(based on a painting by Rob Møhlmann)
—Jane Blue, Sacramento
Folds her jacket carefully, denim, frayed at the edges. Places a porcelain bowl on top of it, like the basin for baptism. Fills it with dried roses, the color of blood. These roses are nothing like the last roses of winter, crumpled and faded, bobbing in the wind. They have no thorns. How meticulously this was planned. The roses dried in a humidor. The sweetest of all roses, with the odor of a saint’s death. A still life. Not really dead. Not rotting. An artifice of death. The Gardener, disembodied, arranges the roses and leaves the scene. One rose slips out of the basin and lies pleasingly on the blue denim. It is the heart. This is art as opposed to life. There is such peace in it.
THE CANARY SPEAKS TO THE MARDI GRAS MASK
(based on "Canary" by Knud Merrild)
The canary speaks, he doesn’t sing,
chattering on and on to the Mardi Gras mask, perched
on the cherrywood shelf where the mask
awaits a soul, a head, a celebration. The canary
has mistaken the mask for a god, its white feathers
towering and folding in on themselves
like ocean waves. The mask doesn’t hear him,
or doesn’t listen, like any god, its gilt face
with a bump to cover the nose of some human:
inscrutable. The canary needs something
from the Mardi Gras mask: structure, advice, expiation.
I will sing for you, my golden one, if you will only speak to me,
I have escaped my cage. Oh God, how will I live?
Thanks, Jane, and thanks to today's other contributors. We're mostly mulling Keepsakes and Off the Beaten Path, our two most recent Seeds of the Week—but as always, any and all (well, most) subjects are fair game for the stony gaze of Medusa, whose snakes are always hungry!
If you're on our "Snakebytes" list (the monthly email newsletter about happenings from Rattlesnake Press), you got the following announcement yesterday or will get it today. If not, here it is:
On Wednesday, June 8, we'll feature the release of a chapbook by Ann Wehrman, Inside (love poems), and a littlesnake broadside, If Trees Could Talk..., from Michelle Kunert. That's at The Book Collector, 1008 24th St., Sacramento, 7:30pm. Free!
Since I have no more books or broadsides scheduled for the foreseeable future, Richard Hansen and I have agreed to make this the final reading in the Rattlesnake Reading Series, at least for now. I will always remain grateful to him and to Rachel for their support and for making their store open to all of us on such a regular basis for seven years, something that can’t have been easy for them. Their lives are, like everyone else’s, busy and full of conflicts (Richard’s mother remains ill, and he’s off to Scotland again this summer), so bringing the Rattlesnake Series to a close is somewhat helpful to them.
But, beyond that, my own life is moving in other directions, to the point where I’m ready to stop putting out print publications, at least for right now. Desktop/small press publishing has changed a great deal in seven years, and there are many venues (including self-publishing and online) that are more viable now than when I started, so I feel confident that poets in our area will be able to continue to get their work into print. For now, our 57 chapbooks, 17 SpiralChaps, 7 HandyStuff, 4 LittleBooks, 60 broadsides, 5 Interview Series, 1 reprint, and other miscellanea (including Fangs I and Poems in a Seashell) will be available at The Book Collector (still Home of the Snake) and on rattlesnakepress.com—and don’t forget to check there or on Medusa’s Kitchen for The Ophidian, too! (Back issues of Rattlesnake Review, WTF, Snakelets and Vyper might also be available, if there are any left in my "archives"…)
Needless to say, I'm hugely grateful to all the people who helped me with print publications in the past, especially the Rattlesnake Review Snake Posse (columnists), as well as Katy Brown for her HandyStuff, B.L. Kennedy for the interview series and all his other help, Robbie Grossklaus for Fangs, Taylor Graham for endless proofing, Pat Weidman for help with assembling books, Richard Hansen for The Ophidian and more, and frank andrick and Rachel Leibrock for their work on WTF. (I know I've left some folks out, and I apologize for that, but know that you are, indeed, appreciated.)
WTF will continue to be edited by frank andrick, with help from Rachel Leibrock (don’t forget the quarterly deadlines: Feb. 15; April 15; July 15; Oct. 15). The second issue of The Ophidian will be out soon (we’ll let you know); after that, we’ll take a break—again, lives are busy and time is short. (No deadlines are scheduled for a possible O3 at this point.) And Medusa’s Kitchen will, without a doubt, continue—I’ve really come to enjoy the community that has sprung up there, and I hope you’ll be a part of it for some time to come.
This will also be the last monthly Snakebytes; thanks for your patience with my emails (and with this long one!). Please continue to watch Medusa’s Kitchen at medusaskitchen.blogspot.com (including our new Facebook page of photo albums!) for all the NorCal poetry news that’s fit to post. There are SO many wonderful readings in our area on an on-going basis; be sure to support them with your presence, the way you’ve supported all our many rattle-reads. I will always be grateful to you, the NorCal audience, for your regular attendance and support of all those poets who read and released books and stood up in front of you time after time, month after month, sharing their poetry with you. NorCal audiences are the best!!!
In other news, if you happen to be in Pleasanton tonight, stop in at the Graduation Poetry Blitz from 6:30-9pm at Century House, 2401 Santa Rita Rd., Pleasanton, for a teen poetry reading and open mic with Pleasanton's Teen Poets Laureate Moelle Malindzak, Mitch Grimes, and Vivian Tsai. Also: music by Karl Wente and the Front Porch plus a surprise guest, free refreshments, and raffle prizes. Free for students w/ID; adults $5. [The most amazing thing about this reading is, to me, the interesting fact that Pleasanton has Teen Poets Laureate! What a wonderful idea!]
—Don Feliz, Sacramento
I put my grandma’s gold band
on your finger and pledged
to love you to life’s end.
Fifty years later nurses removed
it before surgery, and I took
the ring home to a safe place.
I keep it with your ashes
and the pale-blue flannel pajamas
you loved for their sleepy sheep.
A WAY ODDLY TAKEN
—Taylor Graham, Placerville
Behind the Rattle-Slap Shop
and the Office of Debate and Audit,
past the wince of light on chrome
and an audience gathering
about the Famous Man in effigy,
I slipped down an alley one step
at a time as if at random, away
where no one had swept wrens
from the edges or mowed
yellow daisies wild as glory
on the shoulder, and
no one had named the way.
ROADS LESS TRAVELED
In the old VW, Obregón to Santa Ana,
we found only a goat-trail
over the mountain to Chihuahua,
and village boys masked for holiday.
That Christmas Eve we broke down
on the Grapevine, family far away,
we tented with Dinty Moore stew;
snow-angels singing from the stars.
Yosemite, Grand Canyon—we searched
the backsides where people died.
Gravestones of the heart, milestones
of the mind, we've had adventures.
Let's set out for Talkeetna, Obregón,
our vehicle full of the ghosts of dogs
and things we never managed.
Shall we make it over the mountain?
OPEN CITY 1965
—Patricia Hickerson, Davis
after years of here there and everywhere
three kids in the back seat, the merry appendages
they’re on the road thru Indio driving the 10
then sunny days in LA
arrive the morning of the Watts uprising
fire follows, snipers on the freeway
windows smashed stores looted buildings burned
they check into a Manchester Blvd. motel
leave the garbage disposal on by accident
manager rushes in, raging…
some good swims in the pool, they leave after a week
rent a condo near the beach
hot days in Hermosa
dad gets job at USC big-time professor
challenges the system makes headlines
nights in the overheated motel a man at mom’s fingertips
they wake up sweating back to the jazz club
the bar in Malibu where movie stars hang out
mom rides the freeways to work
San D to Harbor to Hollywood Blvd.
freakin’ drug addict falls to the sidewalk,
trips on his own glasses, mom laughs
class-time at the university, dad balls the co-eds
their mighty duplex on the hill
3 am parties, throw out the guests, turn off the lights
draw the drapes, go to bed…
next day, take it all a step further
kids live in the sand
smoke weed, gulp downers
their life in L.A. mid-century
what happens to these kids in afterlife?
one will go alcoholic, one will go crazy, one
will go respectable… go figure
—Kevin Jones, Fair Oaks
The older folks in town
Used to speak of it often.
Barefoot Nation, a place
Just down the
Hardroad a piece.
Things were simpler
Had enough, and living
Spent many nights
Back then, when
Gas and beer were
Cheap, trying to
Find it. (Who could
Resist a simple, unshod
An examined life?)
Never got there.
I imagine it, just
Where the asphalt
Ends, the residents
Watching in the dark,
With clear curious eyes,
Moving away on
Silent, muddy feet.
QUAINT VILLAGE, NOT
I know the way,
But I’m not
Going to tell you.
Like you there
The choices were between his life and his art, that seemed obvious. But should his art feed the life or his life feed the art? Which was the jewel and which the setting? Clearly his life would end, no doubting that; and while the art, or the praise it received, would also end, it might not end as quickly. Yet he would never know—whether his art lasted a week beyond his death or a thousand years, he would have no idea. So why not use his art as his life's tool? It could gain him a job, win him respect of a sort. He could hold up his head. It would be a career, a profession, and only the smallest interior voice would remain to accuse him of throwing away his dreams—a voice from his youth, an impractical voice.