FRAGMENTS IN A BOX
—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.
FRAGMENTS OUTSIDE A BOX
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.
HER SECRET GARDEN
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.
A SPOT OF EARTH RESISTING CHANGE
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.
—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?”
THE EARL OF SOUTHAMPTON'S CAT
(Henry Wriothesley, Shakespeare’s friend,
with his cat, pictured as in the Tower of London)
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.
GET OUT OF MY GARDEN
—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
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.