Grains of Golden Amber – Poem 4 of 30 for National Poetry Month


She’s from the Baltic seaside
Where the green waves
Come from the west, from Sweden

The waves roll in, white-capped
Taller than everyone there
And crash onto the smooth, flat beach

On the wet sand, if you look,
She says you’ll find grains
Of golden amber

She lives here now
Flew here years ago
In search of something

She tells me
She found it
When she found me

Here near the Great Lakefront
Where the gray waves
Come from the east, from Michigan

The swells move in, gray
Taller than no one (usually)
And whoosh onto the pebbly, rough beach

Just under the wet sand, don’t look
You’ll find particles, I say,
Of black coal ash

But on sunny, calm days the Great Lake
Is turquoise-blue and jade-green
And beautiful enough

To remind her
Of Palanga and Sventoji
And her visits with her mom and sisters

Beautiful enough to get her through
The next couple years
Until she takes me with her

Back to the seaside
To be with everyone she loves
At the same time

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Sanctuary – Poem 3 of 30 for National Poetry Month


The lighting’s kept down, here
Except over the stage
Where black cans beam down
Bright red, blue, and green

On a man with a hollow guitar
In a long, leather jacket
Under a leather, western hat
His face too, like leather

A face clean, but with lines
And the beginning of a gray beard
Dark eyes, understanding
And at ease

It’s sanctuary here
From everyone he knows

He presses the strings to the frets
And strums
Sings out his day
His month, his year

Sings about Man
The machine, the slave
Thrown into life
To work for food

Sings about Man
The being, the soul
Who needs to do something
And to tell someone about it

When he’s sung out
He steps off stage
And walks out the door
Onto an empty street

Where lamps beam down
Orange cones of light
That he walks through, alone
To his car at a curb

He drives away, alone
Into the dark
To tomorrow’s problems
To tomorrow’s songs


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A Sign That It’s Warm Enough – Poem 2 of 30 for National Poetry Month

The Robin

Evening drive home
Tollway, then divided highway
Then neighborhood street

The goal is to do it
Without stopping
Anything, not to stop

This evening I made good time
Less traffic
Since tomorrow is Good Friday

At my street
I pressed the opener
Then turned into the driveway

To roll
Straight up
Into the garage

But I stopped
About fifteen feet short
Not to crash into…

The robins
Three of them close together
In low-altitude battle

Rising and falling
Then landing and scurrying

A sign that it’s warm
Enough to open the windows
For a while

To lie in bed and listen
To the frogs’ continuous croaking
More like creaking

Like the sound of a finger
Across the thin upturned teeth
Of a black, plastic comb

The frogs’ creaking
Carried my wife to dreaming
While I stayed awake

Listening past the frogs
To the far-off engine whine
Of a motorcycle

The sound on a highway
A rider leaning forward
Accelerating into the night

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Lenses – Poem 1 of 30 for National Poetry Month


I see better
When I look through lenses made
For me

Way ahead, that street sign’s
White letters have edges
Straight and curved against the green aluminum

At home
The book’s black-ink letters
Rise from the cream-colored page

When it’s this clear
It goes straight into my mind
It goes right into place

Good for what I’m about to see
Now, to get something for
Everything else

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13-minute Video – Jim Janus Telling the Story, “The Land of Two Thousand Lakes”


This past Thursday evening, February 12, I made my storytelling debut at Kenosha Fusion’s, Story Night.

Here’s the link to the video of my 13-minute performance, telling one of my own stories, “The Land of Two Thousand Lakes.”

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Land of Two Thousand Lakes

This is a teaser for the story I will tell at an event on February 12 at Kenosha Fusion.

Her Uncle wanted to meet me. To size me up, she said. To see if I could handle her. Kamila and I had just married. It was the second for each of us. A month later we flew from O’Hare. To Chopin Airport, Warsaw.

There, summer is as hot as here, and sweat soaked through Uncle Janek’s dress shirt, which opened at the neck. He lifted our last suitcase into the trunk of his dusty Renault, and we were on our way.

As he drove us away from the airport, Kamila explained that Mazurskie, the region of Poland where we would stay, is known for its two thousand lakes.

In a few hours we pulled up to the hotel. New-looking. A red corrugated roof over rows of windows set into white stucco. After we checked in, we walked outside with Uncle Janek to the pier on a calm lake. He spoke to the young man at the row boats. Kamila told me he asked how much per hour. The man and Kamila looked at each other with familiarity.

On our drive to her cousins’ farm, I sat alone in the backseat, looking at the vast fields of wheat, the forests of tall pines, and the lakes–all as I pictured them as a boy, when I read The Teutonic Knights. Now, I was in Eastern Europe, and I listened to Janek and Kamila speak the language.

Before the trip, I studied. Each weekday, driving to and from the office, I listened to the CD of vocabulary. Now I listened to Kamila and her Uncle. He sounded upset. I heard him say the Polish words for ‘boats’, ‘high school’, and ‘boyfriend.’

In an hour we pulled onto the farm. I met Kamila’s aunt, and Kamila’s two grown cousins. Adam and Edyk came out–shirtless–each with a red face and big smile. Each holding a tall beer-can in one hand and a fishing rod in the other. Their eyes shined as they walked to a tiny, red car. “That’s the Fiat,” Kamila said to me. “They’re taking you fishing. I’ll drive.”

My second ride in Poland. Again in the back seat. But this time squished between Janek’s sons. Up-front he spoke directions to Kamila.

She pulled onto the two-lane highway and headed the direction of the hotel. But, ten minutes into the ride, Janek gave another instruction. Kamila made a hairpin turn to the right, leaving the two-lane highway for a, sort-of, frontage road.

We continued along a curve that carried us away from the highway and into a field. Kamila slowed the car as the pavement turned to gravel, and eventually the gravel turned to tire tracks with grass growing between. We could hear, and feel, the grass brushing the undercarriage. And outside, the tall grass grew above window level.

When we could see no more, I heard Janek command Kamila to stop. She put the car in park and looked over her shoulder at me. “You’re getting out here.” I got out with Janek and the cousins. She said, “I’ll be back in an hour or so.” And the roof of the little red car disappeared into the tall grass.

There I stood, in the eastern European countryside. Ready to fish. But there was no lake. All I saw was the great field of tall grass and a nearby line of tall trees.

At that moment I remembered a 1971 film Straw Dogs, in which Dustin Hoffman played a mathematician who moves with his bride from the U.S. to her hometown in rural England–and I remembered the scene where a few guys from the village take the mathematician into a remote field on a snipe hunt, while his bride’s old boyfriend stays behind to meet up with her.

Janek’s friendly call interrupted my memory, and I followed the in-laws through the line of tall trees.

On the other side, it looked exactly the same. Another great field of tall grass. Except, here stood a large piece of construction equipment. A backhoe. Yellow, with black tires. And next to it was a small pond, perfectly rectangular and no bigger than an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Certainly not deeper.  A pool of stagnant, black water created by a dig into a peat bog.

There, in the land of two thousand lakes, Janek and his sons took me to fish at this tiny, made-up one.

(Will be continued.)

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Living Honestly

I drive away from the corporate tower
Brake, gas, brake–then all gas
Staying back from the speeders in front
Moving aside from the ones catching up
Another hour of life at seventy M P H

Radio says we’re sending troops
Thousands of miles away
To kill bad guys
And nothing about the good ones
To be killed living honestly

I swear for the last few miles
Even with the windows up
I can smell the trees
And the tall grass
Like I live in the country

At the kitchen table
My wife touches my hand
And we say a short prayer
The muted TV shows a hole in a school
With a caption about moderate rebels

The sun sets
Yet the evening stays warm enough
For a t-shirt and shorts
I sit on the deck looking west
Imagining time has stopped

But the Earth rolls me back
Under a deepening dusk
Under the same, first pinpoints of light
That awed children
Nine hours before

In my yard the nighthawk that swoops
Is just a bird
Chasing insects I can’t see
And the crickets with their trill
Try hard to make up
For the White Nights gone away


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