man.

At last, I came to rest
upon a Persian rug,
where we both woke up,

two travelers glad to be
together with a cup of tea,
telling stories by the fire.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Poem of the Week #47

Two Houses

Your house is a thinking house.
The lights are on all night.
The bookshelves make a fine argument,
and even the doorknobs cogitate.

Your house is a thinking house.
Ideas are its bricks and thought
its mortar. Let no one enter
who is lacking in logic

for this house will put him to the test:
quadratic equations in the kitchen
semantics on the sunporch
biology in the bedroom.

My house is a feeling house.
The wood beneath my feet
cries when I step, the windows
turn their mirrored faces to the moon.

My house is a feeling house.
It smells like sage and sausage
and the curtains hold the songs
of yesteryear between their folds.

The desk is inscribed with my letters,
the ones I never had the nerve to send.
The banister recalls a thousand touches,
and the hall closet, an old felt hat.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Poem of the Week #46


To be and not to be.
That is the answer.

Whether it is ever noble to fight
or just let go to put aright

all that has been tossed and churned
upon your troubled sea.

The question rubs and leaves a burn,
a stain upon the mind, my friend.

But should you cause your own demise,
you're nothing but an end

and will have only missed a bit
of fortune’s outrage thus,

for slings and arrows fly
no matter who or what.

Better then, to greet the day
with the faith of a blind man

groping for his cup. Take action
when and where you must,

and go instead the road
where one good turn leads you

to another and another
until you find the place

where you might die, then wake
to dream the day. A place

where you might lay your shuffled head,
and find there one who lies beside you

night to night, and coil to coil,
unwinds you, mortal, for a while,

helps you to remember and then forget
all that time lays dead and bare

and brings you fresh to brink of day,
a traveler, back from anywhere.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Poem of the Week #45

Strike the Midnight Bell

Strike the midnight bell at noon.
Let its ringing rouse the moon
and sun from slumber.

On this day, let rice cook itself.
Leave brooms to their sweeping.
Forget about doors. Go through roofs,

through windows. Be healed
and hoist your bed upon your back,
but leave no footprint.

On this day, let last be first,
let first be somewhere in the middle.
Let no one be last.

Strike the midnight bell at noon.
Let knowing be not knowing.
Let stars do their shining.

Like the sound of one hand clapping,
tap others lightly, as God taps you;
you, the one hand.

Then, when a tree falls in the forest,
be there—wherever you are—to cradle
the earth when it shakes.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Poem of the Week #44

Hike in the Woods

We three mothers trudge up
the leaf strewn path. We stoop
to collect ruby-red leaves, share them
with each other like treasure.
We walk to collect ourselves.

We flex our tree trunk calves,
feel our hips sway beneath us,
hips that have held onto men,
held up these children
who now spirit past us.

We enumerate our aches and pains
and the aches and pains of our husbands.
There are pitfalls and ledges ahead.
Changes are coming and we want to weep,
but the children won’t let us.

They zoom past, sweater-clad bullets,
shot over rocks and the roots of trees
shouting “move out of the way adults!”
They fly past and we are
displaced goddess mothers

with sticks, stones, and feathers
stuffed in our pockets; the keepers
of water bottles and granola bars.
Once, they couldn’t live without us.
Now we are mostly in their way.

Like the autumn trees screaming
their yearly goodbyes, we intend
to go down in a blaze of glory,
hanging onto our vitality until the last.
We cannot explain how this works,
but we are not even close to dead.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Poem of the Week #43

What I’d Say If I Were Billy Collins’ Mother
Responding to His Poem, “The Lanyard”

You might think a lanyard a small thing,
hardly repayment for having carried you
nine months inside me and then all that pain
and tearing to push you out into the world.

You might think a lanyard not equal
in any way to mother’s milk or the many
small kindnesses I orchestrated for you
behind the curtains of your childhood.

A child lacks access to the means of production,
claims nothing in the way of material wealth, and so,
as every mother knows, a boy can only give his mother
love, and what he finds or makes by hand.

From my perspective, a useless red and white lanyard,
wrought by you on a summer afternoon—when you
could have been swimming in the deep Adirondack lake
or playing capture the flag—is really quite immense,

despite its small and functionless nature. To know
you sat immobile on a workbench for a while
and meditated on me as you twisted colored strands
together to make the boxy lanyard is return enough.

You might think a lanyard a small thing,
and indeed, you would be right. The lanyard still
leaves an imprint in my palm when I press it there.
It fits in my pocket, goes where I go.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Poem of the Week #42

I Wanted To Grow Up

I wanted to grow up to be a poet.
The burly, mountain-man kind of poet
with a thick beard and a wild look in my eye.

I would wear torn jeans and flannel shirts
with sleeves rolled up over thermal underwear.
I would not be a drunkard.

Every morning, I would rise before the sun
and make a pot of coffee, then, to work.
When words failed me, I’d split wood, take a bath.

Now and then, I would journey to small colleges
up and down the coast, reading and teaching
on dappled sunlit afternoons in ancient classrooms

that smell of dust and youth; the brawls of academia
unable to mar my poet’s wings. I’d be a paragon
of dedication to my craft.

I would revel in the great and small, the misfit
and the misbegotten. I would sift through words
like jelly beans, roll them across my tongue

and place them ever so gently in your ear
where they might work their way down into
your solar plexus, taking hold of your digestion.

My rugged good looks would light my way
and without knowing how, I’d generally end my day
with someone’s legs wrapped around my back.

But my loneliness would be deep
and wide as the ocean. No lover’s croon
could ever keep me still or match the call

of the Sirens waiting for me on the rocks.
Me, chained to my mast, drenched in their song,
words dripping from me like sweat.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Poem of the Week #41

Too Late, We Thought

It was that autumn of hurrication
and blusterment, when kings fought
for their crowns, and beasticals awoke
to shake loose their brassy manes.
Geese flew every which way but south.

There was hatertude in the air
and a forbading sense of miserdom.
There was a feeling that something
had been lost; I’ll call it humankindlyness,
gone the way of the Mohican and the dodo.

It was a time when be equaled seems
and no one knew what the definition
of is was, or will be, or will have been.
It was a topsy-turvy time of extreme poshity
and abjectionable going-withoutedness.

The best minds of our generation
went missing in a moragmire
of interpetude and degenerance,
feigning some kind of wonderful;
some kind of altruistica merviosa.

It was a time when lachromosis set in
and a distinct hardening of arterial material.
We thought we had the answer. We thought
we could fix things with a bludgeon. We thought,
but it was not enough, and it came too late
to rectifiliate our dementia.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Poem of the Week #40

Found a Peanut

In fifth grade, we scoffed
at the notion that a stepped-on crack
would break your mother’s back;
unlike those in first grade
who believed anything they were told.

You’d see them making their way
home from school, mindful
of their mothers’ spines, debating
the feasibility of Santa’s overnight
journey and the going price of teeth.

We’d snicker. And yet, we were not
above superstition. For us—older and so,
that much closer to death—the specter
of the rotten peanut loomed heavy.
Was it the wistful tune that brought

this demon nut to bear so hard upon
our psyches; made us wonder, could one
ill-chosen, delicious treat really kill you?
When I could have, should have, made
a wiser choice, why did I ignore the signs?

And that doctor, who said I wouldn’t die,
but then, I died anyway. And then
I went to heaven and met St. Peter
in some versions. But there was always
confusion. No one could agree on the end.

So we’d punch each other in the shoulder,
brush off death-by-peanut, purposely
step on a crack or two, just for the hell of it.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Poem of the Week #39

Advice Dyslexic

Straighten right and up fly.
Tide high in morning,
and broke for go.

Lamp the lights
and harvest the gather.
Let no unturned go stone.

Hearth the sweep
and bread the butter.
Be neighbor to your good.

Then, let no island be a man
and avoid making molehills
out of mountains. Beware

the teapot in a tempest,
and remember, people living
in glass stones should not throw houses.

Take yourself with a salt of grain,
for there is nothing sun
under the new.

Up wake and give day
for the thanks. Fandango
the dance and go peace in forth.

Tread earth over this good lightly.

Lisa Vihos

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Poem of the Week #38

They Wait

There are poems out there. I’ve felt them
pushing up against the gates, trying to escape.
Their voices rumble just below the surface

of sound. You can hear them singing
softly in the language of your mother.
Now and then, one tumbles over the transom,

makes its way onto the page—a crumb
from your lunch box or a torn snapshot
blown by the wind and lying on the ground.

There are poems in here. You find them
in the bottom of your pocket, now or later,
crushed petals made right by a father’s hand.

Some of them bloom within minutes, but some
have been forming since before the ice age.
They wait, these poems, to unfurl like one of those

little foam dinosaurs in a capsule that you drop
in the bathtub. You watch as the gel casing melts
and the squishy behemoth emerges. You watch

as it steps onto the smooth, shiny island of your knee.
An entire kingdom there awaits this porous herald,
awaits the creature’s fine voice and marvelous decree.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Poem of the Week #37


This morning, I stood on the bluff, early,
looked down at the great lake and the light
twinkling on the surface. I thought at first
it was a jeweled path laid just for me.
I marveled at the sun’s bright display,
then saw I had misjudged the exchange.
As much as I was in love with the lake,
the lake was actually in love with me—
sweaty, old , and tired as I may be.
It had mistaken me for a young starlet;
leaned toward me with a hundred flashes,
eager to capture what smile I might offer.
I turned then from the cameras to start my day,
gladly accepting the lake’s admiration.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Poem of the Week #36


I stand five foot one and three quarters
in bare feet and sport a pronounced
thickening through the midsection that no
sit-ups can touch. I’ve been compared to Frida
Kahlo, Paula Abdul, and Natalie Wood in my day.
At 48, I am still young in some circles. I face
my laptop in the coffee house, surrounded
by youth. They do not see me as one of them.
These days, they come pierced and tattooed,
their grins awash in the glow of cell phones,
but otherwise, they look the same as ever;
one suspiciously resembling my first boyfriend.

Apparently, I am old. I look in the mirror and I’m
astounded by bifocals and thinning, steel gray hair.
Don’t even talk to me about L’Oreal or Nice ‘n Easy,
because there must be some mistake. You see,
I’m still that girl in a halter top, short shorts
and flip flops on a summer night in 1972
at the Dairy Queen on Woodward Avenue
posing with my girlfriends and collecting
the wolf whistles of boys in muscle shirts
sailing by in white Mustangs. My hair then
was thick as a milk shake and dark as night.
Regretfully, I admit, I miss being ogled.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Poem of the Week #35

When You Wake Up

When you wake up, clear-eyed, over here
on this side of the veil, you’ll find
that you remember the smallest things:

Sunday mornings spent with your mother
at the laundromat reciting Dr. Seuss—the perfume
of warm cotton sheets, fresh from the dryer,

The name of a certain French cheese
you ate one afternoon in a park in Paris
with a boy named Alain and a bottle of wine,

The giggles of girls laying out their towels
in the sand as they carefully pull down
their bra straps, arranging their limbs just so.

Once the skin is shed, you find yourself
missing an itchy nose or a child’s cool arm
flung across your chest as you sleep.

These small movements move through you, not
as great waves crashing upon the breakwater,
but more like silent rings spooling from a pebble

thrown by a father’s hand. You’ll remember
these moments as though they just happened
this morning, though morning was really

a hundred years ago and afternoon is a place
you will never go again and bedtime is nothing
but a distant speck on memory’s horizon.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Poem of the Week #34

Slow Boat

When we were small
and sitting in the sandbox,
someone passed around spoons
and suggested we could dig to China.

We set to work digging
and we’ve been digging
ever since. But consider this:

A boat with pretty ladies on the deck
twirling yellow parasols and sailors
snoring in hammocks with Chinese
newspapers folded over their faces.

This boat can take you anywhere
you want to go, Colorado,
Tahiti, Xanadu.

Or, maybe
you just want to take it
into your own kitchen
to sit by the open window
with a good book
and a cup of tea.

Maybe the place you’ve been
trying to go is closer
than you think.

Maybe you would get
where you’re going
if you just went
a little slower.

Lisa Vihos

Monday, August 18, 2008

Poem of the Week #33

To the Makers of Shoe Boxes

Please sell me my shoes plain and unboxed.
Let me take them home in my bare hands
or in a cloth bag given me by my grandmother.

Stop cutting down the rain forest to make boxes
for shoes—too sturdy to be thrown out
and too numerous to be useful. They pile up

throughout my house, waiting to be of service;
but there are no more letters for them to hold,
and only so much junk from the kitchen table.

Many a summer morning I have spent breaking down
shoe boxes to be recycled into more of same. A waste
of my time, a waste of yours. Not to mention the trees.

Let us be free of shoe boxes and, come to think of it,
even shoes. Let us spend our days sun-drenched, walking
barefoot on sand, polishing dead skin from our feet.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Poem of the Week #32


Mom has a theory she calls clicks
flashes that stick in memory and come
unstuck when tripped by word or smell.

Today’s click: a picture in her mind of me,
age three, and a time I came upon a stripe
of light glinting along the edge of a table,

something about it, marvelous to me.
Was it the geometry? I don’t recall
the light, the angle, the table.

I don’t recall this ever happening,
but there it is in mom, so bright, she can
hand it to me. If she dreamed herself

a poet, she would write about the girl
beguiled by the stripe of light. But,
it would be her instead of me,

a shaft of light holding dust
in a stairwell, her own mother’s voice
calling, come down it’s time to eat.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Poem of the Week #31

The Poet’s Trick

He reels me in with hooks and tender lines,
sweet words about his many loves, not me.
Yet all his words touch something mine
that he was not aware of when he wrote.

He was thinking of his mother, wife,
or mermaid in a dream. All those other ones
who called to him and saved his life.
Mark his words, you’ll see that she is me.

And then, I leap to him and catch the thread;
tangle in his words, a thrilling rush. Then he
lights upon the page and holds me ‘til I’m red—
I blush. Is meeting him in verse adultery?

This question sneaks by quietly, without note,
for I must learn some caution in thought.
One hopes for a tidier account of things,
but then, too much goodness goes uncaught.

Whoever has been smitten understands.
Words work upon the heart as sleight of hand.
What issues from the pen, you picture true
and yet, uncertain if it speaks of him or you.

Lisa Vihos

Monday, July 28, 2008

Poem of the Week #30

Tom Remembers

Brother, go find your brother. –Tom Sawyer

It was I could always find the lost marble,
and I who knew we had to go by the book.
I knew that the busted captive must endure
the torments of snakes and spiders to write
his heart message in blood on a tin plate,
pass it to his friends through the upper window.
I knew his leg irons must be sawed off proper,
not just slipped easy under the bed post.

If ever we won a battle, it was because
I knew the timing of the whack to the back
of the head, I knew the right curse to howl.
I knew the shoulder shove and chin thrust,
when to pull up and when to charge. I held
the crime-crusted cutlass in my pirate’s bag
and I knew when the deed was done.
I could trade up no matter what the price.

But you, you knew of the undersides of things;
of fallen tree trunks and the dust of doorways.
You knew where to find bullfrogs and castoffs
and how to spend an entire day in hot pursuit
of nothing, save for the hum of the honey bee
and the whisper of wind through meadow grass.
You knew how to thwart witches and the evil eye.
You had the least and most of any boy in creation.

We parted ways as grown men do, and I always
dreamed we’d meet again one day. I heard you
went down to dig the Panama Canal, and stood by
on the ground when the Wrights first flew.
You rode a while with the Rough Riders, but fighting
never really suited you. So many oaths mixed the blood
of our youth—when I sit at my desk by the window,
I feel you trickle through me, a river I still follow.

Lisa Vihos

Friday, July 25, 2008

Poem of the Week #29

Help for the Wordophobe

Like a late-onset allergy
to shellfish or milk,
fear of words can arrive
when you least expect it.

One day, you can articulate
your thoughts with the best of them,
the next day, you find yourself shy
facing words like phenomenon,

filthy, and bosom. Commitment,
malignant, and apologize
have been known to silence
the chatty. Fear of words

can strike any time or place
where their users gather:
at lecterns and pulpits, in libraries,
schoolyards and boudoirs.

The condition is characterized by
tremors when speaking or listening,
the slurring of words, or their avoidance
all together. Wordophobia, the poet’s death.

Possible cures include immersion
in kindhearted words like daisy, flipper,
scallion, beekeeper, locket, and anisette
or basking in musical pairs such as:

corn cob, feather weight
slip stream, and push pin.
In the early stages of therapy
it is best to avoid words

that are confusing in look or feel:
paradigm, bologna, aesthetic and colonel.
Rebuild the wordophobe’s confidence
using the old rhyming trick, practiced

by every courageous kindergartner:
cat sat, me bee, pig jig, song long, bun run.
Or simply spend a quiet afternoon
getting in sync with the meter

of the dictionary, letting the pages drop
through your fingers as you sit curled up
on the couch, a fire in the hearth, weighing
all the words in the world in your hands.

Lisa Vihos

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Poem of the Week #28

Huck Forever

He comes round to my place
time and again; but won’t stay long
a night or two at most, then gone.

Travelling light, he always finds me
in the dead of night, he always
brings a trinket—found or swiped—

remember, it’s the thought that counts.
You can’t pray a lie, he says. I know,
I tried. I tried to be civilized.
He is afraid

of rattle snake skin and the new moon
over his left shoulder. But, he can catch
a catfish and fry it up in a lick; lay back

with his pipe and me for the longest hours
on a summer day. The boyish eyes that gaze
from his weary face bust my heart in half.

In sleep, he mouths the names of old ghosts:
Mary Jane, Tom, and Jim, always Jim. Awake,
he tells tales of floating down river on a raft

with a runaway slave, a duke, and a king;
dying more than once to take a new name,
with con men and preachers, all the same,

in a voice that melts butter. How he survives
in between times, I’ll never know, but I suppose
he has one like me every place he goes.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Poem of the Week #27

The Man on the El

His eyes tell a story of the old country. Which one,
I cannot say. But his gaze, like the scarred mirror
in a lover’s locket, speaks to me of an old place.

It's a sunny day in the old country of his eyes,
with family gathered round a table laid for a feast.
There, a small boy without care runs under sturdy trees

between the legs of the uncles drinking quietly
and old women in black, picking their teeth in the shade.
Their arms grip him like a vice, but cannot keep him

from the call of the train. Too young to see disappointment
in the arms of raven-haired girls, or fear in the faces
of silent men, he vows to leave them behind. Now, his eyes

have traveled so far, they’ve become dark scopes
that magnify a world lost under creased brow. His eyes
peer over the edge of me as though down a dry well.

He sees past my weathered doorways and worn icons
to a bed draped in crochet. Something about me makes him
smile. Before we get to Halstead, should I offer my name?

Should I ask him to marry me? If I were to open
the lunchbox at his feet, would I find what remains
in my own pail? A crust of bread, a rind of cheese?

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Poem of the Week #26

How Poetry Came (after Neruda)

Poetry came to find me,
came to search me out
and shake me up.
It came to tell me
there was something to say,
and I had better say it
or spend the rest of my days
with all the unanswered
questions dangling
on the tip of my tongue.

I heard no voice,
saw no word,
felt no kiss.
There was no pole star,
no guide post;
not even a silent wind.

Did it come from winter
or river? Did it have wheels
or wings? I don’t know.
I don’t know anything
about it. I only know
it came lurching out
of the shadows,wide-eyed;
waving its white page
and stub of coal,
needing a meal
and a place to sleep.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Poem of the Week #25

Ella’s Mysteries

A little girl
in a pink dress
sings and barks orders.

One minute
she is sweet
the next minute, salty.

Her dress is covered in mud.
It was touched by a dirt pig,
she says.

She says,
I’ve got a potluck.

She says,
Who likes elephants,
raise your hand!

She says,
Let’s go to my water factory.

She says,
Maybe my bed
could be a computer.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Poem of the Week #24

Roy G. Biv, Father of Rainbows

Roy was a bit of a rowdy in his youth on Mount

Olympus. He balked at being a lesser god, a mere device.

Years passed when color flashed only from malice, not joy. Why?

Good question, Roy. For the courage it takes to ask, a body can fly.

By and by, Roy married a nice girl from Queens and had seven children.

If ever he forgets now who he is, he need only look at the faces of his kids:

Virginia, the baby, Ignatius, Bertha, Georgina, Yolanda, Oscar, and Rinaldo.

Vast stretches of time on the mountain top have taught him that life among the

immortals is not all it’s cracked up to be. The fleeting is what lasts the longest.

But don’t hang on—not to good works, name, or keeping up with the Joneses.

Great sums of money cannot replace one’s legacy of love; this spectral gift.

Yes, and nothing makes him happier than the chirp of a small child

on a hill, late in the day, after a summer rain, breathless, calling:

Run, Daddy! Come! Quick! Don’t you see the rainbow?

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Poem of the Week #23

The Day We Met

Music, on the day we met
cracked the earth open.
Upon our hearts we set
a promise, spoken.

The earth cracked open
and butterflies flew out.
A promise spoken
in whispers within, without.

Butterflies flew out,
leading us to meadows
whispering within. Without
each other, no tomorrow.

Leading us to meadows
where we lay our heads
upon each other. No, tomorrow,
we could easily be dead

where we lay our heads
upon the hallowed ground,
we could so easily be dead.
Leaving only sound

upon the hallowed ground.
Our hearts we set,
leaving. The only sound—
music—on the day we met.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Poem of the Week #22

Zen Catechism

What day is it
when I wake up
and know less
than I knew yesterday?

Why green,
and who decided onions?
Do butterflies care
about tomorrow?

When the horizon
grows ever more distant,
am I coming to the end
or the beginning?

What reflects the moon to me
when my heart and I
return ourselves
to cherry blossoms?

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Poem of the Week #21

Cloud Reader

Remember when you were small—
before you read words—
you taught yourself to read clouds?

You’d lie on your back
for hours and never tire
of the stories the clouds told.

There was the one about
the dragon who became
a three-legged elephant

and another about
a thin, bearded man
who chased a fat lady

so far across the sky
that they became
a herd of buffalo

and then a fish
who leapt to his last breath
from a pinky purple sea.

You thought you’d grow up
to make a living at it—
reading clouds—not knowing

that cloud reading
is a thankless task
left only to children

and dreamers. Good days
those were, when reading clouds
was your bread and butter.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Poem of the Week #20

Machine Dream

I ride the train past fields and fallen houses
that sit together like watchdogs in the snow.
Barns lay their backs against the hills to sleep
and silos stand saluting the machine.
The train takes no heed of what they know;
runs past them like a hand

passing over weeds. I trace the lines of my hand,
familiar lines, like wood grain in an old house.
Train of people, bound by paper bags. I know
our eggshells cover the floor like snow.
We chew our yokes as one, our teeth a machine
that turns and grinds even as we sleep.

I cover my face with sleep
and let the train carry me in sure hands.
I am no match for the laws of machines
or the pipes and wires of my house.
No match for ocean, stars, or snow,
why we breathe or how we know

our purpose. Though we ought to know
the reason that we dream. Is sleep
an empty field that waits to fill with snow?
What happens if I take you by the hand
and lead you through the rooms of my house?
This journey we call love, a strange machine.

You see, the heart is also a machine:
its auto-pump always going. It knows
the soft chambers of its fleshy house.
Faithful to this sturdy muscle, I dare to sleep,
buzz like a willful beetle in a closed hand,
grope my way, a traveler blinded by snow.

We can build mountains, cover them with snow
but no one has yet invented a machine
that can duplicate the lines of my hand.
Familiar lines, laid for a train that knows
the dream, when night falls and we go to sleep
safe under blankets in houses.

Sometimes, when it snows, I gaze exhausted, and think I know
how to muscle the machine. I awake refreshed from sleep;
cup all this goodness in my hand: trains, fields, hearts, houses.

Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #19

Picture of Mother

She smiles out
past cut paper snow flakes
taped to the window;
snowflakes we made together
one Christmas long ago.
She saved them
for years in a shirt box
always careful
not to break
the peaks and prongs.

I took the photo
when I was grown
and she remarried
living in a different house
than the house
where we cut paper.
Her face is obscured
by reflections
on the window;
the light conditions
were all wrong.
But, her smile is bright,
like a snowflake
on your mitten
before it melts.

Lisa Vihos

Friday, May 16, 2008

Poem of the Week #18

Spring Questions
(after a Zen saying)

Spring has come
and a thousand flowers
are in bloom.
For what?
For whom?

What purpose
to this riot
of color,
this onslaught
of aroma,
these buds
of sweet, new

The flowers
give their scent
to all who pass by.
Can we be
as indiscriminate
as the flowers,
each in our own
brief season?

Lisa Vihos

Monday, May 5, 2008

Poem of the Week #17
April 27, 2008

1. Elizabeth

Her arms were thick, her bosom a pillow.
On aching bunions, she stood in the kitchen
tending a pot flavored with oregano;
born a New Yorker of Florentine origin.
She came to Chicago, still a young girl
but clung to some of her New York ways.
She’d say poice and poiple for purse and purple
and sometimes yous guys and oy vey.
In the photo by the Rambler with grandpa
she flashes her smile, shows off her legs.
She was a bit of a ham my Nana
but read her Bible to finish each day.
She sang Ave Maria and Jesus Loves Me
to herself as she made ravioli.

2. Richard

Grandpa saw her on the street car, followed
her home to ask her father for her hand.
She called him a wet back, her answer no
but a father decides these things, the man
is always in charge. She learned to love him.
Five grandkids later—out back in his t-shirt
with his tomatoes—her at the oven
stirring. He’d come in. How they’d fight, then flirt.
Notions of shacking up before marriage
angered her; you don’t try on love, she said.
Life’s not a ride in a fancy carriage.
You cook, clean, pack his lunch, share his bed.
Every morning he warmed prune juice for her;
a sign that his love was regular and sure.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #16
April 20, 2008

One Man’s Tragedy (for J.G.)

In the first weeks after you and I split
I was full of energy, you, depressed.
My prospects rising, yours a deepening pit
of missed assignments, tears, and cigarettes.
One day we met to ride our bikes again
to try at friendship in a new disguise.
Me, oddly oblivious to your pain
you, unable to blame me or despise,
or let me go. I dropped my extra shoes
from the back of the bike and you retraced
our every turn, so kind, you still could choose
to help, idiot that I was. I’d misplaced
more than my shoes, which you returned to me:
my tragedy—averted narrowly.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #15
April 13, 2008

How, Cowardly, I Left You (for J.G.)

You went away one week in May and I
took up house with the boy across the street.
I saw it as my only way to fly,
to free myself for some unknown great feat
whose depth and breadth had not yet been revealed
(but I knew I must go on without you).
Coming home to my news, your fate was sealed
by my small and hollow words, “you’ll get through.”
You had a full class load, the graveyard shift
at Q-mart, an hour drive to save on rent,
then, your cat run over. No store of thrift,
no rebate, could replenish all you’d spent.
You loved me as sweet as a young man would
but I could not keep loving you from should.

© Lisa Vihos

Friday, May 2, 2008

Poem of the Week #14
April 6, 2008

Five Haiku


The house is quiet.
Even the dog is too cold
to leave the warm couch.


Each morning, the same
five cows standing by a barn
nod as I drive by.


The way your breath caught
(the first time you saw me) made
my heart somersault.


Light plays on water.
The child’s sure grip steadies me
as we walk the beach.


A hush sweeps the crowd.
The child plays, solemn, straight-backed.
The mother exhales.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #13
March 30, 2008

A Summary of Those Things Which Are to Be Believed

Aquamarine lakes at sunrise
Belly buttons at midnight
Cakes baked from scratch in Myanmar
Disciples afoot, doors ajar
Elephant dung
Fairies, seen and unseen
Gospel singers and songs sung
Hearts carved into tree trunks
Icarus and iridescence
Jasmine, the smell of
Kissing in public
Language and longing and love
Mariachi, macaroni, macadamia nuts
New notebooks
Olives and olive oil
Popsicles, eaten in sun or shade
Quiet afternoons
Rain on a tin roof
Square dance callers
Tongues and tight rope walkers
Umbilical cords, umbrellas, uvulas
Violins and vertebrae
Water, in all its dispensations
X, (because it marks the spot)
Yellow, everything that comes in it
Zephyr, a wind that carries you

© Lisa Vihos

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Poem of the Week #12
March 23, 2008

What I Learned from the Trees

I began as a clump of cells deep
in the deep darkness of sweet nothingness.
A snug, tiny room that I had all to myself
for nine months. I slept, romped, grew;
I learned my mother’s songs and the touch
of my father’s hand on my head.

One day, an immense squeezing began
an indescribable gushing. I felt myself—
a small wet rag—being wrung by
giant hands. I saw myself
standing on a bridge over a river,
sucked down into the moving stream below
I did not really want to go, and yet
it did look tempting.

So I accepted my fate; allowed the hands
to push me out of my safe cocoon
into the wide, roaring river of life
in whose cold waters I learned first
about flowing and being carried,
later about eddies and bumping against rocks.

One day, I looked up out of the water
pleasantly choking me and saw
massive, sturdy oaks on the river banks
reaching in two directions—
roots grasping the earth, leaves caressing the sky,
stalwart, yet able to flex in the breeze.

They jogged my memory
of another place; a thought grew in me—
I was in the river, but not of the river.
I determined then to be like the trees
who do not call the birds to come sit in them;
do not cry when the birds fly away.

One day, when I pass by my bridge again
I’ll be ready, old and feeble as I am,
worn and polished as a smooth stone.
On that day, should you be strolling
by the river, you will see a stone leap.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #11
March 16, 2008

From the One Who Didn’t Stay

I heard you calling my name
and I started to come by you.
The fact that I had to leave
does not mean that I
did not love you
or find you

I left
to remind you
of the preciousness
of life; and your fullness
in the one you already have.

He came late in your life, the first time
you tried. He’d been waiting
a long time at your door
for you to slow down
and make space
for him.

He came,
a wise old man
an innocent child,
to teach you what’s what.
As for me, I left to teach you
something else—how to fill holes.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #10
March 9, 2008

It Happened In Silence

The bleeding started
after the evening lecture
at the meditation retreat.
We were in a time of silence
but surely, a crisis of this proportion
required words, sobs, attention.
So as not to disturb my roommate,
I used my cell in the hotel stairwell—
hanging on to Mike’s voice.
Find a phone book, call a hospital.

Turns out, my roommate
was a nurse. She made me lie down.
Held my hand, called the authorities.
How much blood? Is it bright red?
Lie still, wait, see.

For hours, I fought sleep in the strange bed,
held vigil with God, hoping to retain
my innards, push back the fear;
my clump of cells nothing
I could call a person,
but already so familiar, so dear.
In the dimness of dawn, I came to,
checked the sheets, breathed relief.
No maroon pool, no gelatinous clots.

Monday morning,
with the X-ray technician—
she examined the screen, hunting
for that little universe of joyful specks,
spinning toward personhood, entranced Sufis; an image
I had seen years earlier of Owen before he was Owen.
She kept turning the picture to look from every angle,
every angle, the same. In my motherly blind bliss
I was still ridiculously pregnant with hope
too positive to put two and two together
until she called for the head of radiology
and he told me in plain words
what had happened.

© Lisa Vihos

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Poem of the Week #9
March 2, 2008

When Everything Boils Down
to a Red Pom-Pom in the Snow

The five minute ride on the ski lift
with Francie Vandersluis produced
enough heat and pressure in him
to make diamonds
from the coal in his pocket.

Inches from his side,
they could be on a date.
They could be going up the aisle
to meet the preacher.
They could, at least, be talking.

But what can an eighth grade boy
say to Francie Vandersluis?
They don’t even go to the same school,
so no chance to hang out by the lockers;
posture with the guys as she walks by,
break rank and offer to carry her books—
or open a door—something simple,
but suave and nice.

He knows her only from church.
Her family sits across the aisle,
two pews ahead and he can gaze
upon the curls at the nape of her neck
for a whole hour, or longer,
as the pastor’s soothing voice
lulls him into a reverie—
the best damn sermon
a boy could hope for.

Here, in the dangling chair
he hangs on like someone drowning,
seconds away from her soft skin
the scent of her shampoo
mixed with the smell of wet wool,
blonde curls escaping from under
her red ski cap; her sweet little lips
like fingers that beckon him.

His mouth is void of saliva.
His hands tremble in his gloves.
His heart pounds so hard
it could be the very engine
running the ski lift
and all ski lifts, everywhere.
“We’re in confirmation together, aren’t we?”

He is stunned to be recognized
by this sovereign beauty. Confirmation.
Together. Yes, yes we are.
Before he can answer, she asks,
“What do you think of it?”

He would like to take the back
of his finger and rub it along
her rosy cheek, lay his head
on her shoulder. “It’s okay,” he says,
and immediately regrets it.
He realizes that his stomach
has been left far behind
at the bottom of the hill.

As they approach the summit
he knows that now is the time
to do or say something memorable
because he might not have this chance
with Francie Vandersluis ever again.

As he works to turn stray words
into some kind of sensible proposal,
she smiles and says “see ya,”
hops from the chair, a cute bunny,
and gracefully takes off down the hill.

The pom-pom of her hat dips and bobs,
vanishes into the blinding white field—
a red button of desire.

© Lisa Vihos

Special Edition: Leap Day
February 29, 2008

Leap Day

Wake up!
Today is leap day!
Leap into this moment.
Today, the day
that only comes once
every four years;
the day that man made
to correct the slippage
in the cosmic clock.

Who figures these
things out, anyway?
When I can’t even
decide what to eat
for breakfast,
who can measure
and determine
what to do with time?

Who got the whole darn
world to recognize
leap year?
Let’s get that guy or gal
working on world peace
and the green house effect
today, right now.

Or is leap year
just another one of
those false constructs
that delude us
into thinking
we’ve mastered
the time-space continuum?

No matter.
I will leap today
and every day
because this moment
is here forever,
always new,
always the next breath.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #8
February 24, 2008

Sharpsburg Memory

We drove over from Baltimore to see
Aunt Catherine, ninety something then, still
running the farm. Owen was three, chubby.
Michael hadn’t seen her in forty years.
I was taking notes for Owen that trip—
names on gravestones, tracts of land, fallen barns,
gathered patchwork squares of family history;
not mine, but his.

At the rickety screen door,
she paused a moment; then came out to us.
She chased Owen past the garden, raised
him like a sack of Maryland potatoes.
Her weathered arms lifted him to praise
this ground he came from; not my ground, but his.
We’d forgotten the camera, but I still see their dance:
boy, sky, hands.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #7
February 17, 2008

Dollar Value

Remember afternoons
dumping out the can of coins
and counting them with dad?
Ten pennies made a tower;
a wall of ten, a dollar.

He did nickels, dimes, and quarters.
I was the princess of pennies.

After hours of counting,
came the delicate task
of stacking the copper
flat in the wrappers.
He said little fingers
were good for that,
the neat, crisp folding
of the sleeves.

I loved those rolls in my hand,
their shape and heft had power.
We strode together
and traded them for treasure
down at the corner. Beer for him
and a Hershey bar for me.

Now, I take my coins to the bank,
willy-nilly in a can.
Down the chute they go.
No time spent, no towers.
Minutes later, the teller returns
with the empty container
and I go to my car,
a little bit poorer,
my pocket full of dollars.

© Lisa Vihos

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Poem of the Week #6
February 10, 2008


The world subsists
on the breath
of children,

feeds on their
fresh air.

Playground shouts
and songs sung

from tree tops
from roof tops,

music of tiny
wind pipes

rises and falls
like bread dough.

Mouths open
to the future,

their breathing,

their lungs gulp
whatever we float.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #5
February 3, 2008


The pigeons knew,
seconds before.

Not so the people
in the pet market
cautiously enjoying
the first nice day in a while,
a good day for a stroll
and a neighborly chat
with old friends.

Not even
the crazy lady knew,
the authorities surmise.
She sold cold cream
in the morning;
was detonated
by remote control
in the afternoon.

feathers, claws, and tiny bones
mingled on the bloody ground
with fingers, skin, and wallets.

Even pigeons—
who spend a lot of time on the ground
maligned and grubby as they are
pecking out a little existence—
are able to fly up now and then,
look from a higher place.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week – midweek addition
Week of January 27, 2008

This poem won "runner-up" recognition in the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters statewide poetry contest and will appear in the summer issue of Wisconsin People and Ideas magazine.

Planting a Memory (for Owen)

I make us a lunch
for the train ride from Chicago to Milwaukee.
Granted, it’s a short ride
but it’s lunchtime and we’ll want to eat.
I pack salami, bagels, tangerines,
and a small bag of kalamata olives.

I want you to know this simple pleasure:
olives on the train. How delicious
they taste as we speed past houses and fields.
Olives run in our family, you know.
Our own special comfort food,
tumbling down the Greek
and Italian branches of our family tree;
little dark nuggets of love.

Someday, you’ll be in Tuscany
wanting to impress a girl.
It’s important that you learn
this sense memory now
so that when you’re standing in the market
outside the train station
you will not hesitate
to buy good olives for her.
You won’t even know why you do this,
but she’ll love you all the more
for spending a little bit extra
on something that tastes so good.

And when you are rushing together
past the lush green fields
and crumbling stone walls
of your Tuscan future,
bite into the rich, dark meat
feel slick oil on your fingers
lick salt from your lips and smile.

In her olive black eyes, there is warmth
and a beckoning road like a train track
vanishing into the distance
connecting you to something
(or someone) that loved you.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #4
January 27, 2008

Song of Innocence

My son wrote a song;
a sad song,
in a minor key.
At nine-almost-ten
he sits with his song
on the brink
between childhood
and the dark abyss.

His song has no words
but its melody
holds the innocence lost
the first time we witness
some small evil
behind the garage;
the first time
someone we adore
ignores us

the first time
we hear of a mother
who drowns her own child;
the first time we ask
if there is more to life
than growing up, getting old,
and dying.

He leans over the guitar
and carefully picks his notes.
They tumble from his fingers
like water under a bridge;
they fly like dry leaves
on a winter wind.

It is his song.
It is him taking hold
of his own story.
Better to claim it
in a song than to let it
fester or run wild.

My son wrote a song;
a bittersweet song
in a minor key.
When the song ends
and he plucks the last note
he looks up at me,
not sad,

© Lisa Vihos

Monday, April 28, 2008

Poem of the Week #3
January 20, 2008

The Dog’s Prayer

O great one!
Thank you for a soft couch
and for pillows and blankets
that smell like me.

Thank you for my food;
the kind that comes in my bowl
and the kind that I find
on the kitchen floor.

Thank you for squirrels.
I pray that someday
I might chase one down
and have a little chat.

Thank you for walks
on sunny days
and rainy days.
Thank you for smells;
those I know
and those I don’t know.
Thank you for snow;
its cold fluff
begins and ends
my happiness.

Thank you
for delivering me
from the bad days
to the good days
to the humans who love me:
my belly scratcher,
the one that lets me run,
and especially my little one.

Please keep him safe
and grant him always
a soft couch, food in his bowl,
good smells, snow, and squirrels.
May he live a long and happy life,
even after I am gone.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #2
January 13, 2008

The Different Drummer

I am the different drummer,
the one whose beat you march to
when you don’t fall in with all the rest.

I live alone across the tracks
in the old house overgrown with vines;
where seekers come to pass the time.

A place where gods and demons sing;
where sadness is transformed on wings
and wild dreams set sail for distant lands.

In crazy colors and crocheted hats,
I smell variously of violets and garlic.
I speak in the rhythms of the underdog.

Many have suffered to go with me
and been better for it in the end
despite the words of enemies and friends.

You can discount me in your blood,
but you’ll pay the price with ulcers,
insomnia, or unrequited love.

Better then to snub the outer noise,
and lift your feet to my refrain;
my beat, your beat, as we traverse the lane.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #1
January 6, 2008


A tree is just a tree
until you climb
way up into its arms
and sit in safe repose
to think and sing
among the birds.

A dog is just a dog
until you fall asleep together;
her warmth, your blanket
your chest, her pillow.
You dream of chocolate,
She, of squirrels.

Lips are just lips
until a first kiss
sweetens them.
A bed is just a bed
until two people
make it home.

Silence is just silence
until you catch
the symphony inside you:
veins pulsate, bones rattle,
breath, like wind through a reed,
plays a melody
that only you can hear.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week: Prologue
January 1, 2008

Advice from the Snow

When you fall, fall as I do
soft as feathers or a baby’s sleep.

With a light hand, spread an ocean of diamonds.
Make no sound as you blanket the earth.

Reflect light back upon the looker
orange and pink at morning, deep mauve at dusk.

Simply by your presence, round out flat places
and outline beauty that otherwise goes unnoticed.

And when I call you, do not be afraid to lie down
to bring forth an angel; an image of you in me.

© Lisa Vihos