Tender Harvest

Published in 2009, Tender Harvest was a finalist for the 2010 New Mexico Book Award in the Poetry Category, a notable achievement for a first book of poetry.   This collection of poems offers meaning and insights extracted from the writer's childhood and family experiences in rural midwestern America and subsequent deep attachment to life in New Mexico.

In Tender Harvest, poet Linda Whittenberg gathers moments rich in music and meaning to create a soulful feast for the senses. These are lines culled from life lived at full tilt. Her poems dare to go both "up into startling light" and "out in bare feet, / out into the beautiful darkness." -- Kathleen Johnson

Other comments or reviews



Photo by Teri Thomson Randall


Desert canyons invite prayer—
dry washes where storm floods blast and batter,
where water has swept over rock
for a million years.

Cottonwoods worthy of worship,
survivors of battle with water and wind,
masterpieces shaped by adversity, majestic,

The brittle soul can learn from willow,
bowed horizontal but alive. Admirable,
the skill of willow to bend with gales
and stretch towards water.

Consider beleaguered piñon,
how its roots cling to the wall of a wash,
how it will do what it must—
contort, twist, reach, to prevail.

At every turn, roots: minute threads feeding grasses;
tough, hollow straws sucking life into cattails and tules.
At every turn, roots invite the question:
by what are you held and sustained?

Photo by Teri Thomson Randall


Apricots, succulent, tangy, trace of alum—
in spring when the trees burst
into crescendos of white,
you, fretting over frost

and, later, you on the roof leaning perilously
to reach the furthermost branches.
Avalanches of apricots tumbling
from overfull baskets.

I, waking to sweet balm
of apricots simmering on the stove
and you singing, Lay, lady, lay across
my big brass bed,
your deep bass voice

crackling with asthma and age.
Apricot halves, ears you call them,
laid out to dry in the July sun.
Your fingers, meticulously,

tenderly turning
each one. To me, you will
always be apricots.


Some nights when I am here
and the land where I was born is far,
I go there to stand in the fresh-plowed fields.
My lungs blossom to aroma of decay,
the slow, heated work of soil-making.
My bare feet make footprints in the moist loam.
The soles resonate with vibrations below
where grub and beetle toil,
where imperceptible beings spew their harvest
and strata of shifting shale groans.
Across the undulating rows
a spring moon spreads velvet light
like a comforter laid out for a child to sleep.

The nearby pond shines steady stars.
Where forest meets water—
delicate splash of a deer who’s come to drink.
Motion of fish sends out a pulsating hum.
I hear murmur of worms.
Music of batwing, silken swoop of owl,
melodious night birds, movement of ducks,
flit of mosquito and gnat,
whisper of trees as they stretch and settle—
a sonata, and I to listen.


Another finch deceived by the sunroom window glass.
My granddaughter gives full attention to the limp creature
in her palm,
sits on the log fence while her younger brother kneels

to study its faint breathing and stroke its rosy feathers.
Their heads almost touch.
Even through glass I feel the intense concern,
feel them willing the bird’s tiny heart to beat.

I am awash in birds—ones found raking after winter,
ones my brother downed with his pellet gun.
I’m taken back to starlings, when the city cleaned out the square,
carpeting the streets with shiny, black corpses.

At the bedside holding a hand, my heart surges, expands,
reaches toward the other.
I would rip it out and hand it over.
My prayer is more like an order.
With one finger I trace the hand I’m holding.
It’s all I can do.

Photo by Teri Thomson Randall

—Remembering Flossie Gudgel

When the teacher asked for a volunteer
to deliver the get well card our class
had signed, I raised my hand.

I needed to see for myself if someone
just my age could be dying. Come
face to face with this gruesome truth.

Cinderblock steps scarcely reached
the trailer door. There was no bell.
Your mother wore too big a smile.

I wished I hadn’t come
but there you were—your lips,
two parched seedpods; triangle

of your thin shoulder; your eyes,
dangerous eddies I feared
would draw me in.

Outside your window
dry leaves rollercoastered all the way down.
My hand, end-of-summer brown

against yours, fragile as a skiff of frost
on the white sheet. Your face,
rice paper stretched over bone.

Now, when moisture glistens
on the sidewalk after an autumn rain
or when berries shrivel on the vine,

I remember you and how, that day,
I buttoned my coat against the cold,
and, passing by

broken cars and scrawny dogs,
turned the corner towards home.
It wasn’t that far.