Gregg Wilhelm

Five Poems by Gregg Wilhelm

Leaning into Purple Lines

Vein between beltway and district
A stent to unclog exhausted arteries
This line a purple shawl draped
Over cross and bruised stations

bethesda / doors are closing

Fur and tobacco and lives traded
Along this dirt road arrow-shaft
Straight to Patawomeck banks where
Piscatawa waded waist-deep with Jesuits

connecticut avenue / doors are closing

Planks worn by our feet across a splintered bridge
Between same as back and hope ever forth to houses
We were welcomed to clean
But not to dwell within

lyttonsville / doors are closing

Believers fell hickory trees to build a holy house
Until trolley tracks laid shockingly close forced
A move a mile up the pike hauled by harnessed
Draft horses where sinner-saints congregate

woodside / doors are closing

Lincoln played town ball beside mica-chipped springs
That sprung into American suburbs that morphed
Into world headquarters that Zippy the Pinhead
Discovered at a lunch counter as the diner crawled away

silver spring / doors are closing

Life began when she got a free card
Her first emancipation found in stacks
Books borrowed before the day innocence
Slipped away with a sip from a fountain

neighborhood library / doors are closing

Sligo’s surface mirrors emerald green of leaves above
Long ago it churned grist mills and quenched thirsts
Its ripple still tries to wash away deep creek blues
Years after Irish laborers faded along the canal

dale drive / doors are closing

Green space brings green peace to the density
Nature’s beauty muscles against constructs
Engines muffle the creek’s eternal voice but listen
Close to the call to retreat from it all and hit the trail

manchester place / doors are closing

I drop from the edge of a single sycamore leaf
Into a tranquil branch that meanders to a creek
That feeds a river that joins another toward a bay
I grow mightier with others on my current journey

long branch / doors are closing

Cook a third-world short-hand stew in a cauldronous pot
Brown halal chicken in a pool of palm nut oil and kosher salt
Take stock and add cowpeas mungbeans kumara and gai lan
Ladle over cassava bread and share with all who hunger

piney branch / doors are closing

Weary commuter where do these tracks lead?
Is your station elevated or underground?
At this juncture are you halfway there
halfway home or having to veer off?

takoma / doors are closing

The shortest route around the world is along the International Corridor
And through stomachs that fill themselves on the global grain of rice
Bún Chả Bibimbap Biryani Kabuli Pulao Tahdig Chelo Mansaf
Majadra Plov Paella Thieboudienne Jollof Jasmine Casamiento

riggs road / doors are closing

Eighty-five gilded youths swathed in under armor
Two-a-days and end the day running stadium steps
Under a searing sun at the heatstroke of midnight
Just to rub Testudo’s nose to a fiercely turtled shine

college park / doors are closing

On granted land sown with bones and tear-watered
Charles Calvert’s seed of an agricultural college
Cultivates educators from the ashes of devastating fire
To gather thinkers harvest knowledge reap empathy

plantation campus / doors are closing

Miss Bettie in a long yellow gown dressed for an “Old South Ball”
Did not notice me admiring her in the mirror as she arranged
Sweet magnolias in a porcelain vase while swaying to the fiddler’s tune
When I turned she was gone leaving me spurned like Northern scum

haunted inn / doors are closing

In a station of the Metro
Silent as Pound’s apparitions
Our faces glow like ghosts
Illuminated violet by devices

metro station / doors are closing

Everlasting rest of the founding Calverts’ name
Between river branches Anacostans left pure
Counter culture meets higher educators
And old-timers elongate their accented O’s

riverdale / doors are closing

Go tell it on the mountain said Baldwin
To faithful stewards marooned on a hill
So many crowns bought and paid for
Gifts for their children to claim and wear

beacon heights / doors are closing

Deplete our State armories of their artillery
To defend the most dangerous places on the
Annapolis road for now the honor of the country
Depends upon keeping this communication open

annapolis road / doors are closing

Remember Carroll’s sacred trust
Signed on the dot-dash-dotted line
Declared a purpled contradiction
Bruised by deeds versus words

new carrollton / doors are closing



Cherry blossoms umbrella’d the view from Adele’s fourth-floor condo
Where she had moved after integrating Horizon House downtown
Twenty-five years earlier when tenants on the elevator asked for whom
She worked and Adele said Morgan College then corrected their English
Not whom but where

Before the book published Adele traded in her cherry butterscotch Lincoln
For a model-year jet black Infiniti I-30 with power windows and a screen
That lowered and raised in the rear window depending on whether you
Wanted to see the light while melting into leather seats that smelled slick like
Payback if not reparations

If the two of us were going to drive around the state to promote her book
We were going to do it in style and she joked about which Hollywood stars
Would play my Morgan Freeman to her Jessica Tandy seen in the rearview
Mirror in reverse a negative to the positive like opposite ends of a battery
That charges me to change

Born in 1919 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore she saw life in Pocomoke
As dark as the namesake river that snaked through that bivalved town
Where school ended for Negroes at the ninth grade so that boys could go
Sow and reap on farms while girls washed dresses and hallways clean
Of dirt that clung

Last two lynchings in Maryland happened just miles away from where Adele
Came of age and implored her grease monkied father to please stop
Petitioning for a 10th grade at the colored school because she saw how easy
It was for a rope to lasso a branch how hard it was back then to change polarities
From other to brother

Adele taught English wrote poems painted pictures that hung on her walls
I loved the one that captured a stand of trees in the park below titled “sakura”
Japanese for “cherry blossom” one of many things she taught me on long drives
Across time with a trunkful of her jacketed memoir about life as it really was
Down on the shore

Today my daughter and I walk through that park near Adele’s old condo
Wind stirs blossoms off the trees into a whirl of pink petals that blind
Us from the world that I struggle to unpack and explain for her
She scoops up a handful of what has fallen blushed to the ground and
Blows it toward heaven


Thief River Scrap

Dark mound hides arched in wild blonde wheat
A slumbering bull dead still for two decades
My father-in-law abandoned the front of the combine
In a corner of the family farm far angled from the ’80s
Until the price of scrap hit fifty cents a pound

He guesses the rusted hulk weighs a third of the
8000-pound Massey-Ferguson that his grandfather
Brought down from Canada when staking the claim
His plan is to haul the carcass to Thief River Falls
Fifty flat miles north on the shoulders of a Ford F150

Cold cash would help with boreal months coming on
And little hay put up for 120 head roaming frozen hills
Where Ojibwe tilled long before mechanical buffalo
Arrived to labor endlessly for miserable homesteaders
With names like Jacobson Buringrud Paulsen Moen

Fifty miles on Route 59 where dust-swept land erases
Moose Dung’s signature on the Treaty of Old Crossing
Boomtown hometown of Artic Cat Digi-Key Steiger Tractor
“Stolen-land river” where Dakotas secretly camped
Along the banks of Red Lake River’s renegade current

Farmer-in-law walks cautiously toward the beast
Grade 80 chain draped around his neck like a serpent
He shimmies links under the threshing cylinder’s belly
Lassoes its heavy ends to the excavator’s gnarled claw
Hydraulics convulse as the behemoth mounts the pickup

Not wise to second-guess this ancient farmer’s rhyme
When for some reason he ignores the simplest physics
That foreshadow effects of weight upon unequal weight
Gravity a force down versus horsepower to hope forward
Old truck bed buckles like knees on a rust-addled Atlas

Shoulder to shoulder in the cab as the Ford moans
From dried pasture to gravel road huffing dirt clouds
Eight miles an everlasting hour toward town for gas
Treads shave from friction of wheel-well on rubber
I watch at the pump as the pickup folds into a V

Robert Revere, “Harper’s Ferry, WV,” gelatin silver print, 4″ x 5″ contact print, 2018.

Tight with Hemingway

He preens between corkscrewed kudu antlers
After pumping iron into lions on tawny savanna
Far from Oak Park, Key West, and Ketchum
Eyes shadowed under a comma wide brim

He fires iron into lions on tawny savanna
Casts steel hooks into Walloon Lake walleye
Dark eyes shaded under a wide round brim
Hammered chrome flask snug against hip

Sharp steel hooks into lake trout and walleye
Picador on blind mount bloodies metal lance
Sips from flask pocketed by hammered hip
“A man does not exist until he is drunk”

Picador punctures flesh with a bloody metal lance
Sangria in Pamplona, proof whiskey on safari
Some men must drink in order to exist
Mojitos at Finca Vigia, sweet vermouth in Milan

Sangria in Pamplona, proof whiskey on safari
Mind and liver shackled by genes and gin
Mojitos in Finca Vigia, sweet vermouth in Milan
Old man and he sees that his stories are terminal

His father taught him how to escape the Depression
Two shells into the chamber of a twelve-gauge
Silver and bronze stars burst over Sun Valley
In time for a round with Gertrude and Scott


Coyotes at Dawn

He perches on the rusted tractor
Like Ishmael in the crow’s nest
Cranky joints lubed by oil and coffee
Shotgun wedged against gearshift

He navigates pasture like an ancient mariner
Who knows how to cross a series of wakes
Avoiding ditches through purple morning
So that the old Knudson does not capsize

Or ground itself on a stubborn boulder
That he has seen day after decade
Until he sails five minutes of arc
From pole barn to Polled Herefords

He grabs the butt of the shotgun to throw
Tractor into neutral and cusses then fumbles
For the gearshift and brake before disembarking
To examine the sheep wreck he knew awaited

Carcass steam mingles with fog
Pocked earth dances around ewe
Rams and harem bleating laughter
A chorus about moving on and on

Burnt amber eyes reflect him crouched
Down to touch belly blood tacky and black
He predicts the future and does the math
She’d have fetched a right sum at sale

He weeds thick chain around her legs
Hitches limp end to shivering tractor
Sets a course toward home
Spray of salt against his face



An earlier version of “Coyotes at Dawn” was published in Broadkill Review. “Thief River Scrap” was previously published in Garygoyle. Reprinted with permission of the author.



Gregg Wilhelm has been a writer, publisher, teacher, and arts administrator in the mid-Atlantic area for more than 25 years. Starting at Johns Hopkins University Press, he went on to be publisher and editor-in-chief at Woodholme House Publishers, founder of CityLit Project and publisher of its CityLit Press imprint, and Director of Marketing and Enrollment Development at the Maryland Institute College of Art's Open Studies unit. Wilhelm earned his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Tampa in 2014, and soon thereafter received an Individual Artist Grant from the Maryland State Arts Council and a RUBY Artists Grant from the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance. He is currently Director of Creative Writing at George Mason University.