Five Poems

The Weight of Mennonite Grandmas

It comes from the unbaked dough we taste
while the last cookie bakes—this weight.
We carry it on the spoons we lick
and suck it from chocolate crumbs
we smudge up with a thumb from the serving plate.

Our load, the lingering cantaloupe slice,
remains of pie filling still in the pan,
frosting on honey grahams—it can’t go to waste.
We bear it. Chowders tasted for salt, from the kettle,
Broth sopped up with hard stale bread,
Meat that clings to the bone, mashed potatoes to beaters,
this obligation is ours, so we eat.

Our heaviness, sweet as lemonade residue,
the last bit of cream poured over the cucumber,
one spoonful of mayonnaise scraped from the jar
we wash, to reuse. Fruit cocktail syrup
left from the recipe, the last of that ice cream—
the box makes the freezer so full. A ready encumbrance,
the fried breading left on the greasy dish,
one over-baked biscuit, a sliver of cheese.

Our lifelong burden—those glasses of milk
the kids were too busy to drink, the lone cookie
after the church women’s tea, this lingering scoop
of covered dish macaroni; that last piece of dump cake
we can’t bear to dump. This is the heaviness—
our burden, this weight.


I still hear that childhood
morning song—my father down in the cellar
stirring up coals in the furnace
before he went out to chore.

The converted boiler with its rusted grate
demanded to be fed.
Mornings, his blackened scoop shovel
scraped away the ash
while glowing clinkers
awakened to his rusty crooked poker
stirring for heat.

All winter long, the gray pile
on the garden grew
while the coal bin slowly emptied
in a black sooty trail to the furnace.

When the room got warm
we three huddled beside the best register
where the grid had worn smooth.
Each peeled melted crayon
dripped its roadmap line
slowly into the furnace,
down into my father’s blaze
in the bowels of house.

But a monster woman
lived under the cold air register.
Grooches’ growl echoed back.
When she was hollered at
her dusty oval face
peered up through the icy grid.
I tried not to be afraid.
Still she taunts me some afternoons
from the dim underworld.

Her Witness


At the back of the farmhouse in the cool shadiness
of the gnarled catalpa tree,
moss covered sandstones banked the way to that old path
paved with coal fragments shoveled into the cellar for heat.

The plank door, heavy on ancient hinges, a painted-over iron latch—
opening in. There, in summer, the leafy arch
of the gnarled catalpa made sanctuary for sisters
who sat on the grass and rose in turn—

One girl was the song leader—waving a catalpa bean
in time to a tent-revival tune: Rolled away, rolled away, rolled away,
every burden of my heart rolled away . . .

And the other, (being the elder), mounted the steps to preach.

She stood in the stone pulpit behind the house and didn’t know any better—
didn’t know the skirt she wore then would wrap around her legs
and close her mouth—keep her in her place—the sermon unintelligible,
a stone in her throat.

Her dreams channeled into what might be (a preacher husband,
a missionary voice in Africa come home to tell children’s flannel-graph
stories in the church basement, or finally won over to
the merits of being seen and not heard).


That Easter morning, now decades had rolled the stone away.
She took the Word in her hands and opened it there
the holy longing coming into voice until she was no longer speaking—
woman and word, one with the message she knew long before—

tall vowels, strong consonants resonating off her palate,
the active verbs, stone nouns. She is alive—a garden, flower, leaf,
tree, seed, blossom, bloom, green, bright, a musical stream
flowing beside a township road—her voice
reading John 20—hearing it tumble off her tongue—
(the faithful stood in front of her to listen as she read).
No paper rustled, or bodies shifted in their Easter garb—
…one disciple…and another one...
running breathlessly through
the graveyard in the morning—stooping, looking, seeing, running, telling.

Her voice carried across the strong story arch
curving high as the rolled away stone.
But Mary
(her voice softens, sudden as a dying wind)
But Mary
. . . Mary—a tender voice calling her name as
she enters the empty tomb,
the silent echo
sings off the sepulcher wall

He speaks gently to her tenderness of loss
telling her of the not-yet-glorified—
simple and true: I go to my Father. And she,
finding everything all at once—voice, emptiness and him.
Do not hold onto Me—
were his exact words.
Go. Tell.

Resurrection Afternoon

Like a tomb
I enter this dark room— 
slow to motionless under a new sheet.
The hair my lover admired yesterday
splays over the thin pillow.
I lie on the hard table shrouded
for the dim coolness.
As if off the wall of a cave,
                                A fountain drips.

Massage therapy might be dress rehearsal 
for the marble slab— 
oils and spices, the fluids moving around, 
leaching out of cells, the mind, half gone, 
the skin and tissues accepting changes
as they come, still and tensionless. 
She rustles past the low table, 
Silky hands smooth the drape 
                                            to begin.

Breath ebbs, I sink to unawareness
down to subconscious angel presence
where I’m alive only to the light behind
closed eyelids where shapeless forms
move and dissolve.  
                                           For a long time

I am nothing but a body. Then, the whisper—
I’m finished now; take your time. . .
After the Moonlight Sonata, I sit up, 
stretch out my hands, open and close my palms, 

This Side of the River

“Black Stallion said, “I am from the Void where Answer lives. Ride on my back . . .”

Jamie Sams

The Dark Horse is coming for our beautiful strong women,
	  pulling them up from their comfortable homes 
their fragrant kitchens, 
	  their warm beds—
		     to carry them 
across the swift deep river.

All the kneading 
and pouring has been done, 
	  the rattling of the sewing machine needle into the cotton,
the weaving 
		     and spinning of words 
tossed back and forth across the quilt in its frame
	  as a spool of thread 
		     unwinding the afternoon.

The Dark Horse knows all 
	  that our women only suspect;
		     knows they never knew where to turn except inward.
In their apron skirts, 
	  they gathered life to them—
		     first cucumbers and tomatoes, 
grapes crushed—
	  the daily losses—
		     unanswered prayers for the children,
the television screen that finally goes blank, 
	  ache of waiting 
		     for the click of a latch in the night, 
ringing telephone, 
	  watching and wishing,
a mind gone blank, 
	  the heart finally turned inward 
		     toward its own emptiness.

Finally he comes,
	  that stallion who gallops night after night through her dreams,
his scent rich and earthy, 
	  his mane and tail alight—
hoof beats drumming, 
	  announcing his approach—
to carry the women 
	  across the dark water.

We see them go—
	  watch helplessly 
from the bedside, never seeing or knowing
	  the Dark Horse is there 
but he lifts them silently to safety
to carry them bare back 
	  across the swift current.

On this side of the river, we cling
fiercely to one another, willing away the empty spaces
	  as one by one the women we love 
		     plunge into the overflowing banks, clutching
the Dark Horse, 
	  their short-cropped gray hair 
		     safely nestled against his rugged neck.  

About the Author

Joanne Lehman

Joanne Lehman is the author of Morning Song (Kent State University Press 2005), winner of the Wick Chapbook Prize, and a novel, Kairos (Herald Press 2005) as well as several books of essays. The poems published in this issue are from “This Side of the River,” her MFA thesis at Ashland University (2009), which, she writes, “articulates the spiritual journey I have been on for several years.” A native of Ohio who often writes about her rural roots, she now teaches writing at the College of Wooster and at Malone University. Among her poetry mentors she names Katie Funk Wiebe, Jean Janzen, and Julia Spicher Kasdorf.