Redwoods line the little pocket of near-the-sea park
we deem John Muir’s proper lair,
trees clustered dreaming aloof yet not lonely,
so many serene and cunning uses in their green hair:
nests for animals, birds chiefly but not only,
where the feather-light mat of canopy seems to mint
flora like coin and can sound its light drum
to the skitter of woodpecker and rare salamander,
then the trunk’s grand long midriff
and shallowly-entrenched root-clutch
sending burl-shoots high or sideways,
subtle essence and all kinds of knowhow,
insect-survival hints held archive-deep in the bark,
cones ready to shoot seed and start
the deep earth-stirrings a little at a time warily,
in the urgent time when comes
heavily and smokily the fire.
Deep as passion the red and alive the glint
of sunlight igniting the green’s own brilliantine choir.
Half-burnt-out and hollow the giants fairly
shrug and sigh and aspire higher,
towering like mighty Ossians of Scotland
above the forest floor’s fern and sorrel,
above even the easy poetic grace of bay laurel.
And always the alive hum feeding the lyre,
the wind’s soft yet restive whirrings
through the redwood’s Aeolian harp strings.
THE THINNING OF THE HIVE
—A Sestina by Tom Goff
It was in that year we learned to eat less honey,
when colony collapse was the disorder
putting an end to fruitfulness and beauty,
nature turning to its own nature outlaw.
That was the year you drew inward, in from light,
holding your dark dispute with the parasite.
The pollen-scatterer sickened from that parasite,
sensing the waxen cells dry too of honey.
At that precise time, the painful-truthful light
came dovelike to tell you you were in disorder:
you, gentlest poet among that tribe of outlaws
laboring that the wax be combed, and the nectar beauty.
The summons as searing or sudden as comes beauty:
you knew the loveliest host hosts parasites
—resigned to the freaks and quirks of your inner outlaw,
so long as the afterproduct should be pure honey,
red or gold nectar seized from that flower disorder,
changed in the bee as green plants break down light.
Let me surmise that all your life was light,
a light next to which candle burned no beauty,
dispensings of sun sustained through the worst disorder,
lavishing blessings even on parasites
who’d eat the flesh of those who’ve eaten honey;
on homeless children or on hateful outlaws.
For he who rewrote the Bible was an outlaw,
the book thus an outlaw bible of the light,
taking what we thought wormwood, turning it honey.
Your poetry was your Bible. In the beauty
of its word-blossoms, how could a parasite
survive devouring the leaves, bring such disorder
as rots the page from the ligature? No more disorder.
We will have no more talk of who’s an outlaw,
none broken to the rank of parasite
through empty mind or belly or heart. Give light,
O poetry, as this poet wrote with beauty;
with beehive-abiding richness, give us honey.
By your example, we convert truth to honey
as darkness metastasizes into light:
you taught us to call death’s invert sugar beauty.
(first pub. in Sinfonietta, a chapbook from Rattlesnake Press)
—Michael Cluff, Highland, CA
There is too much fight
in these gentle green
the earth contains unhappiness
inhabitants long old
won't go to sleep
in ways to retain
some sensitive sentients
calm and settled——
no visits or visions
Rivers carry currents
older than calendars recount
so do the dead
in Allegheny cameoed lands.
SILENCE WAS OFTEN
The rotting wood door
You think it could have saved her
so soft and so fragile
before it happened.
You’d think she could break it
but it was already broken.
It was locked
from the inside
but not by the out
hidden from all.
like her heart.
Silence was often.
Except for that night
when her screams
Attached to my arms and legs
strings dangle down
pulling this way and that
Give me a beat
I’ll dance to any drum
anytime and anywhere
I have no say
but there is a smile
plastered on my face
your eyes twinkle and shine
and so do mine
but I’m just trite and cheap
like the assembly line
that put me together
piece by piece.
A fine ice this is,
Made of tears, the voice
Of fog, the moisture from
The breath of dreamers.
We can skate upon it,
Carving our messages into its
Surface, quoting chapter and verse,
Releasing the balance that allows
Us to write our deepest feelings
Here, allows us to make of them whispers
That will be unable to hold all
Our secrets, all our hurrying
Over this frozen water for more
Than a fleeting few hours.
We find ourselves thrashing about
In bed, in the middle of the night,
Our feet bleeding onto the sheets,
The moon and its music caught
On the screens. The night
THE TRANSFORMING ANGEL
Those were not tears at all.
They looked to be tears but
The purity of their crystal
Migration was like a spell,
The mouth of some errant wind
That had become confused when made
To carry the finest perfumes,
The memories of those near death,
The glass of children realizing
They have been left alone for too long
And no one is coming for them
Except the night. Corridors
Open to the cold but promising
Some safe haven, some exchange
Where trinkets are traded for
A few miles of dark woods
That have remained outside of history.
When we least expect it
The glittering of a star held
In the hand, the comforting
Word given as a token, unexplained,
Unexpected and undaunted by
Any disturbance in the atmosphere.
It is at these times when
Great silence enters any room
We occupy and holds us in its
Thrall. We will beg for any other
Answer. All we say will look
So like tears. All we feel
Will seem to be the purest
Liquid meant to redeem us,
But they will be rivers, rivers,
Truly rivers and we will find
Ourselves upon them knowing
That they are most powerful,
That they bear us where they will,
That we have no idea at all
Where we are going or what those
Choirs of angels could be or why
They might be here at all.
A sore in the sky that will
Not heal. Whatever has been
Placed in our mouths has a
Longer history than our poor lives.
We stand near the open space where
The executions take place and
Do not feel a thing. The dancers
Mount the scaffold, lean their
Bodies toward the blade, pull
The hood over their eyes, sing
The final song which is so
Much like food that it becomes
Distraction; someone selling
Something that glitters and seems
So desirable that we do not
Want to live without it.
There is a skirl, a complaining
By wind that we mistake for
Something that is music because
It moves so like music but is not.
The years roll under the wheels,
Wooden spoked and rimmed with iron
Wrapped on their edges to keep
Them from failing too soon that
We may get just a little further
On before we recognize where we are
And that there is no other way to go,
But to follow the wain back
To the fields, hoist the sheaves
With great forks and stumble
Through a gathering dusk to some
Dim mill that everything may be
Ground into a lovely flour,
Made into bread in the morning.
A heady comfort as the oven
Bakes what will be our own history,
Even as we break the loaves and realize
The greatest satisfaction in such eating.
Suddenly someone comes
To buy your poetry
And you show it to them but there
Are drops of blood at the ends
Of the lines.
Verses are roped together with
The rudest of ropes that seem
Laid incorrectly even if they
Are able to hold meaning like
A dam in some high part
Of the river.
The whole thing groans under
The effort of meaning and attempts
To stand, even to run, so one can see
How well it is formed and where
It will go.
Ideas fall to the margins, unfulfilled,
Obtuse, and are unable to explain
Themselves as anything other
Than a haphazard collection
Of words, out gathering meaning
And depth as well as they are able,
Or not at all, finally occupied
Or alone, not understanding how
They got here or how important
It is they contain that precious
Light that might make them worthwhile
To the buyer who wishes to use
Them in his own mouth
To woo or warn or offer
Some direction, not quite clear
But showing light and a warm
Place to go before tonight
Is upon one or the poem
Ends too abruptly, changing
Everything that it touches.
Failure: Is it a limitation? Bad timing? It's a lot of things. It's something you can't be afraid of, because you'll stop growing. The next step beyond failure could be your biggest success in life.