In May, the Ojai Valley Museum, Ventura County Arts Council, and the Gables of Ojai collaborated on a poetry competition for adults 55-plus in their community in honor of Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, who founded AARP and Grey Gables in Ojai. The competition aimed to celebrate the originality and individuality of Ojai seniors through poetry. It also aimed to honor National Poetry Month and Older Americans Month.
The project was spearheaded by Gary Liu, a junior at The Thacher School, who wanted to address older adults’ isolation and mental health issues by sharing literature that could inspire a collaborative process of community bonding, provide opportunities for creative self-expression, and encourage intergenerational connections through literary exchange.
You can read the winning poems below.
Visit the Ojai Valley Museum online to learn more about Ethel Percy Andrus, Grey Gables and the founding of AARP.
Above Image: Gary Liu, a junior at The Thacher School in Ojai, poses with senior poets at the Ojai Senior Poetry Competition.
How Do I Dance Wildly Now? Katherine Holden I rail against the calm that keeps me from ferocious fire. How do I dance wildly now as years, like logs, grow higher? What is this pushing from within a spider’s legs well spread, expanding for a sprint a jump across the unmade bed? I only have a hint so far of light and lust inspired, lust, that word, for stacking up gathered logs yet higher. Even if, in the end, I end a peat bog being, that is not the issue here, I sense it’s more a keening. Something craves this burst a thirst I cannot now define, others known as ancients can say yes, that spear of rhyme, dis-ease within one’s long lived years aches to spin-free fears. You want to hold the sun breast close to burn away the tears.
I Have Forgotten Robert S. Shelor I have forgotten the sound of the wind moving through the wheat. I have forgotten the songs of the red-winged blackbird; the meadowlark. I have forgotten the smell of newly plowed ground. I have forgotten the bounce of the tractor slowing only slightly crossing the terraces, sweeping tumbleweeds from the smooth earth to ready for drilling; the easy, light gathering of weeds in the Springtooth harrow. I have forgotten the hawk on the telephone pole, and atop the fencepost. I have forgotten the way sunflowers continue to turn, all day long, at dawn facing east, dusk, west, watching the sun as if this day may be different. I have forgotten the beauty and destruction of bleeding the propane hose onto those few weeds at the foot of the pressure vessel, turning them white, and brittle. I have forgotten walking from the idling tractor across the yellow pasture to drink cold water pumped by the windmill, catching mouthfuls as it pours into the cattle tank. I have forgotten the rhinoceros beetle floating on a twig half its size in that tank, its existence suspended on surface tension as powerful, delicate and unseen as memory.
The Presence of Absence Allison Monahan I go to A.A. meetings, an hour of relief. I talk to widowed friends who understand my grief. The empathy of gardening, the solace of vacuuming; I live in a vacuum and the constant presence of absence. I've kept your baseball caps; the scent of tattooed sweat has disappeared, your touch is no longer here, but I still see your tears, and can feel the presence of absence. The night holds stars deep upon the black, I watch from the porch, your chair is empty. The stars hold constant, not created or destroyed. Love cannot be void. Love exists in a presence of absence.
Cerebral Palsy Erika Littera Ashamed awkward eyes avert Attempting not to stare While mine wander Aimlessly wishing they were The windows one would look into To see beyond my broken body And the metal that won't move, Fertile, firm, not frail, my mind Does fight the frustration And I feel for the stark naked leper Who might go through this too. The windows are mere mirrors And eyes avert again as they see Themselves looking.
Creek Road Robert Walker On the road beside the creek as silent morning mists pale the choir of trees My anxieties calmed by this amorphous theater of floating silver scrims An ephemeral tantalizing hint of oneness lost in a chattering mind Sun parts this vaporous curtain smiling morning into time to move us forward on the road beside the creek.
My Lady Christa Johnson I stand before you, unadorned, Lady of Water, Air, and Earth. I crossed under your crooked trellis of wilted rose petals, Under canopies braided with milk thistle, horse hair, quail-feathers. I hiked up the gravely driveway to your perfumed parlor, Fixed on the amber flames glimmering through your single-pained shabby window frame. You are always with me, clear-eyed, Bulging from the center, Airy and weighty all in one frame. I bow to you, Lady of Lake and Desert, Lady of Paradox. I knock on your brittle wood. Let me in I whisper, unconvinced I deserve to be hosted. And you open the portal every time, No matter how soft or misshapen my pleas, You gaze with smiling yet serious eyes into the gaping abyss of my unfulfilled, unanswered siren calls: Bird whistles, dinner bells, church bells, horse whinnies, Answering even the most irreverent, dream-heavy solicitations. You open, despite my protests of not being ready, not being perfect, not being whole… “Enough,” you say and you proclaim: “Ready or not, you have arrived.”
Country Games John Gentry These are the games we played on the farm; We made up the rules as we went. We never ran out of things to do, And hardly a dime we spent. Tennis we played without a net-- Baseball with half a bat. We had a football to kick around, But the bladder was always flat. Our basketball hoop was a wagon rim Nailed up on a pole. Into holes in the ground, we golfed with sticks Roundish lumps of coal. We laid out lines for field hockey; The “puck” was a white pine knot. We made a goal out of chicken wire And some skinner pipe we got. We held our own at horseshoes. There were plenty of them around. From a rusted harrow we took two prongs And drove ‘em into the ground. From a willow twig, one afternoon I carved a woodland flute. I made a sling from an old shoe tongue And a leather thong from a boot. Green cucumber boats to float, We made, by brother and I, Then blew them up with firecrackers We’d saved from the Fourth of July. The hayloft was better than a water slide; The creek was chlorine-free. There were minnows to catch in the afternoon And cherries to pick from a tree, And hide-a-ways in the tall green corn Where we gazed up into the sky And contemplated the mysteries of life, And asked each other, “Why?”
On Becoming A Vegetarian Clive Leeman For some reason This hospital bed Has turned me Into a vegetarian From a man eating meat To a woman eating chocolate I am now a fish With a huge hook In its mouth Being pulled mercilessly Through the bloody water I am now a screaming pig Begging for its life Relentlessly sliding Down a chute To the slaughter house clubs Just like the sobbing Philipina woman Crying out her innocence Who is to be beheaded By a Saudi sword For having an affair With a teenager Like the Santa Barbara woman Who breathed in Roundup In the public park And now sits paralyzed In the dust Like the mad cowboy Howard Lyman The Montana cattle rancher With more cattle Than anybody else He was sickened By his brother's Cancer death And his own Inflicting of toxic meat Upon the world He became a vegan Overnight And appeared on The Oprah Winfrey show To expose the omnipotent Cattle industry Like Greta Thunberg (15) In Sweden writing to her parents And explaining why She couldn't go to school While Planet Earth was dying From overheating And mass poisoning And like this aggrieved citizen Praying That the Blessed Loving Presence Would bring upon the world A peace that passes All understanding