Leslie Kennelly
Leslie Farmer

Leslie Kennelly

I always enjoy helping Jarmila with the final details of her writing. Her style is full of surprises.  The challenge for me is to try to make the work technically correct, without losing any of the freshness that is uniquely Jarmila's.  Editing is really a learning process for both of us--when Jarmila presses me to come up with reasons for some of the changes I make to her writing, we often discover things about the English language that we didn't know we knew.

At this stage of my life, other obligations leave me little time for my own writing. I'm able to write poetry sometimes, though. Poems give me a chance to explain things to myself as in "Depression", or to express things that have been left unsaid, as in "For Jimmy Carter."

by Leslie Kennelly

I should have said,
Thank you, Mr. President.
It’s not every day
A person gets a chance
To say a thing like that.

I had worn my best dress and a scarf.
I never wear scarves, but I wanted
To look like a grownup person
Who knows what to wear
When meeting a president.

The line wound all the way around
The block where the church was,
And I heard someone say
That you were in there,
Signing books at the rate of
One every six seconds.

When we got near the front
We could see the Secret Service
Standing by,
Mutely watching.

Other officials ushered us through,
Kept things moving,
Told us just how to hold the book cover
Over the title page
So that you could sign
more quickly.
I guess that made sense.

Then one of them took my book from me
And I felt a moment of panic.
Would I get my own book back, or
Someone else’s?  They were all the same, but…

And then she said, this will be yours ma’am.  And she slid
The book across the table in front of you.
Your hair was shining very softly in the light,
And as you moved your pen effortlessly over the paper,
You looked at me—right at me—and said,
“Thank you.”

And then you hesitated,
As though you wanted to say something more
Or as if you had momentarily forgotten
What you had been saying, over and over.
And then you said, everso tenderly,
“…for coming.”

And that was all.
It was time to be ushered out,
to make room for the next person.

But I marveled at how a politician,
A former president, no less
Could look—could be
So gentle and so kind.

The next day I read in the paper
About the hundreds of people
Who got their books signed,
and how you had a “thank you”
for every one of them.

Yes, they each got a “thank you”
But I know—I know
That mine was just for me.
And I wanted to thank you for that.
Thank you, Mr. President.




by Leslie Kennelly

Sometimes, like a child
It is easily distracted.
I can dress it up,
Cover it over with something warm
And cozy—“A splash of color” perhaps.

There now.  You look pretty today, I say.
It gives me a smile.  Only a half-smile,
But it will do.
Now I can get some work done.

Other times it is heavy,
Suffocating, worse than despair.
Then I have to speak to it severely:

You really shouldn’t look so sad,
I say.  People will worry about you.
They’ll try to make you take those little pills.
The ones with the happy faces stamped on.

You wouldn’t let them?! it says, horrified.
No, no, I say.
(But really, I am not so sure.)

Yet sometimes, if I am
Very still and open,
I can hear it whimpering softly.
I hurt, it says.  Do not forsake me.

I have to take it by hand,
And follow it,
Down, down, down,
Down to the place where God is.




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