BIO: Mary Jo was a concert pianist and harpsichordist for most of her life. She began writing poetry when music could no longer contain or transcend the grieving process caused by the death of two grandsons who died from mitochondrial disease. Poetry, the music of words, provided unexpected healing.

Mary Jo is available for poetry readings and presentations that reflect on her personal story about writing and healing. Her work and story have been featured at Genesee Depot's Cornerstone and at Ten Chimneys where she has been a docent for eight years. Jo has enjoyed reading poetry for fundraisers that have benefited the Waukesha Food Pantry and The Women's Center. She has participated in readings throughout Wisconsin, Florida and in Delaware at the Writers at the Beach Conference.

She has received many honors for her poetry. Most recently, she was presented a Jade Ring Award for serious poetry from the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association. In 2006, she was nominated for a Pushcart and in 2007, won first place in the Kay Saunders Memorial New Poet Contest. Her writing has been published in journals such as The Healing Muse, Passager, Free Verse, Echoes, Spindrift and Windhover. She was a featured poet for Toward the Light and Bellowing Ark, which published her book, Joy in the Morning. Jo has also served as a judge for the poetry division of Arizona Authors Association.

Mary Jo is a member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, Wisconsin Regional Writers Association, The Poetry People, Writers at the Beach, and the Florida State Poets Association. She is also a founding member of Grace River Poets, a group of faith-based poets who are available for presentations.

gathering the harvest, Bellowing Ark Press, 2012. $18.00 + $2.00 postage. order
Also available from the author directly. All proceeds to benefit mitochondrial disease research:

Joy in the Morning, Bellowing Ark Press, 2008. $14.00 includes postage. order
Also available from the author directly. All proceeds to benefit mitochondrial disease research:

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Empty Shoes, pages 3 and 100

Gathering The Harvest

Up and down the kettles and moraines,
we hike in the unexpected clarity
of an autumn-calm afternoon. This rolling land
left behind by glaciers is damp from days of rain,
but today
it brightens with warmth. Wind ripples
the tall grasses, carries tufts of silky milkweed,
and the vanilla scent of crushed asters.

We picnic on a knoll overlooking the river
that wears its skin like a party dress
aglow with glistening beads, its curves like hips
as it moves sinuously around the bends.
Clusters of berries glisten in the bushes.

A black cloud of starlings passes over,
and I tell the story of Mozart’s pet starling.
How the maestro heard
beautiful music in its whistles and screeches
and added a line to his G Major piano sonata,
a line transposed from the bird’s song.

Hordes of grasshoppers rise in another dark cloud
through the landscape of time. A memory travels
from the South Dakota plains:
                fields of ripening wheat, a darkening sky,
                the falling locusts. Aunts, uncles, all gathered
                in our grandparents home, Whispering Hope
                ascending from the wheezing pedals
                of the pump organ. And Dad’s sweet tenor,
                clear and true above the other voices, all rising
                like prayers of propitiation.

Your fingertips move lightly over my face as I linger,
suspended between here and there,
the heartbeats
of all the living and dead, drumming within me.

We look now over the distance we’ve come,
layer upon layer of golden-green hills
airbrushed to ever softer hues in the distance.
We scoop them up into the net of memory,
winding back upon itself, moving forward.

—Mary Jo Balistreri

from gathering the harvest, Bellowing Ark Press, 2012


She sits at the old cherry table,
socked feet curled around its center
pedestal just like her father did thirty
years ago. A bayberry candle flickers,
flames fantasies, fragments
that Abby scratches into form
on a yellow legal pad.

She sips hot chocolate, bites
down on a crunchy pretzel twist,
occasionally twines a strand of hair
around a finger, writing, always writing.

I sit with her reading The Best
American Poetry 2007,
but nothing stirs
me like this child. The slipping light
of late November illuminates
the small bent head, gathers itself around
her like a charm from the grief
she pours into a livable shape
for herself. It’s Christmas and she wants

her brother back, will continue to write until
he comes alive on the page, until
the radiance she doesn’t know she carries
enfolds them both.

—Mary Jo Balistreri

from Joy in the Morning, Bellowing Ark Press, 2008