—Taylor Graham, Placerville
Beautiful are the pale round squashes that grow mammoth and neglected beyond the chain-link fence, beautiful as the seams of non-sequitur, the clarity of nowhere in the waking world to go. Beautiful is the mind at rest in the tidewash of sea; the pampered dogs who drag their master to the old mutt with holy eyes, the meaning of lucid dreams unremembered by morning. Beautiful over unmapped roads is the left turn signal that leads me out of town; the mind that leaps off the edge to swim in the dark reservoir below guardrail; beautiful the sleep that skinny-dips in chill underwater among the granite rocks. Beautiful my dog who shoves her nose in my face to wake me before I forget the dreams, beautiful terrible dreams that hold me in wonder I wouldn’t have seen in daylight.
SMOKESTACK ON HORIZON
Railroad-thunder belch of black
smoke. But her rider presses leather
against the mare’s neck, leaning, urging,
knees insistent against ribs—
a horse must go placidly into inferno,
away from the fields and cowpony ranges;
into town, asphalted streets
stampeding with bellowing cars,
the stench of slag wagons; fenced yards
of horses no longer horses.
Instead, she wheels—blacker
than factory fire, loses her rider
on the side of the road; gallops back
the way she came,
back to the arroyos,
the chaparral canyons,
to forage what tastes like sky,
PASSING THROUGH TONOPAH
Six a.m. outside the OK Corral Motel:
clouds the color of slab concrete,
junked cars beyond a dead-end spur.
A deputy’s on duty, and
my dog, who with a poet’s nose
proceeds from chainlink fence to power
pole, marking his praise
of such an unswept morning just waiting
for wind to deliver the latest
news. He offers his pent-up streams
of metaphor against a milepost,
a tumbleweed, the sparsely graveled
ground. He lifts his muzzle, inhales
odors from who knows where:
a café dumpster’s scrambled scents,
or kids bundled up for school;
flights of fancy for a dog
who, like Nevada’s unleashed wind
this morning, happens
to be just passing through.
ARS POETICA FOR A WEEKDAY
Mares’ tails and hangnails,
the crooning of a saltwater snail;
and wind-shear over the seven seas.
Don’t be surprised at palatial
rise of a hilltop between
starlight and the old dog’s fleas.
Bits of crazy-quilt
not quite worn-out; invisible
gadabouts from alley to the long-
long trail unwinding
farther than you can see;
quick as a bushtit; compressed
so it fits in Medusa
each morning for free: sheer
the statue of liberty is much less impressive if people wear hats in front of you
those eyes that remember everything that happened
from the point of some choice that you made when you were twenty-two
you the platform the laundry blesses you as it hangs across the torch
and there you stand wearing california around your neck like an amulet
it’s strange having california hanging from my neck now
and it’s so huge you can’t move speaking those accents
emotional threads wide as a treadmill obscuring every other direction
then you’re big you’re supposed to choose
the statue of liberty is much more impressed if you see it before it sees you
then she looks then you think you’re so small you’re invisible
so you carry coney island around in your pants pocket for your last day here
she’ll spend her life in thrall to that image
as you wave your torch in celebration and sink knee-deep in concrete
and the statue keeps staring staring
and blessed are the subways their clattered tempo slowing
to become your heartbeat
she’s been my friend most of the time since i’ve been back
whatever of that beauty goes into your walk is worthwhile
you’ve made your choice now you can’t get out of the way
so please come back with me to my hotel room night doesn’t set here
it made that decision when it first got out of college
the city’s lights redefine night any time of the day
and any day still sits still just west across the water
THE GLASS SHIP
I looked up at the now looming ship and spotted a young man and woman on the deck, dressed completely in white. They were dancing, whirling slowly around, waltzing to be exact. I saw one face, then another, and was astonished to recognize my own parents. A longing arose in me, and I called out to them. They stopped and looked down at me curiously— my father with his slicked back hair, my mother with her black curly bob—
and did not seem to recognize their daughter. They resumed their positions, waltzing around the glass deck, a whirl of white, transfixed only by each other.
Gradually, I realized why they did not recognize me. I had not yet been born. Here were my parents deeply in love before they were married, before the four children began to come, before the toil of creating a home.
The glass ship sailed off with my dancing parents. Its wake caused a slight rocking of my small skin boat before I was left alone on the still sea.
I met a 4-fingered curtain maker,
Ed. Metoff, who confided in me his
Secret: using a grommet affords
One assurance the fabric will not
Rip or tear apart from the
intrusion of hanging hardware
Then he introduced me to
Mrs. Metoff, oracle of Wadjet
Who wears out the DVR running
Kismet, a forecast of fate
Or is it destiny? Run it again!
Damnit, a foreign object
Sets her hair afire
Hotter than a metal forge
Losing touch with the
Poetry of the ancients
—Claire J. Baker, Pinole
a boy sits on a large log
in a eucalyptus grove
by the worn path to town.
He doesn't wear a smock
but black t-shirt, blue jeans.
He sits, wistful,
merged into shadows:
maybe works a math problem
or fantasizes about a girl
he met after school.
It's been a half hour.
Hopefully he doesn't dread
Here from my open balcony
the young man is fresh,
shadows and trees
—Claire J. Baker
at your memorial service
I think of Emily Dickinson's
"Life is death we're lengthy at,
death the hinge of life."
I see a room, an easel.
You were like a painter
enriching shadowy landscapes—
purples, greens, blues,
alchemizing from the sun
fresh color and energy,
the sun made rounder.
This poem for you
shall remain half shadow,
Guy from the Iowa
Writers Workshop told
Me, “Kid, poetry is what
You can get away with.”
Then he fell off his bar
Stool. Stayed down, too.
Serious poetry going on
In those days.