My imagination makes me human
and makes me a fool;
it gives me all the world
and exiles me from it.
--Ursula K. Le Guin
Kendrick PlaceUnion Avenue
An Urban Journal Exploring Place,
Purpose, Literature, Memory,
and This Time


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NOTE: Eventually, this page will include, in addition to a few of my own poems, a collection of favorite poems by well-known poets

The Milkmaid by Vermeer

She wore her good dress,
the indigo apron pulled to the side,
sleeves pushed above her elbows.
Although her arms must have tired
holding the earthenware pitcher so long
controlling the thin stream of milk,
she is serene, transcending the implied
drudgery, her stout, plain-faced body.

I envy how she has stood
in that porcelain light pouring
milk for over three hundred years,
unchanged and unchanging,
innocent in the concentrated reverence
she brings to the task, as if the objects
before her are sacred proofs
of God’s providential care.

But there is no denying the light
already fading, the broken bread
on the bare table, the exposed white skin
of her forearm, reminders that beyond
the window lie the immense, perishing fields,
that this bone-white, luminous room
is like every calculated shrine, pretending
to give us what we need then taking it away.

--Judy Loest from Literary Lunch, 2002,
The Knoxville Writers' Guild

For Sharbat Gula, the Afghan Girl

Names have power, so let us speak of hers. Her name is Sharbat Gula, and she is Pashtun, that most warlike of Afghan tribes. Her eyes—-then and now—-burn with ferocity.
--Cathy Newman, National Geographic, 2002

Your staring, sea-green eyes stopped our breath
Made us realize how little we know of suffering

How often it is borne by the nameless, the young
Whose past is a bombed out city, a burnt field.

We stare back but cannot see the sea nor light
nor summer's sweetwater flower you are named for.

There, no reprieve, no end of winter or endless sky
of falling bombs, no sign of birds silently winging,

In that charred and barren ground no green
Of yew and oak and olive, no honeysuckle, no rose

In those dark, cold depths, not even a child,
No laughter, no tears, no singing.

--Judy Loest
Imagining a Chinese Poet in the University of Tennessee
Trial Gardens, October 1998

But for the falling and rising whir
of traffic separating this garden
and the river, but for clocks and calendars
and the refuse of history, I could be Wang-Wei
watching the butterflies and gold finches
limning the last of summer. Even the whine
of engine and rubber fades beneath a curtain
of cricket song, sudden wind in the oaks
sending the first brown leaves across the stone
path like bits of singed paper, rustling the bamboo
and invoking an image of the old poet himself,
looking out over his Wang-ch’uan Valley,
cliffs sliced by a river not unlike this one,
longing for his old friend, as I long for mine.

We are not so different in our melancholy,
losing twelve hundred years as easily
as the lotus bloom opens and closes,
the butterfly bush bends with the weight
of its full living. Beyond this mapped
and manicured garden, I can see wild ridges
of the Tennessee River Valley pushing skyward,
autumn’s first gold glinting the sycamore,
river birch, and red maple. Across a vast expanse
of centuries, our gaze pierces the same veil
of sunlight and cloud shadow, comes to rest
on the same vision: the loved one’s face
conjured by wind or moving water, by nothing
but the smell of bark or dying grasses, by all
that endures and is continually departing.

--Judy Loest from Now & Then
the Appalachian Magazine
, Spring 1999

Red Dress
(or Why I Won’t Shop at Turkey Creek)

Oh red dress calling
across the shaven fields
and tarred swards of goneness
fluttering on the horizon
like a mateless cardinal
torn flag of a senseless war
shimmery and superfluous
as all the gewgaws in China
redder than all the forsaken
reds red-bellied woodpecker
red salamander red-tailed hawk
red-eared slider red-eyed vireo
scarlet tanager red dragonfly
sweetgum red maple red ash
red-winged blackbird dark red
blood on the sandhill crane’s
unborn neverborn eggs
on a nevermore wetland
oh red unbleachable scar
of plundered faux red silk
you will never no never
never call my name.

-Judy Loest