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The Summer Of

July 2019

With summer fully upon us, I was flipping through the anthology Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools that was a project of Billy Collins when he was U.S. Poet Laureate and I noticed several summer-title poems.

To a high school student, summer is some faraway paradise when you are sitting in a classroom. I could imagine myself back in high school English class hearing one of those poems and drifting away to summer past or future.

The poem I settled on-for this prompt was " The Summer I Was Sixteen" by Geraldine Connolly which Collins found in her collection, Province of Fire (1998 Iris Press).  It is set at the town pool, but it would work set at any public lake or beach. Her poem is in the Duke-of-Earl1960s but not much has changed in the rituals of summer pool life with sun lotion, blankets on the grass, the snack bar and boys studying girls and girls study boys with an intensity they didn't give to studying poetry in school weeks earlier. I understand those kids looking at:
"thin bikini straps and rubbed baby oil with iodine
across sunburned shoulders, tossing a glance
through the chain link at an improbable world."

In another poem from the collection, "Summer in a Small Town" by Linda Gregg, the voice is older, but still thinking about the opposite sex.
" When the men leave me,
they leave me in a beautiful place.
It is always late summer."

And in this adult view, we are not looking across a crowded pool and hearing the sounds of kids singing summer songs.

"I swim in the public pool
at six when the other people
have gone home. "

And I might have chosen the more famous poem in the collection, "The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver. No pool here. The voice is having one-on-one time this a grasshopper who she encountered while strolling this summer field.

It makes the speaker wonder "Who made the grasshopper?"and eventually to say that she doesn't know "exactly what a prayer is. "

What she does know, as many poets know, is "how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed."

She concludes with another question - this time more to you than to the universe of a God: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

For this July 2019, we asked for poems that specifically begin with a title that tells us the age of the speaker (as Connolly does) or the year of the summer that is being written about. That is, write a poem of a specific summer and use the speaker's age or the year itself as the basis for the poem.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


was not an easy time. I was fourteen,
all lank and bone with pale freckled skin
despite the gobs of Coppertone,
and frizzy red hair like rusted Brillo.
The boys passed me by as I lay by the poolside,
flirted only with the tan, pink-toenailed girls,
the ones who shook back their long, silky blonde hair
as they prowled the beach in curve-hugging bikinis.
Was it any wonder that I slunk off to the diving board,
climbed 25 feet toward an unforgiving sun,
held my nose and plunged into the water,
making my first and only splash of the day?
I didn’t even notice that one foam pad
had come loose from the bodice of my suit
and floated without mercy to the top of the water.
I didn’t see the ten-year-old boys tossing it about like a Frisbee.
I just swam and swam. In the water’s deep
I was long and graceful, my skin luminous,
my hair silken and streaming.
If only I could swim like this forever
or at least until September when I would emerge
into autumn’s muted colors, beneath a kinder sky.

Barbara Whitehill


I slept, my head at the foot of the bed
to catch the breeze pulled in by a lone fan,
the still, deliquescent heat and staccato
whine of cicadas lengthening into dawn.

At mother’s call, I rose, ate, and walked
to the store where I worked: stocking shelves,
ordering goods, unloading trucks, checking
out customers—a six-year Sisyphean task.

The summer inched slowly by, drifting
in desultory rhythm: work, eat, sleep,
day by day but for the vagrant day off
when I read and day-dreamed on a park bench.

The air was dense with anticipation,
with anxiety, cans of beans, boxes
of Wheaties, like objects on an episode
of The Twilight Zone, ghostly, alien.

A brother had taken me up the road
to find a basement room just blocks off
campus at twenty dollars a month,
a boarding house serving meals nearby.

I did not know it was to be the last
summer of youth, edging forward
into time, slipping into tomorrow,
withering the past into memory.

I did not know it was childhood’s end,
father soon dying, house and land sold,
family receding beyond understanding,
cut, as the cord at birth, never to return.

Robert Miller


Lovers stroll along the beach
Children build tall castles in the sand
Supervised by mothers, unperturbed
By Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

I am that lanky college kid
Selling legal drugs
Out of a faded, white Good Humor Truck
Caffeine covered sugar on a stick

To nubile teenage girls
Surfboard-toting boys
Old men in baggy shorts
Women in straw hats

Somewhere, back east, a man named King
Shares a dream, with a crowd 200,000 strong
Of brotherhood and harmony
He cries, "Let freedom ring"

A strident, youthful Dylan warns
"The Times, they are a-changin"
A young woman named Baez proclaims
"We shall overcome"

A Buddhist monk sets himself on fire
In a place called Vietnam
Where men my age will go to die
Or, later, wish they had

But, on this sunny California day
Life is good ... I'm having fun
Not yet aware ... That dreamed of World?
"... easier said than done"

Frank Kelly

Stillwater, N. J.

Sixteen, old enough to be a
senior counselor at Camp Nejeda,
New Jersey's only diabetic camp
for boys and girls.

On our day off, a few of us would
hitch to the laundromat in Newton.
It was my idea to consolidate the
clothes. Nobody knew it was not a

good idea to mix the colors and whites,
let alone my new red socks. Nobody
objected to using a cup of Ivory liquid
for detergent. Again, my brain storm.

We explored the quaint little town
during the wash cycle. Upon returning,
we found the entire floor of the
laundromat covered in bubbles. I
did not confess.

As we loaded the wet clothes into the
dryer, the guys were not thrilled to
discover their briefs and socks had
all turned a lovely shade of pink.

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello


The sky is a brilliant blue, every day
No clouds, no rain, no water
No mosquitoes to get under your skin

The atmosphere, dense
Dusty, dry, hazy air
Heavy with heat
Shimmers above melting tarmac

Plagues of fat bloated greenflies
Followed by swarms of hungry ladybirds
Layer upon layer of the little bugs
Cover everything - the seafront
Swimming pools, grass, tress, cars
Even your ice cream

The ground is hard and cracked
Crops devastated, meadows brown
Gorse and forest fires spit and roar
Rage forth at speed

Avoid swimming in the sea
Blooms of toxic algae swell
Jellyfish sting your legs

I was relieved when autumn finally came
Summer had been long, dry and gruesome
Every day, the sun stared and tormented us
Even the pond went underground to escape its cruelty

When autumn finally came
The rains came too
Release seeped through
The pores and crevices of parched earth.

Doryn Herbst


I was going on 40, but new in town,
I felt like a schoolgirl with a whole summer
for discovery. Unquenchable life.
Why pay attention to an item
on the news, a high school girl missing,
last seen at the local teen hangout?
A runaway, no doubt. But, two days later,
another girl gone. And another.
When the phone rang in our motel room,
it was our dispatcher, sending us
on a search. What a way to spend a summer,
driving forest roads, stopping at pull-outs
and logging decks, giving our dogs
the command “Go find her!”
Sticky reek of bear-clover wouldn’t
wash out of my pantlegs. We learned skid
trails that weren’t on our map.
One girl and then another – hair, bones –
found by a camper, a hiker here
and there in the encyclopedic woods.
Our assignments always somewhere else,
that summer I turned 40, a stranger in town.

Taylor Graham


The Summer of 1991
Was the delightful layer sandwiched
Between the worst year of my life
And the year I emigrated to Asia.

I spent January 1990 in hospital,
My right femur snapped in two
In a car crash on black ice.
In the early Spring I was fired,
Less than a month after returning to work
And on the day my new company car
Was due to be delivered.
My Grandad died in May.
My girlfriend of five years announced she was leaving -
That was July.
She didn’t move out until November.

On New Year's Eve
I wrote down all the disasters of the year
And mindfully threw them into the bonfire
At the Tar Barrels at Allendale,
And chose to have a better year, next year.

The summer of '91
It was all about the friends.
Sara. Little Tim. Calvy and Katherine.
Warren. Colleen.
Carl and Tina. John and Paula.
Three of us were bikers and we formed
The Blackheath and Deptford Motorcycle Club,
Or Bad MC for short.
We’d ride down to Surrey on sunny Sundays,
Each with a pillion,
For walks, picnics, the inevitable pub.
We all went to Glastonbury
To see Carl’s band play.
Sara and I conducted a powerful magical ritual
In the woods at Downe House
Where a tiny, seconds-long rain shower
Out of a clear blue sky
Confirmed our connection with the Divine.
We wore wild clothes.
We threw wild parties.
We got drunk. We got stoned. We got laid.
And we laughed and laughed the whole summer through.

Nothing lasts forever.
Katherine and Calvy split up.
John and Paula went traveling.
Colleen lost the plot and drifted away.
Tina moved back to New York and to cocaine.
Bad MC struggled on a while longer,
Down to just two bikes,
But we knew it was over,
Just like the summer.

Five months later, I was living in South Korea.

Robert Best


Perhaps I was 8, or 9 or 10
There was not much difference
One summer to the next, but that’s okay
When I think back on those summers
I think of my little spot from where
I watched the days go by
And the summer disappear
Like the perspiration on my upper lip
Before its sticky besmirchment
by some cheap cinnamon flavored gloss
I bought from the local drugstore
The number on the door was 376
Or at least I think it was there
Below layers of brown splintered paint
Atop an old wooden withered door that no longer closed
And below that a single step
Several steps short of the majestic stoops
Of the private row houses
Or the lofty brownstones
Just around the corner
A rusty yet smooth sturdy thing
As old as the building above it
No more than a foot and a half by six inches
Upon which my sister and I sat side by side
Over many childhood summers
Our legs bent or stretched out before us
Like the season ahead of -
Mostly linear with an occasional detour
My recall of those days hot and sticky
And yes, sweet - for the local candy store was only doors away
And frequent visitors we were
As long as mom threw down a quarter or two from the window above
We’d leave our perch (a mere inch above the city sidewalk)
To get some candy from “Pops”
Or roller skate up and down the block or jump rope
Or maybe sit atop the hoods of metered parked cars
The metal so hot against our exposed legs
That it gave us chicken skin
We wore cut denim shorts and thin halter tops
Sometimes we’d just sit there and talk or play cat’s cradle or hopscotch
Sometimes I’d play with the ants on the ground,
Blocking their paths with Popsicle sticks
Or the tip of a sneaker
Watching them reroute with their tiny over-sized crumb bundles
Along the straw narrow dirt paths
Between the large blocks of cement before us
No grass for these city ants
And there was but one small tree on our side of the street
And that one sat outside a friend’s house two doors down
All the houses were one and two story walk ups above various shops
Including an actual dry goods store that grandma referred to as the “dragit” store
These shops are the scenic posters of my youth – the wallpaper of my memory
And blessedly, not a nail spa, tanning salon or vape shop in sight
But there were fire hydrant sprinklers and mobile amusement ride trucks
Like the Whip or the King Kong
Doorstep excursions when mom wasn’t up to trekking
To the far outer reaches of Coney Island
Sometimes we’d “call on” our friends
And together we’d do more of the same
Filling those long ago days of restless hours with what we had
Be it over glass candy counters or chalked sidewalks
Or responding to the pied piper call of the ice cream man’s truck
Or the simple comfort of one smooth rusty metal step
Beneath an old wooden door

Terri J. Guttilla


is a year away but
I am already thinking about it
as I reread The Great Gatsby
on the beach and think that
of course Daisy is a Libra
hiding sadness in expensive things
from her fine aesthetic tastes.
She still believes in love,
even after many mistakes
in her taste in men.

And before summer's end
I will reread about Esther
in her bell jar and think
that I am like this Scorpio -
smart, dark, and feeling too much.

In the summer of 2020,
i plan to read only new books -
ones without women who
remind me of me, or women
who made all the right choices
and were born under my stars.

Lianna Wright