Thursday, June 16, 2011

Smooth Stone, Beating Heart

Maggie Frost read at the open mic at 
Red Night Poetry last night in Sacramento
—Photo by Michelle Kunert
[for more photos from last night, see
the Medusa's Kitchen on Facebook]

family album
—Charles Mariano, Sacramento

is this generation’s
most overused word
and black sheep
just about all of us

when prompted
to express glowing memories
glossy photos
or faded
black and whites,

i found fields of cactus,
not flowers,

no one escapes
the evil eye

so i’m not surprised
that the word, dysfunction,
in our family,
starts at the top

grandpa Augustine
flatout kidnapped, raped
grandma Socorro
at thirteen

made her his slave,
a baby-making machine,
then beat the hell outta her

not saying
he was the devil
in coke-bottle glasses,
he had plenty company,

just don’t go digging up
my backyard



and I don’t mean the Turkey Trot
said the old lady to her grandson
unless you’re talking about Wild Turkey
and I’ve had a nip or two of that
in my time

my son’s in rehab
your brother’s in rehab
my father died before he could go
to rehab
my two grandfathers should have been
in rehab

then there was old Grandpa Charlie
who was arrested for public drunkenness
in 1792
he wrote in his Bible margin
I will drink abroad no more
so from then on
he did all his drinking at home
enhanced his fortune
by selling booze created from
his corn patch
up there in the hills

oh, the old lady added,
he lived to the age of 90!

—Patricia Hickerson, Davis


—Katy Brown, Davis

The weekend sailor squandered
his eyesight in dimly-lit workrooms—
moving other men’s money to make even more.
He’d rather have spent years on the ocean
sooner than sailing his desk in the corner.

The high-rolling men in his office
made fun of him. He was too cautious
for them to respect. He wasn’t a gambler;
he wasn’t a player; he just didn’t fit
with the country club set. They gave him
a luncheon, a watch, and a pension—
not nearly enough for all that he’d done.
Now, he sails in his dingy out on tame water,
keeps watch for the albatross following him.


—Katy Brown

Fading snapshot of a birthday party
on the back patio: Aunt Mary, proud
of her cake—a ring of squirming children,
blurred in motion—and Uncle Johnny,
looking away.

The camera caught him
visiting the past, again.
His was not the War To End All War;
he landed at Normandy for the next one.

There were so many who
did not come back—either time.
They were buried in reflected light, in stands
of yew and hemlock. They were
other children’s uncles, other parents’ sons.
Johnny brought them home with him.
He brought a few to every party.

Every time children laughed, every time
we lit candles, my uncle called them forth.
Summoned by this haunted man, his
fallen comrades appeared as flares of sunlight
or shadows no one could recall.

My family’s snapshots are full of memories:
events and places in the past—
some farther away than any of us could remember.


                for John Harris (1820-1884)
—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Every morning he lined up with the others,
pasty in his lunch-box, Cornish hard-rock miner
trading daylight for small coin; breaking mountains
from the inside. Candles nooked along the tunnel
walls, but the God of Gloom was boss.

He survived by mining words—verse written
on grocery wrappers, or scratched on rock.
Words that rang in cadence to the work.

At last he climbed back up and kept on walking—
into the God of Light's halls all open-air.
Winds unwinding into sails, flowers splitting
crevices of rock; birdsong. He wrote
the words in whatever language they're sung.


—Taylor Graham

Waking up far away from everything
familiar—5 a.m., a maze of sandy draws
through heaps of sandstone boulders.

Sun just coming up. And looking down
at me from a cliff-top, Bighorn
ram, spiral horns translucent, dawn-lit.

No camera, no photographic proof.
Call it a dream. How could I transcribe
the wild language of his eye?


—Taylor Graham

Seven thousand years since Noah's flood—
but who knows the time-line for
world's end? Maria's mother, formed
of the very cement of this place,
and almost as old as Noah, believes
the end will come when Dove Mountain
is no more. The cement company
worked on it for a long time. What's left
of the mountain stands like a half-
bulldozed Ararat. Maria's neighbor
(whose husband's out of work
since the plant shut down) sold her home.
No, she let the bank foreclose.
Who needs a house after world's end?
Cement-works gone, wind and rain
will have their say. Still, the half-
mountain stands, a stub on the horizon.
Monument to what man does.
Standing as long as the world stands.


Today's LittleNip: 

—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

In the perfect poem there are no seams.
Each word flows effortlessly
Into the poem and carries the meaning
Smoothly with great refinement,
Polished, surfaces of such stability
That all parts are invisible
As if it had always been this way,

As if there were no matrix, only
A simple fusion of language
And meaning delivered to us
As a perfectly smooth stone
Might be, a perfectly smooth
stone, with a beating heart.



 Photo by Katy Brown