{An Umbrella Invitational}

Helen Ruggieri

lives in Olean, New York and has had work recently in del sol Review,  Minnesota Review, Hawaii Pacific Review (best of the decade issue), Poetry Midwest, and Poemeleon.

She has a chapbook, Glimmer Girls, from  Visit her web page.

—Back to Milestones Contents—

There’s Just One Thing I Ask of You

Byron’s heart was kept in Greece,
a gesture to the liberty he fought for—
blue-flowered thyme scenting
the wind at Missolonghi.

Keats remains in Rome,
strangled by the poet’s disease
of that century—blue iris,
gold throated lily.

Shelley’s earthly body was
consumed by quicklime—
cleansing lavender, the blue
of that last sea.

New world tribes feast a white dog,
entrust him with their good deeds,
twine delphiniums in its hair,
larkspur blue as lapis.

They feed him, strangle him,
burn him, those smoky ribbons
trailing skyward his report
about the tribe.

That spirit smudges the sky,
a bright mantle to wrap up in.

Artist’s Statement

I n 1985 I was an unemployed teacher working from midnight to eight a.m. in a local hospital running back-up on the computer. I had published a few poems here and there but wasn’t ready to tell anyone that I was a “poet.” Sometimes chance takes you where you should go. I knew I needed some sort of guidance, but where might I find it? I applied for and was accepted for a three week session at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, with master poet Bill Stafford.

I was far from home surrounded by “real” poets. Stafford said we were to write a poem every day. He did and we could too if we had standards as low as his. Was he serious? My output up to then was a poem a month, maybe two months.

Reluctantly I had to provide a poem for the first day’s workshop and pulled out one I’d been working on. I wasn’t sure of anything. I’ve never been able to judge my own work critically
I knew what I liked and maybe what I liked about the poem wasn’t on the page for others to read. Anyway, I dragged out “There's Just One Thing I Ask of You” and made the copies and passed them around. When the others in the workshop stumbled over it, Stafford befriended it. He liked it. He understood where I was going with it.

I’m almost ashamed to admit, I needed someone else to “approve” me, stamp on the back of my hand in black ink
POET! What might have happened if he’d thrown up his hands and said, “The is the worst thing I’ve ever read!” Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if it had been another poet, one of a more brutal persuasion. Oh, I’d probably have journeyed on. But without the joy and the self acceptance I finally found my way to.

From that moment I have mostly thought of myself as a poet, and I’ve mostly tried to write a poem every day, but then my standards are very low.