From beyond a curtained aurora,
beating their white drums with
these red-winged angels
shimmering in starlight,
Do not approach.
They sing for a god who burst
and twisted men into sculpted salt.
—Tom Goff, Carmichael
—Taylor Graham, Placerville
Rats: But of course they blamed the Plague on
the Jews for poisoning the wells, they assumed.
Easier than rats to catch and helter-skelter burn.
Jan. 9 1349 in Basel. She walked through Basel
6 centuries + 2 decades later, when Europe had
recouped its population and shushed a lot of its
guilt. It wasn’t just Basel. Black waves moved
in all directions. Strasbourg, were she ate chou-
croute garnie. Freiburg where she lived one
foggy year. Nobody spoke of Plague. Old news.
Any color’s black without light. Once she saw
a rat scuttling its load of real or assumed guilt.
We know so much more now. We poison the
rats who poison whoever eats them. She kept
on walking past Courthouse and City Hall.
black kitten Blink
to be Pharaoh
much he elongates
the beacon of his almond
pupiled eyes, the
more his center of gravity holds
Van Gogh’s stained-glass bat wings
spread full-out from gaps in the broken tower.
Light shines through
a Van Gogh night, bright as skin,
as wing-leather stretched
tight across the white drum
beat with white leg bones into music, life.
We laid the old dog in the ground
beside a young toyon.
Tough scrub, evergreen with promise
of red berries, toyon’s not common here;
a bird must have dropped its seed in passing.
Next morning the old dog’s daughter came,
sniffing for news.
She paused at the fresh-dug mound;
stopped short at the toyon.
What might plants absorb
of our used-up breath, our scent, and hold it
close, then let it out again, cleansed?
She thrust her muzzle deep into sleek
green foliage; inhaled.
Leaf by leaf, so slowly, as if an image
passed, she breathed-in
what the leaves gave back.
Worn out boots, weathered, leather stiff
brick wall still standing after half
the building fell down.
I was grateful for those boots,
too light for earthquake search but
they were all I had.
They eased me through tight places,
crawling after my dog
through a hole hammered in brick wall,
third-floor level, into factory
that had no stairway anymore. Those
boots shook with every after-
shock through rubble as I watched
my dog disappear
under hanging ceilings
where, even in those boots, I didn’t dare.
My boots stepped me down
to pavement street-level, with my
dog, and back home.
I still keep those boots,
cement dust worked tight into seams
and laces. I don’t wear them
anymore, but feel a quiver
up through earth, even on solid floor.
—Olga Blu Browne, Sacramento
I have witnessed the tides of time,
where the winds whispers are taboo,
and watched echoes through moon-
lit doorways, where images stay in
I am more than my skin.