Thanks, Ron Lane, for the beautiful poems and pix, and thanks to Tom Goff and Jane Blue for their self-portraits. Jane says hers tell a lot about her; Tom says his is, fortunately, just imaginings. Also today we have poems by Allegra Silberstein; the last is from her rattlechap, In the Folds. Allegra will read and be honored Saturday night by the Davis Art Center; see the b-board for details. While you're looking at the b-board, be sure to take note of all the other doin's this weekend!
SELF-PORTRAIT AS SOMEONE SICK
—Tom Goff, Carmichael
Long years feeding brain at the cost of limbs,
lungs, even the heart, I keep only brain in play.
Brain is surprised when Body’s in disarray,
uncoupling from head so the head can float, sing hymns
larklike unto heaven’s unlistening gate.
But what about Fate? Mellifluous harmony
heeds the passing discord, if it be wise.
In the end, all struck notes fade to one chord, this chord:
gray hairs licking both ears, an old man’s prostate
going off alarm-frequent in the night.
I dawdle, like a procrastinating student,
in face of the full medical truth: imprudent
turning aside from light, when all is light
here in this room, no cowering under eyelids.
Time enough soon to shrink, liquefying
at the last, ensconced under the driest of dry lids.
A jest for whichever proctologist:
I’ve always been pro-state…
—Mr. Bones: Yeah, but how’s your
articles of confederation? States’ rights
weigh zip in the balance against future states.
I seek the distractions of verse, trying idly to idyll
with Frederick Seidel. That poet’s a brute;
but in his cameo “Death,” more debonair,
the Sickled One ratatat-taps inside the sly footfalls
of Fred Astaire—now that’s
astute helluva hoot…
—Jane Blue, Sacramento
It was only a rustic cabin, after all
in the wooded hills of Berkeley. In photos
my father smoked a pipe, chocolatey tobacco,
glanced up from a typewriter,
his knees bumping a little round table.
We could smell tide flats, see a pinch
of horizon if someone held us, one twin
or the other, up to a window. We lived there,
babies, until we were three. They'd thought
they'd live a simple life. When we returned
there were cracks in the brick, columbine
in shady dirt under the firs, a basement
window-sash raised with a bang, in anger
and surprise. The same droop of grape
for a doorknocker someone cared enough
to take a close-up still-life snapshot of
in the same bluish, falling-apart album
with the pictures of my father.
What would we be if we’d lived there longer?
Wild hill children? Fairy-tale children?
THE SHOWER AT CARMEL
We came every summer until we were leggy
and awkward and almost beautiful.
Running in from the beach my sister and I
headed for the shower, yelling, "I've got dibs!"
Each of us stood there in turn, a fairy tale of steam
transforming us—steam and fog
had a commonality, both so different from the ordinary
world of trees and sun and blue sky and shops.
An ocean smell clung to us, we were sea spirits
in the shower, balancing on a slatted pine platform.
We toweled ourselves dry and became
human again, eating—even beans from a can
tasted like the best thing on earth.
Then we slept the sleep of the dead, of dead
children who always wake. A new day, a new world.
Our mother's one-week vacation seemed
like a whole summer, a whole
life, a Bohemian life, our real
mother. The musty smell when we opened the cottage,
the piles of comic books still under the window seat,
the orange burlap curtains
the board-and-batten siding, Mother
in her pedal pushers on the rickety stairs.
I want to see it all again! I want to see my life again!
The mystery and the gaiety of it.
Our little striped swimming suits. The green waves.
We called the pantry in the alcove
off the big kitchen,
“the cooler,” which is another name for prison.
The jellies in their ruby dresses, incarcerated
next to a sideboard lined with bottles
of gift port wine, lead chokered,
that nobody drank. I would have
had I been able to locate a corkscrew
and figure out how to use it.
Instead, I’d take a jar of jelly down
from its worn pine shelf,
and hold it up to the light, as though
I were a judge at a fair. We never entered fairs.
We weren’t that kind of people.
We were city people with a backyard tree.
After boiling the plums, we hung the pulp
in cheesecloth bags from the knobs
of cupboard doors, where it drip-dripped
with a pond sound, into mixing bowls,
its blood gathering over several days.
Then we tossed the flesh, boiling the juice
with pectin and sugar. The skins gave the jelly
its color, but were too tough for jam—
and we weren’t jam people anyway.
(First published in Convergence, 2004)
—Allegra Silberstein, Davis
Fragrant Eucalyptus trees
tower high above the orchard
like ancient prophets.
Though old and shaggy
they’re newcomers here
but they hold fast.
They daven against the sky,
one with the ebb and flow
of westerly winds.
At night they brush against stars
and the moon may nestle awhile
in their long fingered limbs.
Careless, they scatter on earth
tiny pink jewels—November blossoms
absurdly small for so large a tree.
A surge of autumn wind
swells through the high branches.
Like an incoming wave
it rushes to one moment
of silence at the apex—
then splashes through
with a clatter of leaves,
a tingling, keening crest that curls
into falling leaves, like tears.
(—a lazy mid-September afternoon—)
When finally I leave the classroom
only shadows play on the quad.
I’ve left just in time, for earth and sun,
at a precise angle, illuminate
an embarkation of arachnids on magic carpets:
hundreds of white web-threads floating,
so close to earth, I could catch them in my arms.
I stand and watch these spiderlings
departing, streaming across the sky
away from me, like my daughters,
three spinnerets loosed from my dream-web:
song spinner, word weaver, sky sketcher
each floating in her own afternoon sun:
earth wanderers threading their days…
It was but a moment we touched—
like a lullaby sung in uncharted space:
a universe radiant with stars to wish upon.
Now, their hearts belong to a time beyond mine,
to a place beyond here, where I am left behind
but not completely, for they carry with them
a scrap of my song, that ringing of DNA
deeper than microscopic sight. And when
I am but ash returned to this earth,
in a certain angle of light, may there be
a mirage of music: a spirit-staff
with my notes clinging.
I go home, easy in the lengthening shadows
lifted by this illumination of departure,
knowing we are held together: in spite of the circling
seasons that spiral beyond our vision—
a holding on across distances, steadfast as the fixed
path of planets in the evening sky.
I am not yet finished
not yet at the end
of this line
circle round me
as Jupiter’s moons…
From a deep well
the will reaches
where no winds blow
and the fall into an expanding
plunder the arteries.
I ride into voices:
songs of unknowing
altered in the night sky
probed by star spears…
in the silence of eyes.
curve down to breastbone
the cursive stroke
a soft assent
scribed upon the heart.
IN THE FOLDS
Warming my feet on the fender
of my wood stove I watch the glow
of dying coals through the glass door,
remember the old cast-iron on the farm,
the open oven door where we would prop our feet
so cold after playing in the snow.
A light on the bike path, just across my neighbor’s yard,
shines in that near distance like the yard-light
that lit the way between barn and house.
The miles fan out from farm to now
from hills and coulees to mountains and my valley
where hickory dreams leaf out in Scarlet Oak.
I hold my glass of wine savoring
this communion: memory mirroring roots
in the folding of my years.
Writing, which is my form of celebration and prayer, is also my form of inquiry.