—Dewell Byrd, Ft. Bragg
Number 36 came rolling down
the Rock Island Line
hissing steam, belching black smoke.
Every window drew in Ozark Spring.
Smooth-faced farm boys in
khaki shirts leaned out the windows,
laughed, yelled, called
to us kids squatting on the berm.
One day Rock Island took my big brother away.
Later it brought his letters from France.
Day after day Rock Island came,
dropped off mail, took the boys away.
Rock Island never brought my big brother home.
It brought a black-edged telegram to my mom.
—Jeanine Stevens, Sacramento
One case holds military memorabilia:
medals, canteens, posters, neatly folded
tan uniform, a faded flag. In a nearby
cabinet, protected behind thick glass,
“Authentic Indian-Made Birdhouse.”
Bark sides curve inward with age, faded
green paint outlines some unknown
motif, perhaps a thin reed, frog, or water lily.
I think about Northern Minnesota,
the local Chief. We always looked
for him in late August as he danced
in the annual pow-wow, easy to spot
in the crowd of bright feathers.
The faded Army shirt, starched, pressed,
a sharp crease down each side, stood out
from the rest. Back straight,
cheeks with tired lines, he often pulled
spectators to the women’s circle.
Deerskin feet traced out a dusty nebula
that lasted three days.
Our eyes burned from a mixture
of cedar ash, roasted meats, tears
of hot resin spitting from pine logs—
a dense, smoky haze,
even too strong for stars to appear.
In early December, an unexpected
package arrived—our birdhouse carefully
wrapped in a large Del Monte box.
We stared at the stark white birch bark, wet
wood violets, dark elfin birds, one slender
fir branch over the door. Underneath,
simply the name—James Cloud, Chippewa.
A Maidu site along the Sacramento River,
surrounded by tomato and cornfields.
We grasp wooden trays: a back and forth
motion reveals trade beads, fish bones—
pollen grains lost, like all sorting, winnowing.
We sift, separate, what floats to the top,
identify remains in ink on small note cards—
a shell bracelet, bone amulet.
Like conversation beyond what is said.
What myth, old story, are you giving me?
What I keep is memory: a worn belt
buckle from gravel beds along
the Feather River, two silver hearts once
attached to a friendship ring, inexpensive
perfume bottle with pansy flower top.
By afternoon, delta breezes coat
my face with rich loam as I continue to rub
earth through metal for clues to my
old trade routes. Some particles, like words,
too distant to catch in this finer mesh.
(these two poems first appeared in Jeanine's chapbook,
The Keeping Room, from Rattlesnake Press)
—Dillon Shaw, Davis
Hand-bound poetry book
not meant to be read by many
but filled with love for those who do
colored in crayon
sealed with staples
to fading pages
looking like/ it came/ straight
out of a
just for you
I open the book
find a blade of grass
gasp/ it's gone
sigh/ it's back!
how did you get?
in a book/ that
never leaves/ the
I put it back
where I found it
a secret bookmark
I wouldn't want nature
to lose its place
—Trina Drotar, Sacramento
Six poets, sans egos, speak of
airplanes without pilots, flights
that never took off, being searched
by airport personnel non-poets,
tattoos of bruises, tattoos of poems,
Chernobyl, writing plays, musicians,
and whatever did happen to that guy
they all had heard of, some had dined
with once, but all had lost track of, as
they sit round a table provided in a
bookstore for writers.
Six poets, sans egos, speak of
driving trucks, unions, union busting,
teamsters, one’s distaste for celery and
another’s enjoyment of the same, fish
in a tank and that no poet should stand
on the furniture, weddings, divorces,
motorcycles and their care, harassing
new motorcycle riders’ girlfriends, milk,
hauling beef from Texas to Chicago for
Obama’s dinner, as they sit round a
table in a restaurant.
—Taylor Graham, Placerville
Put your ear against
the heart of this old cedar
fallen in the woods,
its body weathered pale
as the longbone of a deer
that once picked paths
through this thicket of east-
and lay down beside
the tree. The dead
tree humming the length
of its life,
its travels from root
to crown, earth to sky,
water that lived
within its body. A thrum
at edge of river-bottom,
stones in the current,
marrow of bones.
THE LIGHT FROM THIS PLACE
The cabin is filled with books
of the old poet—the ones he wrote,
and the ones in languages he never learned,
the ones not written in his life.
At night the windows blaze like a forge,
but it's only his remaining light.
Someone cast brass bells
that hang from weathered timbers
or to summon a breath of inspiration
on the wind.
You could search for him inside,
but you'll find him on the cliff-top
looking out to sea. His brow the cliff-
top, gaze expressed in stone.
A little fishing boat sleeps on gravel
above the highwater line,
dreaming of where sky
and ocean meet
like the kiss of poets and lovers.
No more storms.
The name of the shore is Paz.
Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves.
—Carol Lynn Pearson