Three Poems by John Minczeski

In the Fifth Month of Lockdown I Plant Clematis

The shovel, striking a root, thunked
all the way down to my moist heart.

An acolyte, I knelt to bury the plant to its neck.
Blame me for trusting coincidence

more than fate. Hold me responsible
for rose thorns. The sloping yard hoards

the memory of past glaciers. Have I searched within
for the gravitational field that holds me here?

Weeds take over the neglected bed next to the house,
sharing the sun with stray snapdragons and tomatoes

that will forget their names by August.
If there’s a faint, high pitched whistle

like a bird stuck in the night,
it could be the call of my own breath.


My Hmong Neighbor Butchers Ducks

He sits on a milk crate in front of his garage—
cleaver, chef’s knife, a tub full of steaming offal.
His three-year-olds ride a scooter and tricycle
around the driveway between the pickup and grass.

As I walk through the neighborhood, clusters of shots
from the Maplewood police range. I don’t feel
I’m a target often, only at times a certain look says
no sudden moves, keep my hands in sight.

We are driven by hungers we can barely name—
the knot of family, a muffled turbulence of face masks.
With a language thick in vowels and tonal music,
an older sister corrals the twins.

Such singing to lure them back from the street’s open
invitation, its grin wide and toothless as a slashed tire.


The Wellness Check

How many elegies are enough—
the tone, the muffled drums,
heart pressed to dirt.

Leaves, having ridden the grass
so long, lie mulched and
mounded over the beds.

The guy down the block who
hasn’t spoken more than a word
to me in twenty years, said

his brother has pancreatic cancer,
tumors everywhere. Holding out his hand,
he said Parkinson’s. The tremors start

when it gets cold. Gale warnings and snow,
he stands at his mailbox in shorts and t-shirt,
socks, slippers. He’d watched the hearse

carry off the old man across the street.
He guesses he’ll be next.


John Minczeski is the author of five poetry collections, most recently A Letter to Serafin (University of Akron Press). His poems have appeared in Tampa Review, Harvard Review, The New Yorker, Cider Press Review, Bear Review and are forthcoming in Twelve Mile Review, Rhino, and The St. Paul Almanac. Minczeski has worked as a poet in the schools, and has taught in colleges around the Twin Cities.

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