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.


Woman Wrapped in Orange

     There is no yellow or no blue without orange. --Vincent Van Gogh

She is a Hermes' bag, voluptuous in orange,
a sleuthing tiger on a bottle of merlot,
the sepals of hibiscus. She is mangrove
leaf soaked in the sun, and California poppy
that sashays when she moves.

Gumball-bright and bold Moon over Miami,
a juicy orange HoneyBell, this girl is presence,
a slice of orange surfing in the dark blue Atlantic,
an orange prop plane trailing advertisements.

Occasionally she's a sharp cheddar or a hot curry,
a prickly pear or a habanero, but often a Monarch,
and always an orange free state of one.

Alone at home, she releases the orange helium
balloon of herself, kicks off the electric orange Zappo's.
She hangs the Hermes bag,
and becomes instead a lighted lampshade,
watches sunset, snacks on fresh carrots,
sips a fresh-squeezed screwdriver.
The room turns blood orange, bittersweet,
and burnt. She curls up in her chair,
both golden and translucence, sweet release
into the sealed amber of the night.

Published by Red Cedar Press, University of Wisconsin, Barren County, 2014

Black Manhattan

     after Romare Bearden, Black Manhattan

It was hot that summer of '69.
I stared out the window of my heat-trapped
tenement, watched and waited for something,
anything. Neighbors sat isolated in stupor,
too drained to talk. The rhythm of the street
shuffled and brooded. Even the sky sagged.

I couldn't stop thinking of orange that summer,
our orange colored buildings with no insulation,
no covering for our windows, the fire-orange sun
that fried us like eggplant, the orange "do not enter"
signs that restricted our movement. Orange choked
me like a hand around my neck. When I saw
a mother with her boy, I wondered what comfort
she could possibly give this summer of free-flowing
anger, of tear gas and riots. What good were civil rights?

When I finally noticed the iron scaffolding on the building
across the way, open and airy, its whole body laughing, it
startled me. Clothes swung upside down on a high wire,
waving like a little tune, waving me along, along, saying
Let's go, girl! A hum rose in my throat as orange stretched
to a hint of blue.

Published by Passager, the Martin Luther King Issue, 2009

What Is It about Snow

Winter has lost its metaphors.
No more its pillowed feathers, Milky Way swirls,
and drifts of light. Gone its dunes of crescent moons,
it winds of confectioner's sugar.

I'll show you snow, a blizzard of snow,
frozen tundra of snow, arctic sky of snow.
Come with me to the white unmarked squares
of calendars, rooms of white sterility and suffocating silence.

Listen with me to the whoosh of wind inside and out,
the scattered crash of a clock's glass face, the rustle
of white coats, paper charts and scribbled orders. Do you hear
the squeeze and wheeze of a heart's motor, the diminuendo?

Feel the cold, the cold, the cold,
the heap of white blankets mounded over a skeletal body.
Smell the bitter tang of snow, the soiled ruins of whiteout,
the drips from crystalline monitors where everyone dies
a little.

Grist, 2013

Skiffing Stones in Ireland

The boy wades into the shallows, pants rolled to his knees,
the back of his body sculpted in light and shade.

In contrapposto, he calls across time, and I see
the Greek Discus Thrower, that ease and expertise.

With shoulders slanted to the universe, he twists
on his own axis, movement barely perceptible.

Only the voice of the skiffing stone, its ripples and eddies
across the surface of the River Liffey breaks the quiet,

but for now what moves me most is not his muscled beauty
or intense focus, but the knowing he holds within

to make a stone walk on water.

Peninsula Pulse-2012
Your Daily Poem-2012

Soft Hands

Sun polishes the pond,
heat soaking into its surface,
while amber house lights splay
beams among tangled trees,
break open the sheen of melting ice.

Wind sleeps. A mourning dove,
his back to the house, watches
with me as the soft hands of morning
gently stroke the resting fields awake.
Long ago, my husband awakened our
sleeping child in just that way.
With gesture and no sound, he brushed
open his dreaming, welcoming the boy
to the joy of himself.

The Centrifugal Eye, 2013

Gaudi Flies in From Barcelona

From outside my mother's studio, I sit in a lawn chair
and watch master cloud masons. Arabesques
of entwined vines scroll frothy fantasies,
capricious twists to the soaring cathedral they build.
The entire concoction looks like a Gaudi creation,
as if he has taken respite from stone
to imagine a softer version of La Sagrado Famila.

Inside at her easel, Mother moves the brush fast
across paper soaked like rain, guides paint
without controlling it. Time turns from amber to mauve.
Slivers of shadow pierce fleeting white spires.
Dogs with their feet in the air and flying fish
freefall in feathers.

Like the train in Turner's Rain, Steam and Speed,
her ethereal church is barely visible.
Clouds carry the canvas.

Verse Wisconsin, 2012
Mary Jo Balistreri