Lowell Jaeger, Featured Author

Sugar-White Beaches

Such a never-ending winter, these months

of snow and ice and gloom.  We’ve lost

long hours again today, pushing back

last night’s leaden blanket of wet white,

mounding piles shoulder-high, towering

till they avalanche as if to mock our labors.

The wind whips our cheekbones red

and wet and raw, my wife and I,

our shovels lufting slush, lungs puffing

huffs and grunts . . . when, within a waking dream,

she says, That sugar-white beach

in Isla Mujeres, remember? I nod,

a touch of warmth, a blush, floods over me,

a smile.  Side-by-side we replay these memories,

wordlessly, relishing not just the mind’s rescue

but something bone-deep having bubbled up

like steaming waters from the earth’s core.

And I remember, as a kid, that same sensation,

a resurrection out of the depths of near hopelessness,

our schoolyard in late March beginning to thaw.

One brown patch of lawn opened where snows had receded,

and we gathered there all recess, huddled in awe.


The Bubbles

Jet-lagged, we snugged the covers over our ears

to muffle las campanas de la catedral, tolling.

Stepped into the midday sun, blinded by how far

the day had progressed without us.  Hungry

enough to settle for a vendor’s cart menu,

plastic tables and worn umbrellas, across from the plaza

where someone had switched on

fountains of spray hissing skyward and falling,

sizzling on the hot streets like rain.

Not a fountain, really, but jets

or nozzles embedded in the cobbles and brickwork,

firing at random for the simple screams

of barefoot niňos dashing to soak

their camisetas y pantelones for the joy of what

dazzle might rise on a Sunday afternoon.

And did I mention the children blowing bubbles?

Not blowing them, really, but throwing them

from homemade coat-hanger wands dipped

in pails of sudsy dish soap.  Huge soap balloons

taking shape as the children twirled and laughed.

Families cheering the bubbles as each rose toward the sun,

undulating liquid rainbows.  Kaleidoscopic rainbows!

As my wife and I held hands across the table,

glad to be in love amidst the bustle,

this world’s wondrous and baffling extravagance,

thousands of miles from home.

Three Cathedrals

Our strategy for this day: don’t waste it

roaming the cobbles in the aimless manner

we’d diddled away the hours yesterday —

my customary druthers when accustoming myself

to a foreign locale.  I like to simply set out walking,

let each new intersection dictate which way to go.

But this day at breakfast, a sunlit street-side café,

you opened the guidebook and made plans.  We’d locate

the burial site of the young peasant, a revolutionary.  The one

who gave his life — or so the story alleges —

not for his flag, but for the welfare of his wife and children.

You passed the map across the table, without speaking,

and pointed to our destination, tapping gently with one finger

on the exact coordinates of your chosen goal.

All morning we searched street names, asking directions,

straining to comprehend a few words of a language

not our own, charging this way and that,

until past noon we stopped for a glass of wine,

conceding we were lost.  Something between us,

lost.  I couldn’t guess what it was.  Except that our son

and daughters were grown and gone.  And when we rose

to go again, we had nowhere particular in mind, meandering

across the plaza, stepping recklessly through traffic,

lured by cathedral doors thrown wide.

In the darkness inside, I studied the carved-wood altar.

Someone might have mistaken my mumbling as a prayer.

You lit a votive and set it reverently beside dozens

of strangers’ wishes flaming.  Three cathedrals

we explored that afternoon — their spires rising on the skyline,

easy to find.  This day I now recall in its vaulted ceilings.

And a sadness in you, hushed at depths I’d scarcely divined.

You, slipping pesos into the slotted donation box.  You,

igniting brightness.  I’d give my life for you

and the children, I thought.  You, your face aglow

amidst a thousand flickering shadows.

I’d never loved you more.

We’d Planned

to pull the blinds,

uncork champagne,

jitterbug naked

— your mother and I —

inside the empty nest.

You slammed the hatch

on your Subaru, its bursting load

of fantasies and mysteries boxed,

pillowcases stuffed

with plush bears.

Smiled, waved, honked,

and sped away.  Our last,

at last


We stood at the window

— your mother and I —

and breathed silence.

She simmered a Mexican stew

later that afternoon, which

side-by-side across from your place

at the table, we sipped

spoon by spoon.

Lowell Jaeger

Lowell Jaeger (Montana Poet Laureate 2017-2019) is founding editor of Many Voices Press, author of seven collections of poems, recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council, and winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize. Most recently Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse.

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