The HyperTexts

June Kysilko Kraeft

You thought me fey
to tell of rain when sun
still shone like gold —
until the downpour came.
June Kysilko Kraeft, "Weather Forecaster"

June Kysilko Kraeft died of pancreatic cancer on July 21, 2004 and our small but ever-expanding poetic community mourns. And yet we also celebrate: celebrate her life, her love of life, her wisdom, her words. June was the beloved wife of Norman Kraeft, a poet THT first published in April 2003. She was the much-loved, much-admired stepmother of Maggie Mendus, a poet whose poems appear for the first time on THT's pages here. June was a writer, a poet, a photographer, a cook, a prize-winning horticulturist, a gardener extraordinaire. Her poetry appeared in journals like Poetry Digest, Harp-Strings and Orbis, as well as in a number of anthologies. She won prizes from the Arizona State Poetry Society, Pen & Brush, and the World Order of Narrative and Formalist Poets. She and Norman co-authored several books on American art, including Armin Landeck (1905-2004) and Armin Landeck. The Catalogue Raisonné of His Prints.

Time rolls along its tracks, timetable lost.
Next wave of family, grandchildren, plant
in yards from coast to coast the crocuses
my mother nursed, now blooming on her grave.
June Kysilko Kraeft, "Seeds"

The lines above, so ably penned and yet far more ably lived, could only have been penned by a daughter, a wife,  a mother and grandmother: a woman wiser than insane time with its irrevocable but ultimately futile timetable. Only a woman who has borne within herself the seed of distant future flowerings understands both the inevitability of the present grave and the undeniability of the yet-unborn "coast to coast" crocuses. Wisdom is justified by her children. The truly wise woman plants: children, flowers, meals, words, poems, books. The smallest victory of love is a spectacular triumph over the mindless clockwork mechanical haybalers of time and death. Flowers grow over graves; children beget grandchildren; grandchildren beget great-grandchildren. One woman, Eve, under the heavy sentence of certain death, has nonetheless become mother to billions.  — MRB

They call me "dahlia lady" at our fair,
when I come laden with my color buckets ...
June Kysilko Kraeft, "Seeds"

What a lovely description of, and metaphor for, a poet! — MRB

Alfred Dorn said of her poetry: "Whether she produces metrical or nonmetrical poetry, June Kysilko Kraeft writes with power, individuality and eloquence."

I think of a genie engineering flight
from a bottle. One wish to grant petitioner:
Take me with you as you soar out of sight.
Yes, with you let me be a voyageur.
June Kysilko Kraeft, "Genie in a Bottle"

Rhina P. Espaillat tells us, "Never pretentious, her work is precisely life-sized, soft-spoken and authentic."

"I do not think in decades any more,"
from an octogenarian, and those few words
send ripples to the edge of the room, then sink
to silence only seniors understand.
June Kysilko Kraeft, "Flight of the Snowbirds"

Carolyn Raphael adds, "June Kraeft is nature's herald ... her poems announce the bounty of the world ... Tender or humorous, metered or free verse, her poems teem with humanity."

The gardens have lost their mistress;
the birds, their feeder, too.
June Kysilko Kraeft, "This Old House"

A hundred hopes were housed here:
some fewer dreams came true.
Time will erase our presence ...
June Kysilko Kraeft, "This Old House"

Although "This Old House" was about a literal house, one left when the Kraefts moved from New England to Arizona, the lines above apply just as well to "this old house" of the ever-deteriorating human body. And yes, "the gardens have lost their mistress; /the birds, their feeder, too." But no, time will not erase her presence — not completely, not irrevocably — not if children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren (and readers and poetry sites like The HyperTexts) have anything to say about it! — MRB

Close the door behind you as we go.
Beyond it lies New England at its best.
Four-and-twenty autumns gave us gold
of birch and beech, crimson maples
and, best of all, bronze oaks, leaves tough enough
to hang on tight through winter's worst,
only falling to make way for buds of spring.
June Kysilko Kraeft, "Doors"

The first two lines of "Doors" are blunt, abrupt, final, almost curt — like a door slamming on twenty-four years of life summarily uprooted, which they are. But the lovely third sentence reminds us that even autumns of departure have their recompense. And are we not, like the leaves, "tough enough / to hang on tight through winter's worst, / only falling to make way for buds of spring." — MRB

                                                  Dear friends,
although I can no longer climb those heights,
I don't know why this causes you distress.
June Kysilko Kraeft, "Physically Challenged"

I think it a common malady, akin to the incurable cold, that poets today attempt to sound wise while living foolishly. But June Kraeft overturned the tables of convention. She approached poetry at a mature age, uninterested in poetic silliness or sophomoric dalliances. When she wrote, she wrote from the heart, mind, soul and experience of someone devoted to love, to growth, to flowerings, to the ever-budding promise of the future. Planting a seed is an act of faith. So is writing a poem. Let's be glad that June Kraeft did both, with grace, and more than capably! — MRB

You are not here, I know that can't be right.
No reassuring marriage scenes, not black nor white.
June Kysilko Kraeft

I'm afraid that, being a man, at the end of my life I will define myself, my life, who I am,  only by myself. In her last poem, June Kraeft thought of her husband. "You are not here, I know that can't be right." Her last thoughts were for the completeness of her life, and who completed her, and how she was made complete with him, not by him. Death might stalk her, it might terrify her, but it could not rob her of the assurance that she was not alone, nor ever meant to be alone. Something was not right, because in her real universe (not this poor facsimile universe in which death comes calling like an untoward, unwanted suitor) she was complete. I like to think of poetry as the "rightness of words." In the same way, love is the "rightness of life" and death is nothing but an absurd wrongness bereft of meaning. There is always the danger of reading too much into a poet's words, but in this single line, I believe June Kraeft has spoken volumes. Love transcends the grave, and if it doesn't, what the hell does life or death matter? Either death is powerless, a portal to a land where it has no sting, or death is a blessed relief—the sedative of oblivion. At the end, June Kraeft did not collapse in fear or into self-sympathetic tears, but neither did she cede death any satisfaction whatsoever. A wise woman, it seems she called death a liar to its repulsive face! — MRB

Since June's death, Norman has written over 120 poems about her, which, along with 35 of the poems he wrote about her while she was alive, will comprise a book he intends to title A Tender Bough, Then and Now. While we await his book with anticipation, we'd like to introduce our readers to June's own work, then go on to what family and friends have to say in her remembrance ...

The first poem was June's last. It's a wonderful piece that warrants a prequel and a sequel. Rhina Espaillat sets the stage for us: "... here's some very sad news you may not have heard yet: I had a call two nights ago from Norman Kraeft, to tell me that June died July 21, after a painful but mercifully brief bout with pancreatic cancer. She died—and I was not surprised to hear this—as courageously and uncomplainingly as she had lived, and left behind a final magnificent poem she had not shown anyone. He read it to me on the phone; it gave me goose pimples." Us too! ...

by June Kysilko Kraeft

Death stalked me up and down
the corridors of life last night,
chemo and cancer locked in lethal fight,

morphing life's experiences into a satellite,
endlessly circling earth, no exit signs in sight.

Death chased me mercilessly, not polite.
Out-of-body experiences, the only show this night.

You are not here, I know that can't be right.
No reassuring marriage scenes, not black nor white.
Death stalks me up, down the corridors of life.

Norman Kraeft tells us, "I thought it might be of interest, especially to those who knew June, to know how this poem was discovered. June had not told anyone that she had written it. I discovered it quite by accident the day after she had passed away here at home. A crew from Hospice Family Care, the organization that brought a hospital bed to our home so that she could be more comfortable in her remaining days, came back the day after she passed away to remove the hospital bed. While I was straightening things around the living room (that's where the bed was set up, so that she could see, through the living room windows, the mountains that she loved), I saw a little pile of papers on the piano bench. On a yellow pad (she always kept a yellow pad handy ... for grocery lists, phrases for poems she was writing, etc.) was the ... poem, the last she ever wrote. It was untitled."

Now, here are some other poems by June Kraeft ...

Last New England Spring
             To My Husband
by June Kysilko Kraeft

Come meet me in the woodland this evening,
lit by horsechestnuts' candles so tall.
We'll dance on white carpets of trilliums
while forsythia brings armloads of gold.

The peepers will pipe their glad chorus
as showers of plum petals fall.
Star magnolias explode like bright meteors
while French lilacs perfume our whole world.

Please hurry. Come meet me this springtime
because we may not see this again.

In the following poem, I am struck by one line in particular: "How did we learn in one cube so severe?" Lines like this one leap out at me, and I know that I am in the presence of a poet. I wonder if God will give man credit for learning whatever it is he has learned on this earth, in this life, in this "one cube so severe." If so, poets and teachers like June Kraeft will surely be "at the head of the class!" — MRB

Northwoods School
by June Kysilko Kraeft

Eight grades jammed into one lone room,
two dozen students tightly packed
almost like teeth and chewing gum,
eight lessons educating every ear.

The woodstove burning in the rear
thawed water-bucket frozen into stone.
No one enjoyed the outhouse chill at 25 below.

How did we learn in one cube so severe?
I was sick the day square root was taught
and never caught up with it;

rose anyway to top of high school class,
went on to college and to earn
a living with words I learned

so long ago that came to rugged birth
and flourished in the earth
of that one-room school.

"Seeds" is, I think a very wise poem by a very wise woman. I think women are wise to plant, to water, to nourish. If men were really "in control" of things, the world would have far fewer children, far fewer flower gardens ...

by June Kysilko Kraeft

They call me "dahlia lady" at our fair,
when I come laden with my color buckets:
gold, lavender and crimson gifts from earth.

My mother, too, was known as "flower lady,"
painting our yard with tulip-scapes in spring,
cool lilies for the panting summer solstice,
blazing chrysanthemums lighting late fall.
Her winters bloomed with paperwhite narcissus,
double-ruffled petunias, clivia,
bright colors under glass, mocking the snow.

Time rolls along its tracks, timetable lost.
Next wave of family, grandchildren, plant
in yards from coast to coast the crocuses
my mother nursed, now blooming on her grave.

In contrast to June Kraeft's "Seeds" above, please consider "Flower Lady" by her husband Norman Kraeft ...

Flower Lady
by Norman Kraeft

One cannot talk of her and not talk flowers
for both, like night and day, like bride and groom,
exult in blooming gardens, borders, bowers.

I've watched my true love stand and mull for hours
on the miracle of blossom-into-bloom.
One cannot talk of her and not talk flowers.

I've seen her scan the skies in quest of showers,
watch baby bud thrust upward from its room,
exult in blooming gardens, borders, bowers.

I stood in awe of her creative powers;
bouquets of hers would garland any room.
One cannot talk of her and not talk flowers.

Her climbing vines aspire to sky-high towers.
With bud and bloom my true love uproots gloom
that tries but cannot harm her gardens, bowers.

Then comes the dauntless demon who devours
the gardener, if not her flowers. Doom
descended. Now I shun all talk of flowers,
of growing, glowing  gardens, borders, bowers.

I hope the reader has noticed the discourse and interplay between "Seeds" and "Flower Lady." I would say, perhaps cursorily, that Norman Kraeft displays more formal skill than his wife, but that June Kraeft is obviously his muse and perhaps the wiser of the two poets, at least in these two poems. I don't think Norman will mind me drawing this conclusion. In fact, I think he draws the same conclusion in his lines: "Then comes the dauntless demon who devours /the gardener, if not her flowers." Does death triumph over the gardener's garden in "Flower Lady" or over the mother's grave in "Seeds?" Or does the wise mother/poet/gardener/Flower Lady plant the seeds of her own continuance long before death marshals his foul, fell forces? What does "bright colors under glass, mocking the snow" mean, if not the victory of always-about-to-bud life over death? In what way does Norman's love of June, who outlived her mother, speak of the continuance of love and life for their children, who will survive them both? June's poem is courageous and powerful, because it recognizes death, but begrudges it every hard-fought inch, and splendidly proclaims victory over it. You and I may not survive death individually, but death will never kill every flower, nor all our progeny. Eve is still alive, every gene of her replicated in billions. Life is a restless flowering that survives us ... this is, I believe, the wisdom of June's poems. — MRB

Genie in a Bottle
by June Kysilko Kraeft

"The dead lie still, and so they will until
Someone comes by who can turn back the clock
of memory ... " — from "All Soul's Day" by Henry G. Fischer

Powdery ash in urn of ornate graces,
ounces of dust replacing sinew and bones:
Where now are those sweet, ever-changing faces,
your smile like light, your mind with love-seed sown?

I think of a genie engineering flight
from a bottle. One wish to grant petitioner:
Take me with you as you soar out of sight.
Yes, with you let me be a voyageur.

We'd magic carpet over thunder clouds,
let rain fall on the living far below,
in our Elysian Fields watch flower crowds
recalling garden paths, our minds aglow.

My bottled genie, can I coax you out?
No. You have flown your cask, without a doubt.

My Father ~ Alone Now
by Maggie Mendus

Today a sonnet, yesterday a villanelle
emerged from his mind's pen, profound and deep the well
of loneliness since his mate died. Subdued words tell
of cancer's ruthless conquest, clang death's tolling bell.
Gray days advance, battalions gathering for war
that tallies vast casualties within him. Through the door
he trudges with a heavy step, each hour a chore.
Bright flowers she tended bloom, still bloom, but now implore
him to arrange a smile upon his shell-shocked face.
Although Southwestern weather warms him, he must brace
for unremitting winter.  In their once-shared space,
he battles hosts of shadows in their savage chase.

War and Peace
by Norman Kraeft

I cannot fathom self control like this.
The doctor tells you, kindly, you will die.
Your cancer will not sign an armistice,

and you, in spite of being powerless,
exhibit to us all your eyes: bone dry.
I cannot fathom self control like this.

What modern Judas tendered you a kiss?
Far as I know, no one told you a lie:
Your cancer will not sign an armistice.

The treatments given were not hit or miss:
Bleak nocturne nigh, you settled with a sigh.
I cannot fathom self control like this.

I watch you climb the jagged precipice.
Your strong resolve you'll never modify;
You know your foe won't sign an armistice.

Above it all, you smile at the abyss.
I never heard you ask the question: Why?
I cannot fathom self control like this.
Your cancer will not sign an armistice.

The above are hard-fought, hard-won lines. But I'm glad Norman Kraeft was able to summon them, because courage and resolve like June's are worthy to be celebrated. Time and death hold all the cards. A man or woman at the end of life is utterly helpless. No matter how a man or woman dies, he or she is defenseless. And yet if I had to choose the conqueror between a woman like June Kraeft and a skittering, cockroach-like scavenger like death, the choice would be an easy one. Modern poetry with its fascination with cynicism and irony has forgotten vital functions of poetry such as praise and elegy. Thankfully, Norman Kraeft has not bought into the lie, and here we have a stern-eyed poem that faces death as June Kraeft faced it: unflinchingly. — MRB

The Great Exchange
by Norman Kraeft

What was it like, all faculties in gear,
to glimpse the dark abyss, to realize,
then seize the dictum that the end is near?

Yet, on the brink of all that you held dear
the sparkle never left your deep-brown eyes.
What was it like, all faculties in gear?

You knew, and yet, you radiated cheer.
You recognized the truth the sun will never rise
for you again; you knew the end was near.

You grasped so tightly — so do we — the here
and now. Then comes the Potentate of Lies.
What was it like, all faculties in gear?

No ticket needed; there is no cashier.
Just enter. Hear the bailiff drone, "All rise."
He knows. You know. I know: The end is near.

She does not cry. I never saw a tear.
I think I saw her flowers mobilize
the elements, all faculties in gear;
they came to help her when the end was near.

Dracaena Marginata

by Rhina P. Espaillat

I want to tell you that your gift of green
ribbon-like leaves arched slightly toward the light—
"Dracaena marginata"—likes to lean
over my desk, as if to watch me write,
as a good friend might do who learns one's mind
reading over one's shoulder. On this day
so darkened by your distant loss, how kind
it would be to believe these leaves, as they—
speaking their wordless comfort in your name—
promise that vanished friends are not quite lost!
But no, your gift and you are not the same;
nothing will lead you back over the crossed
boundary of this life but memory,
which holds you close, where you can speak to me.


by Len Krisak

The dahlia at the corner of our lawn
Is standing there in pink, and all alone.
Soon every single flower will be gone.
With winter's white erasure coming on.

But something like the flowers, on their own,
The slenderest of verses have been known
To live beyond whatever nature's shown,
Telling us all creation is on loan.

In Memory of June Kraeft
by David Berman

Old as I am, I reckon Dragon strikes
Whenever and wherever Dragon likes,
and when he chooses someone close-by, he
creates a grief of great intensity.

But when he chooses someone far away
Whom I had hoped to see another day
Before I meet with Dragon, he, instead
Leaves melancholy bordering on dread.

Those whom we know we shall not see again
In this, the only world we know, where pain
Besets us, lingers like a melody
That cannot be displaced. Nor should it be.

For Dragon, though he swooped up one more choice,
Has neither quelled the heart nor stilled the voice.

Dahlias for June
by Terry Andre Dukerschein

When we mark the line by the fence this year
Would you mind if I planted Dahlias, dear?
I imagine her garden in luminous bloom,
The graceful warmth she brought to my room.
Would Dahlias entice my Auntie near? 

Not even their dinner plate flowers I fear
Will loosen her bow line at Heaven's pier
Nor sweep away longing with petaled broom
When we mark the line.

Her rapid death put my soul in arrear
With words unspoken: root, furrow, pollen, tear.
But Dahlias, my dear, will dispel this gloom.
As each fall we lift tubers from frosted tomb,
And each spring we restore her beauty here
When we mark the line.

"All her nieces and nephews called June “Auntie”, even long after we grew up.  My grandfather bred Dahlias that he named after each of his children and grandchildren.  Auntie June’s was a beautiful dinner-plate sized white one with hints of pale yellow.  We could always find it easily in the garden, and it suited her perfectly. Her smile and her namesake Dahlia had luminous qualities!" Terry Andre Dukerschein

Here are two similarly-titled poems: "Afterwards" by Norman Kraeft, and "Afterward" by his daughter, and June's stepdaughter, Maggie Mendus ...

by Norman Kraeft

Too late I found much clearer than I'd known,
while we shared everything exuberantly,
to what degree her love for me had grown,

up to what stars and planets it had flown,
down to the depths of its profundity:
the treasured measure of this love I'd known.

Now that fate stranded me, here on my own,
here in our house, in this vast vacancy,
I clearly see how strong her love had grown.

No longer sitting with me on our throne,
she richly gifted me, warmheartedly.
If I had known! If only I had known!

The secret that she held was hers alone.
Kindly she never said straightforwardly
what she for dreadful days and nights had known.

My mate, my love knew she could not postpone
the gruesome truth she'd never shared with me.
Too late I found much clearer than I'd known
to what degree her love for me had grown.


by Maggie Mendus

The long harangue of hanging sorrow holds      
me in its grip like clinging winter colds,
and wraps me in its chilly, threadbare folds.

No matter where I go or what I do,
I still see her arranging something new
from flower gardens. Watching her, I, too,

appreciate the finest gifts of earth:
buds blossoming in springtime, each new birth
that brought her pleasure greater in its worth

than gold. Her camera lens, which caught the peaks
of Santa Catalina Mountains, speaks
to chronicle her travels. Blazing streaks

of orange and pink accent each canyon rim,
provide lace edging for the evening.  Slim
the consolation morning brings. A dim

parade of grayness marches on my heart,
its music in a minor key.  Apart
from her, all tastes are bitter, sour, tart.

Laborious the days that slowly lurch
and grind, impelling me to sadly search
for answers.  In my living room or church,

I come up empty. Caved-in, silent halls
return her face, her voice, while stillness stalls
the movement of my inner clock. Four walls

stand absent of all hue, shade, light, decor.
Living with less and less, desiring more,
forlorn, I watch the handle of the door.

Readings, for June Kysilko Kraeft
by Michael R. Burch

Do not gloss over too quickly
lines she penned lightly and thickly,
filling in the missing dots of lives:
children, husbands, fathers, mothers, wives.

In everything she wrote she left the creed
of a mother’s love: the oft-transplanted seed
of who she was; and though we seldom saw
beyond the superficial, still the raw

strange powerful deep-planted embryo
of human growth within her, which we know
by her own face, her features–that good gene
that lives beyond her, and by which I mean

to celebrate her ... 
                            O, friend, comprehend.
Live as she loved, and life will never end.

The HyperTexts