—Taylor Graham, Placerville
Tough as old boots, the cabbages
and bitter pears. I stir
a smoked chipotle smolder into the beans
to soothe the heat.
Here’s no Indian summer. Dry
ice feels like the slowly melting edge
of a frozen sea.
Wild-grape sallows to yellow.
Below the steep north hillside, valley oaks
are turning bronze. As if it were fall,
as if they’re giving up.
Votive candles in every whispered
color of the mind. She lights a prayer
for November rain in August.
Dreams of flowing water,
its green voices. A succession of prayers
for the familiar curve of seasons.
Still no rain.
I’m waiting as if forever in line with two rat
traps in my pail, hoping they work on ground
squirrels. The bait station didn’t; I found
poisoned grain dragged out and scattered, and
still more devastation to my garden. Deep-teal
thirsty zucchini leaves untouched but, by dawn
or dusk or midnight stealth, all its new growth
clipped off short; every cucumber blossom.
One tomato, pale greenish-white as an unborn
cut from its vine; not one tooth-mark on what
would have been fruit. Maybe it’s not ground
squirrels, but some other beast or bird famished
in another season of drought. Yesterday our
garden-well ran dry. What’s more reliable than
the water-table, or the green woven cloth of
grass unfolded over a field? Things conceived
in the matrix of years, underground and open-
air, in breaks and crevices we don’t even know
about; how to manage, or what to call them.
How can you hold on to splashing water,
the greening hills, a brightly feathered bird?
You’ve named clouds and wind-songs,
overheard the symphony of sylvan hollow
at dusk. But now the years come short
and every season hotter, the lake gone dry,
the thirst herds passing in a cloud of dust
their hoof-beats stirred. What’s left you now
except a memory floating over words?
MAKING A MUSIC
I may have heard before but not
on the stereo—fresh as wind through
an open window foretelling rain. A delicate
hide-and-seek of bell and brushes when
the sober instruments pause, absentminded
about the score. And then, a flute
and harp at play, a breeze at twilight I’ve
met by chance, just at close of day.
SUMMERS ON THE ROAD
If she had a toy box, it was a Ford—
four wheels threading a course over country
roads that somehow found their way, like paths
through an enchanted forest, from one coast
to the other; mosquito-whine between kapok
sleeping bag and the watchful but changeable
August moon; maps of foreign countries like
Nebraska, Yukon, Badlands, whose names
she learned to spell—road-maps snuck from
racks at filling-stations patronized by travelers
buying postcards and fizzy Nehi in ice-chill
strawberry, orange, or grape; a pueblo built into
a cliff of sand; a rusty beaver-trap; a single
arrowhead she found under a wall of crumpled
clay. Didn’t every child grow up that way?
—Tom Goff, Carmichael
Wind drift may carry smoke and moreover seed fire,
implant flame embryos in the dry world’s-womb.
We know the Javanese volcano boomed
and darkened the wide world, shrouding night-desire
in deeper, more sensual secrecy, perhaps.
The ash-contagion ruffles and bristles the air
with pumice’s dead mementos of outflare,
yes, but with what charred dogs, what burnt mothers’ laps?
Even so, I want to enloin with your lap, your soft place;
let me adore it in the not-black, the not-gray,
let us gaze on our rapturous join while the false day
liquors and flickers the long night, foxfire-laced
where the mountain-spasm shoots and suspires in skies.
Let us savor our little death while eruption dies.
Still another more faraway smoke, your distant salt,
now stings me with ashen tears…was this my fault?
—Ann Privateer, Davis
then no, dropping an anniversary
of seeds at night when an eclipse
might last all of October as other
sunflowers chat up the night, up
until harvest, then, no moonlight.
your organic ego emerges
whips your mind's wilderness
easy symmetry forgives
dense froth, unencumbered
to become numb, more
like mind hemlock, more
palatable than hot fudge
COMICS IN THE TOYBOX
—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove
Nobody much wanted to play
With me when I was a child.
I think this happens a lot
To people who grow up
To become English professors.
Something about the scent
Of damp tweed in all seasons.
So I’d bribe neighborhood
Kids with things from
My toybox. A handful of
Tin soldiers here, a top
Or a yoyo there could fill
A couple of hours on
A summer afternoon.
Eventually the toybox
Would get emptied—nothing
But comic books left
In the bottom. “Okay,”
Some kid would finally
Say, “I’ll play with you
For fifteen minutes for
Two Batmans and
A copy of Superman.”
“All I got left are some
Archies and a Richie Rich.”
“This play-date is finished.”
I think they’re still there
At the bottom of the box.
I haven’t looked lately.
IN AND OUT
Take me to the ball game.
Take me to the video parlor.
Take me to the summer scene.
Take me into the bold sky yelling
and clapping thunder.
Take me into your huddled heart.
Take me into excitement.
Take me into all the memorabilia.
Take me every day and every night
and we won't keep score.