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John Palen

square palen mugJohn Palen has had a dual life as a journalist and poet. A reporter and editor on daily newspapers, he also taught journalism at Central Michigan University, and earned an American Studies doctorate. His poetry has been published in magazines, chapbooks, books and anthologies over a 50-year span. Mayapple Press brought out his third full-length collection, Distant Music, in 2017. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Williwaw Journal, SPLASH!, and Ocotillo Review. He lives in retirement on the Grand Prairie of Illinois.

Delivering the Piano

Three men in jeans and sneakers,
with dollies and skid boards,
blue quilts and buckle straps,
arrive with a thousand pounds
of old-growth hard maple and spruce,
ivory, iron, and steel,
crafted into a seven-foot grand.

There’s a crucial moment,
the beast on its side,
back and treble legs attached.
On three, they pivot it down
in one motion to keep the weight moving
then quickly-quickly someone fits
the third leg into place,

whacks it snug
with a wedge and rubber mallet.
Done. No music without these guys.

The Back Shop

Deep in the back of the building,
far from Uncle Bud’s genteel office
with its revises and flimsies,
Uncle Pete had his domain,
hot as a foundry, busy as hell.
Wheeled iron turtles,
chases, quoins and a hellbox.
The Linotype’s metallic clatter,
smells of gasoline and cigarettes,
oil and grit on every surface,
a thinning oval of Lava soap
on a basin stained with ink and rust.

He sends me to the alley for lead pigs,
two-foot gray bars in a pile
among tall dandelions.
I get a penny each to bring them in.
From a hooked chain they’ll feed
a lead pot at 700 Fahrenheit,
hot enough to explode
if he spills his Coke.

Deadline nears.
His quick two-fingered jabs
add weight to words,
casting them into type.

Smooth Dark Seed

The window silences the wind
that tosses bare maples
and needle-laden pines.
They bow to the wind,
spring back
and bow again.

In the next room
a cellist practices
a musical phrase,
only a few notes
that she repeats
again and again,

centering and shaping
until the house fills
with smooth dark seed
with winter coming on.


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