The Sunday Poem: Linda Whittenberg (March 5, 2017)

Linda is a Unitarian Universalist minister, retired back to Santa Fe after serving congregations in other parts of the country. My poet friends Jane Lipman and Janet Eigner suggested she send me poems. Good idea!!

Linda considers Santa Fe home since 1976. Her husband Bob Wilber and she live at the edge of Santa Fe in a rural area where they play rancher with horses, mules, goats and numerous Australian Cattle Dogs.

Linda says she starts every day with poetry, almost always before sunrise. Being alone with a new sheet of paper or blank page on the computer is her way of meditating. She loves the sense of conversation poetry allows, a dialogue with  inner-self but also with someone out there who may read what she's written and connect with her through it. The greatest joy, she says, is when she receives a note or comment from someone who has found her work and felt it spoke to them.  Mysterious and wonderful


After Dvorak’s 9th                              

Dvorak’s New World swells across prairie

and mountain, gallops like phantom mustangs

above grasslands and scorching deserts.


A simple melody, borrowed from porch steps

of the deep South, flits limb to limb—

strings to woodwinds to brass.


Here it comes again. This time

sung tremolo by oboe and flute.

I want to ride the updrafts of the music,


soar with eagles above this land I love,

but those sounds, meant to celebrate freedom,

make me sad instead.


When the finale erupts with kettle drums,

cymbals and brass, the full truth erupts,

my beautiful country, powerful, yes,


and brutish, noisy, often foolish,

flawed, benighted, both feared and mocked

by the rest of the world.


 A Meeting Place                                   


At an auction in Ireland, you bid on a little milk jug.

It had the feel of the many hands that poured from it.

The mother was in the ceramic’s faded flowers.

You knew she had milked the cows

before feeding eager appetites their gruel.

You could have bid on creamers of fine china,

but they didn’t have what you were after.


You chose from a part of you that knows

but doesn’t know how it knows. You build as you go,

loving what you love, gathering unto yourself

words that please the tongue—

virga, ambosia, ebullient, debauched

words to make a poem. You store up good music, art,

beneficence of nature. It is the work of a lifetime,

this tending the soul.


Events make their way to the very center—

you swoon with new love and crumble when its over,

births and deaths, each with its unique power.

Every person who passes through your life

leaves a signature. You take risks,

stand for a cause, carry a banner, sign your

name on the dotted line, put your shoulder

into work you believe in.


The soul is a meeting place, a rendezvous,

a recognition. On your desk, along with pencils           

in a cup, a peacock feather, one of two

you and your grandson gathered as you followed

those haughty birds around the grounds

of the Denver Zoo. Now that he’s off to college,

that feather is more than feather.


An encounter reaches to the lush interior

of your being. Curry comb and brush pass

over hide of a sweaty horse. The day is hot,

your arm muscles tire, but you go on

because you are in that meeting place

where actions kindle inner light.

Light that will shine long after the horse

is gone, the paddock empty,

the horsewoman old.



Blue Silk and Lace                            


Earnings from a file-clerking summer job

bought items for her trousseau—

floor-length blue silk gown, negligee with trim

of ivory lace and matching high-heeled mules.


After the honeymoon the fancy sleepwear

came to dwell in a make-shift closet—

vintage flowered drapes stretched across one wall

of the tiny bedroom in their student apartment.


Through grad-school her wardrobe was mostly

Beatnik black. Life revolved around

his physics problems, her papers on influences

of Whitman, learning to read Baudelaire in French.


Much later, when closets had sliding doors

with mirrors and she had become middle-aged,

she came upon that blue silk bit of glamour hanging

with out-of season clothes.


Stripping to skin, she tried on the gown, the negligee,

tucked toes into the mules and studied herself

from all angles in the expanse of mirrors. Not bad,

she thought, for a woman in her forties.


Something she had almost schooled out of herself

reemerged—the all-but-forgotten pleasure of silk

against skin, courage sensuality bestows, power

that comes with feeling beautiful.





Larry met a nice woman at church

and  thought of inviting her to lunch.

Why didn’t you? I asked, knowing how much

he longed to meet someone special.

Wrong shoes was his answer.

What was wrong with her shoes he couldn’t say.


Grandmother had saved my mother’s

baby shoes, keepsakes from her darling’s

childhood. Looking at those little shoes,

you can almost see the toddler

following her mother around the farmyard.

After Mother’s funeral, I found in her closet


rows of pumps, although she almost never went out.

Her sad life wafted up from Tweedies insoles.

I have hung her little girl shoes in my kitchen—

baby oxfords, tiny leather sandals, patent leather

Mary Janes for dress-up. When guests ask about them,

I only say, They were my mother’s.


In Budapest, shoes cast in iron memorialize those

who were shot on the wharf of the Danube,

their bodies swallowed up by the river as they fell—

children’s high-tops, classy women’s heels, work boots,

dress shoes suitable for a lawyer or doctor.

From each pair, a life emanates.


This morning a reporter described what’s left

of a Parisian restaurant where patrons had been

dining out last Friday—broken glass, blood-stained linen

and, amongst it all, a single shoe. Was it lost

as a panicked customer ran for cover?

An artifact of terror.


Maybe the woman at church

was going to work at a job that required

good arch supports or maybe she couldn’t

afford better. Maybe she had prayed

that morning for a suitor. Maybe Larry

will spend all his life being lonely.



Overnight in the Panhandle                                   


We’re passing through country where entire hillsides

are black and white with cows fattening up for slaughter.

Down the road a hog farm big as some towns.

Oil pumps punctuate landscape void of much else.


Road-weary, we arrive at the only motel with vacant rooms.

Right away, it’s clear, this is a motel for laborers—

drivers of long trucks, cattlemen, drillers,

builders of all sorts.


When these men come in tired from hard work,

I suppose, they don’t much mind 60’s décor,

a motel worse-for-the-wear, aged dirt embedded in rugs,

smoke from when it was allowed, still clinging to walls.


I make a study of the clientele, wondering

what it would be like working for an industry tainted

with killing animals or as controversial as oil. I suppose

they’d say, It’s a living. Someone’s got to do it.


They don’t seem to go out at night or party in their rooms,

but at dusk the parking lot is full of men taking

a last smoke, leaning on their trucks to call home.

After dark, from their rooms, only a muted TV drone.


Next morning, the East Indian owner has lain out

a good spread. Men load up on eggs and sausage,

pancakes and lots of coffee. They talk very little

and don’t seem interested in NBC news.


As I have my sweet roll and coffee, I tamp down

the urge to ask them how they can bear the work they do.

Anyway, I’m saved by the clock. At quarter to eight,

they fill huge to-go cups and are out the door,


leaving us overnighters with lots to think about.

These are the ones who put bacon on our table

and keep our car going toward home.


more bio: Since retiring, Linda has published a chapbook and three full collections of poetry. Also many poems have appeared in journals and anthologies in the U.S. and beyond. In 2010  she discovered Ireland and has returned five times since to attend a writers' conference. SOMEWHERE IN IRELAND is a collection of poems inspired by herr travels there. It was launched in Ireland in 2011.

The DitchRider’s Sunday Poem on Duke City Fix is accepting submissions of 3 to 5 of your favorite poems. Please send in a word doc to ; be sure to put DitchRider in the subject line and include a short bio and a few pictures from which I may select. Your name on the poems seems to be very useful! Thanks in advance from Merimee. I will get back to you within the shortest framework I can muster.

Views: 46

Comment by The DitchRider on March 5, 2017 at 9:52am

I just reposted Linda's page with her picture sitting in Croatia.  Hope the repost works. Happy Sunday.


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