Bright Light Stories In The Night

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Bright Light Stories in the Night A Collection of Poetry and Artwork From Southeast Minnesota

A Project by Southeastern Minnesota Poets

Bright Light Stories in the Night Poetry and Artwork from Southeastern Minnesota

Southeastern Minnesota Poets 2021

Copyright February 26, 2021 Southeastern Minnesota Poets

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a review. Published by Southeastern Minnesota Poets on Facebook @SoutheasternMNPoets Printed in the United States of America. Book design and book typesetting by Dom Sinicrope Design.

Special thanks to our parent organization and fiscal sponsor, the League of Minnesota Poets, for all of their assistance, including the use of their website and Submittable account.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts & cultural heritage fund.

Table of Contents Foreword


Jean Prokott

Prose Aubade Ending With Lipstick


Scott Lowery

To My Brother, Again


Anne Shea



Steven McCown



Jennifer Jesseph

With Wings


John Sievers



Tim J. Brennan



D.E. Green

Tree on a Hill: Marine-on-St. Croix, Minnesota


Foreword On a sunny August day in 2020, you might have seen us—a group of three masked women at Soldier’s Field, lawn chairs distanced, in animated discussion. We met there to talk about how we might use poetry to help our community heal. It has been a long, hard, dark year for everyone. Born of that discussion was Bright Light Stories in the Night, a project to combine the soothing and inspiring characteristics of poetry and art. One that invites everyone, no matter who you are, to come together. One that brings some of Rochester’s celebrities together to share messages of hope. All of this in late February, what many of us perceive to be the darkest, most difficult time of the year. For that first meeting in the park and their marvelous ideas, as well as the ensuing six months of tireless effort and devotion to this project, I thank Lisa Higgs and Pam Sinicrope. Without their energy and enthusiasm, Bright Light would not have been possible. We hope we have succeeded in creating a bright spot in the darkness, if not a torch to lead all of us toward greater sense of companionship as well as hope. - Susan McMillan Rochester Poet Laureate Founding member of Southeastern Minnesota Poets

Prose Aubade Ending with Lipstick By Jean Prokott Artwork by Leisa Luis-Grill

a January morning, gray velvet. we all consider leaving this place until May, until we’re digging pockets for seeds. it might be opposite day.


I think of a student’s poem: if a home is made / a bird will use it / if a home is not made / a bird will not use it. the geese never left: they honk like happy limousines when we walk alongside the creek.


the crows never left: they are too busy memorizing our faces and the poets need them.


I meet a friend for coffee. her hair is waves of tilled soil. she is my dear friend, the sun has risen above the unshaven hills, we are drinking coffee, we never left, we are glad for it. We flip back through last year’s chapter,


unfold each dog-eared memory. my lipstick stains the coffee cup lid, creates an asynchronous mouth. it says, this year, let’s not crease the corners. let’s instead kiss the pages to remember where we should begin.


To My Brother, Again By Scott Lowery Artwork by Michael King

Remember that Lionel train set? I can still feel the locomotive’s dense heft, the nudge and twist it took to join the tracks, can hear the satisfying click when the switches worked.


You'd be surprised too, I bet— so much intact where we left it in memory's storage space: smoke pellets in their pill jar, faceless little men waiting for wooden milk cans at the siding.


Here's Dad, swearing as his thick fingers try but fail to tighten sharp bright wire on stubborn screws. Tobacco haze sweetened by Three-in-One Oil, ozone's silent sizzle.


And then how it finally ran on its own, turn after turn— Dad switched off the overhead and there was the tiny headlight, circling in the dark: what we could see surrounded by all we could not.


Pretend By Anne Shea Artwork by Megan Fick


We lay down a blue towel, pretend we are at a beach play beach ball, build

hold it in my hands, fly to an open branch, an empty chair.

sandcastles. Sometimes blankets are green grass, a swing. A rainbow

We are alone here, in this house waiting for the world to reopen,

afghan hanging from the couch and exercise bike becomes a hammock.

for our breath to return, caught under cloth masks that keep our voices

Here things are safe, each grain of sand, the cool water where we swim,

smothered, like a quiet bird with plastic eyes, an ornament

two plastic ducks floating in a bathtub. No danger of sinking our bodies lift

with real feathers, a wire to perch it to a fake tree.

through the air like birds. Sing Mama sing. I speak for the bird,

Genesis By Steven McCown Artwork by Rita LeDuc

From caterpillar to chrysalis to dread— my neighbor on vacation put me in charge of what will become.


Two have already become, flexing wings, blood flowing through a filigree of veins.


Trembling, I unzip suspended delicate mesh netting like a veiled womb, squeeze a sugar solution from a syringe onto a circular red sponge.


Shadowing this swaying world, my hand grazes a green chrysalis, nudges another pupa, brushes an orange-black, white-spotted wing breaking free.


An intruder, I fumble in genesis. A quivering monarch clings to a stick.


With Wings By Jennifer Jesseph Artwork by Kenna Sandborn

During the pandemic I painted watercolor faces, blending blacks, blues, browns purples, oranges, and all hues bleeding feathery paths.


Then, wing pictures. Some leather heavy, others light as a clear cold, February sunrise. Here’s your pair shimmery blue, the color of sky in July on a hot, clear Minnesota day. These were made during dull days of droning digital school, during digital work, during video doctor calls. I endured by painting wings.


Strap them on and pump your arms harder, higher. Be a breeze with me over Silver Lake in Rochester Minnesota. It’s nearly spring and we are free as a warm Saturday in deep January when icicles dazzle.


Up we go, skyward. I say yes to a hued dusk the color of ripe plums. Mud smells tells us earth is releasing frost. Fly with me now; tell me how you endured your long pandemic days. Let me live in your stories and you in mine, not through a screen or a mask, but as we are, face to face, breath to breath, laughter melding, allowing us to rise.


Translucent By John Sievers Artwork by Toni Easterson


So fast yet so slow The arrow-straight contrail moves Proving time is curved Like a white sand beach The winter sky ripples by Awash in salt waves As the sun gleams low Maple wings become windows Stained like bright church glass The night’s silver grass Holds light like a movie screen Revealing dim dreams Sometimes the moon tires Of shining only at night So it peeks at day Dark pupils open Light spills in like memories Of bright tasting sounds Sparklers in the dark Reflect bright smiles in flashes As night smoke rises When the sun and moon Both hang in evening sky They are you and I

Allegretto By Tim J. Brennan Artwork by Eric Thomas

The first thing you do is play classical music, something bee-like and the music might tremolo down the stairs, under hallway doors, into basement corners & cobwebs to satisfy the washer-and-dryer, cans of half-filled paint, the holiday decorations of Christmas or the rolled flags of Independence.


Even when you leave the house, you play music—


Beach Boys or the Four Seasons, something with beats-per-minute, imagine four porcelain dancers in the whatnot stepping to Frankie Valli’s falsetto or your first folio Shakespeare, shaking dust from its spine.


You imagine the house being safer somehow, warmer with music, and, with luck a few notes escape out the chimney, float into the sky to hold the universe together for a few notes at a time.


Tree on a Hill: Marine-on-St.-Croix, Minnesota By D.E. Green Artwork by Barbara Kinnick

You’re both mass and grace your boll turned slightly at the base like a dancer in mid-pivot. Your limbs, three large stems at chin-level, arch over the hill, rise up and overlook the slope.


One seems as if it’s glancing back, casting behind a longing lingering look. There’s a silent strength to you, your leaves barely stirring in the cool of the mid-spring breeze after a cold rain. A robin is flitting, bold, out in the sunlight on the lawn that extends to the pond, fringed with dried cattails along the water’s edge.


The red breast is roused, then gone up the hill through your limbs. I am sitting a few feet from him as he flies by. I would welcome your solidity, your calm—


to be open to a robin flashing through outstretched arms to the sun beyond.


Biographies Poets/Artists Tim J. Brennan’s poetry can be found in many nice places including Twig, Up North, The Lake (U.K.), KAXE public radio, Volume One, Barstow & Grand and is a two-time winner of the Talking Stick poetry prize. Brennan’s one act plays have played across the USA, including stages in Milwaukee, San Diego, Rochester MN, White Bear Lake, MN, Colorado Springs, Ypsilanti MI, Taos NM, & Chagrin Falls OH, as well as productions in Mexico and England. Toni Easterson, trained as a graphic designer in Connecticut, works exclusively now in fiber, often combining fiber work with paints., Her studio is in Northfield, Minnesota. Megan Fick earned her BFA in Art with an emphasis in graphic design and printmaking from MSU-Mankato in 2018. You can find her work at or on Instagram @itmeg. D. E. (Doug) Green is a poet, writer, and Augsburg University English professor, who lives in Northfield, Minnesota, with his spouse, writer Becky Boling. In addition to scholarship on Shakespeare, Doug has published many poems, most recently in Lost Lake Folk Opera and Willows Wept Review, as well as a full-length poetry collection, Jumping the Median, available locally from Content Bookstore in Northfield. Jennifer Jesseph is a poet, fiber and visual artist living in Pine Island township. She has worked in Rochester for the past 30 years. She has an upcoming show in March 2021 at the Rochester Art Center. The show is titled, “Who Is She?” Barbara Kinnick of Rochester, MN, loves color and textures. She uses paper, fabric, and found objects to create mixed media pieces intended to bring joy to viewers. Michael King is an illustrator and painter living in Rochester. He holds an MFA in medical illustration and his published work appears in surgical textbooks, medical journals, and patient focused media. Careful observation, study and rendering are key to his artistic approach.

Rita LeDuc is a rural Southeastern Minnesota nature artist who creates original oil paintings and uses them as educational tools. Influenced by her scientific and agricultural background, she uses her artistic skills to help her express representational scenes that create stories for her viewers to complete based on their own perceptions, experiences, and values. Scott Lowery splits time between rural Minnesota and Milwaukee, and feels lucky to be safe with his wife, cat and extended family. Recent poems appear in Prairie Schooner, Naugatuck River Review, and the 2021 Wisconsin Poetry Calendar, and a peek into his workshops with grade school poets can be found at Leisa Luis-Grill is a lifelong artist with a background in illustration, advertising, theatrical design and costuming, decorative art, and fashion design, who spent many years as an actress and theatrical designer. A resident of Rochester, Minnesota, Luis-Grill turned to a more serious study of classical painting techniques about eight years ago. In addition to her theater arts degree, she also obtained her RN in 1998, which has added considerably to her love of the human figure. Steven McCown returned to his native Minnesota after teaching high school and college level English in California and Arizona for thirty years, now residing in Northfield. McCown’s poetry has appeared in a number of journals and magazines, and his first book of poetry Ghosting was recently published by Shipwreckt Publishing Company in Rushford, MN. Anne Owen Shea lives with her husband Brendan and two-year-old son Harry in Rochester, where she teaches as a part-time English and Reading Instructor at Rochester Community and Technical College. Her writing has appeared in Indiana Review, Midway Journal and Blue Earth Review and is forthcoming in Cimarron Review. Jean Prokott’s debut poetry collection will be published in 2021 and is winner of the Howling Bird Press Book Prize. She is author of the chapbook The Birthday Effect (Black Sunflowers Poetry Press 2021), is a recipient of the AWP Intro Journals Award and of the League of Minnesota Poets Grand Prize, and has work published in Arts & Letters, Rattle, and Great Lakes Review, among other journals. She is a graduate of Minnesota State University Mankato’s MFA program, holds a Master of Science in Education from Winona State, and lives in Rochester, MN. you can find her online at

Kenna A. Jones Sandborn’s focus in her life has been one of finding creative outlets that speak to her innermost spirit and love of the beauty of art, poetry and music. Her work as a interior designer has led her down many paths of creativity, but most of all, her free spirit has always joined with others in the song of new horizons and the appreciation of the amazing creative gifts of others. John Sievers earned a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Minnesota where he studied the intersection of mermaids, New World exploration, and music in English poetry from the Early Modern era. A husband, father, and English professor at Rochester Community and Technical College, he can be found playing jazz trombone in Southeast MN with his bands The D’Sievers and Loud Mouth Brass when he isn’t busy writing an article for the Rochester Post Bulletin or the 507 Magazine, and for the last 421 consecutive days, he’s posted a haiku on social media in response to one his father Dennis writes. Eric Thomas is an up and coming artist. This is his first time being formally showcased. He got his start as an artist in 2003 creating black and white still sketches and fine ink sketches and in 2015 branching to acrylic painting. his art is inspired by nature, music and his 3 daughters. He strives to capture emotion and depth in all his pieces.

Jurors Micki Blenkush is the author of Now We Will Speak in Flowers published by Blue Light Press. She was selected as a 2017-2018 fellow in poetry for the Loft Literary Center’s Mentor Series program and is a recipient of grants awarded through the Central MN Arts Board, funded through the McKnight Foundation. Micki’s writing has appeared in numerous journals including: Josephine Quarterly, Typishly, Cagibi, and Crab Creek Review. She lives in St. Cloud and works as a social worker. More can be found at:

James Cihlar is the author of The Shadowgraph (University of New Mexico Press, 2020). His poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Lambda Literary, and The Threepenny Review. Ayub HajiOmar is an Islamic Contemporary Fine Artist and currently has an exhibition at the Rochester Art Center titled Mercy to Mankind; A Collection of Masterpieces. He is also working in collaboration with the City of Rochester and the Destination medical Center on a public art installation that is set to be completed in 2022. Kate Halverson is an artist and writer who has lived in Eden Prairie, Minnesota for over thirty years. The retired owner of Touch of Class Interiors, she appreciates activities that allow her to be creative and have fun in her retirement years. Simon Huelsbeck is an award-winning artist actively exhibiting his work in galleries and art institutions across the upper Midwest. He teaches painting and drawing at Rochester Community and Technical College in Rochester, MN. Chavonn Williams Shen was a first runner-up for The Los Angeles Review Flash Fiction Contest and a Best of the Net Award finalist. She was also a Pushcart Prize nominee, a winner of the Loft Literary Center’s Mentor Series and a fellow with the Givens Foundation for African American Literature. A Tin House and VONA workshop alum, her poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in: Diode, Anomaly, Cosmonauts Avenue, and others. When she’s not teaching with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, she can be found in her house obsessing over her plants.

Acknowledgements We members of Southeastern Minnesota Poets are very fortunate to live in a community teeming with individuals and organizations willing to help one another. We thank each of our community readers who volunteered their time to bring our message of light and reassurance to all—Dr. Jeffery Boyd, Dr. Jess Garcia, Eric Kerska, Lorelai Lewis, Kesarin Mehta, Mayor Kim Norton, Claudia Tabini, and Juan Vasquez, as well as Vivien Williams, who served as our emcee. Thanks to our jurors—Micki Blenkush, Jim Cihlar, Ayub HajiOmar, Kate Halverson, Simon Huelsbeck, and Chavonn Williams Shen—for completing the difficult task of selecting for our project only a few poems and artists from so many wonderful entries. We congratulate all of the poets and artists from throughout southeastern Minnesota who submitted beautiful work for consideration—your participation was essential. Thanks also to Peter Stein and the League of Minnesota Poets for their assistance and support. Special thanks go to Bobbie Gallas and SEMVA for creating an exhibit of the original works from this project in their beautiful gallery downtown Rochester. For his patience, skill, and long hours that resulted in the beautiful confluence of poetry and art our Bright Light Stories in the Night chapbook has become, we thank graphic artist Dominic Sinicrope. And thanks to all of you, our friends and neighbors in Southeast Minnesota, for making warm and welcome this beautiful place we’re fortunate to call our home.