PHASE OF THE MOON
—Taylor Graham, Placerville
He was riding the red part of night,
a dream that was too hot
for the moon. The moon didn’t
even show on the screen, it was broken
by too much red-energy. It hung
blue above the roof, hiding
from dreams. Was this dream—these
parts of dreams slipping in
and out of sleep—making a bomb,
or rockets? Too much hot
metaphor sneaking into his unconscious,
tilting the moon out of balance.
He woke and, yes, the first streaks
of sun knifed red through the curtains,
slicing the blue left over
from moon. The moon was gone;
sharpening its sliver-
blade, its secret smile. Tonight
it would be fuller; his dreams running
blue as horses star-shod
across the cold of a night pasture.
THE LAST PIECE OF LAND
You’ll pass a lot of trashed flowers
to get here. The path meanders in skid-
trail mazes marked by surveyors’
stakes. In the midst of meadow, a man-
hole gives access to nether worlds.
Atop that hill, a cell-tower pine
reaches high for global messages.
That simple acorn cup rests beside
a mushroom (or is it toadstool?)
that’s fed on chronic diagnoses, made-
for-TV versions, and the testimony
of ex-wives. Don’t dare to pick
that daisy, it’s the last of its kind.
FLOWERS IN THE TRASH
A bunch of cornflowers blue
as childhood—my dog ignores them,
keeps on searching among all
the spoiled, disposable refuse of a city.
Banana peels, cartons of spilled
milk. If she weren’t on duty,
she’d snatch up that half-eaten
A headless doll. Red sweater
unraveled. So much leftover human
scent, but my dog knows
the one she’s looking for. Rosie,
six years old, last seen
playing in her own front yard.
If she’s in this heap of trash,
she didn’t come on a lark; some-
body dumped her.
I watch my dog stepping carefully
over discard. If I hope
hard enough, will we find Rosie
maybe picking buttercups
on a green hill where a little girl
might wish to be?
BEFORE THE SHADOWS SOFTENED
No sound in the morning, nothing stirs.
But the young dog listens
as if to some peddler of visions—
wild turkeys set to soar over fences
if she so much as twitched
an eyelid; the worm that tunnels
through heart-of-oak; a lamb growing
inside its wool. She sits
motionless, every fiber racing.
Shadows are too soft for her,
she lives in the skin of an animal.
There is no switch for the spirit’s light.
AFFIRMATIVE STATEMENT PAPER
—Tom Goff, Carmichael
I’m tutoring bright Jennifer of Nigeria.
Her paper? Weighing the good of affirmative statements
(she’s practiced complimenting a cherished friend).
Ah, yes, the love and sweetness when sincerely a
heart speaks out to a heart without abatement:
sound teaching, and, may we say it, the noblest end
or blend of act and thought? I want you to have
that good, and only hope that while you’re praised
for your warm enfolding arms and thoughtful guidance
(oh yes, you guide me in the directest ways
to goodness) that you treasure up and savor
those almost involuntary spurts of remembrance,
flashes of daffodil, dog, sequoia, and cormorant,
none of which image-clusters would have lived
or lodged in me but for you. The truest praising
is truth; and truthfully do we get annoyed
under fire each from the other when employed
on daily minutenesses. Such blows, thus grazing,
are thorn, someone says, to the larger truth of the rose,
how well the plant feels its own satiny petals, and knows
its whole rain-sun love-death cycle. I want to blaze
whatever you think is not, if near nothing shows
on your skin, in your almond eyes, at tip of nose
—and yet more than these features are you. We add the glaze
to the hummingbird cake or the upside-down cake, and sprays
of edible flowers: the cake was already sweet
and moist, almost crumbless, impeccably baked and neat.
And so this applies to you: I want that blushful phase
when, lustrous as you are, you bloom even brighter from praise.
FOR KRISTINA ON HORSEBACK
I love that you’re becoming an equestrienne:
oh yes, you belong to that most noble Roman order.
Mere jumping out of airplanes: by now, far too tame.
Oh show me, my own slow mind, a moving
quick picture of you, your dark-brown hair
let run free and liquid as honey in the air:
so do you flow in the gallop of a smooth and a soft
young horse whose flanks and mane glow
dark as your locks; whose eyes—and it must be a mare—
glisten almost licorice black, almost your own
innocent-loving gift of the twin dark pupils, but side-facing:
their merry equine snap giving off hints of your
own unquenchable Greek fire, your own bright eyefire
when aloft your devoted and fiery partner in the chase.
Your pale fresh-gazing audacious young face
passes daring and bare clean through the clear force field
of the white wind: your thoughts will fill sailcloth.
I envision you, young one, as you leap your sweet beast
and your own limbs windborne-as-dandelion-scatter
over rails and fenceposts: can it be never but never again
will you touch her hoofs in thunder down to the tender
and spring-moistened grasses, to the rain-softened ground,
but you’ll rise like a groundswell up from the sea and stay up there?
With reins in your lithe soft hands mare-mastering,
guiding her footfalls, with confident feet in the stirrups
you skim the grasstips. Riding and riding you surge
on skimming the slight wistful shoots and soughs of tall fescue:
I admire and salute you, my gallant one riding through Rescue.
Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm.
Look into your book, young woman.
Caress the whiteness with your eyes.
Fend off the odd intrusive human:
he might want sex or tell you lies.
Behind a parapet of paper
your face will soften when the air
of page turns, finer than any vapor,
kisses you gingerly, Alpine-rare.
Each lens in sympathy with adventure
downslants toward the trails of print.
Cradling your face, the bookspine fold
trains a choirgirl glow just painting you tender:
glasses lend you their hostile glint
yet don’t as yet tilt at this overbold
beholder of skin’s own aquatint.
Diviner of water or sex offender?
Oh, my honey, I soften too,
reading your ivory & rag-paper face,
holding you bibliophile in song
I want to devote yet not to you.
Lullabies can’t limn or limit her grace,
she the one sung to I always get wrong.
I run from you. My heart gallops.
(trans. from the French by Willis Barnstone)