Bright Light Stories in the Night

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Bright Light

Stories in the Night From Polestar to Terra Firma

A project by the Southeastern Minnesota Poets

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

Southeastern Minnesota Poets 2022

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.

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.

With much appreciation to SEMVA gallery, for partnering with us to provide an additional outlet to share Bright Light Stories in the Night with a wider, in-person audience.

This project 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. .

Published by Southeastern Minnesota Poets on FB @SoutheasternMNPoets Printed in the United States of America. Book design and book typesetting by Dom Sinicrope Design

Table of Contents Scott Lowery

And Then

Pg. 1-11

Steven McCown

Balancing Act

Pg. 12-21

Jean Prokott

On the Task of Collecting Light

Pg. 22-23

DE Green

Frost in May

Pg. 24-31

Anne Shea


Pg. 32-41

Emilio DeGrazia

Old Miracle Cures

Pg. 42-43

Steven Vogel

Star Talk

Pg. 43-55

James Armstrong

Solstice 2020

Pg. 56-67

Foreword Despite our yearnings for normalcy a year ago, we seem to have stalled often, unable to move forward. Throughout 2021, we floated on crests of hope and then sank beneath swells of doubt. Now, at the far edge of winter, life around us still moves too slowly. The patience we’ve tried to cling to has either run thin or run out as the old wolf, winter, pants its last bitter breath into our weary faces. Yet, at this long end of winter, we gather to celebrate light and the connections we have with each other in our community. Though they seem distant as the polestar at times, those connections are still here and still strong—perhaps stronger than ever. Evidence is in the number of submissions of outstanding poetry and art we received for this, our second edition of Bright Light Stories in the Night. We are also gratified at how, despite their own burdens and busy schedules, almost every local celebrity we asked to participate in our virtual event answered yes. My deepest gratitude goes to Pam Sinicrope and Lisa Higgs. Their resourcefulness, brilliant ideas, energy, and dedication continue to make this project possible. The truth is, things have gotten better. Our initial planning meeting for this second edition was earlier, warmer, vaccinated and unmasked, though still outdoors at Soldier’s Field. Somehow, being able to see a person’s face bright with a smile changes everything. Wherever you are, I hope you’ve brought yours! Susan McMillan Rochester Poet Laureate Founding member of Southeastern Minnesota Poets

And Then By Scott Lowery

Faint ear twitch, high beams above the dark ditch


where we know they’re crouched, shapeless and mute, wired for a random nervous surge then scrambling up to meet our lights like a clot racing toward the heart, a lump of sped-up cells, a bomb, dropping silently as snow.


We rocket down these daily roads with so much trust and no insurance


against the dumb, uninvited event and then you are kneeling in gravel,


baffled by the facts of crumpled grille and ribcage, the soft tan legs all angled wrong as broken wings-then the sudden stopping becomes true, a short account with nothing left


except how you rise on shards of bone or belief, shaky as a fawn, to face a long, long walk and, as the pounding heart decelerates, the stars, the crickets, everything. Artwork by Sheila Perry


Balancing Act By Steven McCown

At this windy height, everything aslant, sky, roof, ladder, me.


Scrub-pine needles sticking out like fish bones clog gutters, a wasp nest chokes a drain pipe. Bugs, feathers, eggshells compacted, mud-caked. Rain stopped in its tracks, nothing washed away, purged.


Wobbling on a rung, I slop debris, the dead, over and out, onto dry grass, create a scant flow, liberate a trickle.


Clear of gutters, yet within reach, a maple streams bronze and gold.


Hands grubbing in muck, my eyes land on leaves-I could easily fall into them, fall for them, be swept away. Artwork by Christie Nicklay


On the Task of Collecting Light By Jean Prokott The new space telescope folds like honeycomb origami, collects infrared light from the farthest corners of the cosmos, follows a Hollywood Walk of Fame to the birthplaces of stars. I think of my first stars: soft crib mobile, gold stickers for reading, glow-in-the-dark plastic shapes on the ceiling that’d fall while I slept. Tonight, I’m in a field, waiting for a meteor shower, and my friend pulls Night Sky Field Guide to the Constellations from his back jeans pocket, points to the Big Dipper’s handle and traces an arc. Arc to Arcturus, he says. Speed on to Spica. We choreograph our fingers and follow his, steer from Boötes to Virgo. Somewhere beyond that star salad, the telescope searches for the origins of the universe. We don’t know what we’ll find in the light but might stumble upon the answer. Meanwhile, here on Earth, the meteor shower takes its sweet time, occasionally offers a streak one of us will inevitably miss. Someone shouts I see it! and we are desperate to see it, too, so we strain our necks and wait for the sky to slice open.

Artwork by Layne Noser


Frost in May By DE Green

In the slant rays of dawn an aureole of warmth rounds the base of the maple


in a field of frost glistening where night’s shadows have only just dispersed.


Further afield the dandelions— crowns gone to fluff— shine as the beams pass through them. They speak to me, of me, of time


and the silver life spring breezes will dispatch— as sun, this late May frost. Artwork by Janie Allen


Teaching By Anne Shea

Every morning we walk the same route by the elementary school, the old pine tree with needles you like to touch, the playground that is too large for you, the empty baseball field, the park next to a picnic shelter where the geese gather in thick grass.


When you see the swings, you point, ooing with your lips, letting me know you want to fly through the air, come back down. But when you are inside the swing, you tighten your grip on the chains, on me. You do not like the motion, your legs against open air. You cry to be let out. In a few short months, I’ll return to work, to nameless students I can’t imagine yet.


But I feel watch as you point to the garbage truck with its shrieking brakes taking away waste, the red headed blackbirds that attack my head if I come too close to their nests, the park department trucks, the man in an orange vest sawing boards, fixing a picnic shelter, building a new wall.


You want to be close when you hear the saw vibrating, see the sawdust fill the air as the wood is cut. You are teaching me to pay attention to the smallest things. You yell for me to look, reach your hands out of the stroller, wanting to touch the geese who sit eating in the grass, plucking their feathers.


The goslings are growing out of their cuteness, their necks lengthening, their feathers turning from yellow to grey. We will forget they ever were this way, following their parents across the trail, not sure yet which way to go. Artwork by Rachel Brokenicky


Old Miracle Cures By Emilio DeGrazia

One is the obvious sun rising as usual While the earth stands still, spinning its rounds As I breathe my fill of air out and in. Once I saw a rainbow of fish scales shimmering In shallow seas, and a solitary gull on a rock With no interest in what worries me. And then I saw trees stand up to terrible storms, And the cat in my lap gazing into my eyes Wondering what sort of strange mouse I am. On highways I see passing cars get so small They widen the windshield space for me To take in forests, hills and signs of the times. And my boy’s legs still have enough rhythm To rhyme one old foot in front of the next In time to get me home to my lovely wife.


Old miracles—the sky is too small for them: The conversion of water into grapes. The resurrection of a life in a seed. The walking on water dance of a bug.

Artwork by Muhammad Khan

Star Talk

By Steven R. Vogel When the earth was young, before it wobbled into place— when bits of stars danced wildly in ways a fawn wouldn’t dare,


the moons cavorting, dusting their noses in comets— when the seas flew the skies and the mountains crawled their miles into place,


a single star in the middle of the chill sky spoke one word and ended the revelry.


Now he spins on his heel like a simpleton, dangling his thin light as a string, his toy bobbed around


like purpose, the cods and owls, and woodchucks in guided turns at work and sleep, plants folding and waking in time to his canting.


And he knows no hour of the day or year of the sun. He only knows the way to heaven. Artwork by Daniel Vedamuthu


Solstice 2020 By James Armstrong

It is the longest night of the year. Just after supper, the little boys next door stand in their front yard and shout into the empty street.


All year they’ve gone without friends or school or grandparents except in the small theater of their parents’ laptop


and now they are yelling like maniacs— one is ringing a bell,


and the other is banging a pan.


Above them, a half moon rides through clouds that blow like the smoke of battle.


Goodbye, bad year. Run away from our shouts. This night is as dark as it is going to get. Artwork by Debb Peterson


Artist Biographies Janie Allen is a visual artist currently residing in Rochester, MN. She received a BFA in Painting and Art History from the University of Kansas; and she later went on to receive a Bachelor of Science in Cytology from the University of Kansas Medical Center. Janie is interested in the space where art and science intersect. James Armstrong is the author of two poetry books, Monument in a Summer Hat (New Issues Press, 1999) and Blue Lash (Milkweed Editions, 2006) and is the co-author of a book of essays, Nature, Culture and Two Friends Talking (North Star Press 2015). He has contributed to the poetry collections Rewilding: Poems for the Environment (Flexible Press, 2020) and Undocumented: Great Lakes Poets Laureate on Social Justice (Michigan State University Press, 2019). Armstrong is a recipient of the PEN-New England Discovery Prize, an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship in poetry. He is a Professor of English at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota. He was Winona’s first Poet Laureate. He posts essays and drawings at Rachel Brokenicky has worked as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator for the past ten years, after studying at the Tulsa Technology Institute. She is currently represented at Gallery 24 in Rochester, MN.

Emilio DeGrazia, a resident of Winona, Minnesota, has authored four books of fiction, including Seventeen Grams of Soul, winner of a Minnesota Book Award, and Enemy Country, a Writer’s Choice Award winner. A founding editor of Great River Review, he also has co-edited (with his wife Monica) 26 Minnesota Writers, 33 Minnesota Poets, and The Nodin Poetry Anthology. His most recent books are a collection of essays entitled Burying the Tree, a collage of memoirs called Walking on Air, and Seasonings, a collection of poetry. He also has served as Winona Poet Laureate. D. E. (Doug) Green just retired from decades in the English Department at Augsburg University. He has published articles on Shakespeare, general-interest essays, and poetry. His poem, Gratitude, won the 2018 Martin Lake Journal Bookend Prize. You can find his poems on the sidewalks of his hometown, Northfield, MN. His first collection, Jumping the Median, was published in October 2019 by Encircle Publications. Doug likes to say that he has been an occasional poet for 35 years. Muhammad Khan who specializes in acrylic and oil paintings, trained with famous artists at the Ustad Allah Buksh Academy and Shakir Ali Museum Art Gallery in Lahore, Pakistan. Khan works professionally as an urban planner, but found that his love of painting rekindled during the pandemic. 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

Steve McCown, a Pushcart nominee, has published poems in Willows Wept Review, Colorado Crossing, Arizona Western Voice, and Lost Lake Folk Opera Magazine, and five of his poems are stamped in the sidewalks of Northfield, Minnesota. A graduate of Winona State University, he holds a Master's Degree in English from Northern Arizona University. His poetry collection, Ghosting, was recently published by Shipwreck Publishing Company in Rushford, MN. Born in Southeast Minnesota, Christie Nicklay is a realism artist who works primarily in watercolors and colored pencil, but also dabbles in acrylics and pastels. After acquiring degrees in Commercial Art and Fine Art, she spent more than 30 years in the graphic design and marketing fields. With an art studio in her home, she now dedicates time to painting and drawing a variety of subjects, inspired by the life around her. Visit Nicklay Art Studio at Layne Noser has been an artist at heart and for the past decade been a construction worker by default but is happy to be now moving toward more artistic endeavors. He is fluent in a multitude of forms and styles, oil, pastel, charcoal, watercolor, computer graphics and photograph manipulation in both a realistic and abstract nature. He is also a writer and is in the middle of several projects where he is merging my art and literature. He lives just west of Rochester in a ghost town with his wife Olivia, his daughter Penelope and several wonderful animals. Sheila Perry is a self-taught watercolor artist living in rural Chatfield, MN. She always dreamed of being an artist, but needing to raise 4 children with her husband and working as an elementary teacher put that dream on hold until all the kids flew the coop. This spring, she retires after 31 years of teaching in the Rochester Public Schools and will now be able to fully indulge being a grandma to her darlings in Alaska and Illinois, traveling with her husband, and painting whenever she wants.

Debb Peterson is an artist from the Freeborn County area, who paints primarily in watercolor and produces the occasional acrylic painting. She often uses pen and ink, charcoal, and collage in her paintings to achieve a more interesting, finished piece. Jean Prokott's poetry collection, The Second Longest Day of the Year, won the Howling Bird Press Poetry Prize (Howling Bird Press, 2021). She is author of the chapbook The Birthday Effect (Black Sunflowers Poetry Press, 2021), and is a recipient of the AWP Intro Journals Award and of the League of Minnesota Poets' Grand Prize. She has poetry published in Rattle, Arts & Letters, Red Wheelbarrow, and RHINO, among other journals. She lives in Rochester, Minnesota and can be found online at Anne Owen Shea grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband Brendan and four-year-old son Harry and teaches English and Reading. Her work has appeared in Indiana Review, Blue Earth Review, Water-Stone Review and is forthcoming in Cimarron Review and River Styx. Daniel Vedamuthu is a digital artist, art and design educator, and graphic designer living in Rochester, Minnesota. He dabbles in many different media from time to time including photography, printmaking, ceramics, woodworking, web design, and motion graphics. You can learn more about his work at or Steven R. Vogel has been writing poetry since childhood. He has lived and worked on farms, in villages, in midsized cities, and in metropolitan areas. He is a graduate of Bemidji State University and Mayo Medical School and has worked in medicine and academia for more than four decades.

Juror Biographies Lauren Camp is the author of five poetry collections, most recently Took House (Tupelo Press). Honors include the Dorset Prize and a finalist citation for the Arab American Book Award. Michael Kleber-Diggs (KLEE-burr digs) is a poet, essayist, and literary critic. His debut poetry collection, Worldly Things (Milkweed Editions 2021), won the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize and is a finalist for the 2022 Minnesota Book Award. His essay, On the Complex Flavors of Black Joy, is included in the anthology There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis, edited by Tracy K. Smith and John Freeman. Michael is a past Fellow with the Givens Foundation for African American Literature, a past winner of the Loft Mentor Series in Poetry, and the former Poet Laureate of Anoka County libraries. Since 2016, Michael has been an instructor with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop. He also teaches Creative Writing in Augsburg University’s low-res MFA program and the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists. Marie Marvin opened and operated Crossings at Carnegie, a multi-media art center in Zumbrota, Minnesota for 20 years. She recently retired and is hoping to (soon) have some time for creating her own work. Meanwhile, she’s still running the class studio, in the lower level of Crossings, until the new building owners are ready to take it over.

Matt Rasmussen graduated from Gustavus the year of the tornado and is a former Peace Corps Volunteer (Papua New Guinea '99-'01). He is the author of Black Aperture, which was selected by Jane Hirshfield as the winner of the 2013 Walt Whitman Award. Black Aperture was also awarded the 2014 Minnesota Book Award for Poetry and was a finalist for the National Book Award. He has received grants and residencies from the McKnight Foundation, Bush Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, Jerome Foundation, The Anderson Center, and The Corporation of Yaddo. In 2014, he received a Pushcart Prize and was awarded the 2015 Holmes National Poetry Prize by the creative writing faculty at Princeton University. Matt is a founder and editor of the independent poetry press Birds, LLC and lives in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. You can find links to poems and reviews at: Juliane Shibata is a ceramic artist from Northfield, Minnesota. She was awarded a 2021 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Ceramic Artists and her work has been included in the 2019 “Blanc de Chine” International Ceramic Art Award exhibition in Beijing, China. Jonathan Thunder infuses his personal lens with real-time world experiences using a wide range of mediums. He is known for his surreal paintings, as well as digitally animated films and installations in which he addresses subject matter of personal experience and humorous social commentary.

Thank You for Reading!

Acknowledgements We members of Southeastern Minnesota Poets are very fortunate to have in our community many individuals and organizations who are always ready to work together to make this a great place to live. We thank each of our local celebrity readers who volunteered their time to bring our message of light and connection to all—Natalia Benjamin, Guthrie Capossela, Amina Hasan, Samuel Hawkins II, Thalia Kohler, Laura Maciejko, and Sgt. Jean Valere—as well as Vivien Williams, who served as our emcee. A great deal of gratitude goes to our jurors—Lauren Camp, Michael Kleber-Diggs, Marie Marvin, Matt Rasmussen, Juliane Shibata, and Jonathan Thunder—for completing the difficult task of selecting for our project only a few poems and artists from so many wonderful entries. Thank you to Elizabeth Kiscaden, Sarah Degner Riveros, and Miguel Valdez Soto for their technical assistance with Zoom. Thanks also to Peter Stein, Mary Schmidt, and our parent organization, the League of Minnesota Poets, for their ongoing assistance and support of this project, as well as Ginni Cormack and Southeastern Minnesota Visual Artists for creating an exhibit of the original works from this project in their beautiful gallery. 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. Congratulations to all the residents of southeastern Minnesota who submitted creative work for our consideration—your participation was essential. And thanks to all of you, our friends and neighbors, for staying connected.