Friday, June 1, 2018

June 2018 Poetry Challenge - Caregiving

My husband’s grandmother cared for his grandfather at home for many years after a stroke disabled him. Dad was a natural-born caretaker, looking after Mother’s health until his own deteriorated. My older sister cared for both of them in her home until it was no longer possible. After they went into a nursing home, she visited them daily unless she was out of town, and participated in their care there. Mother became quite fond of some of the nursing aids who assisted her in dressing, getting in and out of her wheelchair, etc.

These examples are of care giving with the elderly, as are the sample poems below. Persons with various handicapping conditions also require caregivers. My oldest granddaughter was born with hypotonic cerebral palsy as well a fatal genetic disease, neuroaxonal dystrophy. She never learned to talk or walk, or to sit up on her own for more than a few seconds. Our daughter and son-in-law were her primary caregivers, until she died shortly before her seventh birthday. Her older sister, just a young child herself, often helped by feeding her though her feeding tube, entertaining her, helping bathe her, and so on.

Here are two excellent examples of poems regarding caregiving:

Snail Time

the snail on my parents'
front walk
paces its slow but sometime
will get there crawl to the azalea bush
leaves just a trace
of coming and going
his shell both shelter
and what seems to be baggage
too heavy to carry

my mother lies in the hospice bed
it almost swallows her
my father marks a trail between
the kitchen and her bed
carries reheated coffee
tiny comfort in a long day

I ask my father about
the snail
the heavy shell
the long slow crawl
you do what you have to do

~ Maryann Hurtt

“Snail” was published in Maryann’s chapbook, River (Aldrich Press, 2016).

I like the metaphoric use of the snail in this poem. The poem is delicate and shows more than it tells. The commitment of the husband reminds me of Dad’s commitment to Mother when she was ill, as well as his regret when he was no longer able to provide the care she needed.

The Caregiver 

See this Lithuanian woman.  She has been
feeding my father dinners of mashed turkey
and broccoli, potato pancakes, washing his
clothes, bathing him, offering him the choice
between Wolf Blitzer and Vanna White for years.

Observe her hands as they gently push his body
to the side of the hospital bed. They are covered
with latex gloves. Consider the way she has taught
me to tenderly pull up his socks and cover him
with a quilt, put drops in his eyes, rub powder
on a rash, splash his neck with Old Spice, then
bend down to kiss his cheek goodnight. 

You must come closer, you must hang up your jacket,
be prepared to spend hours listening to his slurred
speech, help feed him applesauce with vitamins,
raise and lower his bed, monitor his erratic heartbeat. 
Remember what he has given up—his Buick LeSabre,
his cane, his walker, then finally his wheelchair--to get
to where he now lives, a bed with guard rails.

Go to the night-stand and offer him a Frango Mint.
Put on his favorite Garrison Keillor CD.  Listen as he
smiles with his one good eye and whispers something
so faint, you ask him to repeat, “I’m lucky.” 
Think about all this while driving the long way home.

You may get angry at the world, like I do, until you
see your husband asleep in the Lazy-Boy, bare legs
dangling. Until you suddenly realize what the caregiver
has taught you as, without a word, you slowly rub lotion
onto your husband’s chapped heels, then cover his ice-cold feet.

~ Caroline Johnson

“The Caregiver” was previously published in Lunch Ticket and nominated in 2016 for Best of the Net. Title poem in Caroline’s first full-length collection, The Caregiver (Holy Cow! Press, 2018). The Caregiver is now available in bookstores or online from Holy Cow! Press and Amazon.

One of the things I like about this poem is the layering. There is the professional caregiver, the Lithuanian woman who provided in-home care to the poet’s father. There is the poet herself—driving a long distance to see her father—and learning from the professional, so that she is more helpful to her father. And, at the end, we find that the poet extends her caregiving to her husband though he is not ill. The many details enrich the poem.

The June Challenge:

The June Challenge is to submit a poem about caregiving. It may be caregiving you do or have done, or caregiving by someone else. It may involve caring for the sick, the elderly, or persons with handicapping conditions. It may be professional caregiving (nurses or nannies, for example), or caregiving by friends, neighbors, parents. children, or others. Perhaps you have required (or received) the help of a caregiver.

Your poem may be free verse or formal. If you use a form, please identify the form when you submit your poem.

Title your poem unless it is a form that does not use titles. Single-space and don’t use lines that are overly long (because the blog format doesn’t accommodate long lines). Read previous poems on the blog to see what line lengths can be accommodated.

You may submit a published poem if you retain copyright, but please include publication data. This applies to poems published in books, journals, newspapers, or on the Internet.

The deadline is June 15. Poems submitted after the deadline will not be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards; however winners are published on this blog. Please don’t stray too far from “family-friendly” language (some children read this blog). No simultaneous submissions, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published on this blog. Decision of the judge or judges is final.

The poet retains copyright on each poem. If a previously unpublished poem wins and is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog. I do not register copyright with the US copyright office, but by US law, the copyright belongs to the writer unless the writer assigns it to someone else.

How to Submit Your Poem:

Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”). Put “June Poetry Challenge Submission” in the subject line of your email. Include a brief bio that can be printed with your poem if you are a winner this month. Please put your name and bio under the poem in your email.

Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name (exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win) at the end of the poem.

Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment (no pdf files, please). Please do not indent the poem or center it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog (Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all in capital letters); your name at the bottom of the poem). Also, please do not use multiple spaces instead of commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using that technique (I sometimes do it myself). However I have difficulty getting the blog to accept and maintain extra spaces.

Poems shorter than 40 lines are generally preferred but longer poems will be considered.


Caroline Johnson has two poetry chapbooks, Where the Street Ends and My Mother’s Artwork. In 2012 she won the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Poetry Contest. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, her poetry has appeared in Red Paint Hill Journal, Encore, Uproot, The Quotable, Kind of a Hurricane Press, Blast Furnace, Origins Journal, Naugatuck River Review, and others. She leads workshops for veterans and other poets on such topics as Poetry and Spirituality, Speculative Poetry, and Writing About Chicago. Learn more from her website at

In another life, Maryann Hurtt was a hospice nurse for thirty years. She lives down the road from the Ice Age Trail near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, where she and the Muse chase each other. Aldrich Press published her chapbook, River, in 2016. She is co-author with Cynthia Frozena of Hospice Care Planning: An Interdisciplinary Guide. Maryann's father read her John Muir stories when she was little. He and her mother taught her early on to hike, swim, bike, and love anything wild. Maryann’s poetry has been published in Blue Heron Review, Portage Magazine, Verse Wisconsin and elsewhere. Check out her website:

© Wilda Morris

Monday, May 28, 2018

May 2018 Winners - Spring Poems

Photo by Wilda Morris, taken at The Clearing, Ellison Bay, Wisconsin.

This month, I asked both William Marr and Alan Harris, authors of example poems posted with the challenge, to judge the submissions separately. Each picked a different first place poem. Here are the two winners:

Long ago

One afternoon in early spring
we walked this road as shadows
deepened in surrounding woods.
Mourning Doves in the distance
called out their tender message,
robins had returned.
Bird song accompanied our steps
as they constructed their nests.
A cloud passed over 
and there was a moment of silence
as you pulled out loose tufts
of your thick, dark hair,
tucked them under the rough bark
of your favorite oak tree.

This was before the chemo failed,
before you called out
as breath left your body,
before missing you began.

You were the friend
I wanted to grow old with,
share memories 
on days like this.

As I walk this road today, 
again, I hear mourning doves,
a madrigal of robins,
chickadees, sparrows.
I pass your favorite tree
and think of how the nests
are made stronger with your hair.

~Doris Bezio

William Marr commented, “The vivid memory of a long-ago early spring afternoon reinforces the poetic feeling of emptiness and sadness when "you" are missing from the scene of this spring day, except for some loose tufts of hair.” 

Here is the poem that tied for first place:

From Kites and Spring, Memories Rise

Two or three parts assembled easily,
mostly light, mostly right.
That's enough to stoke
a memory for me,
this one-- of kites in Spring:
balsa wood spines
strung with diamond masts,
twined knots thin
enough to snare a fish
whorled tight
around small hands.

There two or three of us,
scruffy, out-of-school-uniform
kids in weekend clothes.
season of unbuttoned jackets, which
might spin into wings.
It would be a while before any of
us would fly, and so we flew kites.
Outside, where spring's indifferent
skies were unfolded canvases for
an art that couldn't stand still.

We'd watch each other,
every launch a prelude before
the risky climb, the power lines,
then the slow waltz into the rooftops'
empty spaces, kingdoms where chimneys
and nighthawks ruled. Always,
we felt twine notch wrinkle thin
ribbons in our palms. Always we
kept control panels in hand,
let our kites dance with
whatever defied the ground.

Until suddenly they were downed.
Spun into scraps,
divvyed up by wind among
Spring's prong-like trees,
bushes bereft of blossoms,
or onto fire escape landing shelves.
We were left with scraps, and it's
the scraps that are  in each of us
memory bits that you
must assemble yourself.

~ Sheila Elliott

Alan Harris said, “The poem “From Kites and Spring, Memories Rise” is alive with original and vivid imagery.” As examples, he mentioned, “We felt twine notch wrinkle thin/ribbons in our palms,” and "kingdoms where chimneys and nighthawks ruled.”

Second place goes to a haiku (as is traditional, this haiku has no title):

stark naked branches
reach out, waiting to be clothed
in flecks of spring green

~ Marjorie Pagel

Third place winner is another free verse poem:

Assurances of Spring

When March appears on the calendar,
I check the feeder on my pine tree
for signs of returning robins.
Ibis descend on our greening lawn
their long, curved bills aerating
the packed ground
in search of emerging insects.
Crocus, azalea, iris, forsythia
pop up along lawn’s fringes
punctuating gray, rainy
April days with flashes of fuchsia
purple, yellow, white.
But it’s only when I can put asparagus,
tender peas, greens, ramps,
and strawberries on our dinner
table that I am assured spring
is truly here.
For I have eaten of its glory.

~ Joan Leotta

This month, due to having two judges, we also have a fourth place Poem:

Spring Blue

In the heart of the nation
no ocean
so I carve time to indulge
in the widest blue I know:

bluebells blooming
in the woods,
only for a short time
since branches above

show tiny yellow-green
which in this overdue
warmth will enlarge quickly

masking sunlight feeding
this sea of blue,
stealing my ocean,
leaving me once again

on dry land. 

~ Marilyn Peretti

Spring Blue was posted on, April, 2018.

Congratulations to each of the winning poets! The winning poets retain copyright on their own poems.


Doris Bezio is a poet/experimental artist, who has a lifelong love affair with books and learning. She has attended writers’ conferences at Wheaton College, Illinois Wesleyan as well as classes at UW-Fox Valley UW-Oshkosh with Ellen Kort, Laurel Mills and others and her poetry has been featured in calendars and other publications.

Sheila Elliott is a poet, writer and active participant in many Chicago area literary organizations including Poets and Patrons.

Alan Harris retired from a 22-year career with Commonwealth Edison, in which he had served as a computer programmer, systems analyst, computer trainer, and Web developer. Between 1982 and 1995 he privately print-published ten books of poems and aphorisms for friends and family. These books and all subsequent poetry collections are now on the Web at Noon Out of Nowhere - Collected Poems. His books in PDF format are downloadable at PDF Books. Alan is a past president of the Illinois State Poetry Society and currently maintains the ISPS Web site while residing in Tucson, Arizona.

Joan Leotta is a writer, journalist, author, essayist, and story performer whose stories and poems often deal with food. You can download a mini-chapbook of her poems at

William Marr has published 23 volumes of poetry (two in English and the rest in his native Chinese language), 3 books of essays, and several books of translations. Chicago Serenade is a trilingual (Chinese/English/French) anthology of his poems published in Paris in 2015. Some of his poems are used in high school and college textbooks in Taiwan, China, England, and Germany. 

Marjorie Pagel has been impatiently waiting for spring to arrive in Franklin, Wisconsin. She is the author of The Romance of Anna Smith and Other Stories, available on Amazon.

Marilyn Peretti, of Chicago suburbs, grew up in Indianapolis, and loved the woods of Brown County where her father was born. Now she immerses herself in woods of Morton Arboretum, seeking varied fungus on logs, focusing on them for watercolors. She exhibits at Morton with the Nature Artists Guild. Recipient of a Pushcart nomination, she is published in Kyoto Journal, Grey Sparrow, Journal of Modern Poetry, Talking River, New Verse News, California Quarterly, Snowy Egret, and others.

© Wilda Morris