russ gardner photoRussell Gardner

Born in Clark County of rural grade school teachers who later farmed, exposure to arts, literature, nature and business formed early parts of my education from them. Worried from depression issues, they urged education; heeding them, I made sure that professional training augmented other education. It meant living in a number of places outside Wisconsin: Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Bethesda, MD, New Jersey, North Dakota, Texas. I’ve found myself writing poems since high school, but have not worked much on publication though I’m proud of a 1960 3rd place in the Fiske Poetry Competition at the University of Chicago for a poem entitled, “The Kite.”

Having gone the professional route and earning a living that way, I have returned to earlier things that Wisconsin fostered: visual art and writing; I do the latter as an independent scholar and poet. Living in Madison, the big city goal when young, with a studio in Mt. Horeb, I feel in the midst of a very special world, unequaled anywhere, although Tasmania, where my picture was taken a year ago, ranks highly despite their having only half the top-soil depth of southern Wisconsin.

Incidental Walk at Year’s End

Inner Drive

From Mineral Point to Tree Lane and some others,
Finally I hit on Inner Drive – one’s still alive
From inner push. Can one remain vital, valid not invalid
Despite the slings and arrows of growing older, for instance?
Quick antibiotics applied when a fractured abscessed tooth
Gives rise to hospital and gratitude for such commerce.

Horseshoe Bend

A street off Inner Drive apparently curves round
Or simply resides near the meander of a creek.
What I’ve sought, or when wide-rangingly roamed, wished reluctantly to seek
Turned out often to locate rather near my original home –
Though the outer world explored by inner drive
May belie how attached I am to where I’m from.

Nature Preserve

A path branches off this urban street into a woods,
That on exit turned out to be a nature preserve.
Trodden paths slippery in the just above freezing temps
Mean some effort’s necessary to keep the footing strong.
Something could easily go wrong; bones could break
And one could die alone upon a woodland path.

Rotting Snow

The physical characteristics of snow vary so with the temperature
Just as the future may depend upon circumstances all about.
Dog tracks, some hills beside the creek, backyards abutting
Give some sense of the rural woods of my origins –
Here backyards intrude upon one’s privacy
(Though if one stumbled another might see me!)

Groping – The Memory

I’m thinking of a picture my mother painted she called “Groping.”
It’s of herself coming down a snowy slope, reaching for a branch.
And indeed then – when she painted it – she’d groped for a meaning in life
Imbued with the difficult strife of living on a farm
After she’d intended to be an artist but realized with alarm
That married to a stubborn homeboy forced a different life.


Coming out of the nature preserve onto a dead-end street
I noted numbers that didn’t make sense for the north and south direction
I’d thought I’d moved in; curious, how having lived years in this city
I’d no idea of this creek nor how it worked upon a map.
But then it quickly took me to a major street and my directions turned
As I recognized the street directly ahead – extending directly from where I live.


It lost its name as it went west and changed to Anchorage; a strange
Name with two components: “anchor,” yes, but also “rage.”
No wonder my inner directions sometimes go awry
Such must persist no matter how I’ve tried to work out better ways.
And try to reconcile my doings with what life-phase
I happen to be in; how really does the unconscious work?

Replacement Wood

Walking homeward further still; passing a park I note the benches
Have been renovated this past year; rotten wood replaced
By new wood, but only those, not those parts not yet rotted enough.
We continue on with what we got; sometimes a game of chess
With grim adversaries of waste, out-group competitions, misplaced
Fealties and values that lack the milk of human kind, of kindness.

The Empty Drawer

I collect drawers that others discard; today took a small one;
And then do works of art with them (or try), sometimes using as a frame.
Something useless may become less so with time.
I’m still striving as in my prime? But has my work been already done?
So now I can simply have my relaxing fun? Will illness and death forestall
Any future stuff; I don’t know but I assume that to be exercised important.

R. Gardner 30 Dec 2005

  •   •   •   •   •

Answer and Question

Answer: A Wisconsin Line That’s Anything But Straight.
Question: What’s Black and White and Red All Over?


Above the Black River Valley, midst red oaks, white oaks,
Sumac, sandstone, surrounding mounds of once glacial debris,
I see a gap in the western ridge: does a highway there go west?
Or, viewed from the other side, would it have been an entry point
Should I have come from big river country to this glaciated edge?


My grandfathers both, from separate points, Grant County
And Pepin, came east through such gaps, saying goodby
To their western Wisconsin roots, and they set up life anew:
Pioneers, they farmed well-glaciated parts, once ground down, now
Gently rolling, once wooded land now well plowed, well-cowed.

Saddle Mound

From where I look, I see Saddle Mound, where once I and a student
Friend ran quickly up the side, then surprised, sickened, bequeathed
Our picnics to the land! When I a child traveled from Neillsville
The two points formed a southern sight, south of the ridge.
Today I see it north and east, taller point opposite to where it’d been.


With parents blanched from worry about reputational edges, what with
Joe McCarthy from even further east (Appleton) making reddened lists
That blackened lives and struck the tone of fear, I stayed centered long.
Now, first career not threatened, I edge nearer to where the glacier
Warmed, to where the grinding whiteness ended. Driftless areas beckon.
Where the glacier didn’t drift
Castle Rock stands tall midst seductive blackberries that begged their
Picking. Red lines now written on my legs, I hear a white-haired
Woman near the red pump tell, “I finally stopped to see it. I’d traveled
Past a thousand times.” We look to the once island in a once glacial lake:
A flattened whitened slate with black-limned news about our state.


  •   •   •   •   •

Diebenkorn’s Gift

My picture in which he painted the receding street makes it
Straight up and down, reminding me the paint does not delude,
But shows the way we see, that the road does really go away, and also
Points straight up as not only his lines, but roads also do
In driftless Wisconsin, in the coulees.

June 11, 2003

  •   •   •   •   •

Story-Using Animal

Segment 1. How About Those Squirrels?

And outside my window, why does not the squirrel,
The leaf-dappled squirrel, its glossy tail
Backlighted by the afternoon sun,
A nosy, busy squirrel,
Why does this animal not earn title as
The “story-using” creature? What makes us so brash,
So human-o-centric, so vain, that we the title take
Of story-using beings—thence our empires and our reigns?
It’s squirreled away so much we know, so zoologists say (animal wordsmiths),
And yet knows where the stashing happened; can find the site again.
Its brain-traces know the storage sites—
But why do not these—these engrams, these plots for spots –
Whatever one calls them—
Why do they not suggest that squirrels tell the basic driven tale?
Well, the bushy driven tail (sorry, sorry,
For the lame lame pun just here. I know, I know—
Insufficient, “sorry”—“regrets” not near enough!)
One can’t squirrel away one’s puns.
But we can laugh at when they happen.
Enjoined we laugh and groan at when they happen.

Segment 2. All Kinds of Stories Like We Breathe

Squirrels don’t nose around for puns.
They take their seeds and nuts and such,
Not getting overmuch
Concerned with wordlings
As we do.

So, is here a people-story now?
One we share, you and I? Perhaps we do use stories somewhat more
Even several fold, or four or more score more,
Hearing, telling, respecting many tales, or not.

Young rats may laugh when tickled, squeaking little pips
As do we (or did when young using lower pitch). Animal wordsmiths know less
Of squirrels—but likely these young pip as well,
Laugh when playing, as we two laugh as one, you and I,
When we pester each the other with lame jokes and puns and such,
Knowing that we use all kinds of stories like we breathe,
Enjoying, suffering, with no reprieve.

December, 2002