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Three Poems

By Jim Armstrong, September 26, 2023

Three Poems



I was born the month the Russian moon

crossed the night sky beeping

like a frenetic alarm,

America still yawning

at the factory gate

having just saved democracy

for Walt Disney and General Motors—

maybe in that order.

You could smell the aluminum

of a thousand tracts where women

high on hairspray and Good Housekeeping

sent their children off 

to a world terrified

by its victories.

The future seemed buzzy as neon

outside the Tastee-Freeze,

bright as the yellow coat of arms

of the fallout shelter

tacked to the courthouse entrance.

We’d grow up in fear

and polyester, television

our forever. In Sunday 

school we watched

a movie about the Holocaust

and shivered to think that

someplace else

people could be so mean.


Out Of Eden

The high gate clanged

and trash blew against the fence.

We could see the angels in their dormitories,

the lighted doorway of the chapel 

we’d never enter again.

The river flowed under the gate

and into the darkness, and we followed it.

After the first bend, we didn’t look back.

The land unfolded

its lengthening question.

In new forests, wolves 

chased deer. Hawks circled. 

Frogs called in the marshes.


Shall I not extend my hand 

to you, stranger, 

when we meet 

in this wilderness?


Two Sandhill Cranes in Late March

On the muddy 

fisherman’s path

to the swollen river

that spills its 

cold silver

over the bank and 

breeches the 

ochre palisade,

two abrupt 


rise from the grass, 

incline their 

Martian foreheads,

spread their 

black capes,

open their 

sharp beaks, 

utter cries 

awkward and terrible—

the wrenching 

of clapboards

from some 



the shriek 

of nails

pulled from the 


of the world.




James Armstrong, Winona’s first Poet Laureate, taught English and Creative Writing at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota, for 24 years. He helps run the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest, and plays guitar in the Bell House Band. In addition to “Empire”, Jim is author of “Monument in a Summer Hat”, “Blue Lash”, “Nature, Culture and Two Friends Talking” (with Kim Chapman), and “Crossings, the Poets Laureate of Winona, Minnesota” (with Emilio DeGrazia, Ken McCullough and Nicholle Ramsey).

“Empire” (Up On Big Rock Poetry Series, 2023) and “Crossings” (Lost Lake Folk Art, 2021, and silver medalist for Anthology from Midwest Book Awards) were both published by the award-winning Shipwreckt Books Publishing Company. Shipwreckt began publishing in 2012 in Rushford, opened an office in Lanesboro in 2013, relocated back to Rushford in 2016, and relocated again to Winona in 2021 where it continues to offer creative development, copy editing, and traditional publishing services, producing 6-8 titles annually, including its literary magazine, “Lost Lake Folk Opera.”

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