Wednesday, July 29, 2009

About Being Lost (& Squirrels)

—Patricia Wellingham-Jones, Tehama

The old rancher dies,
his young widow
doesn’t know what to do.
For two years the ranch lies
Now cattle trucks
haul off the steers.
That answers
one of the questions.
The old foreman
and his wife,
who have tended the land
for many decades,
don’t know what to do.


—Tom Goff, Carmichael

(“With Malice Toward None” Exhibit,
California Museum)

When I am lost,
as lost I must be,
where will my ghost
go? Will it not cling
to a few useful things,
as bits of Mr. Lincoln
adhere, perhaps,

to the temple stems
of his twin pairs of spectacles,
one stem twine-repaired?

Does his spirit circle the rims,
visit small magnifying pools
where the straight yet opaque
gray gaze once bobbed?

Are these lenses, then,
the watery arena where
General Truth
and Rebel Detail

wage undying civil war?
And eternally reconcile?


—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Elihu Burritt’s walk from London to the tip of Scotland, 1863

The cliffs precipitous, a zigzag trail
cut into rock that overhangs the Tweed.
A man could lose his nerve, his courage fail.
You’ve kept your nerve but surely lost your way
as you, by steeper pitch and prayer, proceed
through “these dark fastnesses.” A doubtful gray
from sky or river fills the gorge, the path
cut into rock that overhangs the Tweed.
Some spirit of the pagan wilds, its wrath
unmitigated in this lonely place—
yet still you climb in hand with God, and tight
against the wall’s unwelcoming, rough face.
At last you reach an open range, a height
with vista over panoramic space,
a vast expanse of hills and shadowed dale,
the cliffs precipitous, the zigzag trail.


—Taylor Graham

... that travelers were liable to many serious mishaps; that storms came suddenly down upon the cold waste.

—Elihu Burritt, A Walk from London to Land’s End (1865)

This “cold, granite Sahara,” you call it, where July
makes no summer promises and travelers lose themselves
in spite of kistvaens, crosses, standing-stones.
Tors extrude boulders, as if a giant smashed a mountain,
and buried rocks keep trying to crawl out.

Still, water’s the motive force here. Rivers well
from granite morasses. Ground-swells of heather tide
underfoot, sphagnum moss floats in stone basins
of rainfill. Peat-bog, mire, wet-woodland
where willow dips its feet in the flow, tangling

with alder, fern, and birdsong. A traveler might want
to stay forever. A traveler might not find
a way out of here. For markers, ancient stone rows
and hut circles, meaningless at this stage of history,
of a solitary day-walk. Elihu, are you following

a mapped line, or just your 19th century
notion of always moving forward? The common folk
keep their cardinal points of legend: spectral hounds,
pixies, a headless horseman. By sun-course
and faith, you’re marching west with a six-foot stride.


—Taylor Graham

oh squirrel
why didn't you tell us
you knew how to get there!

—Frank O’Hara

Quite lost down here
without power, the only soul without
lights—how could I find the way
in a world all blue sky
soon darkening to stars? And,
in between, squirrel-fling
oak boughs, a high-wire daring
to cross, to transform

In time
would come
men with trucks and cranes,
electrifying answers.
Till then,
both of us lost, Squirrel.
I in the dark you made me;
you in
your ultimate arc.


Today's LittleNip:

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in a human situation.

—Graham Greene



SnakeWatch: What's New from Rattlesnake Press:


There will be no rattle-read in July, while the Snake enjoys a little summer hibernation. (Stay current on Sacramento poetry, though, by way of Medusa's Kitchen.) Then join us Weds., August 12 to celebrate Joyce Odam’s birthday month with two new books from her: Peripherals: Prose Poems by Joyce Odam (illustrated by Charlotte Vincent) and Rattlesnake LittleBook #2 (Noir Love).
That’s at The Book Collector, 1008 24th St., Sacramento, 7:30 PM. Free!

WTF!: The second issue of WTF, the free quarterly journal from Poetry Unplugged at Luna's Cafe that is edited by frank andrick, is now available at The Book Collector or through, or send me two bux and I'll mail you one.
Deadline for Issue #3 (which will be available August 21) was July 15; next deadline will be Oct. 15. Submission guidelines are the same as for the Snake, but send your poems, photos, smallish art or prose pieces (500 words or less) to (attachments preferred) or, if you’re snailing, to P.O. Box 762, Pollock Pines, CA 95726 (clearly marked for WTF).
And be forewarned: this publication is for adults only, so you must be
over 18 years of age to submit. (More info at

RATTLESNAKE REVIEW: Issue #22 is now available (free) at The Book Collector, or send me four bux and I'll mail you one. Or you can order copies of current or past issues through Deadline is August 15 for RR23: send 3-5 poems, smallish art pieces and/or photos (no bio, no cover letter, no simultaneous submissions or previously-published poems) to or
P.O. Box 762, Pollock Pines, CA 95726. E-mail attachments are preferred, but be sure to add all contact info, including snail address. Meanwhile, the snakes of the on-going Medusa are always hungry; keep that poetry comin', rain or shine!
Just let us know if your submission is for the Review or for Medusa, or for either one, and please—only one submission packet per issue of the quarterly Review.
(More info at

Also available (free): littlesnake broadside #46: Snake Secrets: Getting Your Poetry Published in Rattlesnake Press (and lots of other places, besides!): A compendium of ideas for brushing up on your submissions process so as to make editors everywhere more happy, thereby increasing the likelihood of getting your poetry published. Pick up a copy at The Book Collector or write to me and I'll send you one. Free!


Medusa encourages poets of all ilk and ages to send their POETRY, PHOTOS and ART, as well as announcements of Northern California poetry events, to (or snail ‘em to P.O. Box 762, Pollock Pines, CA 95726) for posting on this daily Snake blog. Rights remain with the poets. Previously-published poems are okay for Medusa’s Kitchen, as long as you own the rights. (Please cite publication.) Medusa cannot vouch for the moral fiber of other publications, contests, etc. that she lists, however, so submit to them at your own risk. For more info about the Snake Empire, including guidelines for submitting to or obtaining our publications, click on the link to the right of this column: Rattlesnake Press ( And be sure to sign up for Snakebytes, our monthly e-newsletter that will keep you up-to-date on all our ophidian chicanery.