Monday, May 10, 2010

Believe Twice

Crawdad Nelson

—Crawdad Nelson, Sacramento

The thump of a railroad fat with peaches
recalls the orchard and the work
even the fruit crates catskinned
off Tahoe by wildcat gypos
a hundred years before or after
the jackpot.

And the racetrack: I linger over it
full of regret.

Outside the cannery rats are foiled
in their tracks by attractive wafers
chained to the fence.

The ponies are pounding, wild in wind and silk
and my heart leaps at the chance.

A bum in the weeds would rather tell me
about the CIA than light the cigarette
so we part slowly and at peace.

They're bending at the turn, a fire of turds
and hoof-clots follows the dense pack
and my horse throats out, ahead
but burning, all precious energy and lust
beaten out of him.

The factory cranks out canned almonds
the trucks roll off to Safeway burdened
with all the easy cheese, the milk has
officiously been pumped and sealed
at the scale, and the rat snuck up to the wire.

Took a chance. The guard saw
everything on camera and made a mark.

An employee in a hairnet popped an almond
with her teeth and proposed marriage
to the guard but it was lost—her horse
rolled in the stretch and threw her,
whereas the fruit truck entered the third turn
one minute ahead of himself.

The rat took the cheese.
I rolled my own and watched
a two-round prize fight at the bus stop.
I put my roll down on the
chick in a skirt but she had no heart
and the whole thing withered,
I had nothing.

The train pounded on through midtown just about
splitting the rat in half where it had expired
about sunrise, when I lost my last dollar.


Thanks, Crawdad! Dale "Crawdad" Nelson has been in Sacramento long enough to discover two excellent patches of morels, within walking distance. He also knows where to get lemons, oranges, persimmons and walnuts. His latest collection is Big Drink, from 24th Street Irregular Press, 2009. His poems have appeared in places like the Palo Alto Review, New Hampshire Review, The Bear Deluxe, Sacramento News & Review, and other print and online publications. He works as a writing tutor at Sacramento City College, where he is also a history major, and he believes the study of grammar has profound implications. Read more about him at

Join Rattlesnake Press in celebrating the work of Crawdad Nelson and Maureen Hurley this coming Weds., May 12, as Richard Hansen hosts at The Book Collector, 1008 24th St., Sacramento, 7:30pm. Be there!


today I heard few words
but each touched me as if a
thousand years had passed

beneath pine trees
I found this poem for you:
make time for your art.

—Bob Stanley, Sacramento

This is part of a poem that Bob wrote for Mayor Kevin Johnson’s For Art’s Sake initiative; the full poem appeared in the Sacramento Bee California Forum section yesterday. (Poetry to celebrate occasions in public life! Cool!) For more info on Whirlwind Bob’s activities, scroll down to his photo on Medusa's b-board.

This week in NorCal poetry:

•••Monday (5/10), 7:30pm: Sacramento Poetry Center presents !X. The Sacramento City College Ethnic Theatre Workshop (now in its fifth year), with the direction of Professor Angela-Dee Alforque, integrates various forms of art (drama, music, dance, poetry, visual art) with race, ethnic and gender studies. This year, !X will present “Mis-Education Liberation".

Coming up at SPC:
Next Monday (5/17), 7pm (note early start time and location change): Sacramento Poetry Center presents Hot Poetry in Fremont Park with poets Carrie Rudzinski, April Ranger and Terryl Wheat.

•••Tues. (5/11), 6pm: Shawn Franco will read his work and Indigo Moor will read from his new book, Through the Stonecutter's Window, as part of the Second Tuesday Poetry Series at the Barkin' Dog Grill in downtown Modesto, 940 11th St. Contact for more info. Shawn is a local student with lots of experience in the slam world and Indigo is a poet and jazz musician who has recently won the prestigious Cave Canem Award and whose second book, Through the Stonecutter's Window, came out this month. And...this is Bring a Friend to a Poetry Reading Night! Anyone who brings a friend to the reading will be entered along with their friend for a drawing for Indigo Moor's newest book, so bring that friend along! Open mic will follow.

•••Weds. (5/12), 7:30pm: 2nd Weds. Rattle-read; see above or the b-board.

•••Thurs. (5/13), 8pm: Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Café presents Zoe Keithley plus open mic. 1414 16th St., Sacramento. Free. Hosted by Geoffrey Neill.

•••Friday (5/14) thru Monday (5/17): Third Annual “In the Flow Sacramento Jazz Festival”. On Friday (8pm) there will be a special evening of music and poetry at Luna's Café, 1414 16th St., Sacramento, hosted by NSAA (AKA Lawrence Dinkins) featuring Electropoetic Coffee, Josh Fernandez, Ruben Reveles, Frank Andrick and many more. Tickets are $10/day or $30 for a 4-day pass. For info on other events during the weekend or to order tickets, visit

•••Sat. (5/15), 7pm: Aid For Haiti features poetry by Dennis Schmitz, Bob Stanley, James DenBoer, Victoria Dalkey, Susan Kelly-DeWitt, Mary Zeppa. Music by Pat Grizzell and Junkyard Burlesque, plus long-time Haitian Activist Larry Castagnola. Newman Center, 5900 Newman Ct., Sacramento. Suggested donation: $25, but all donations welcome. All proceeds go to Partners in Health, Dr. Paul Farmer and his medical workers in Haiti. Sponsored by Castagnola Haiti Project, Grandmothers for Peace, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Sacramento Poetry Center. Info: 916-457-2478 or Click on the pic on the b-board for more info about Partners in Health.

•••Sat. (5/15), 9am-1pm: “Soar to Healthy Heights” Sr. Health Fair at Fountain Square Rose Garden, 6237 Fountain Square Dr., Citrus Heights. Free! 75 exhibits dedicated to senior issues and concerns: presentations, demos, screenings, give-aways and entertainment—including a poets’ table, with Bob Stanley appearing from 11-12pm. (If you want to display “stuff” on the table, get it there before 9am.) Info: Margaret Bell at or Dr. Jayna Carpinski-Costa, 916-722-8647.

•••Sat. (5/15), 3-5pm: Spring 2010 Celebration of the Women's Writing Salon in Grass Valley, now in its 5th Year! Sierra Mountain Coffee Roasters, 671 Maltman Dr., Grass Valley, 530-477-5282. This is a free event celebrating the voices of fabulous local women writers, featuring Judy Crowe, Heather Donahue, Christine Irving, Terri Kent-Enborg, Patricia Miller and Julie Valin. (Note new time and venue!) Info: Betsy Graziani Fasbinder at


—Crawdad Nelson

Down on that second big in-turn,
that's where you want to be, waiting,
when we set the dogs.

Right where you can see real good
but don' t stand out: be ready, don't swat
mosquitoes or fuck around

pointing your gun at things
or twisting in your boots. It's rough
country down there, be quiet

use your head and don't get up
until you hear the signal shot, or I'll hoot
from up on top there where

everybody drinks beer.


—Crawdad Nelson

Nothing but petals as deep as you go
nothing but almost immediate decay—
sweet-smelling, soft on the fingers,
climbing the walls and falling
in long extravagant washes of rose-bloom
over fences, envining bare boards and settling,
peaceful, rampant, enlightening, compassionate,
careful, partially restless, more than a handful
over rusted nailheads, onto the locked gate.

Roses! Flowers and thorns! Broken stems!
A bustling rapture of dew-set buds!
Nodding in ecumenical frenzies!
Passions in loose exuberant landscapes!
Free as rain—you can wall them out
but you can’t stop a single bloom, can’t
even delay them: crushing bouquets,
the multiplication, the reproduction,
the endless repetitive sweep and sway!

Tie them down, they only strain through
the wires and unpin the stakes!
They liberate! They step out of line!
They grow in all directions, to the light,
unexpectedly verdant, unpredictably vain.

Joyous and splendidly narcissistic!
Disestablished, reaching out of the ground
with courage and beauty, seeking the sun,
a racket of color! Flowing, spilling, spreading
over manures and pathways—onto the
benign, hopeless, horizontal mesh of trails—
limp in cool mornings! Deeply circumstantial!
Decidedly loose! Prolific! Profligate! Righteous!
slatternly, sluttish, promiscuous! Living twice:
Once in the garden, once in the collection—
I get the impression the world is constructed
Entirely of roses!


—Crawdad Nelson

Looking into the sun,
my own little separatist movement
on stone bridge crossing to medieval side
man with plastic cup, not asking, simply fact.

At the door of the cathedral, experiments:
porto, puerta—his cup loose with Euro coins, odd bald
headed men on obverse faces—coppery,

precious, in the high stone building full of saints
bound and abused in life-sized carvings of
eternal suffering, pricked
with many grievous arrows,
confounded but purified for 700 years,

officially worse-off than the crone
yesterday outside la Sagrada Familia
vitally invested in asserting
that she is good—bon, buon, bueno...

the hefty clank
of metal on her blessed palm
interrupting my idle gazing at Spanish girls
with lean thighs wearing only men's shirts,
belted, over erotic heels.


—Crawdad Nelson

I pay two weeks, advance, and wait, front desk, for keys,
Celine under one arm, sweating lightly, feeling, like the character
who shuffles past trash-heaps, minutely absorbed, but disinterested.
I share the rickety elevator with an incomplete wraith saying,
Don't just believe, believe twice!

My door is dead ahead, turn right, ten paces past smell of death.

#521, interior, window facing: desolate other windows,
decades of pigeon droppings and feathers, old shoes, hats
pigeon carcasses like empty feathered shoes,
on an aluminum roof three floors below, neglected.

Glance at the sink—cockroaches waiting on rim, in drain—
—mice to and fro—flattening under door—
a two dollar breeze
wrinkles ancient white curtain, I look out:
Not Paris. Seedy and stale,
people have been living this way all along
to the corner for a pack of cigarettes, a can of chili,
eating, smoking, taking a bath,
sweating on the easy chair under the fan, looking.
listening. this must be the continuous present.

Someone shouting all night
about the bitch—dead and dying—voice on flat air,
I am resurrected after midnight by Nina Simone,
lovelier than remembered, as though sung from profound remorse
—but he hates, threatens,
enumerates sins and places of origin,
claims that he loved her once,
before he lost it, landed here.
Celine mocks him: Coward! Louse!

I am one more lunatic at three a.m. too hot

anyway—roaches are infinite—
tickle me like sweat drops: secretly,
acting surprised when I pounce,

One bathtub down the hall, in a little room,
another around the corner, and a door that opens
onto a shaft, unspeakably blank, brick in dust,
inward stare. presence of rats, generations deep.

A shower that dribbles without passion
we are in the trickle-down Bastille, leftovers,
thorazine and lithium scent the elevator,
vomit underfoot, wallpaper, I take my place,
long-haired anarchist
enemies of the state living day-to-day on benefit checks
and found parcels, walking out front to the mall

in the mathematical center of the valley sunlight is magnified,
conquered and organized
we are flatter than—what channel is that on?

Four straight hours of still heat, limp curtains,
obscenities eroding the paint, parched,
—cockroaches insolently creep over page 390,
Death on the Installment Plan—the squalor of Paris,
somehow more compelling, more fermented.

At the end of the hall I step through a window,
crouch on a fire escape, gloomy L street—
mostly lights. Come to think of it,
when the book is over
I won't have to cross Paris, ratlike,
shadows, cobbled waterway, tombs,
museums, cafes, damp parks.

It's unforgivably dry. Crows shift where they roost,
three floors below in the trees. I take my place,
etch a name from a book, believe twice.


Today's LittleNip:

Life’s all about ass: covering it, kicking it, kissing it or trying to get it.