Friday, June 11, 2010

When Turkeys Mate

Photo by D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

—Cleo Griffith, Salida

It is off the freeway, one of the freeways,
I’ve forgotten which one, after these years:
a sprawling yellow house, not old, nor new, either,
where an orange cat shadows a woman’s hands
outside, but never enters the house,
where a man heeds the unspoken request
that no quick movement be made toward
the black raven at the eastern window.
Neighbors comment on the peacock silhouette
quiet along the roofline at sunset.
Never a cry from a bird that everyone knows is
renowned for a piercing voice. Nor do their dogs
bark as strangers go by, no discomfort
between their old white horse and a goat
that showed up in their front yard one day.
There is a sense of uneasiness toward the more-ness
of animals where the woman and man seem less than real
but it did not prevent me from taking
the large green turtle I found at the dried pond
and leaving it in their driveway at the bottom
of Empty Line Road.


Thanks, Cleo, and thanks to today's other contributors. Cleo Griffith reminds us that the deadline for the next issue of Song of the San Joaquin is June 15: go to for info. But of course you knew that, since you watch the "Deadlines" spot on the skinny blue box at the right of this that we call The B-Board, yes?

And The B-Board continues to burgeon! I hope you have the strength to keep scrolling down to the bottom on a regular basis, since, like most things in life, the Board keeps morphing. Thinking about Medusa's fifth birthday, I realized that the idea of an electronic community bulletin board was a dream of mine even before I started the Snake, back when I was doing the calendar for Heather Hutcheson when she was editing Poetry Now.

A couple of new features: at the top of the skinny blue box I've posted what I consider to be the three main sites for poetry calendars in our area (other than the Kitchen, of course); all you have to do now is click 'em to stay in touch. (And let me know if I'm missing any sites!) Like Medusa, each has its strengths, weaknesses and specialties; used in tandem, you should be up-to-the-minute on what's the haps. I'm coming to the conclusion that we need several sites like this in our community, so that if one of us misses something, it's there to be seen on the others.

If I miss your event, it's probably because (a) you didn't send it to me, and/or (b) you didn't send it around enough, since I watch the other sites like a hawk. Quick, easy and free E-publicity is where it's at, now, folks—whether it's Medusa, our other local sites, or e-mails that you yourself send out to individuals. Keep that in mind for your events—obviously you want everyone to know about them. That's your responsibility as a host. I do admit, though, that there are weekly events I don't post unless an announcement goes out or I know who the specific readers will be; I'm never sure whether these events are taking a break or not, and I don't want to send our viewers on goose-chases...

The other new feature is a spot below "Bob Stanley in the weeds" for up-coming events at SPC, and another for other-venue readings that are more than a week away. Again, I post 'em as I see 'em; keep me informed so I can help you (and therefore the poetry community) get the word out.

So, in terms of this weekend's events, they're all posted on The B-Board for you; no need to restate them here—other than maybe to point out Jane Austen at the Central Library, the series that starts this Sunday.

Richard Zimmer sends us a couple of riffs on our Seed of the Week: The Nest (see last Tuesday's post), Tom Goff talks about his mom, and more from Cleo, including a lament about the decline of our beloved yellow-billed magpies, unique to our California valleys:

—Richard Zimmer, Sacramento

At his snug, webbed retreat,
a spider hides—discrete,
waiting for an unlucky prey
to be his meal of the day.

—Richard Zimmer

Back from Argentina, they fly…
goodbye Capistrano, goodbye.
Swallows have a new place to nest…
a green golf course, they’ve found, is best.


—Tom Goff, Carmichael

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday,
she would’ve been 93. She gave life
to three boys, and, before a great illness
ate into her social vitals—robbed her
creative and teaching spirit—would play
great violin pieces always a little beyond
her somewhat clenched technique; but
her vibrato still good, the bow arm of
a fair smoothness. Easily she soothed
rosin into the horsehair, as if currying
the living horse. What do I take

from her? Easy to see lodged in me
the paternal grandfather’s influence,
in his knack for draftsmanship,
for trumpet playing, for little poems
in Greek; my dad’s, through his urge
to make cowboy songs when those
were a Sacramento big deal. But her

more stubborn musicianship, grounded
on counting: Dotted quarter, eighth,
and half still chime in me, the voice hers:
One, the-dot’s-two AND three AND four…
She lives even deeper inside, in my shrug,
a rise of pitch or heat in my voice, in quips
I make rolling the eyes. At the last

Jazz Festival, I heard a red-haired
Forties-dressed lady singer
scatting and bopping, with elegant-
sensuous hip-swings. Her costume,
Andrews-Sister peach liqueur, but
the lightly bending tapioca sway
of arm inside a licorice glove: all
chestnut-haired Mom, in her Hollywood youth.


—Cleo Griffith

In ancient China, it is said,
the Great Magpies were so fond
of people
they would come together
to help them,
especially lovers,
especially lovers separated.

At the sight of these couples kept apart
so saddened were the magnificent birds
that once a year they would band—
thousands—ebony wing-tip to ebony wing-tip,
provide a glistening sky bridge.

Black-and-white-winged magpies once filled
our valley skies, now the few I see
show no inclination
to arch from me to you across our collapse.


—Cleo Griffith

(Women, Bird by Moonlight, 1949 by Joan Miro).

A bird flies between us and the moon on an autumn night when the sky is orange
and the ground dusky beneath our feet. We follow the flight of the tiny wings,
try to lose ourselves in the fleeting delight it represents, lose our concentration
on the strange dark moon—it cannot be a harvest moon all ominous in its curve.

We wonder, my friends and I, why it hangs so low, why the star behind is so bright,
why we feel so oppressed, why our eyes do not focus, why even our dog is out of sorts
and seems not to know if the bird or moon or star is of the most importance.

We lean backwards for a better view but the bird is nothing but a memory
and the moon and star still a mystery and all of us struggle, stranger and stranger
under this peculiar static sky. Is it the bird or the moon or the star that is fantastic?
Even with all of us and all of our eyes there are some things we cannot see.


—Cleo Griffith

She chose the night,
her clutched and angry symbol,
to settle with the intruders.

Flashlight in hand
she walked down the back porch steps
to the concrete block dividers
where the fearsome live:
females of most unpleasant reputation,
siren-red-tattoo torsos and poison kisses.

Her weapon was a bottle of Dawn
poured down upon the spiders
flash-lighted in their dens—
sleek, glossy, round, accessible—
so very accessible.

It was not meant to be a fair exchange.
Trespassers deserved no warning.
There could not be enough of them
to satisfy her. She poured and destroyed
and, without looking up at the stars,
which once had been what drew her to the night,
went back inside to contemplate
the suffocation at her hands.


Today's LittleNip:

When turkeys mate, they think of swans.

—Johnny Carson



Summer Coming Fast
Photo by D.R. Wagner