Monday, August 17, 2009

Mermaids, Ticks & Tumbleweeds

The Siren
Painting by John Waterhouse

—Taylor Graham, Placerville

(for Elihu Burritt, East Anglia 1863)

Your journey’s such a footsore quest
ever northward through fields and fens.
At end of day you seek your rest
in inns, the traveler’s common dens.
Tonight a Mermaid keeps you guest.

A simple supper. Climb the stair
and find your door. Beyond the latch,
a low-roofed room of ancient thatch;
the bed so close beneath, you’d swear
the thatch a mermaid’s hair to catch

you drifting to sleep on sea-streams—
at least, that’s how this night it seems—
the bed so fancifully fringed—
your mind quite from itself unhinged,
a mermaid’s hair entwining dreams.


—Ann Wehrman, Sacramento

(after “The Little Sea-Maid” by Hans Christian Anderson)

gray white as sea foam
hair spreads around
narrow face, once full
sunken cheeks, shrunken jaw
teeth loose, eyes dim
great grandmother mermaid
ten oysters on her tail
two left out
in tribute to her sister
two oysters less on
elder sister’s tail

oh, I earned them, she cackles,
eel all a-glow wiggles by, grins
yet how romantic
youngest sister’s life
sacrificed everything for love
forgave her beloved, who saw her not
flies now with daughters of the air
earning an immortal soul
so grand
worth it to deny myself in her honor
two status symbols

great-grandmother mermaid
curls up, content
in her corner of the castle
grandson now King
mate gone one hundred years
time, surely, to let all this go
one last look around
glowing palace
mermen and women with
flowing hair
dance, sing
tame fish nibble
opens her oyster box
two pearls glow
closes the box
closes her eyes


Thanks to Taylor Graham for the quintillas, and to Ann Wehrman for her take on the Hans Christian Anderson story. Both poets were captivated by the idea of an aging mermaid. And thanks to Allegra Silberstein and Jeanine Stevens for more poems; see below. All these wonderful poets will be represented in Rattlesnake Review #23, due out in mid-September.

Carol Louise Moon writes to say she’s been chosen "Ohio Poetry Association's August Poet of the Month"! Go to and click on "contest", then “poet of month”.

This week in NorCal poetry:

•••Monday (8/17), 7:30 PM: Sacramento Poetry Center presents Molly Fisk, Lawrence Dinkins Jr. and Joshua Neely at HQ for the Arts, 1719 25th St. (25th & R), Sacramento. Molly Fisk was born in San Francisco. She earned her B.A. from Radcliffe College/Harvard University, her M.B.A. from Simmons College Graduate School of Management, and began writing at the age of 35. She's the author of Listening to Winter, Terrain (with Dan Bellm and Forrest Hamer), the letterpress chapbook, Salt Water Poems, and the CD of a radio commentary, "Using Your Turn Signal Promotes World Peace". Molly has received fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, and the Marin Arts Council.

Lawrence Dinkins Jr. is a mainstay of the Sacramento Poetry scene. He is a dynamic performer of the written word in all its forms, and he is the proprietor of

Joshua Neely lives and works in Sacramento, and recently completed his MA in English at CSU Sacramento. He is an editorial assistant for Flatmancrooked Publishing and an assistant poetry editor for Narrative. Some of his poems have appeared in The Suisun Valley Review and Eclipse Literary Journal.

Coming Up at SPC:

August 24: Rebecca Foust and Mari L'Esperance

•••Tuesday (8/18), 6:30 PM: Third Tuesday Poetry Reading at the Barkin' Dog in downtown Modesto (940 11th St.). Come early and have dinner! This month, poet and teacher Gary Thomas will share his poetry and pave the way for featured poet Julia Connor, former Poet Laureate of Sacramento. Gary is a native of this great valley and a great presence on the local poetry scene. His work captures the atmosphere and environment of the Central Valley landscape and its people with grace, beauty, and gentle humor. Julia Connor, an accomplished ceramics artist as well as poet, has taught poetry classes for many years and has done amazing work spreading poetry around Sacramento in her laureate position which extended from 2005-2009. She is the author of several books of poetry, including Oar (from Rattlesnake Press), The Delta Poem, Gradual Map, A Canto for the Birds, and Corresponding Flowers. She’s been awarded numerous fellowships, including those from the California Arts Council and the Hambidge Center for the Arts and Sciences. Open mic to follow.

•••By the way, Julia Connor will lead a free poetry workshop for ten weeks beginning Thursday, Sept. 3 at the Hart Senior Center on 27th and J Sts., Sacramento, funded by a National Endowment for the Arts grant. Info: Hart Center, 916-808-5462.

•••Wed. (8/19), 7:30 PM: Our House Art Gallery Poetry Night. Sign up for open mic by 7 PM. Located at 1004 White Rock Rd., Suite 400 (corner of Latrobe & White Rock Rds. in the Montano El Dorado Shopping Center), El Dorado Hills. Free. Info: or 916-933-4278.

•••Wed. (8/19), 9 PM: Featured reader plus open mic at 10 PM) at Bistro 33, 3rd and F Sts. in Davis, 1st and 3rd Wednesdays. Free. Hosted by Andy Jones and Brad Henderson. Info: or 530-756-4556 or

•••Wed. (8/19), 8-11 PM: Mahogany Urban Poetry Series at Queen Sheba's Restaurant, 1704 Broadway (17th and Broadway), Sacramento. DJ Rock Bottom spins at 8, with open mic poetry at 9. $5 cover, all ages.

•••Thurs. (8/20), 8 PM: Poetry Unplugged at Luna's Cafe, 1414 16th St., Sacramento presents Issue #3 of WTF!!!, the free quarterly journal of Luna's folks (and others) from Rattlesnake Press. Featured readers from this issue, plus other goodies hosted by frank andrick. Open mic before and after. Come get your free copy! Next deadline is November 15; see below for details.

•••Friday (8/21), 7:30 PM: A Bay Area Poetry Reading to celebrate the release of Sometimes in the Open, an anthology of poems from Sacramento Poetry Center’s Sacramento Poetry Press (2009) that includes many of the Poets Laureate of California cities and counties. To be held at Mrs. Dalloway's Literary & Garden Arts, 2904 College Avenue Berkeley. Info: 510/704-8222 or Hosted by Former California Poet Laureate Al Young and Sacramento Poet Laureate/Sacramento Poetry Center President/Poet/Editor of Sometimes in the Open Bob Stanley, with featured readings by Al Young; Robert M. Shelby, Poet Laureate of Benicia; Connie Post, former Poet Laureate of Livermore; Mary Rudge, Poet Laureate of Alameda; Martha Meltzer, former Poet Laureate of Pleasanton; Albert Flynn DeSilver, Poet Laureate of Marin County; Rod Clark, former Poet Laureate of Pacifica; and Christina Hutchins, Poet Laureate of Albany.

•••Friday (8/20), 6-9 PM: Poetry at the Vox meets this time at 1931 H St. (at 20th), Sacramento, featuring SLiC, Laura Bauman, Shawn Pittard, Traci Gourdine, Bill Carr, Sibilla Hershey, and Ann Privateer. Hosted by Cynthia Linville at or Free.


—Jeanine Stevens, Sacramento

No indoor plumbing in these cabins,
just swimming in warm, pollen coated waters.

Grandfather even stopped using his straight edge.
“When are you going to shave?”
“Directly,” he said.

A week later pulling his collar aside,
peering in the cracked mirror
“What is this thing in the hollow of my neck?”

I took him into the sunlight—a tick,
shiny, swollen, bloated from a week’s feeding.

We tried vinegar, alcohol, and kerosene.
A hot match to the black body—released,
plopped to floor with a bony, star-shaped splat.


—Allegra Silberstein, Davis

I’m driving down the frontage road;
suddenly, caught in my lights
a brown nebulous form.

Faint with fear
I slam on the brakes,
feel the light thud of impact.

Gradually vision clears,
terror loosens its grip
and breath comes full again.

It’s a giant tumbleweed
caught on the front of my car.
The tangled stems, wind driven,

had rolled through the night
like some macabre beach ball
on this dark deserted road.

Backing up brings release
from the humungous weed
but some seeds stay with me.

Desire-driven, I too, may tumble
into the blinding light
of on-coming traffic.



was queen of the haylofts. Stacks of hay piled high
on both sides of the driveway into the barn made
a deep ravine I would leap across held aloft by the hay rope—
holding on until I came to the apex of the swinging arc
and in that brief pause before gravity pulled me back
over the yawning chasm below, I would let go—
let momentum carry me far enough to fall into the high-piled
second cutting of alfalfa and timothy on the other side.

Queen of the haylofts, I stacked and pitched
with the best of men, pitted my strength against theirs,
won grudging respect for the muscled strength
powering the small bones of my young body.

I raced with the wind across the hilltop ridge,
lifted, almost able to fly, like the meadowlark singing
in the sky above me. When my legs began to know
their mortal limitations, and I had to slow to a walk,
I’d flight my songs to the valley below.

Sometimes I wandered through the woods,
down to the valley spring, to drink from the earth,
pressing my lips to the layered limestone where water
trickling from cracks sang in a murmumbling sort of way
as it tumbled over rocks...the way people pour out blues
and spirituals in easy flow, moving over stone-hard hurts.

Time came when I, queen of the haylofts,
left my kingdom, when I leaped the wide ravine
between farm and city but still I swing, held aloft
in a spinning of letters woven into threads of words.

—Allegra Silberstein


—Allegra Silberstein

The summer sky is full of stars:
Cassiopeia, queen who marks
the vernal equinox
across the night from Ursa Major

and Draco the dragon spreading his tail
wide between them
with Cancer and Cygnus and Leo
and Lyra holding bright Vega…

stars beyond number:
so many I cannot name,
so vast the place to search,
to stretch my mind like a balloon rising

in the summer sky where
Sagittarius marks the center
of the spiraling galaxy
that holds our sun.

On my unmarked path, I need
something to point true north,
something giving direction
to the circling chatter of my mind.

Meditation will be my compass
to the unknown, my search
for the knower of the field
who sees into purusha,

the infinite particle,
in a waiting place of deep quiet
—close to home—
expanding like a galaxy.


Today's LittleNip:

You know how it is in the kid's book world: It's just bunny eat bunny.




SnakeWatch: What's New from Rattlesnake Press:


Now available: two new chapbooks from Joyce Odam:
Peripherals: Prose Poems
(illustrated by Charlotte Vincent)
and Rattlesnake LittleBook #2 (Noir Love).

That’s at The Book Collector, 1008 24th St., Sacramento.

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 at Luna's Cafe on
Thursday, August 20
) 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 (include snail address) and I'll send you one. Free!


Join us at The Book Collector Wednesday, September 9 at 7:30 PM
for the release of a new chapbook by
Susan Finkleman
(Mirror, Mirror: Poems Of The Mother-Daughter Relationship, illustrated by Joseph Finkleman);
plus a new HandyStuff blank journal from Katy Brown (A Capital Affair);
a littlesnake broadside from Marie Reynolds (Late Harvest);
and a brand new issue of Rattlesnake Review (#23)!


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.