The Dancing Cottage — By George Wallace

Before she came to America your grandmother served three sisters in a chicken legged cottage in Russia, a dancing cottage that turned and turned among the trees, a woodcutter’s cottage in a clearing in a forest and the woodcutter was never home, a modest cottage that turned and turned with three beautiful sisters inside,


Woodsman’s daughters they were and your grandmother was servant to the three sisters and small and capable, and silent and quick, when she plucked a chicken she was a fistful of feathers and the woodcutter was never home, and the three sisters laughed at your grandmother, her clothes and her smell and her manners,

She belonged outside where she was born they said, she smelled like the skin of animals — and the truth of the matter is your grandmother DID spring out of the earth, like a mushroom, near a tree where the cottage pigs dug up roots in summer, and when she walked through the cottage a chill like outdoors followed her from room to room,

And the three sisters were afraid of that and they didn’t like the look in her eyes and called her Baba, as in Baba Yaga, and they called her that right in front of her face, and she said nothing and tended the smoky stove and cleaned things up, she pushed the handle of a broom through straw to chase away mice, when it was necessary,


And in the candlelight of evening the cottage danced and the pine forest was silent and watchful, and the silence was terrible and wonderful and enchanted at the same time, and the clatter of chicken bones and metal plates, and in winter the three sisters ate turnip soup and laughed and were very happy,


And the woodsman was not there, and the wind shook off the blanket of snow which covered the trees and the animals and the wet straw roof, and your grandmother standing outside the door of the dancing cottage, dreaming of America

~ George Wallace

George Wallace is writer in residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace, author of 31 chapbooks of poetry and winner of the Naim Fraisheri grand prize at the International Poetry Festival “Ditët e Naimit.” Editor of Poetrybay and co-editor of Great Weather for Media in New York City he travels regularly to share his work with poetry with writers across the United States and internationally. Recent appearances in Kansas include the Gordon Parks Museum, Pittsburg Library, Prospero‘s Books (2012); and the 2017 Kansas City Poetry Throwdown. An interview with the poet may be heard via ‘The Poet and the Poem,” webcasts & podcasts from the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress.


Al Ortolani’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Rattle, Prairie Schooner, and Tar River Poetry. His collection, Paper Birds Don’t Fly, was released in 2016 from New York Quarterly Books. Ghost Sign, a collaborative work, was released in 2017 from Spartan Press in Kansas City. It was named a 2017 Kansas Notable Book. His poems been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and he has been featured on the Writer’s Almanac by Garrison Keillor. Ortolani serves on the Board of the Little Balkans Press and Woodley Press. He has also been a member of the Board of Directors of the Writers Place in Kansas City. Recently, he retired after teaching for 43 years in Kansas. He’s sometimes trips going up or down curbs. He once said that if he didn’t laugh at himself, someone else would beat him to it.


Songs of Towns by George Wallace

hip talk, loose dreams, songs sung

in parking lots, songs of the tribe,

schoolbooks laid out on a farm table;

match books, account books, paperback

novels with broken spines; comic books,

coat buttons, bottle rockets, produce sheds,

hardware salesmen, cattle market men,

auctioneers and german bakers; road

surveyors, men who take risks on the

interstate in trucks; summers plunging

off a bridge into a muddy creek, the rust

of railroad tracks returning to the earth;

clamshells, sardine cans, dogs with sad

haunches and mouths swung open

like sliced watermelon; questions

with no answers, horses no one

can ride, a panhandler mooching

through the backyard; a firehouse

plot that thickens; towns, towns

and more towns; men who are

consumed by them, men who

work outdoors in the rain,

bankers and wildcatters

and rodeo boys, tractors

crawling across the horizon

like snails; men with

slouch hats blocking out

the sun, men in barbershops

and women in beauty parlors;

gods that exist in sullen wicked

hearts; concrete which hardens

in the most solemn sets of eyes;

a saloon in every town, a mason

jar, a stump hole, a chicken bone;

a half bottle of rye whiskey left out

on the porch; a wrecked fence; a swing

slung low from a huge old apple tree;

decent men, decent women, children

who come out of nowhere; their silent

faces, their delicate faces, like dew on

flowers, like clay baked in a ferocious

oven; furious, silent, lonely faces,

lonely as flower pots; the silence

of words that remain unspoken,

lives translated out of silence

and back into silence again;

a silence which retains its tragic

simplicity; like music which exists

inside music; the kind of music

that is trapped inside itself

~ George Wallace

George Wallace is adjunct professor at Pace University in NYC and writer in residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace. Author of twenty-five chapbooks, he appeared in 2012 at the Gordon Parks Museum, Pittsburg Library and Prospero‘s Books in Kansas. Other appearances: Woody Guthrie Festival, Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, National Steinbeck Center.

137. To the Stars Through Difficulties: George Wallace

Never mind raindrops on a wooden porch give me the road she said life is a strange dream,
a strange dream! I don’t always know where we are or how far we have left to go but I always know where we’ve been — Kansas City is an evil looking dude from Arkansas slapping that bass line down & the way he came on to you — it’s all good, the jazz the bourbon — all that smoke
& music — easy riding angels with crooked halos & appetites coming on stage like cattle out of the rain tossing their music around — O I know things don’t always go the way you plan I didn’t mean everything I said but what doesn’t kill you — I mean life is what you make of it take it as it comes the present’s a back door swung wide open — the road plays tricks on you plays by its own rules & so what! One minute you’re draped in blankets with a pleasant stranger the next you’re sitting in the front seat of a rented Ford wondering is this even the right road home.

— George Wallace