Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sound—And Silence

Photo by Carl Bernard Schwartz

—Carl Bernard Schwartz, Sacramento

I was sitting on the train
chatting with a chap I knew from work
mid-sentence in fact
when suddenly there was an urgent ring

followed by a rapid exchange of dialog in a foreign
tongue from a land beyond where the tracks extend,
even farther away than what Alaska’s celebrated
hockey mom can see over the horizon.

The train continued to stop at the regular places
but those stations now had unpronounceable names
using combinations of consonants that simply
don’t appear in the English language. Ever.

Instructions printed in bold red letters at emergency exits
transformed into gibberish, nonsensical expressions so
out of this world that no diagrams could be called upon
to elaborate on or explain what they meant.

When the train punctually arrived at my usual stop,
I awaited the standard reminder to exit with your baggage.
Instead, a garble of frantic voices, almost white noise came
over the PA, followed by 4 distorted gun shots, and then

a pregnant silence set the stage for a Tower of Babel
broadcast of announcements. I could discern just
a few familiar English phrases: Hurry! Jump now
or die! repeated endlessly like airport parking instructions.

At that moment, the chap from work ended the phone call
and we both descended the stairs taking us off the train.
“See you at lunch, Bob.” “Don’t be late, Frank”
Another Monday at work, just like all the rest.


              (after Krishnamurti)
—Jeanine Stevens, Sacramento

We leave a noisy town with smooth
running trains and pinpoint lights.
Tourists eat a heavy meal.
Brown tobacco smoke clouds
the compartment. A porter sells gum.
We pass walled towns and well fed cattle.
On the hills, black cypress cut shapes
in a parchment sky, and we see a lake,
so emerald green, it must be full of memories.
A stopover at a small village,
some going down steps taking photos,
chatting without seeing.
Workmen whistle in a new building.
An old woman with small hard feet
carries a pot of milk; her walk is not gentle.
A flute plays soft notes under a banyan tree,
and a little drum throbs,
inviting a crow’s ragged call.
In the fading light, two fist shaped owls
gurgle like stones rattling in a tin box.
The horizon beams blue-violet,
a shade that only comes with age and hot sun.
On my return trip, I think everything
will change, nothing will look the same.


Hello, Benin! Techno-phobe that I am, I just discovered the “Stats” section of blogspot; it has the capability of showing me which countries' citizens are reading the blog at any given time. Yesterday afternoon, someone was reading from Benin (!), in addition to US, Canada, UK, Poland, France (was that you, Ann Privateer?), Iran, and South Africa. On Thursday, 229 people checked in from the US, 22 from South Korea, 21 from Canada, 15 from the UK, 7 from India, 6 from Iran, and 5 each from Australia, France, Japan, and Russia. Last week we also reached Brazil, Spain, China, and Germany. Last month we reached the Netherlands, too, and Denmark. See where your poems are going? Awesome, in the old-fashioned sense of the word! (According to the stats, those people are reading The Ophidian, too.)

@#%*&%^*@#!!! Medusa manages to post most of the NorCal poetry events that happen in the middle of the state. I comb Facebook, SPAM, sac365, the newspapers, friends, and the kindness of strangers to keep on top of things. But I missed a biggie this week that had me tearing my snake-hair and looking for somebody to turn into stone: the March 10 reading/reception for Poetic License, the SMUD display of poets’ portraits done by Suzanne Johnson. (Remember the portraits she did for the deck of playing cards that came out in 2008?) I found out about the reading on the Day Of; I hadn’t even known the show has been happening since Feb. 2! (Somebody better check my medication…) Fortunately, one of my “stringers”, Katy Brown, managed to get over there and take some beautiful photos; thanks, KB! (See below for Bob Stanley and the b-board for her stunner of Pat Grizzell.) It was a stellar line-up of some of Sacramento’s finest poets, and I’m sorry I missed it; I hope my negligence didn’t make YOU miss it. (Somebody lemme know next time!)

While you’re trawling the b-board, check out all the new stuff, including the new Poetry Now. Next week is a biggie, for some reason, and St. Patty’s Day is HUGE. You could go to the Brown Bag Lunch reading at the Library at noon, the Flatmancrooked reading at CSUS at 3, and then have your pick of events that evening in Sac, Grass Valley, or San Rafael.

And thanks to Jeanine Stevens and Carl Bernard Schwartz for more Strangers on a Train poems (our SOW), and to D.R. Wagner for these “sound” poems (recent SOW—never too late for a SOW!). D.R. writes: Here are three sound poems originally published in Cruisn' at the Limit, a book I did with Duck Down Press in Fallon, Nevada 'way back in 1982.  The one entitled "*" is about getting drunker and drunker while walking at night.  "Song Without Words" is an invented language I did a number of poems using.  It actually does sound lovely if one reads it aloud.  [Note to D.R.: You should see what this poem does to my spellchecker!]  "Singing Together" is about being the new kid in the neighborhood and is to be read quickly and loudly.

—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

Stars moving in the trees
We are walking
Drinking brandy.

Drinking stars moving in the trees
We are brandy

Walking stars brandy in the trees.
We are drinking.

Moving brandy drinking in the trees.
We are moving stars.

Stars drinking brandy in the trees.
We are walking stars.
Moving in the brandy trees.


—D.R. Wagner

Waa melkios trelaan trellan
spendnit eas eaos, tromareeet
Renthuuubar hortium mentikke
sponfinnie remalis.

Sponfinne remalis eaos hothar
fretobit hothar hothar menkallit
sprefan donobitobit tellouth
sponfinnie remalis.

Ochnar, ochnar, ontamout
remalis remlis, ochnar, ochnar
trebonit yentherahh mentallan
menkobit, menkobit ochnar.


—D.R. Wagner

We dont like you
cant tell you
how much
we dont like you
sing the wiping tears
away around him they
did and didnt really
as they say dont like
to say to him we dont like
very very much but everyone
was all together bunched
and the singing came
because he only had a
new haircut or just
couldnt say some word
we all knew or was new
to us all and later he too
would join in after awhile
and everyone to his house
for things to fun and somebody
else we wouldnt like
again and again until
we all became too old
and went out to do it
for real in god and country


Today's LittleNip: 

The trains roared by like projectiles level on the darkness, fuming and burning, making the valley clang with their passage.  They were gone, and the lights of the towns and villages glittered in silence.

—D.H. Lawrence



Sacramento Poet Laureate Bob Stanley reads 
at Poetic License reading/reception
—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis