Jeanie Tomasko ... poetry

Ironing, a Litany

                                    “to do this ministry one needs to have a washer,
                                      ironing board and steam iron.” --Holy Cross Bulletin, May 2014

Blessed be those who have

Blessed be their coffee and cream their smell of steam behind the scene work of women their clean white kitchens their all manners of clotheslines

Blessed be the unhurried and the ironing

Blessed be the Online History of Ironing  (see: Ironing, 1950s, drudgery) 

Blessed be the Treatise on Domestic Economy, 1842, the bosom board on which to iron shirt bosoms … one foot and a half long and nine inches wide, and covered with white flannel

Blessed be as soon as school was out in summer 1967, iron/fold/iron/fold/iron now the size of your
father’s pocket quarter-fold stack a week’s supply and the I’ve been saving these for you for a month and the but why do they need to be flat when they’ll just get messed up again

Blessed be the reasons why

Blessed be Permanent Press
                 Wash ‘n Wear
                 Durable Easy-Care
                 Blessed be Dacron & Polyester
                 and the mysteries of Brooksweave    
Blessed be learning to sew and iron open the seams and me on the chair my mother with pins in her mouth asking how short and pinning 3 inches longer than I said anyway

Blessed be the smell of steam and scorch and starch and press

Blessed be Mary ironing in order for next day church pressing first buttonhole placket sleeve length smooth yoke side seams shirttail collar last

Blessed be Christina of Virginia who survived a Black and Decker Digital and wrote (without punctuation) I was ironing yesterday I walked out of the room I heard a popping at the first I thought it was normal I came back to the room the iron was fire all the handle and inside melted I unplugged

Blessed be the buttoning up
                      buttoning down
                      unbuttoning of
                      the holy and crisp
                      unwrinkled white Oxford

Blessed be My Perpetual Birthday List: 
                                                             White Blouse
                                                              Full Size Ironing Board
                                                              Rowenta Model #D9080 Steam Iron for $175
                                                              (but make it last for more than a year) 
                                                              Cotton Clothes
                                                              White Blouse
                                                              More Time

Blessed be the Chosen Catholic Ironers of the Holy Cross and the un-Chosen un-Catholic who want to take the Purificator and the Corporal home and would convert to smooth them out on a Full Size 

Blessed be the pile to be done 

Blessed be all who iron and pray for the world to be flat once more   

—Published in The New Guard

God Spills across the Grass

I read God but it was really gold, gold
spills, it does, across the grass

like pennies  
or an afternoon

or that afternoon a week ago
you and me up at the lake

how I said I don’t want to believe
in nothing

as we sat on driftwood, talking,
our pockets full of beach glass

but there is no way to know
if God comes after this. 

I couldn’t find words for
how it would be, walking

without you, there, if, 
someday, and if so,

I’d want to know you were there
somehow and that prayer   

is not just another word for sadness. 
There are no answers

except maybe in the way light
spills across the water, 

or the way
deer we never saw

left tracks while we were talking. 
Maybe it’s all a gift, spilled—

the way I went on thinking
about how trust works

and then the potter in his shop
pulled a bug from my hair

and set it free and said send
me a check
when we didn’t have 

enough and if we can’t trust
each other what have we? 

It’s how I live and I trust you
he said, and gold or God

or something just like that,
spilled into our hands.

Crossword Sonnet: Codes

1 Across: Knot in the middle of the spine. 2 Down: The
spine of the matter. 3. Matter at the corner of the eye.
4. I, you, word for us. 5. Word for tonight. 6. I can’t
________ anyone. 7 Down: The Truth.  8 Down: Word
for wild joy—(see 9 Across.)  9. Across from me at your
shiny steel counter, you, taking orders for fries, burgers;
on our breaks they won’t let us talk so we write notes
to each other (10) across: fast food order forms.  11. Words
for can’t wait.  12 Across: to meet you later.  13. Under:
the second bridge.  14. Run: Your hand up the middle
of my sternum; turn the key behind the heart.

 —Published in The New Guard



The Sour Cherry Jam You Gave Me

I thought of you this morning
this February morning

this toast and Tuesday morning
with snow

this firstlight and jam
and coffee and cream morning

this small container of
what cannot be contained

and I whispered twenty O’s
at the same time

O sweet, irrational worship
Merton wrote once, in a journal


The We of Two Horses

Even one and one’s loneliness,
the we of our cats or the we of

two horses in the autumn field,
side to side, head to rump,

their muscular together. It’s better
with a we, my mother said to me

when I first met you, and I said
again to you last Saturday morning

as we watched the two geldings
eating apples at the farm.

And later, out of all the warblers
east of the Mississippi, two had

decided to take a bath together
under the abandoned fire hydrant.

They couldn’t stop talking, it seemed,
they had much to say. Today,

I like we in my friend’s poem. We
walked the prairie, she and I, we

banded butterflies. Sometimes
things happen to the we of our us

and it’s a good word to say again,
a word that wants to hold hands,

September, prairie just past yellow,
ready to flame into that color for which we have no name.

—Second-place 2014 Wisconsin People and Ideas Poetry Contest Winner



Poems and art from Dovetail



Poems from Small Towns Along the Coast

Point of View

Foggy out there, she (second person, in line) said.
Yes it is. (third person, in line) (unknown)
What’ll it be this morning? (first person, at counter) (I) (said)
The Usual. (the first person in line, a regular who orders The Usual, said.)
One-o-five, your change.
Tip Jar.
Cream’s over there.
I’ll have the usual too, she (second person) said.
You’re not usual though. It’s only your second day here, I said
(meaning: 2. I get off at 2)
Coffee and scone, she said (meaning: large mug for over there, same kind of scone as yesterday)
I think I’m going to be usual, she said (nodding to yesterday’s window-side)


it was early November
and three small girls walked along
the receding tide
she sells seashells by the seashore
reciting as if
it was a brand new sentence
as if the spinning world
and its waves
going out and out and in
were something that began
just then
and the sky spun yellow
brilliant and mango peach
and then blue
and bluer and
then that last darkest
blue before night
down beach
the downbeach people
were reinventing flight:
sending paper lanterns off to sea
tiny hot air balloons
fueled by fire and match lit wishes
Let’s you and me reinvent a seashell shop, she said
Sure, I said
the wheel, the waves, the way it turns

Lighthouse Knot

Tell me a fairy tale, enchanter
Have I told you the one with the lighthouse in it?
They all have a lighthouse.
No, listen. The first time they met they had a map in their hands
and didn’t know it.
If it were up to me, one of them said, life would be wallpapered with maps.
Later, they got in a car and drove to a field marked with coordinates.
Who were they?
Just listen. After dark they completely stumbled on a distant planet.
When no one was looking they gave each other the innermost ring.
They made up names for the seven moons and said if it were up to me
I’d give you half of the fifth moon.
Legend and all that.
And if it were up to me, I’d scrawl a map to my heart and give you
the rights.
The lighthouse, it’s abandoned (might, we?)
I wonder who lived here a hundred years ago
A lighthouse keeper: maybe, and/or/but is there a way to keep light?
No, it’s made of waves and waves are not dependable.
Are there waves at the bottom of the sea?
Only shadows
lighthouse knot: for securing the
lighthouse: to the shore
let: me show you


Poems from The Collect of the Day

O Lord, open thou our lips

Twelfth Day: Morning Prayer on Lake Superior
        the mind and heart are ... mystery — Psalm 64

We come to the lake and it’s hard
to take it in, all those old souls
riding the waves and you, taken down

by their happiness, and I ask where
in your body do you feel the lake,
and I tell you I feel a weight in my chest, 

a heart, a fistful of heart, 
right here, 
and how is it such slap and rock and shore, 

such wind and wave unceasing, 
how is it
we name such clamor: stillness

light is so much more
with clouds

I walk alone

why anyone would want to speak

to interrupt
the wind

it isn’t my place
to say 


Twenty-Second Day: Mourning Prayer
                                           sorrow — Psalm 107

leaves blow across the street, a sorrow of leaves
full moon to new moon, a sorrow of moons
a ravel of geese arrow south

there was the day she left on her wings
left her drums and her poems here with us  
a sorrow of drums and poems

all those yesterdays, all those  
clouds and then we ate funeral food, everywhere
a sorrow of clouds and food

dust on her books, pages
un-thumbed, tell me where are the great mercies
in this sorrow of dust

to watch
the hours

finch on aster


sift the sky through
for god



Poems from Violet Hours

If you think you know what Jeanie's poems are like, be prepared for something different. I mean different. Be prepared to meet Violet. She's not your ordinary type of girl.

I’ve loved Violet for years, since reading her first poems. She makes jewelry from dead bugs. Puts chicken hearts in classmates’ valentines. In a perfect world, her universe is drawn by Edward Gorey. She’s like the little girl from The Addams Family—only cooler. Her soundtrack is the stillness after drowning. When Violet’s happiest, her eyes turn black. —Michael Kriesel Winner of North American Review’s 2015 Hearst Award

Violet’s Hearts

Violet was four when her father taught her how to cut valentines out of red and white construction paper and glue them onto lace doilies. They walked to neighbors’ houses, put valentines on the doorstep, rang the bell and ran away. She loved Valentine’s Day. At eight, she started cutting the hearts in less-than-perfect shapes. Sometimes she cut a small tail on top of the heart. She told her father it was the superior vena cava. She had seen it in a book in the attic with pictures of the body. She wondered why he had not told her the real shape of the heart. Whenever her father made chicken for supper, she wanted to hold the heart, run her baby finger inside the ventricles. By the next Valentine’s Day she had saved up enough chicken hearts in the bottom of the freezer for all the kids in her class. She made neat little envelopes with the doilies, stuffed a frozen heart inside each one.

Nature’s Bounty

All summer Violet’s been collecting cicadas. It’s one of the peak years so she’s found a lot of them. Every night she carefully removes the wings and puts them aside. They make good curtains for her emergency room diorama. She’s been stringing the heads on different color threads and is putting them up in her room like a ’60s love-bead curtain. Morning is the best time to gather the ones for eating. The cookbook says the white ones are the tenderest. She made a cicada pie for her father, following the recipe that called for thirty female cicadas. For imitation peanut clusters, sex doesn’t matter. You boil the bodies then roll them in butter and brown sugar. They can be kept in an airtight jar for six months. They’re also a good substitute for chocolate chips, which is what she used for the cookies she and her friend, Ann Louise, made for the school’s Halloween bake sale.

Someone Said

Don’t make me climb anything:
sturdy ladder, ivy wall, elevator to the 53rd.
It’s not the shoes, but
something else. I’ll tell you about it later,
after the sun goes down. After the sun leaves you and me
and the graveyard with nothing to hold on to,
not even light.
Come: whisper secret nonsense.
Soft place of an animal’s ears.
Scraps of satin cloth or a newborn’s tears,
saved in a violet vial.
Someone said that someone said
the sadness will go on forever.
Someone said dream of flying.
And someone said it’s not that I’m afraid of heights,
it’s that I’m afraid I’ll jump.


Poems from (Prologue)

If a whale has a proper name

It is a Tuesday afternoon, late May, and a good year for whales.
A thousand crows patrol the salt marsh.
Whales are large animals. Whales are mammals. Whale is a noun.

This isn’t the problem. The problem is there are two nouns for almost everything in the world. Heart, for
example. Heart is a noun. But take it out of the chest and it beats like want in someone else’s hand. Or,
summer. Summer is a noun, but also an illusion. On any other day, you recall a particular one, and what
comes to you is a handful of blueberries. A walk in the woods is a noun. In the branches, the forest birds are
singing the songs you remember, but backwards. They sing to name the hungers of the world. Hunger is a
noun. The other word for hunger is heart. The heart is hungry for air. A lighthouse is air except for light and loneliness.
A noun is the name of a person, place or thing.

1. Lighthouse was always a name for summer.
2. Sometimes it was Tuesday afternoon.
3. Love was a noun and a thing.
4. Tide, lighthouse, afternoon, sorrow, whale…
5. The look in a whale’s eyes was a thing and there was a word for it.
6. A love story starts anywhere it wants to, even on a Tuesday in May. It’s only proper.

                                                                                             it is called a Proper Noun



It is not all important to find a beginning because

In one beginning there were three nouns: air, breast, arms. These are the first nouns that need no nouns, the first words that can’t be named. The first three wants. It’s like that in this sort of beginning. In another
beginning there was want and longing, but differently. In both beginnings there was a girl. She had an old
faded memory of something happy. There was a lighthouse in the third beginning, but it was occupied, so she started at the second beginning. The first beginning begins before birth, in darkness; a darkness that is warm and safe and never questioned. But then there is light, which forever is. The girl had been born in the
morning at low tide in the Summer of the Whale. She was made out of what came before and what came
before that. She returned to the sea, five Summers of the Whale later. You know the story. The other word
for story is sea.

                                                                                      so far there are four beginnings


Tell me how it starts then

We were what they call in Maine, summer people, or from away. From away is another word for Canada, or Nebraska. She was from Canada and we were both eleven. Her real name was Petra.1 A magnet has a north pole and a south. It knows the word, inseparable, without saying it. We were eleven and she was homesick. I gave her a shell and she put it up to her ear while our fathers picked out lobsters from the large saltwater tank behind the restaurant. We thought lobsters were inseparable from the sea but we were wrong. We were right that spiders defy gravity. They can stay in the same place on a ceiling for weeks. You think gravity would pull them down seeing how it is supposed to keep your feet on the ground. It was a Tuesday, and the only thing that stayed in place was the moon. I called her Pete and she called me Teej.


Poems from Sharp as Want

Lake Superior Haiku


don’t say complicated, say
something like light
on the underside of


geese, don’t say geese
say love, say two hands
one mitten


don’t say mitten
say skin, say nothing—

sadness, don’t say sad
say moon, say orange, say—
the moon is an orange

tonight love, tonight
Aquarius brings water
for us the sky is

an old god in blue
and a boy with an orange
in his coat pocket. 





The Odor of Violets

How a molecule is a group of atoms arranged in a particular way. How these
arrangements of atoms float aimlessly around the world and stick on things
like orange peels and old letters. How you can’t see them even if there are many
together, such as when you pass a bakery early morning and all those loaves
of bread are baking. How eventually many molecules of water will make a drop,
but many molecules of the scent of a violet will not make a violet. And this—if
you shift even one atom in the simple molecule of the odor of a violet, you
might have instead the aroma of a rose, or a rumpled bed sheet. What I mean
to say is—how late last night the smell of your hair came to me out of nowhere,
damn wandering essence, the same way it did that afternoon I kissed you behind
the soft curve of your ear. How it threw into disarray, again, all those molecules
of muscle I had finally set in order in the space beneath my ribs.


Poems from Tricks of Light

little lives

late August mornings
bees sleep in on the sunflowers
until their bodies are warm

and ready to move
    every day    it takes
a little longer

my husband says    come
touch them    they have their own
small way of breathing   

    yesterday we watched
a caterpillar on a stem    it had
a smooth copper head    glinting eyes

all around in the stillness    yellow
grasshoppers    vaulted through the air
you could hear them land

on brittle brown leaves
you could almost hear the spiders
spinning    spinning

the world itself
forgiving    our trespass 


Plate 354   Swainson’s Hawk

Unsolicited and deft,
he comes
like certain diagnosis—

a shadow tha
will rearrange

we know—
and don’t—
about light. 


Like This

It might have been like this: a rampant swath
of fire—or like a heron's rise, that blue
and slow desire. The way a thought will sift
through time. A flower's life: a language you
have learned and left behind. Or this: a kiss.
Whatever was lives on somewhere. Sometimes
her name will slip into my sleep—like this:
the shiver of a bird before it flies,
the faintest musk of plum leaves on the skin—
and bring with it the only day I touched
her hair. Like this: an angel’s wing. But in
what world was that?  Too soon the heart adjusts
like some dark bird who cannot trust the light
whose wing-tucked song forever haunts the night.