Two of Mary Jo's poems are featured on Anjie Kokan's "Prompts for Writers" blog: http://promptsforwriters.blogspot.com/2011/11/peace-dove-writing-prompts.html and http://promptsforwriters.blogspot.com/2011/07/writing-and-imagery.html.

And Mary Jo was profiled on Tiger’s Eye Journal. Read that interview and more of her poetry at http://tigerseyepoet.blogspot.com/2011/07/from-red-to-yellow-mary-jo-balistreris.html.


I Believe

in legacies—Limoges dinnerware, black pot-bellied love cups,
sweaters, hand-knit; jewelry, real and costume,
Hopi kachinas, Winnebago corn dolls, Sioux arrowheads,
stones, oaks and shagbark hickories, holly, sharp-edged
with blood-red berries. Hawks, and the plains ironed flat,
fields scored with the history of wind, blizzards, and black ice,
days of white out, prairie silence, and its ever-present music;
quiet refrains of the soil, inner landscapes, and seasonal moods. I believe
in grasshopper plagues, a murder of crows, conversations among the
dead and the living. I believe in the oracular, the secretive, cerulean
blue gentians, the arc of memory and the stars we're made from—
gods, all of us, in the womb of time.

Wisconsin Poets' Calendar, 2022

In the Labyrinth of Old Love

    With respect, Jim Simmerman, The Last Word

You can be the sun's fierce fire,
if I can be the rainbow that links both land and sea.

You can be the obsidian, flit and frit of volcanoes,
if I can be the sea glass held within a child's hand.

You can be fall's harvest of leaves,
if I can be the ashes plied against our roses.

You can be the river's constellation of stars
while I can be the swirling nebula.

You could be flame that tears its way through fields,
if I can be charred ghosts of old melodies.

The burning bush of Moses, you can be that too,
and I'll be embers that sustain our hearth.

Poetry East, The Bliss of Reading, 40th anniversary
and 100 th issue with 100 poets, 2021


library entrance
lapping tongues of puppies
at a silver bowl

—Jo Balistreri
December 6 2021
the haiku foundation website

falling light
rinses over his face...
father at the sink

Sixth Annual Gene Murtha Memorial Contest, 2021
honorable mention

forever in the shade
of pine trees...
father reading to me

failed haiku
touchstone nomination, 2020

dusk crawls across the field crickets

tiny words, 2019
Blossoms Moon Anthology, 2021

a boy's wind-up robot
chases the surf

bottle rockets
bottle rockets, #44, jan. 2021
re:virals 291, 2021

poinsettias inside the barbed-wire refugees

modern haiku 52.2, summer 2021
the red moon anthology , 2021

Kyoto cherry trees in bud
mother's last watercolor

Illinois state poetry association, 1 st place, 2018

dog and i
watching your ashes

Illinois state society poetry, 2021
1st honorable mention

among the wings
of monarchs
I migrate

failed haiku, September 25, 2019

sunset bells slipping light into the sea

tiny words, nov. 17, 2021
haiku 2022, Lee Gurga & Scott Metz


Echoes of Peace

by Jo Balistreri and Wilda Morris

Hiroshima peace park
an elderly man bends
to the blossoms

dew on the branches

origami cranes
in the lobby's warm-air currents
senior living

a goldfinch lands
in his outstretched hand —
St. Francis

tendrils of sweet peas
the fragrant sound of windchimes

children's voices
Let it begin with me

collaboration with Wilda Morris
published Haiku Canada
15#2, October 21, 2021, p.44


Story from the Blue Ridges

    for my uncle, Steve "Mac" McGuire, 1921-2074

Just before dawn, Steve carries a cuppa outside starting the day as usual on the worn porch
stairs in the dark. The vast nothingness of his surroundings, where day comes as it will,
pleases. Fog's dampness saturates his skin, erasing the far mountains. Sipping the strong
coffee, he notices a sharper smell of spruce in the heavy dew and the cherry trees just
scenting into bloom. A whiff of rotting lumber and iron-baked boulders segues into a memory
of Mother digging her garden. How hard to free the soil in that rock-strewn landscape, but
her happiness made it worthwhile. He can almost see that rare smile playing across her face
as she stands against the shed, proud of the gigantic sunflowers planted from seed.

As night loses its grip, chirping crickets alert him to time. Steve hurriedly carries the dregs
inside, grabs a lunch pail, and starts the long trek down the hills. A light wind touches his
almost bald head, while the sun attempts to burn off fog. Voices of songbirds accompany
him, then fade away as he reaches the open maw of the coal mine, wondering, like always, if
this is the day the canary stops singing.

miners lanterned hats pin prick patterns in the dark

contemporary haibun 16, edited by rich Youmans
red moon press, 2021
Pushcart nomination, 2021

Making Memories

On a sunny morning in late spring, I sit at Gramma's table. A warm blackberry breeze teases
the yellow gingham curtains. On the counter of the old enamel sink, berries and rhubarb
drain in a mesh colander—our pies for dinner. Gramma wears her checked apron. I watch her
dust the breadboard with flour. As she kneads the dough, she talks to me about her girlhood
in County Clare, even the bad things that happened. Sometimes she sings the songs her
mother taught her. When the dough is ready, she puts it in a bowl by the window, lays a cloth
over it and comes to the table.

I stir Ovaltine and Gramma pours coffee. I watch her put her face into the steam and I do the
same. We are best friends. I want to be just like her when I grow up. Later today, we will have
barmbrack. She'll bake the loaves in the wood stove. The kitchen already smells of lemon and
tea-soaked raisins from the sun. We keep talking and I listen to Gramma laugh. She likes to

chasing butterflies
on the Burren
she might see faeries

On other mornings, Gramma puts me in charge of the toaster. She says it is the old-fashioned
kind with doors. She teaches me how to turn the bread without burning myself. It's very
tricky but Gramma said that I'm old enough. Next year I'll be in kindergarten. (I'm pretty sure
I'm her favorite.)

Today in my own kitchen, I open the curtains. It's a sunny morning in late spring with a warm
breeze through the window. I'm happy. It will always be so on a fine morning like this. I close
my eyes and see her, hear her laugh, smell the yeast rising, and know that somewhere a
grandmother is showing another small girl how to find and taste joy.

from the monarda
    a bumble bee buzz
        grandpa in the raspberries

drifting sands haibun and tanka prose, edited by Richard Grahn,
April, 2020

Nevada Testing

In the fifties, we moved to South Dakota, and Dad bought a Magnavox TV. The signal blew
hot and cold over the plains from Iowa so he instructed my mother to keep the set on. We
woke each morning to a test pattern, watched through a snowy screen the denotation, the
formless rising, and finally the large mushroom mushroom cloud. The process repeated itself
all that hot summer.

    as ordinary as Corn Flakes and Wonder Bread we were children

Only at night when Flash Gordon arrived did we huddle around the TV with our playmates. Ray
guns and space wars. Finally something happened.

CHO, 11:3, October 2015
red river book of haibun, 2019 edited by Steve Hodge & Paresh Tiwar

Day of Remembrance

This Memorial Day is different. My father places a small carton of artefacts before me on the
kitchen table—things I never knew he had. In seventy years, he never once talked about it,
deflecting all questions with "There's nothing to talk about."
He's in his nineties, and I wonder, why now? But do not voice my question, elated that he
has decided to share these things with me. He leaves the room to give me space.

out of the closet
articles of war

Dumbfounded, I dig out his aluminum dog tags, the size of a half dollar; register the cold,
impersonal touch on my palm, wonder what it was like around his neck. Letters from my
mother are enclosed within a heavy envelope on top—her picture, a lock of her hair.
Unsettled, I put them back, leaving the letters for last. Remaining are two pocket sized black
books—Dad's diaries.
I open to the slanted script, ink smeared in places, fragments rather than sentences—a
decimated Japanese village, little kids lost, crying; bodies in the rice paddies, bodies huddled
together in fear—killing them out of fear. His handwriting is trembly, and as I continue on to
the second book, I hear the uncertain, quivering voice that haunts these pages. Pausing to
catch my breath, I stop for a while. I never heard my father cry. These books are full of tears.

brittle leaves
falling from the trees...
my tea's bitter taste

I stare out the window, watch flags hanging limp in the afternoon desert sun. The Sousa
marches that stirred the early morning air are now replaced by images, death-stilled and
sun-hollowed. How does one reconcile the spirited and robust music of patriotism with
killing for one's flag?
Continuing with the second book, father's handwriting becomes almost illegible—names of
the dead, of the wounded—men he would never see again. I hear loneliness and loss, in spite
of the entries about the band he sang with on board his ship. A picture unmoored from its
scotch tape shows the young men in his group. All dead except my father.

the mouse no match
for the hawk

Together in the living room, we finally talk about his war, his years of silence, my unknowing.
How he'd been lost inside that war. He said coming home alive to a loving wife and two
small children had saved him. He'd been afraid, ashamed, beaten. Now in his last years, he'd
wanted me to understand.

flowering Katsura
in their midst
my father's shy smile

the haibun journal, edited Sean O'Conner, 2019

Mary Jo Balistreri