Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Especially the Bagpiper

Art Mantecon reading at Red Alice's Poetry Emporium
Shine Cafe, Sacramento, April 22
—Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—Taylor Graham, Placerville

At least, I imagine it’s a box—hiding
in the closet or crawlspace under the closet;
inside a wall. I can’t find it. Sealed
without a key. But sounds seep out. Some-
times at night I catch snatches of music
I’ve lost with or without words. Wachet Auf
fugues with the face of a dog who died
years ago. And rain! It never rains here loud
enough that I could hear, except what falls
onto Le tombeau de Couperin, Perlemuter
playing softly from inside. Conversations
with the dead. The voices refuse to be
translated. And what might be cries,
tragically ecstatic joy—Les choéphores
in bits and pieces of song recalled
out of empty dark. Better let them stay,
small birds among the branchings,
invisible but heard.


—Taylor Graham

The nestlings are halfway
between a dry-grass cup and clouds.
Their mouths too wide for walls,
even the ones you built for them of soft
bending wood so their house sways
with the tree in wind, a lullaby. And still,
their song is hunger, a wild summoning
lament for the parents who row
April air with the brightest blue wings,
and return to feed them the tiniest
of winged insects. In a week of sun
and downpour, the chicks
will be fledged and the spring-song
of wings like multitudes of angels,
friction of flight against sky.


—Taylor Graham

It doesn’t look like much from outside the fence. Green allowed to go rummy after rain, volunteers overrunning borders and brinks and whatever she planted last summer surviving overwintering cabbage spreading its foliage like it thinks it’s exotic a flower; common pasture vetch and filaree entwining accordion-folds of leaf and tendril; bees scouting a landing in coves of pink clover, snapdragons in yellow magenta pink coral concepts of color, more color under currents of air giddy with hummingbird wings. Don’t ask her what grows here, don’t ask what’s a weed. Everything blooms of itself just imagined. Her secret.


—Taylor Graham

From the parking lot my dog led
the length of curb, checking every scent
caught in ivy-green along the edge;
           a leap across dead
clippings scattered as the westwind went;
around a corner to a ledge
overlooking a green-spring pool, rain-fed,
           among wild grasses bent
by the same wind, forbs and sedge
here—in the midst of city. A rift
in the metal-asphalt grid. A gift.
One crimson petal like a butterfly
           embodied by the wind sailed by.
My dog lifts her nose to catch the drift.

 Chris Olander at the Shine April 22
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

—Tom Goff, Carmichael
The sensitive mouth, the full feminine lips
would seem beestung if presumed Photoshopped
off Brangelina’s mouth. Decades and decades hence,
after how many roads taken, after what
Breadloafs broken up, those lips will indeed look
beestung, malice-cracked, suffering-cracked.
But Rob is young here (1915 or 16), two makeshift
planks atop a plain deal desk, triangling the paper
at proper tilt for his tilting with rhyme. Curious
how formal and brusque yet rough and comfortable the pose:
the necktie through which the even ripples of crinkle
pass, the sine-waves of poetic sinew, the “sound
of sense.” The jacket that seems part sweater,
part dressing-gown, with not just elbow patches
but I guess pectoral patches, chesty designs.
The morning hair, a rough cowlick stuck out as far
back as an outbuilding. Bruised, the eyelids look,
training the unseen eyes down on the paper: a study

in concentration, yet how much, even now, is
farmer-pose, poet-pose? He is writing a poem, proclaims
the solemn photo, much as the long-ago announcer
used to murmur those fake-discreet confidences before 
each episode of Divorce Court. (Where did my generation
learn its oiliness?) And who can say how sincere
the New England-winter philosopher armoring
the original wary Californian?
Odds are, what will come from the stub pencil this instant?
Mere scrap, humble table-talk,
such as they’re right now collecting and selling of his.
These scribbled writerly rambles: how much of the chill
of one “downy flake,” how quick the flex and fling
of one boy-swung, low-bent Vermont birch in any of it?
Oh, he keeps the dark of it for another day,
or else he transports the bruises of nightmare
with him into the farm life. That’s about it. Supposing he knows
something of Rilke; the decade’s about right. That poem about
the busted statue of Apollo. “Eye-apples,” we can bet.
Question: If Eleanor casts him such hurt looks through
the beaten skin of her own “eye-apples,” will he deem them
fit “only for the cider-heap,” as “of no worth?” 


(Henry Wriothesley, Shakespeare’s friend,
    with his cat, pictured as in the Tower of London)
—Tom Goff

Solar eclipse flares golden in both eyes.
His white cheek tufts erupt in highest dudgeon
around the pink nose: Imagine, shut in a dungeon
with my kind master! Nice room, swarming with mice
my privilege to capture: caught, they’re my mouthful prize.
Play frozen, pounce, snag tails, snap necks, be bludgeon.
My master could catch one smack with his black truncheon.
He lolls here stripped of his honors. I scent lies.

And what of Cat’s master? Bold eyes drained of glare
—and pride? Daring us to wail his martyr’s cross?
The scant chamber constantly narrows to Cross, as in Loss.
Cross ornaments blacken white cuffs. Cross forms a crisp layer
stamped and gilt upon the Good Book there
where not only is the Rood Itself embossed,
but Cross goes the bookmark slither, a dangling gloss.
The key-heavy tongue forks out and probes the close air.

Even the lead-glass windows cross themselves:
and lo, what design in that black sling or surcingle?
Laid to rest Crosswise the hurt left hand, the slender
white fingers: a Deposition of Jesus done tender.
The Earl’s pink nose and cheeks—& that lame hand—tingle
while a white satin bristles: a gentleman cat here shelves.

Black be the heavens hung: black floats the moon.
White skies, dark stars, drift appalled above our White Tower.
Commodious & warm the apartment, and not soon
will master or cat go hungry. Yet this flower
of treason could gag down doom’s-eve dinner this night.
Gray shadows each absolute black. Gray halos the sheerest white.

Today's LittleNip:

—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove

First Sunday in May is the
Tor House Garden Party.
Residents of Carmel, CA
Gather on Robinson Jeffers’
Lawn in pastels and
Improbable hats, sample
Watercress sandwiches,
Listen to a bagpiper, string
Quartets, watch painters work,
Wonder who this guy was.
“Dead poet” is the consensus.

Jeffers would have abhorred
The occasion, barricaded
Himself in his tower with
A couple of jugs of red wine,
Ground his teeth until
Everybody went away,
Including the bagpiper.
Especially the bagpiper.



William O'Daly, who will be reading at
Poetry Night in Davis tomorrow night, 8pm,
John Natsoulas Gallery
—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Poet-Mirror

—Poems and Photos by Joyce Odam, Sacramento


Available in stone,
this warp,
this pure intention,

my life in the mirror,
changing as I change,
this daydream made of mind-want,

this day that is about gone:
the sunset—
the long line of sleep—

the complication of dream-tangles.
Oh, that I want it—
want all its anger and danger—

its little pools of hope
that I stare into.
How else do I get through

one after another tyranny
of mind-maps?—
how else shall I regard you

with my glass heart and sharp eyes?—
you are my own, as I am yours
in our singular existence.



In this darkened room—right above the neon
sign of the downstairs café—she could lie
across the bed in front of the window to watch
the people pass back and forth. She liked the
secrecy of this.

She could lie there with no clothes on and feel
the neon sign blink on and off of her, the
reality of herself in her inbetweenness, the
sharp or muffled voices rising up to her—their
passing silences.

She could pull the curtain back, or let it hang
between her and the neon blinking over her,
until she too was neon-patterned, transformed
by the summer night of this flaring room.

And sometimes she would hold the curtain to
her face, like a lacy mask, and look through it
to the oblivious people—safe  from  them at
her high window, her one room of interim 
belonging—from where she would go, one
way or another—but not now know of it.

I tell you this because I just remembered
it—and I write of this outside of
myself—separate and without reunion.


I am a wall with no pictures. Mirrors
enter me and weep for their lost identities.

Great rooms of complexity
surround me.

All my edges are as thin as water.
I slip through them into depths of drowning.

I paint screams upon my silence;
I utter myself from all directions.

Nothing hears.
Day by day more of me disappears.

I am the cruel center of myself.
I forgive no one,

though beggars come by with golden fingers
and stroke my arm.



Every day I feel myself

the way I fit myself

the way the wall mirror
grows sad     then resigned

the way light holds me
and then darkness

and I am woven
threads of detail

a regular

on an opposite wall
my earlier self

fading into
the opposing mirror


There is
such a
such a
in me—
I do not know myself.



I thought it was the night, but it was only
the very late way
words stood in the way of clarity.

So much went by me that I should have
caught: the innuendo, the smirk,
the sarcastic line I laughed at.

I’m not cut out for complexity.
Everyone went home drunk.
I teetered at the door

of maudlin goodnights,
vowing love to everyone,
and meaning it for awhile.

Of course I love them—
and myself—
my tipsy self, grown sober

in the late night mirrors
that do not look back at me.
I hope the celebration was enough

to last till the next reunion
of all who spend their needs on each other,
each with a deeper loneliness.


I passed through the gray cities. Left my name
in the passing. Forgot myself there.

One by one I left my mementos—lost them to
moving—to haste—to need that outgrew them.

Fragments of places remain—a room here—
a hall there—a high and scary hotel transom.

The bird of childhood was swift. I ran to keep up,
over the escaping ground. The bird disappeared.

I was one of many mirrors. I watched my faces
change and the way my eyes studied my eyes.

The sand pile lessens. Soon I will find my toy,
lost to the voice of my hurrying mother.

Echoes roam the rooms, later and later, repeating
themselves for my articulate interpretation.

Somehow the endings are never right, like this story
—revised beyond fact—that inaccurate data.


Today's LittleNip:


Though I am
all poem,
words fall through me.

Though I am
a net,
I cannot catch them all.


Our thanks to Joyce Odam for today's poems and pix, and congratulations to her on winning the Pegasus Award from Calif. Federation of Chaparral Poets, Inc. This is the third time that Joyce has won this award—the only person ever to do so. Way to go, Joycey!

Thursday is May Day! Our new Seed of the Week is My Secret Garden. Send poems, photos, artwork on this or any other subject to No deadline on SOWs, though.



Monday, April 28, 2014

This 1¢ Life

Lithograph by Robert Indiana
—Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA

Everyone has a pulse
raised for music,
as this poet at LAX
tries to feel alive
after boarding,
carries a bit
of sax loneliness
on sleepless luggage
from his pond crossing,
a young Spanish woman
sure of herself
sits in front of me
with a guitar wrapped
on her shoulder
offers to carry my stuff,
tells me about
her sleeplessness
in deserts of dawn's sand
on the pale horizon
where the hungry travel,
yet here in a rainy season
Pilar accompanies me
to my reading and gigs
when signing autographs
of my newest collection
after my sax recital
I'm eager to delight
in her rattling energy
when I'm out of focus
yet a sudden adventure
of a holiday presents me
to learn a lesson
of a friendly companion
from her steadfast way
in a recovered journey
among accidental
reticent strangers,
yet here is someone
on board
who may actually change
your jumbled life
for good.

 Andy Warhol illustration for the Jae White Butterfly poem, 
"I Love Your Kiss Forever"
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

—B.Z. Niditch

Nerves in a passion
of perpetual motion
for a lonely
alto sax player
trying to locate
the city gig
where he is
to perform tonight
here on a beat-up car
in the poisoned Big Apple
lost again like any tourist
on a Brooklyn Street
a woman with a red boa
stands by Central Park
dressed all in red
tells me she is
buying out all albums
of Adele
with a few traveler checks
a stranger gave her
now sits in the front seat
of my old auto
suddenly runs away
while I'm getting noise
from other drivers
in New York's traffic
as she decides
to leave me
going into a fancy Rolls
next to my old one,
my memory returns
dancing to a blast
of '90's music
on the floorboards
at a five-star hotel
in San Diego, when
another future star goes off
with an anonymous prospect
leaving me again
without a partner
as any brief life's passenger.

 "Orange Naked Woman" by Kilki O.K. (Kilki Kogelnik)
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

—B.Z. Niditch

Everyone has a pulse
raised for music
trying to feel alive
after LAX
when a vibrant cat
named Fluff Puff
jumps out
of a woman's luggage
tells me about her
spy novel Lost Canvas
about art forgery
in old sections of Paris
during the Great War
yet here in a rainy season,
Dina accompanies me
to my club
eager to tell me
of her future plans
reading me her
Hollywood script
in a visual world
only a verbal poet
could imagine.

"7 Indigo Flowers Left Home" by Pierre Alechinsky
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

—B.Z. Niditch

Through so many scars
on the verse and verge
of death so many days
yet years of pleasure
still riffle
through my words
which appear as lyrics
in your measured hands
half in sunlight
as voicing shadows
capture nature
and never dwindle
like a taper's
tallow candle
whose flames we kindle
under our still breath
through so many faces
whom we locate
in poppies' grave places
and by river-sown fields
when life's bee stings
as only a snapshot yields
to remember that one time,
where we run our paces
like adolescents and ponies
and like safflower seeds
released on
a crossroad breeze
and eaten by tiny grackles
entangled on
mountain's ash trees
to disappear out of sight,
we lose ourselves
in blossoming valleys
resigned as these birds
with black purplish wings
who then fly out of sight
where silence of phrases
are penciled
in these lines on paper
over endless
outback-warm grasses
as you topknot your hair
in a bun
as a bee has stung you
by a loose wind
going up big blue hill
as gestures of spring
trace us and are fused
by fresh honeycomb air
in a swarm passing by us
we are dazed by nature
and completely confused.


Our thanks to today's contributors: BZ Niditch, as always, for his poems, and Michelle Kunert for some photos from the current 1¢ Life exhibition at de Young Museum in San Francisco. This exhibition, which runs through Sept. 7, showcases poet and artist Walasse Ting's groundbreaking artist-illustrated book, 1¢ Life, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014. 1¢ Life features 62 original lithographs by 28 American and European artists created to accompany 61 poems by Ting. For more info, see  (Michelle's photos may be enlarged with a single click.)


Today's LittleNip:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

—Scott Adams



 "1¢ Life" by Roy Lichtenstein
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Cosmic Plan


—Russell Edson

     A pianist dreams that he's hired by a wrecking company to ruin a piano with his fingers . . .
     On the day of the piano wrecking concert, as he's dressing, he notices a butterfly annoying a flower in his window box. He wonders if the police should be called. Then he thinks maybe the butterfly is just a marionette being manipulated by its master from the window above.
     Suddenly everything is beautiful. He begins to cry.

     Then another butterfly begins to annoy the first butterfly. He again wonders if he shouldn't call the police.
     But, perhaps they are marionette-butterflies? He thinks they are, belonging to rival masters seeing whose butterfly can annoy the other's the most.
     And this is happening in his window box. The Cosmic Plan: Distant Masters manipulating minor Masters who, in turn, are manipulating tiny butterfly-Masters who, in turn, are manipulating him . . . A universe webbed with strings!
     Suddenly it is all so beautiful; the light is strange . . . Something about the light! He begins to cry . . .



Saturday, April 26, 2014

Not Even As Long As Strawberries

Iris 2, Locke
—Poems and Photos by D.R. Wagner, Locke


They do not allow us to come close
To these places any longer.  There are demons,
Madmen with flaming mouths and an ability
To hover in the air and emulate great sadness
When nothing is at all wrong.  Sand for kings.

Hands clouding the mind in a effort to keep
Things happening one after another.  The
Card games are in the other room where
The young men trade their stories of bold
Adventure: walking to a corner unscathed,
Swimming across the river without getting burns
Over the body, finding partners who are not too
Infected.  They are 'way beyond any kind of weapon.

They play at cards, sandbag the windows against
Any light being seen from the street.  One can
Detect them by the clouds of buzzing insects
That cover the doorways to these hells.

They will not recognize us any longer if we speak
To them.  Everything belongs to the kings.  We
Are bound to want something, they figure.
Better to strangle the son of a bitch than ask
Him for water.  Their eyes burn white and hollow.

We still can find the forests, but not much of them.
A few of us have seen live animals, and Ramon
Keeps a cat in his room just off the coast.
We have no need to see these so-called cities
Any longer.  I make sure the knife blades are sharp,
Carry a couple with me at all times, speak to no one.

 Sutter Buttes, Maxwell, CA


Your heart in all its splendor.
Your soul magnifies the perfection
Given to it by the children of the angels.

Mayhem departing by train,
Bound for fire in the high mountains
Where few know its name, can identify
The curious clothes it wears on its way
To destruction, a dissolution of purgatory.

What do we eat that calls John of the Cross
Through time atop Mount Carmel?  What allows
Us to speak in all these tongues and still be
Understood completely and then not at all?

A wild lament, the friction of the moon across
The starry sky assembled for the touch of your
Hand, your heart without boundaries beating
Out the spinning of the planets.  A song that
Is the dawn and day and evening and then night.

Oh my love, I look into your eyes and I no longer
Know the vale of bitter tears that is this earth.
I draw my sword and spin before the gates
Of your dear heart.  None shall defile such
A place as this.  No evil comes to us.
I am the guard.

 Roses, Locke


I don’t think about the mines much
Anymore.  I’d rather think of trees,
So I do.  I can keep trees in my mind
And they are quite beautiful.

There are no headlamps, no carbide
Lights.  There is never the sound of
Tracks somewhere in the dark.
Tracks make sounds even when nothing
Is using them.  It is a gray sound
And a serious one, so possessed.

But the trees are like gods.
They rise up and sway in the wind.
I sit for hours looking at them.
Sometimes they creak like mine
Timbers creak, but they bend
And sway and fill my heart with
A special light, a different sound.

Even at night the trees are so high.
I am not sitting in the water,
The drip, and the dark.  The boss
Saying not to breathe too deeply
Because we are running out of air.
And the stillness moving on the tracks
And the disappeared trees of the men.

And the trees.  I listen for the trees.
They begin speaking to me.  I begin to weep.



The whole house was a room.
It had walls but there were never doors.
Someone was singing in Gaelic
Dan Nar Narbh with a dry stringed instrument
Walking behind the lyric, helping the words
To mean.  I could see people moving inside
The place through the windows.  The glass
Looked like skin that had just begun to grow
Back after a terrible injury to the body, not quite
Transparent, but enough so that one could see
The blood moving just below the surface.

Lights in the dark.  When she spoke she
Sounded like the Twelfth century.  No one
Spoke like that today.  It sounded like
Clay and handfuls of salt except for the lament
And the Alleluia she repeated every so often.
Others mumbled it under their breath.
They were armed with decorated knives.

We had a request when we came here.
The women understood perfectly our need
For paper but the men feared we might
Bring spirits down if we made any marks
On the stuff.  They would not meet our eyes.

We placed ladders straight up in an open
Field and began to climb them.  The ones
Who reached the top disappeared from view
Completely.  They asked if we were angels.
We were not.  We explained we spoke
Using clouds and could make Duan Chroi losi,
A little song to the heart.  They understood the Gaelic.

We began to ring the hand and finger bells.
The birds came to the edge of the clearing
To listen to us.  The house seemed to pulse
As if it were a place one could actually live in.

We waited until it was all dark around us.
Then we rained, slowly at first, but finally
A long cold downpour that lasted for days.
By the time the sun returned, we had left
That country.  It is said we can be found
In particular tales that have nothing to do
With our purpose.  None have been translated
From the Gaelic, but they are often sung.

 Roses 2, Locke


Strings dance in the air.  There is a blur
In the heart.  It is as if the night had a skull
And eyes to see approaching ships.

A book of engravings, lost in a room,
In a great house.  It carries on conversations
With the dead.  We become witnesses
Without knowing why anything other
Than dreams would have such a language
Attached to it.  We resolve to make dust of it.

Still, I will stop to listen to a few more birds
Caught here in this universe where strings
Twist and interlace, seemingly without purpose.
I will consider all enigma, all wandering spirits,
Without purpose except to put us on the very edge
Of some mythology that prompts us to speak
In hells such as this, looking for an intricate
Fire left to be used by nightingales.

This will be an exultation of memory,
The fault of words not used previously
By the dark, never heard by Keats—a liquid
Song, straining to be heard, then a breeze,
Then, strain as we may, nothing.


Today's LittleNip:


Sleep has come for me quickly tonight.
It has not given me time to speak my name.
It knows that it isn’t important.  It has dreams.
There are many this evening, part of its urgency.

They are no good to the dead.  They are no good
To those who have no bodies.  Sleep has gathered
Them.  They do not last even as long as strawberries.
At least it has waited for the darkness and for the night
To be cool around the house.  I open the window
To let them in.  I will be asleep before I can see what
Sleep has brought.  Sleep tells me I am a wind across
A plain, that I am remembered on the steppes of the North,
That tonight I will not need any language.  That is all
I am able to remember before the tongues clack loudly
And the colored songs begin to snap in my ears.



Friday, April 25, 2014

Just Write It Down...

Featured Reader Carlena Wike at 
The Other Voice in Davis on Friday, April 18,
hosted by Allegra Silberstein
—Photo by Katy Brown

—Katy Brown, Davis

I don’t want to write about this because
even acknowledging it seems
like drawing a pirate map to it.

I have never looked inside the sealed box
—you know—the one I keep
in the back of my closet—on the floor,
under a pile of hiking boots and dirty clothes:

the black box that emits a growl from time to time.

Sometimes, if I lay very still at night,
I imagine I hear a faint whimper
from behind the closet door.

I’ve carried this box with me for as long as I remember,
from place to place,
noticing that it seems to get heavier;
though perhaps I am simply losing strength.
It seems remarkably dense for a plain box.

I have never opened it.  I want to believe it is empty,
but don’t know for sure that it is.
I lack the courage to force it open.

When my daughter was little, I put it
high on the shelf, behind my extra blankets—
where she couldn’t find it
and accidentally release . . .
I’m not sure what is.
All I know
is that it thrives on darkness and it growls.

Featured Reader Ray Coppock
at The Other Voice last Friday
—Photo by Katy Brown

—James Lee Jobe, Davis

Dear Reader,
I know these poems
are sometimes odd,
as often when I am writing them
a spirit invades me,
and writes with my hand
and uses my memories.
This spirit is my dark friend.
Many of these poems were written
by this dark friend, not by me.
At those times I retreat
to a nice corner of my soul
where I keep a comfortable chair
and a good reading lamp.
There I read poems from Ovid and Li Po,
Akhmatova and Mirabai,
from Rilke and Baudelaire,
for long hours,
sometimes all night!
when the spirit has gone,
I will come out of myself
to edit the poems
that are not exactly mine,
that were written by something
that is far more creative
than I could ever be.
I often have no idea
what those poems are saying,
but when I read the words out loud
I feel a warm glowing ball in my chest.
My heart feels beautiful and in this life
I stay very warm and blessed.
Warm and blessed.

Carlena and Ray
—Photo by Katy Brown

Today's LittleNip:

—James Lee Jobe

I put some faith in the sounds of vowels,
In the strength and heart of consonants,
And in language that holds a small measure of music.
Truth? Sometimes. Not always.
There is a higher truth, with more weight than history.
I prefer verbs to adjectives, they're more fun.
And I need a little magic, from starlight,
Or sunrise, or from the sad look
That dogs give best.
And then I just write it down.


—Medusa, with thanks to our Davisite artists today, and a reminder that Katy Brown will be reading at The Avid Reader on Broadway in Sacramento day-after-tomorrow (Sunday) at 2pm, along with Katie McCleary of 916 Ink.

Listener Mikey West (Evan Myquest)
—Photo by Katy Brown

Thursday, April 24, 2014

We Microcosms

Casey Robb

—Casey Robb, Sacramento

East of Wheatland, western stretch
Wyoming, straight as time, and flat,
the engine sputtered, slowed, then halted,
ground to empty silence. There among
your sighs, you tinkered, hunched beneath
the hood, the metal maw, while back
behind you, hovered muted mauves
and blues, and dusty grays of dusk. I held
the swaying lantern, twisted, got a glimpse
of distant knoll. A farmhouse flickered on
first light. The hush… the silence… God,
the hollow still. The holy. But for clicking
wrenches, muffled moans, and back contorted
over chrome, city time unfolded… letting out
its breath. Over the graying yellow ground it came—
a cry, a coyote call… from marshy reeds, a flush
of ruddy duck. She glided, floating low, a sliding
to horizon and horizon, then a circling, winding
back, a specter, lilting side-to-side, and landed
in the reeds—to fade as final purple light
was pulled… was reeled… was sucked
to the edge and gone.

(first pub. in The Sacramento City College Literary Journal, 1999) 


—Casey Robb

The last of the light is trailing a colored sky.
The air is sucking in its breath. It seems
an ever darkening brush. Standing by
in rows are silhouettes of evergreens.

A bird nest falls at my feet in the evening wind,
empty of eggs. The summer crickets hush
in the hollow autumn bite. Around the bend
a solitary car sounds a distant whoosh.

A broken tire swing, a rusty bike,
an empty bucket by an empty well
appear along the road. The city lights
flicker, then dim against the deepening chill.

I turn and wander off from the barren lane.
I feel a hunger for something I cannot name.


—Casey Robb

The wolf is in the basement on a chain.
A bounty hunter, rancher, put her there.
The sky is blue, but thunder threatens rain.

Owl awakens, visioning arcane
Omens, whispers softly to beware:
The wolf in the basement paces on her chain.

He washes at the sink. A bloody stain
Is on his arm, his face, and in his hair.
The sky is gray, and thunder threatens rain

In distant hills, the hunter hears inflame
A thousand voices, howling from the lair.
The wolf’s in the basement pulling on her chain,

And, twitching nose, can smell and taste the pain
Of hunter-trapper, twisting in his snare.
The sky is dark, and thunder threatens rain.

The owl, screaming, calls the hunter’s name.
He cannot hide—he is the rightful heir.
The wolf in the basement’s loosening her chain.
The sky is black, and thunder crashes rain. 

—Enhanced Photo by D.R. Wagner, Locke

—Casey Robb

Hold a micro-mirror to a cell
To secret universe, almost unfurled,
Where quiet innermost enigmas dwell
In microcosm, in a secret world.
The outer membrane-harbor holds the brine
Where, in the nucleus, the DNA
Untwists, untwirls like puppet strings divine
To kindle life, Dear Life!, from lump of clay.
In tiny mitochondria, behold
A power plant that dwarfs the grandest dam.
So small, it’s true, and yet a trillion fold—
That much, and more, it takes to make a man.
And we… each one of us through time is hurled,
Another microcosm of the world.

(first pub. in The Lyric, 1998)


—Casey Robb

This winter night
let the winds howl their
hollow song
let the rain streak sideways
scratching at the black
window pane
This winter night
let the raven run to shelter
and the mule deer limp
its line of fading footprints in the mud
Go ahead
let a thousand spirits whine
the dying of the earth
This winter night
your arms make a circle around me
and in this one small room
the air is thick with blossoms 


Our thanks to today's contributors, including featured poet Casey Robb. Casey is a civil engineer, and a lover (and sometimes writer) of poetry and stories. Her long-time passion for history, archeology, and science has flowed into her poems, and now into a website called Pika Paw Press (, "an outlet for poetry, stories and essays that rock"—mostly about science and history. Check it out!

Got a poem in your pocket? It's Poem In Your Pocket Day!

Also: there aren't very many days left to submit to Keeping It Weird, a new anthology project from The Poetry Box and Shawn Aveningo. May 1 is the deadline. See 


Today's LittleNip:

Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson



Not Jewels
—Enhanced Photo by D.R. Wagner

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Making the Furniture Shine

—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

            under the Museum
—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Human-made objects, but seemingly
magical as the wand of time passed over,
deepening the glaze of potsherds
returned to earth; a seal carved into stone
in the likeness of a common living
creature turned mythical by the carver’s
knife—we don’t even know what
name to call it. We lose our way here,
among the remains of peoples
buried by the tides of climate and war.
Look, here’s a simple rusted tin-can—
maybe a sign we’re getting closer to our
aboveground lives. Almost ghosts
ourselves, as we move from object to
object in the maze of mankind’s making;
holding a fairy-light in our hands.


—Taylor Graham

I wake up parched.
How to recover those dreams?
They’ve taken off on invisible dark bikes
back to the land of the unconscious.
Bats to their roost. And dawn
has stirred up the clouds,
letting loose
its light-bugs down the waterway
that springs from high
above the summit, sailing on upper-
level winds whispering
to breezes down the swale.
How can the day be
anything but metaphor?

 Moon Rose
—Photo by Katy Brown

—Annie Menebroker, Sacramento

"The lawn has been mowed.
The Republic is safe."
               —Peter Rodman's Facebook page

Changing the landscape, the lawn turns to
rocks and succulents.  Flowers and vegetables.
Less care and low-flow water.
Generations of lawns are taken down
from their mighty position, like
a popular postage stamp; too many
look-a-likes in green.  The musical
Waterbird no longer makes its percussion
sound and wet blessing.
A screen door is part of the memory.
A rocking chair.  Little parks
for everyone's front yard.  Something
beautiful causes the eye to leap.
There's a small map into the wilderness.


"The lawn has been mowed.
The Republic is safe."
                —Peter Rodman

—Jane Blue, Sacramento

Now the lawn is strewn
with white dogwood petals.
Nothing stays the same.

The bed of parrot tulips
is immortal in photographs
like your grandmother young

in her exotic Edwardian finery:
the picture sepia, you imagine it
tinted; the tulips were orange

and feathered like wings.
The lawn needs mowing
every other day, in this

warmth after rain, Pink
roses have burst out of
their buds, and oh!

the perfume. Then they're
blown white and odorless.
So quickly. You shake the tree

so all the white blossoms
are gone from it, then you
mow again.


Today's LittleNip:

—Jane Blue

I could do nothing as well as she––
not journalism not gardening, not
patio-making, not furniture
restoration. All I had was
poetry, and there
I commented on the world,
dreamy, without a deadline, there
I made my garden, there I laid
down bricks, there
I made the furniture shine.



Moonlight Slug
—Photo by Katy Brown

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Thinking of the Sea

—Poems and Photos by Joyce Odam, Sacramento

(After Thoughts of the Sea, 1919 by William Cahill)

Thinking of the sea,
how it seems to follow you
as if it needs your return; 

this morning’s wet blue air
brings back the sound and scent
of long-ago summers.

The harrowing cries of gulls
fill your open window,
the sea so close now

it could be right outside;
you could step out the door
and walk out to its edge.

The power is yours, this memory.
You open your door
to the sea—

gone quiet now that you have returned.
This calmness
is what you have waited for—

the three levels:
earth,      sea,      and sky
all perfectly fastened to each other.



It was always the gulls
with their hollow screeching
and white wheeling flight
that I loved . . . .


You speak in words,
textureless as shadows—

not that meanings
are lost—

your soft persuasions,
your voice going on and on,

word after word,
which are only sounds.

My thoughts escape.
You become background. 

I slip in and out of silence.
Soon, seagulls appear

and make their slow,
white statements overhead.

Thinking of the sea,
I follow them with lonely eyes.



So when you decided together
to try that glittering sea,
borne on momentum
of beauty-shared flight,
the guessed-at arrival,
we, of the heavier wings
and held by the shore-winds of fright,
looked after you,
our beaks screaming open.

Your feathers were silvery white
in your love, like the ghosts
that you wanted to be.
Your wing tips would touch,
fall apart, and deepen again
for improbable climb
as you courted
the rhyme of dark waters
and sweet agony
out of sight.

(First pub. in The Ninth Circle)


The slow moment of time, the gray window
that lets in light, yet holds the darkness;

the way the cold walls shift, or seem to.
And the tiny window glints out over the bay;

how near the sea—the old admonishing sea—
claiming what it claims, whispering, come near . . .

stay back . . . and the sea breathing in and out.
Such is the compromise, the subtleties of shadow,

and the tides as they pull again at the moon’s
urging, and the earth’s rejoinder, and the day

fills with strangers, changing the mood and
rhythm of the reverie that breaks

the connection between sea and window.


(After Woman and child at sea edge by Dorothy Massey, 1962)

The woman and the child
are interchangeable. Their backs
are turned to us. They gaze at the sea

—the abyss
of childhood—shore
of turbulence—sea that hungers.

Waves crash against rocks,
make their loud sound
and recede.

The sky surges with winter.
A cold light spreads everywhere—
heightens the agitation of the waves.

Where can this be—
this edge of nowhere—
this deep distance into time?

The child
is the memory of the mother—
the mother the future of the child.

Yet they stand together
in the certain innocence of being—
each the custodian of the other.


Two mannequins by the graphic sea
in winter light and mood,

bald as moons and
ragged as the wind before it dies—

two mannequins of whim
brought here for art’s caprice :

the one in black

arms raised above her head,
waving a black baton;

The one
in shredding white chiffon

plucks at a lyre—
half-toppled in her chair.

The old black sky is lowering.
The white sea ripples near.

No footprints mar the sand.
No one has come to stare.


Today's LittleNip:


What is
so lonely as
a figure at the edge
of a quiet sea—at night—in

Eos, 1973 by Will Barnet)


Our thanks to Joyce Odam for her poems today on last week's Seed of the Week: Beachin', and her beautiful photos of spring flowers. 

As Poetry Month winds down, it seems only fitting to bring our ars poetica thoughts into the personal, so let's go with My Life in Poetry. Try to talk about what poetry means to you/does for you/releases in you/scares in you. Writing about the most personal is tough, but give it a shot. And don't forget that Poem in Your Pocket Day is Thursday—don't forget to arm yourself with poems for the world around you. And we have new Facebook photo albums, too. Check those out!


Monday, April 21, 2014

Cellars of the Subconscious

—Watercolor by Nora Staklis, Carmichael

—B.Z. Niditch, Brookline MA
For me reminiscences
always open at the Bay
of outside sight reading
on hand
of thoughts, impressions,
in tonal awareness
near a Cape's lighthouse
over hills and a hull
walking barefoot
along white arid sands
as if all our creativity
escapes to its fragrances
by the shore's wild iris,
and love songs
drift by the open shore
at the laments
of my green guitar,
whether a smooth jazz
discovers its wavering notes
or an island paints in mind
warming its local familiarity                                                     we pick up luminous shells
on the growing tall grasses
with shrilling sounds
over the swan flotillas
my memory's influence
wishes for a lifeline
out to the sea sail rigging
to watch the tortoise, crickets
jellyfish at a deck's
crossing point
with stairs not fixed
after the winter's Northeaster
dawn stumbles on the wharf
at my confidence
in the body movements
and exercises on minor scales
unraveling my fingers
from nature's habitats
as shore birds' tiny sounds
voice their own harmonies
and all my thoughts
to be in a sunlight skiff,
those daydreams
on numb winter nights
reading memoirs
by a flamed fireplace
when we were in hibernation,
imagining to be underwater
in a snorkel submerged
fresh as an ocean's baptism
as phobias try take us over
a kayak washes ashore
the sun casting shadows
on fishers and mermen
letting their ropes down
under the ocean's seaweed
still touched by wonders
rooted to the tide.


—B.Z. Niditch

Bringing oranges
to a beach picnic
cleverly arranged
watching shades
of green through
as squirrels scatter
up the elm
meeting a nameless
Italian actor from
the nearby playhouse
in an oceanic minute
joins us and helps
with the preparations
and all that's art in me
we hear his preparations
of a new part in a film
they are making here
dramatically rehearsing
on a makeshift morning
by the steepest dunes
over spiny wild flowers
on the Bay's shore's marsh
covering suspended waters
as four swans pass by
which stirs his attention
and everyone is impressed
with Mario's performance
and he offers to translate
any future poem of mine
with sanguine eagerness
leaning across the table
at a Cezanne fruit bowl
picking up an orange
and then at the count of five
offers to race all of us
where the balloons take off
ocean side.

 45-lb. tortoise at Southside Park, Sacramento
Earth Day Celebration, April 19
—Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—B.Z. Niditch

On a long March day
feeling rootless
warmed by the arrival
of a convincing sun
searching for answers
to a spiritual survival
on my solitary visit
to witness any revival
from my words,
or legible knowledge
for inspiration,
spying a hermit
in white linen cloth
near the beach
with deep-set eyes
one would expect
in the learned faces
of ancient rabbis
here on thorny hours
by an extended labyrinth
in miles of hot haze
over a sheep-sheared desert
near the monastery
of Saint Catherine
perhaps seeking
purification from the world
by an oasis for prayer,
not wanting to disturb
the one touching
perhaps holy ground
just to believe
was more than enough
for me,
as small birds cluster
and whisper around me
where none travels
before Ides at nones
casting my thoughts
like mirror-image stones
feeling subterranean
wishing like the hermit
or Flaubert's
St. Anthony to atone
my hands reach out
on the Mediterranean.


—B.Z. Niditch
and daddy of dada
from the hangouts
of Paris' surreal
challenging lines
of mineshaft words
hidden away
in cellars
of the subconscious
knowing outstretched
words are for some critics
our only last chance
to rescue us Bohemians
from the oppressive
schools from the past
a soul of a genie
and genius, Tristan
was the man who emerges
somewhere from Romania
tries his streaming forms
in experiments of art
without constraint
like expressionists
with red wall paint
fusing and synchronizing
in fragments of language.

  Milk Pod
—Charcoal by Jennifer O'Neill Pickering

—B.Z. Niditch

You had a metaphysical
fellowship in a lyrical accord

regardless of censorship
there is a musical chord

in a flowing relationship
to worship a mentoring Lord,

Up toward bell tower skies
seeing stewards of angels

those birds of paradise
rewards words from your eyes

here on the beach's dawn
a sun reaches Henry Vaughan.

Today's LittleNip:

—B.Z. Niditch

Spring really enters
across the green
from Hopkinton,
Heart Break Hill
to Copley Square
where thousands line up
for a good word
and water for our thirst
as it dawns on Monday
April the twenty-first
when the Boston Marathon
takes off under sunshine
of cool dazed air
nothing else
but the memory
of new life in our breath
keeps us at the finish line
wishing everyone well
on Patriot's Day
the runners, survivors
dreamers of a better time
poets, mechanics
gardeners, singers
a cross-section of America
and the world
of all races and ages
taking each other's arms
hoping for a semblance
of utmost peace.


—Medusa, with thanks to today's contributors, including some beachy delights by B.Z. Niditch from clear across the country. Jennifer O'Neill Pickering and Nora Staklis will be reading at Folsom Lake College this coming Wednesday, April 23, 12-1:30pm, along with Taylor Graham and Tom Goff, celebrating Literature of the Wild. Details of that and other up-coming readings are on Medusa's blue board at the right of this column (scroll down past the green board).

And after several weeks of glitchy Facebook confusion, I've managed to figure out how to do photo albums again, so hop on over there and enjoy two new ones: Voices at the Shine by Michelle Kunert, and Mooning by Katy Brown. They're swell!

 Fo'Shang at Southside Park on Earth Day
[see for video
of last year]
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Claiming Light

—St. John of the Cross
Some seeds beneath the earth
are dormant.

They fell the last time the cool air
turned the leaves

Those seeds have different needs than we do;
let them go about their life
completely unharmed
by your views.

We have cracked open, we sensed
even beneath the earth—
the holy was near,

and are reaching up to know
and claim

as our



Saturday, April 19, 2014

This Fine and Fragile Globe

Easter Cupcakes
—Poems and Photos by D.R. Wagner, Locke


She said: “There wasn’t supposed to be a room here.”
And he agreed, opening the door onto rows of houses
In streets of every color, pouring what remained of the memories
The dead could no longer access into the roadways where
Great animals and hungry ghosts flocked to find what they thought
They were looking for.  Every house faced away from the world.

He said: “I am an eyeball rolling away from a body, blue then mud.
Blue then mud over and over, into a lake of fire fueled with unused
Words, forests of them, given to those seasons we had to discard
When we were required to have only four.”  And someone imagines
They are the words to a song and begins to sing them.  There are
Deafening explosions every time a mouth is opened.  “See—the hills
Are still green.”  A four-inch hose full of a pink substance begins
To spray over everything until it all loses form and begins bubbling.

She said: "Redeem us.”  But here were too many children who
Had no idea what she was talking about and began picking at
Her clothing until it was gone and her red skin hissed and bubbled.
Entire populations relocated, hoping for a better weather.

He said: “The clocks have squandered everything.  There is no
Botany left.”  We tried again and again to return him to a waking state.
He looked up at us and we could see him in the dream.  He was drowning
But still using as many bullets as he could command to rid himself
Of his forebearers, as if they were corridors in a fragile palace.
Full of images, all for sale and warlike to the touch, as sentence
Diagrams fight against their respective places, gazing longingly
At adjectives used for mausoleums, full of ancient faces,
Full upon the sea, gobbling their adventures without a tear.

She said: "We cannot continue this way.”  And exiled herself
With some forgotten king who only existed in a bit of Antic
Muse, unable to decide if she were happy or not happy.
She listened to the conversations of women walking the plains,
Smelling of good food and constant mornings as if they had
Never known anything else.  She became unable to perceive dusk.

What we shall not know is their blindness five hundred years
From now, lifting from the garden, no longer children and barely
Glimpsed by anyone who could narrate more than the principles
Of madness, its firmaments and angels so intimate and musical
No one is able to notice them.  A hand holding a fine and fragile globe.

 Dog Stain


This was the path of the enchantment.
The dark blue-black tricks of the night
Lifted by their skirts to dizzying heights.

The ability to know the waves, to call them
By name and have them bear our bodies high
Upon their crests into the great storms, fly.

To hold the fairy light within the hands like this.
To see the glow and cast it out upon the world
Where few would ever see or even know.

The naming of the mythic beings and kings.
The places where they ruled soft upon the tongue,
Spoken to the firelight, built on harps, then sung.

The casting of enchantments spells.
Thought foolish things by nearly everyone
But not by you or me, what can barely be undone.



The Yuan Dynasty blue and white
Dishes both feature a stylized fish, fins erect,
Mouth open, surrounded by beautifully
Figured aquatic, decorative motifs.  The plate from
Sometime in the 14th century, as is the Wine
Jar with similar decoration.  They echoed a dream
Of the veranda with its coolness in late afternoon.

The memory of the clay was long and perfect.
The magicians had crested an almost unreal
Time in the depth of the glazes, mirrored
Stories full of changing figurations, horses
Ridden to the edge of the pools in the pavilions.
The great fish rising from the waters to speak
From prophecy and a promise of endless
Evenings to be enjoyed by those whose sword
Was sharpest, commanding all that could be
Made beautiful to be made for themselves,
For their single delight.  All of this time wrapped
Deep inside a dynasty alive now only in the scholar’s
Memory.  Days of the Khan, all dust blowing
Through a labyrinth made of objects.

The blood has long ago dried and decayed.
Only these vessels remain, their fishy presence
Porcelain mirrors, trinkets belonging to time,
Who rules kingdom after kingdom of ghosts.

 Back Stairs, Locke


Your name spelled out in spilled salt.
The lengthening of the day and figures
In the garden walk into the twilight.

Your arms covered in charms
To ward off the momentary.

The changing of mirrors
Prevents our walking on kaleidoscopes,
Vehicles transporting souls
Back and forth to the bookshelves.

The silk of the spider
Bearing all our weight.
The reminders that the dream
Will not undo me, an
Empty ship we can use to
Ply the night.  Sound
Walking away from all things.

The vision remaining, tenuous
As any city.  So many things
That cannot be.  I will
Stand here on the beach
With you.  We will wait
For the sound of the waves
To return.
You send someone
To bring it back.



Soon the lights will go on again
And I will be able to see your face.
We were laughing in the dark.
There were secrets that escaped
Our lips and had form only when we spoke.

I heard your sorrow and
Your heartbreak, your breathing,
Confused as a seventh day.

Thirsty air.
The solid cut of our bodies
Shaking hands in the darkness.

Soon the lights will come on again
And we will be
At the corner of 24th Street
And Cleveland Avenue.  I bite deep
Into my leg so I can taste the blood.



For ten thousand years
I would be asleep.

Objects would people my sleep:
An iron ring, anything that might
Be called a mirror, fantastic
Deer, some bright red, some green.

I would be able to count all
The drops of water in a rainstorm.
I could sleep beyond the ambiguities
Dreams demand of us as we
Become dust, bit by reflected bit.

I could hear the inside of a symphony,
Think other possibilities for the cellos,
The viola, the beautiful melodies
The clarinet uses to have us lose
Our way in the music.  Your features
Would remain indistinct and I
Would nod in my ten-thousand-year sleep.

I would weave you a multicolored heaven,
Full of visionary shadows and
Millions of things that vanished, as smoke,
Curled out of a forgotten chimney.

The order of things would not matter
To me.  I would be humble
In my sleep and embrace its hours,
Knowing how quickly ten thousand years
Might pass and how haunted
I may become by the inaccessible
Robes of time.  Watch him walking
Away, seeking some other embrace
That might not have such memory.

I will have forgotten how strange
All this seems as it drops
From my memory, as Adam
In paradise must have felt
Before he knew a thing, and all
Ineffable lest we be required
To open our mouths and speak.

I will stand in the garden and on
The patios and they will always
Remain strong to whatever body
My sleep might conjure.

All would be precise as in the placing
A bullet requires to find the exact
Center of a target.

Come, then—sweep the past with me
In all its strangeness.  Death would
Not be able to understand my sleep.
I would return accidentally from
My obsession and seek the life of
Another climate.
I would await the return of poetry
To the dawn, to the shores
Of Ithaca, with its marvelous intent.

Sail upon this river then.
Who has not changed?
How to identify a particular
One?  Perchance to recognize eternity.


Today's LittleNip:


We're going to get drenched in this storm, I said.
We had better take off our clothing.
But it was already much too late.



Battered Buddha