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Gathering the Harvest
Mary Jo Balistreri

Up and down the kettles and moraines,
we hike in the unexpected clarity
of an autumn-calm afternoon. This rolling land
left behind by glaciers is damp from days of rain,
but today
it brightens with warmth. Wind ripples
the tall grasses, carries tufts of silky milkweed,
and the vanilla scent of crushed asters.
We picnic on a knoll overlooking the river
that wears its skin like a party dress
aglow with glistening beads, its curves like hips
as it moves sinuously around the bends.
Clusters of berries glisten in the bushes.
A black cloud of starlings passes over,
and I tell the story of Mozart’s pet starling.
How the maestro heard
beautiful music in its whistles and screeches
and added a line to his G Major piano sonata,
a line transposed from the bird’s song.
Hoards of grasshoppers rise in another dark cloud
through the landscape of time. A memory travels
from the South Dakota plains:
fields of ripening wheat, a darkening sky,
the falling locusts. Aunts, uncles, all gathered
in our grandparents' home, Whispering Hope
ascending from the wheezing pedals
of the pump organ. And Dad’s sweet tenor,
clear and true above the other voices, all rising
like prayers of propitiation.
Your fingertips move lightly over my face as I linger,
suspended between here and there,
the heartbeats
of all the living and dead, drumming within me.
We look now over the distance we’ve come,
layer upon layer of golden-green hills
airbrushed to ever softer hues in the distance.
We scoop them up into the net of memory,
winding back upon itself, moving forward.

From Gathering the Harvest (Bellowing Ark Press, 2012).
Used here with the author’s permission.


Mary Jo Balistreri was a concert pianist for most of her life, but in 2005 she began writing poetry after the death of her seven-year-old grandson. Poetry gradually helped her transform her grief into something resembling acceptance. Mary Jo’s award-winning work is widely published and she is the author of four collections: Still, gathering the harvest, Best Brothers, and Joy in the Morning. In 2014, Mary Jo began writing haiku and haibun and, since then, has turned almost entirely to Japanese forms. Mary Jo lives in Wisconsin; learn more about her at






Post New Comment:
As always, it is a treat to read Jo's magnificent metaphors, which conjure up images of other times and places. Carole
Posted 11/24/2013 10:00 PM
Thank you. Reflected on and loved and then you reached the page.
Posted 11/23/2013 08:54 PM
Maryann Hurtt:
I love how starlings, moraines, your father's tenor voice all fit together. Thank you.
Posted 11/23/2013 07:15 PM
Thank you to everyone who posted.
Posted 11/23/2013 07:13 PM
reading this poem is like wandering among a gallery of Impressionist paintings--exquisite, thank you, Mary Jo!
Posted 11/23/2013 04:29 PM
Absolutely beautiful, my friend. You put us all to shame... Pat
Posted 11/23/2013 11:18 AM
Many wonderful images, Mary Jo. I especially liked "scoop them up into the net of memory". Phyllis
Posted 11/23/2013 10:46 AM
So many beautiful lines, I won't single one out. Thank you. Donna Hilbert
Posted 11/23/2013 10:07 AM
How incredibly beautiful. I've been to those places, and this took me back to them.
Posted 11/23/2013 09:30 AM
Janet Leahy:
Exquisite weaving of music and memory, one of my favorites, thanks Jo.
Posted 11/23/2013 09:26 AM
Only Mary Jo could have me use three different dictionaries and encyclopedia this morning. Her'e one: "Propitiation means the turning away of wrath by an offering. In relation to soteriology, propitiation means placating or satisfying the wrath of God by the atoning ... it's from Theopedia, an encyclopedia of Biblical Christianity. Love Mary Jo, love this selection
Posted 11/23/2013 09:07 AM
Donna Pflueger:
Jo, you have indeed created memory upon memory, each with its own magic in time. I love this poem!
Posted 11/23/2013 09:05 AM
Carol Hauer:
Beautiful images. So gentle. A soft autumn scene come alive through thoughtful choice and careful construction. Many others were able to join you on this lovely picnic.
Posted 11/23/2013 08:19 AM
"of all the living and dead, drumming within me" ... is there another word for wow?
Posted 11/23/2013 08:16 AM
"Vanilla scent of crushed asters...the river that wears its skin like a party dress..." I can smell them. I can see it. Such a sensory poem, now in my "net of memory." Thanks, Jo. Marilyn Zelke=Windau
Posted 11/23/2013 06:41 AM
One of my favorites. All the lives we hold, how we take them along with us each day.
Posted 11/23/2013 06:15 AM
Beautiful, Mary Jo. I love the way "We look now over the distance we’ve come, layer upon layer of golden-green hills" sums it all up.
Posted 11/23/2013 06:09 AM
Wilda Morris:
"We scoop them up into the net of memory." What a lovely line! And you scooped them into the net of beautiful poetry as well.
Posted 11/23/2013 06:08 AM

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