2013 Bill Holm Poetry Contest Co-Winner, Jan Pettit

Jan Pettit’s poetry has appeared (or will soon appear) in The National Poetry Review, Water-Stone Review, Great River Review, South Dakota Review, Rosebud Magazine, Tusculum Review, Natural Bridge, and in Nebraska Presence, an anthology of poetry by native NebraskansHer nonfiction work was recently featured on the MnArtists.org audio segment, You Are Hear. Jan is a graduate of the MFA Program at Hamline University. By day, she writes advertising copy. By night, she writes poetry and prose.  She is married to jazz guitarist, Paul Renz and is the mother of two beautiful almost-men. Jan is one of the co-winners of Variations in Winter: Bill Holm Poetry Contest with her collection “Lapses of Snow.”


Religion of snow


Not my usual, too-much-to-be-done stride

I walk slowly home from the store

as if I had invented time, and snow,

and they were just meeting.


The snow makes me think of brook, as in

I can’t brook that behavior

like snow could be responsible for words—

and why not?  Nights like this

you could believe you are a writer.


Under a streetlight, the sky turns to fabric—

dotted swiss, each polka tumbling toward the open mouth

of earth. The city’s a virgin again—anger

and airplanes muffled. A Christmas tree, dragged to the curb

is ready to start over.


Somewhere between Kowalski’s market and home

I remember Sarah, breasts powdery white, suckling

her three-year-old. On her walls, paintings of Mexican women

nursing their children, in raw reds and blameless

oranges, so much happiness flowing

from their bodies it could melt snow.



watching things be themselves


the house is cold


early almost morning:

the moon hangs itself.


you are the only one alive

(do you want to be?)


you remember this from trains            night trains      buses   hospital waiting rooms,

the almost morning your                     grandfather died         grandmother died       father died


and once, running along the river road in the cold before dawn.



oh, for the love of blankets, weight

without responsibility


oh, for the child

who still needs you in the night


for the love of dim light

dome light

refrigerator light

night light



oh, for the dog you wish you had.



Valentine to Self


This once

I want to say something

un-critical about me,

reclaim the decades

squandered with self-

loathing, a kind of vanity

turned inside out.

I used to stand naked

between the folded mirrors

of the medicine cabinet, chase

my contempt to infinity.

The years spent counting

flaws could have earned

a degree. I might have read

The New Yorker.


It’s February.

There are holes in the ice

where you can see the creek

carrying on again, with purpose.

Warm day, woods lean

emphatically toward spring.

Nature has no use for introspection.

she is always only seeking out,

rushing forward.



in February, we want snow


not the way we want it in November

dying for the taste of wet wool mittens.


we want the snow of reassurance,

soothing snow of mother.


in february, we don’t mind that you are married,

snow and cold, cold and snow,


we need you. make the world quiet again—

the politicians and sparrows won’t shut up.


snow we need you. in quilts

and coverlets, closets  and armoires


full,  settle upon our child-stiff bodies

laid out on the beds. so much needs erasing.



Thirteenth of March


It hadn’t snowed all winter and then it did and did, as if the sky finally remembered what it had forgotten, then found the letting go so sweet it could not stop, like telling your therapist the truth, then more—inventing calamity for the joy of giving it away. After, we shoveled our slim driveway and made on either side, foothills of snow, burial mounds of snow, great prairie dog towns of snow, and the children burrowed in until the whiteness had swallowed them, even the black soles of their boots. Later, they returned to their warren with candles, fixed them to the frozen walls and left them burning. All that

evening—from the artificial warmth of our too-large house, the refrigerator humming its envy—we watched the glow from the ice cave, watched through our glass windows, through our deep stucco walls, through our hands and clothing and hair. The glow permeated everything, even our winter hearts.




a lapse of snow


by sunday afternoon

the earth had already forgotten

sunday morning’s

pageant of ice,

trees dressed

as bony angels.

all of it art history now.


the snowball fight ended

when the artillery

melted—we moved on

to tennis in the sun.


this is how I want you and I

to live: out of ammo quickly,

precious wounds

forgotten in the warm p.m.

of marriage.


what a lesson for the world,

world. turn our weapons to water,

grant us the amnesia

of a shining afternoon.