Friday, March 19, 2010

With This Day's Worn Rag of Hope

Allegra Silberstein and her daughters, Dawn and Maia,
as Mayor Ruth Asmunson reads the proclamation
naming Allegra Poet Laureate of Davis

—Allegra Jostad Silberstein, Davis

I have known hills
so tall they seemed like mountains
to Easterners accustomed to the Appalachians.

Walking through the valley
shadowed into hills on either side
I have followed a brook
and stopped by hidden springs
to ease the dry ache of throat dust.

I have looked up the steep ascent
littered with quarried rock
swept down by dynamite
and used broken branches
to aid my climb to limestone walls
above a vast flat floor: a coliseum
of abandoned excavation

and traveled slowly on a forgotten road
to a place where lilacs bloomed each spring
by a crumbling foundation inhabited
by young trees.

In my shadowed youth
I walked through the valley
to the lantern light and dark of my hilltop home.

I have known hills
so tall they seemed like mountains.

(First appeared in Blue Unicorn)


Rattlesnake Press is proud to congratulate Rattlechapper Allegra Silberstein on being named Poet Laureate of Davis! Allegra Jostad Silberstein was born on a farm in Wisconsin near La Crosse. Her love of poetry began as a child when her mom would recite nursery rhymes while she was working. She also loves dance and performs with Bob Wren’s World Music Ensemble and other groups. More than 100 poems have been published in journals such as Poetry Depth Quarterly, Yolo Crow, Blue Unicorn, Rattlesnake Review, Poetry Now, Iodine Poetry, Poetry of the New West, California Quarterly, and others. Publication in anthologies includes: The Sacramento Anthology: One Hundred Poems; Gatherings: A Woman’s Place; and Where Do I Walk. Her first chapbook, Acceptance, was published in 1999, and In the Folds was published by Rattlesnake Press in 2005. She is currently working on a full-length book of poems and is the Poet Laureate of Davis, California.

Tonight, Allegra will host The Other Voice, sponsored by the UU Church of Davis, presenting two noteworthy poets: Sharon Campbell and Taylor Graham. The reading begins at 7:30pm in the library of the church which is located at 27074 Patwin Road in Davis. Refreshments and Open-mike follow the reading, so bring a poem to share. [For bios of the poets, go to last Monday's post.]

Here's a cellar poem from Taylor Graham:

—Taylor Graham, Placerville

If God had decreed not to save us all, would he let mother choose which should go to heaven?
—Elihu Burritt, A Voice from the Back Pews

Guests in the house again, the talk
will be of election—not the next President,
but your small unsatisfactory soul;

not yours specifically, but by implication.
Yes, surely yours specifically, the lost
soul of the dull child in the family.

Predestination. How could a loving mother,
much less a loving God, hold to such
a fearsome doctrine? No matter

how mightily she prays for you,
when talk turns to salvation,
you’ll be hiding in the cellar,

or stone-still on the back stoop,
scanning the sky for the Saved, those
immortals chosen by a gracious Lord

to sing psalms all day, every
day, and to eat apricots—not just
after the damning Sunday sermon.

(First appeared in Magnapoets)


Monday at SPC:

For a more complete listing of this weekend's NorCal events, go to

•••Monday (3/22), 7:30pm: Sacramento Poetry Center presents Kel Munger and Robert M. Stanley at HQ for the Arts, 1719 25th St., Sacramento. Host: Bob Stanley (the other one).

Kel Munger edits the poetry, books and theater sections, among her many other duties at Sacramento News & Review. She was a Pearl M. Hogrefe Fellow at Iowa State University and is the author of The Fragile Peace You Keep: Poems (New Rivers Press, 1998). Her poetry has been published in a number of journals, including Iowa Woman, Sinister Wisdom, The Lesbian Review of Books, The Apalachee Quarterly and Rattle: Poems for the 21st Century. She's recently begun writing fiction, and her story, "Missus Finn" recently won the Mighty River Short Story Contest at Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley. The novel from which that story was taken is currently under consideration at Southeast Missouri University Press.

Robert M. Stanley (not to be confused with Bob Stanley, Sacramento's current Poet Laureate) wrote his first poem (for a family Christmas card) while serving in the Army occupation forces in Seoul, South Korea right after World War II. After discharge from the Army in 1946, Robert studied poetry at Pasadena City College, and at UCLA where he received a degree in English literature. The poets of the Tang Dynasty (in translation) have long been his main inspiration and models. Their Taoist-Buddhist world view of these poets—along with teachings of modern science—inform the poetry Stanley has been writing, especially since the late 1980s. His poems have been published, first in a national college-poetry anthology (1947), and later in several newspapers and religious magazines.


—Allegra Jostad Silberstein

After the white and pink blossoms fall
golden mustard combs the orchard and spreads
across the fence like sunlight…

the roadside inhabited by faith.

In a vacant lot
between tall buildings this upcoming yellow
grows tall as a forest…

redwing blackbirds sing canticles there.

(First appeared in California Quarterly)


—Allegra Jostad Silberstein

We envied you, the youngest,
as if you ad been singled out
for a coat of many colors.
We said Mom spoiled you.

We were wrong.
Love made you strong.
You grew to manhood with courage
enough to hold at bay

the gnawing years that would
chew upon the heart remorselessly,
the way packs of wild dogs
devour the downed lamb.

You stayed with Mom and Dad—
held back the dark
that folded in on the farm,
holding fast to our mother.

You stayed to tend the fields,
to mind the cattle and we were free
to leave: to embroider our garments
with threads of red and gold.

You stayed,
steadfast in your faded coat.

(First appeared in One Dog Press—Poetry of the New West)


—Allegra Jostad Silberstein

Full moon, crooning, tells turtle
to come out and dance
on sandy-loam at the edge

of Putah Creek where sandy-loam
learned from grass snake
how to weave grass into melody,

where crawdads teach Putah Creek
the art of cart-wheeling
to laughing water lyrics

and deep beneath the creek
deep beneath the sandy-loam
water thrums a soft song

valley oaks and black walnuts hear
when they touch the tule fog, when
they sing of holding on and letting go.

Vulture hawks preening
in morning light teach amaryllis
the glory of opening

while old fox, wary of hunters,
carries Grandmother
to her new moon.

(First appeared in Poetry Now)


—Allegra Jostad Silberstein

At seven o’clock in the evening
on the way to a poetry reading
I saw by the edge of the road
in a clear space open to mountains
just past the crowding of houses,
a shimmering:
sun polished wild oats,
golden seed pearls
strung on their stalks
swaying in perfect freedom,
easy in a gentle breeze.

For these brief moments
miracles seemed logical:
how certain gifted believers
can be given Mary visions,
how the heart stops momentarily
and then does a little flip-flop
when the beloved appears,
how the cripple can walk
and the blind be given sight,
how rainbows are a promise…

At half-past the next hour
when it came my turn to read
the words had gone astray.
I spoke pale shadows
beside an inner ache
for the wayside
shining I had seen earlier.

Would that I could sprinkle words
with holy water, set them like a seal
upon my palm, press them to my lips
and let them fall upon the page
like evening sunlight on wild oats.

(First appeared in Poetry Now)



flows by me.
I see them ripple in the water
dance with the falling leaves.

I hear the murmur of vowels,
little spits of consonants in a language
pleasing though foreign to my ears.

There’s a house of cards at the river’s edge
with symbols beyond my ken,
I see the cards building higher and higher,

see them bend and sway with the wind,
on top, a flag flutters and falls
as the cards come tumbling down.

A river of words flows by,
minnows dart in and out,
a vowel here, a consonant there, caught

in their open mouths. They understand
the river, a silent eloquence
written with flashing tail.

I must learn
the art of fishing…

—Allegra Jostad Silberstein

(First appeared in Rattlesnake Review)


Today's LittleNip:

—Allegra Silberstein

With this day’s worn rag of hope
I will wipe away the muddy footprints
left in the dark.

After this day’s rough fabric of work
I will rest between ragged sheets of peace
the worn edges turned under,

and I will lie beneath a blanket woven
with threads of desire
in the weft and warp of dreams.

(First appeared in Iodine)