Transformings poems by Rennie McQuilkin

picture of Rennie McQuilkin
Photograph by Rob McQuilkin.  

As its title suggests, Rennie McQuilkin’s newest poetry collection, Transformings, focuses on a variety of transformations occurring in both personal and public life. The poems depict the poet’s early and later years, in particular the tragic death of his wife, afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease, and his life in a retirement community. The worlds of nature and personal relationship are central to the book. In its second section, Transformings presents poems concerning the recent war in the Holy Land, searching for glimmers of redemption in a dire situation, suggesting that peace is the only answer, and ending with the score for a musical rendering of the book’s final poem, “Hymn for Peace.”  Always, the poems avoid obscurity and welcome the reader to engage in poetic conversation, looking for hope in even the most desperate moments and finding much joy in life. The poet writes with a deft touch, striving for simplicity and allowing an abundance of humor into his meditations. 

Richard Blanco, 2013 Presidential Inauguration Poet, has this to say about the book: “Transformings brilliantly and powerfully juxtaposes the intimacy of family life with the enmity of our troubled times. In doing so, these finely elaborated poems manifest vulnerability and compassion as our greatest virtues, with the power to restore us and our world from despair toward hope.”



  Transformings cover image
  Front cover acrylic by Sarah McQuilkin.

The composer of the musical score for one of the poems in the book, “Hymn for Peace,” is Sarah Meneely-Kyder, who is an elected member of American Composers Alliance, BMI, and New York Women Composers. Her creative endeavors have been rewarded with many commissions, among them one from GMChorale in 2011 to write a two-hour oratorio, Letter From Italy,1944, that premiered at the Middletown Performing Arts Center in 2013 to critical acclaim.  In 2017, the combined forces of the GMChorale, the Hartford Chorale, and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra presented a second premiere of Letter From Italy,1944, at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center in Hartford, CT. For 22 years Sarah Meneely-Kyder was a member of the music faculty at Wesleyan University, where she taught composition, piano, chamber music, and performed actively.

The author of Transformings grew up in Pittsford, New York, received Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in History and English from Princeton and Columbia Universities, and decided against a career in law after a stint at Harvard Law School.  He taught English and occasionally directed theatrical productions at Horace Mann School; Phillips Academy and Abbot Academy in Andover, Massachusetts; Schoolboys Abroad in Rennes, France; the Loomis-Chaffee School and Miss Porter's School in Connecticut.  Rennie was Poet Laureate of Connecticut from 2015 to 2018. His poems have appeared in The Atlantic, The Yale Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, The Hudson Review, The American Scholar, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere. This is his 26th collection.  He has received a number of awards for his work, including a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, six fellowships from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Connecticut Center for the Book. In 2010 his volume of new and selected poems, The Weathering, was awarded the Center’s annual poetry prize under the aegis of the Library of Congress; and in 2018, North of Eden received the Next Generation Indie Book Award in Poetry.  He co-founded and for many years directed the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival at Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut.  In 2018, Rennie and his wife of sixty-two years – artist, teacher, counselor, gardener, and gourmet cook Sarah McQuilkin – moved to the Seabury retirement community in Bloomfield, CT.  Sadly, Sarah passed away in January of 2023.

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ISBN 979-8-9898548-0-6
First Edition, 2024
80 pages
Copies of this book are available
from all booksellers including Amazon
 and buyers can order inscribed & signed copies
 directly from the author: Rennie McQuilkin
400 Seabury Dr., #5196
Bloomfield, CT 06002.
Send $17 per book
plus $4 shipping
by check payable
 to the author.

Rennie McQuilkin can be contacted at and 860-519-1804



copyright © 2024 by Rennie McQuilkin





for Robin


We cling to a cliff, my son and I,
both of us Stage 4 and worse.
But our fingernails are digging in,
he repairing his chicken coop

and keeping a cocky hen from
pecking and pulling out feathers
of small newcomers in the clutch.
This absorbs him, Sky Father from

his high roost. Hens cling to him,
sit on his head. He lives for them,
intent on fending off the King Rat.
Thus he fights distress, his and

the world’s, no matter how perilous
the battle. And I, below a patched
ceiling of Hope, hunt and peck,
hunt and peck the seed-keys of this
sort of daily report.



Watson’s Acres

 for Richard Watson (1937 – 2023)


Now that our Richard, maker of so much wonder,
has gone before us into a timeless dimension,
I’m tempted to see him as one of those anonymous
13th Century masons at Chartres who carved a home
for the great Rose Window . . .  But no,

he was simply a man of the cloth stepped down
from one altar to create another, finding himself in
vast woodland and meadow, less a man of God than
a Man of La Mancha on a mission
to transform a chaos of bramble and downed trees
to a passable haven (no heaven, but he had dreams).

When he was not sawing aberrant limbs
(windmilling arms of evil giants, he quipped)
or hauling piles of brush, or heaving dung and wild seed
onto promising hillsides, or making sloughs and creeks
crossable, he made his pulpit the jouncing seat of a jitney,

transporting hobbled elders on tours of his new church,
pausing long and lovingly at the “cathedral tree,” pure
maple at the heart of what his parishioners now christen
Watson’s Glen.

It is no coincidence that toward the end of our celebration
of Richard’s gifts to all of us, a carillon rang its changes
and tolled, each tone a song of joyful praise.

The Hour

for Eleanor and Robin



My daughter says I’ll need help getting through
the day my dearest “went home” a year ago.
Nonsense, I say, having made it this far intact.

As the hour draws near, I begin counting minutes
and see how little I know myself, how much I need
more, survive the hour by recalling my daughter

curled in bed with her mother, holding her tightly,
telling her it’s all right to leave –
she’ll stand in for her, take good care of me,

as she does and does and does.  No better way to
do just that than with this memory of love.



In dream I see my son, away for once when the call comes,
run every red light to St. Francis, stash his car in a fire lane,
storm through the hospital atrium, laces undone,
to the lift to the highest floor, where he imagines clutching
the “johnny” of  Marm's spirit, wings lifting her beyond him,
would hold her back or join the voyage,
and failing that, hurls himself next to her unselved self
already cool in the caged bed, giving all his raging heat to her.


for Sarah


The Christmas cactus is right on time
but only after 12 years of waiting
for this explosion of red-tipped spears
beginning to transform into something
less militant, not ploughshares perhaps,

but lippy pink petals, just the sort
she loved and didn’t live to see. 
I tell her now how right the cactus is
in this direst time of war, an offering to
the Prince of Peace, a thing with wings.



Play is the business
not only of otters sliding down icy banks
onto frozen rivers and sliding across
on tummies like kids on plastic snow sleds,
making otter squeals of utter delight.

It's the business of animals everywhere:
dolphins surfing, elephants romping, terns
looping the loop, voles in stop-and-go
zigs and zags, not for dear life but in a game
of tag, like squirrels up and down a tree.

I too. The animal I am is part of it all
in the delight I take in playing the keys
that tap out this song
like the clutch, brake, and gas petals I loved
to play by heart when I learned to drive at 16.

More than that now is the joy of what
I think to say in this happy conversation with
you, like a hermit thrush singing and singing
at dusk, not for place or love but for the pure
pleasure of hermit thrushing.



Here am I a little man
unable to forgive myself
still able to take in

a dawn so gorgeous
I had no idea
there were such colors

or how they might be
layered one on another
on another so lushly

even if there is no God
and no forgivemess
there is still this

impossible beauty and
even I – infinitesimal –
a part of it.  Alleluya!

Christmas Pyramid in a Time of War


Christmas Eve we huddle together, the whole family.
We light the “Christmas Pyramid” on the dining table.
Heat from the ring of candles at its base rises up like

the wartime grace we say, praying.  The heat
turns slanted balsawood vanes at the top
connected to three plates revolving below, bearing
herald angels, Mary and Joseph, wise men,
assorted shepherds and sheep, along with villagers,
all heading to Bethlehem under candlelight reflected

bright as the eastern star by the spinning vanes.
But the tower’s shaft keeps sticking as if in deep mud.
We urge it to turn, the procession starting and stopping
Meanwhile, red wax from the candles melts into
grotesquely twisted shapes dripping down their sides
and lying, contorted, below the tower that soon goes dark. 

On Christmas day we'll replace the candles and start over,
praying the procession will reach the manger.


They have seen angels floating down to earth,
apt for this dawning of another day of festival music
until the angels rip off their wings
and shoot or worse whatever moves or doesn’t.

Stench of blood follows the flight of this pair
to a creek bottom, a thick tangle of brush and alders.
Boots trample just beyond them. They barely breathe

as the percussion of massacre continues.
They dare not speak above the whisper of the creek
running red, but love moves them

to engender a possibility that months from today
may be a thing of beauty born like a proper angel
into a world of reborn music and joy.

After the Bombing


Searching for some remnant of beauty in a ravaged world,
I’m kin to the weeping, bloodied father hearing cries from
the bombed ruins of his home in Gaza, hurling cinder blocks
from the emerging hand and arm of a boy child, hurling
until he is able to lift his son from the rubble, his son, his son,
still alive, Allah be praised, and cradles him in his arms, looking
to heaven through dust obscuring the sky but beginning to
settle, revealing indigo above the ruins all about him.

His son’s eyes grow large at the sight, not of that deep blue
but of the pale blue of an Icarus butterfly drinking deeply
from the purple crown of a spiked thistle surviving
on scarred dirt beside the destroyed remains of his home.
The boy holds out a hand, on which the Icarus rests awhile,
tasting the day with its zebra-striped antennae. 
Satisfied, it returns to its nectar.  How the father, arms-raised,
praises the moment!  No matter what befalls us, this too is true.

Water Carrier


I am 74, crippled and bent.
I hold a can of water on my shoulder
with one hand, my cane with the other,
walk three miles from the desal plant
where I stood in line five hours.
I am grateful.  My grandchildren wait
in the rubble, parched.  We survive
on water and the bark we strip from
blasted trees.  Inshallah.

Hymn for Peace


Rise up, rise up, Holy One
deep down in us, rise up.
Teach us to see anew,
teach us to be anew.

Teach us to see the person
in every person,
teach every nation to see
the good in every nation.

Rise up, rise up,
Holy One deep down in us.
Teach us to see beyond
our race or clan to one

united worldwide tribe.
Rise up, rise up, most Holy One.
Teach us anew to be
fierce in our passionate peace.