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Poetry Moment: Judith Vollmer and 'Street Poem in April'

Poet Judith Vollmer

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “Street Poem in April” by Judith Vollmer.

From Pittsburgh, Judith Vollmer is the author of six books of poetry, including The Sound Boat: New and Selected Poems, published just this month. Vollmer has received numerous grants and fellowships, including from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

To kick-off April and National Poetry Month, I offer Vollmer’s exquisite love poem. Details of burgeoning light, color, and blossoms conjure early spring and are set against cold, wind, and an urban landscape of concrete and steel. This admixture reflects the poem’s leitmotif: the dualistic nature of love. In the poem’s narration of “an ordinary evening,” the beloved’s absence is a palpable presence for the speaker. The speaker’s raw longing, as much as her tenderness, connects them across distances.


Street Poem in April

I was just talking to her voicemail,
that’s how much I missed her.
It was a high windy Tuesday, cold
so her eyes would be tearing
and she’d be heading for the parking garage
and her ankles would be stiff
and her left arm tight from the briefcase
full of legal papers full of unsettled
fears & lost happinesses. I would have liked,
a few hours later, to have watched her tighten
the laces of her boots and walk into the pink
evening with me because it was an ordinary
evening but there were 700 miles & three
weeks between us; we couldn’t have named
where the passages of distance were
except by color: she’d have known exactly
what I meant because it was spring when
colors are most intense and everything the trees
are doing happens fast like the change of light
on, say, an open-air phonestand.
First it’s silver & stainless steel, then it’s silvery
with green & gray rectangles which are really
shadows of buildings at my back. Then the shapes
of trees in the small concrete islands sway just
enough to enter the frame of the phonestand’s
mirror. I see my reflection carries my tenderness for her
even at this distance and I feel my fingers
on the wire in a kind of offering of connection
call it a cord or signal, she’d understand
because of the color of my skin, a little pink
from the sun, a little bronze against the washed
black street the city workers washed this morning
because it’s Tuesday and there are blossoms.

That was “Street Poem in April” by Judith Vollmer.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with me today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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