THE DUCKS AND ZEN AT McKINLEY PARK
—Patricia Pashby, Sacramento
When both body and mind are at peace, all things
appear as they are: perfect, complete, lacking nothing.
after a frenzied
ritual of courtship
the mallard male
in the afternoon sun
huddles with his chosen
plain brown mate
THE SACRAMENTO RIVER AT MILLER PARK
is subdued, dressed in gunmetal gray.
She meanders past the skeletons of ancient oaks
that line her banks—
past the empty wooden picnic tables
past the feral cats hiding in the long grasses
past the birds asleep in the breeze.
A houseboat quietly floats by,
stirring tiny waves that nudge the shore,
licking the rocky edges.
Downstream it rounds the bend and disappears,
the waters again still, hushed, calm, pallid . . .
SOUTH SACRAMENTO THRILL TRIP, 1977
—Don Feliz, Sacramento
Riding along with officer McPhoil
we stop to talk to a mother about her son.
I listen until the car leaps forward
after a speeder only McPhoil sees
turn left when he sees our police car.
We turn right; after him in an eye-blink—
siren screaming, adrenaline pumping,
my thrill ride tears through the neighborhood.
People gawk as McPhoil follows the speeder,
radios for help. He is too cautious, so the speeder
seems to escape around a corner
into a dead end and a plowed field.
Neighbors direct us and two backup units
to catch the speeder and his friend
running with their loot from a burglary.
We take them and my thrills to jail.
63rd AVENUE POLLING PLACE
Two days after Halloween
Jack O' Lantern grins from
a corner cabinet at pilgrims
who followed polling place
signs to this suburban garage.
Voters seem serious: couples
clutching canes, bureaucrats
before work, students, and
unemployed neighbors; a
young veteran votes for the
first time, marking a ballot
with his new prosthetic hand.
All ballots are scanned—
Jack smiles, unaware his
future is pureed pumpkin.
SACRAMENTO SIDEWALK GARDENER
Before the sun rises
the gardener gets ready—
with his shears holstered
in the case at his belt,
he rides his bicycle
to jobs far and near.
While lazy owners sleep,
he cuts limbs that dare
grow beyond their yards,
—Jane Blue, Sacramento
From the eighth floor of the hospital, a frail and stoic Chinese woman opens the blinds to the long panorama of sunset: it starts with the steadfast sphere of the sun gauzy in clouds, then clouds bleeding, bruising. From this height the fading light spreads across the fields, the trees reflecting November colors: garnet, vermillion, gold, all the way to the Berryessa notch in the hills where a dam was sliced and we watched the sun slip down into it in that first brilliant season of our love.
Another place that is not home: at dawn the sound of crows penetrates the window from trees by the river, a vague muted cacophony. An imaginary vision of the black cloud they make comes with them, at once known and not known, but the trees they settle in are real––crimson, orange and yellow in mid-November; then comes the image of the once-intimate road, so near, remembered. Fat brown squirrels pounce in the garden packing in pecans; they chatter silently behind the double-paned glass. Fall. The many meanings of fall.
TWO WEEKS IN SEPTEMBER
There is something innocent about September light
when it spills down the gutter at 7 p.m.
We drove part-way on the piece of freeway overpass
where it ends at the river; twilight now, and lights,
blue and red, flashing. We couldn't tell what kind
of vehicles they were, but in the paper the next morning,
words: a rope swung from a cottonwood
up on the levee, out into the middle of the cold
Sacramento. I see in my mind the hole where you
went down, a maw right in the center of that wide
river. Then you pop up like a seal and your friends
laugh; but the next time you plunge
you don't rise. It was 5:30, 6:00 when they called
for help, 7:30 when we passed by, divers
scouring the river bottom; we didn't know this yet.
Your family had got there, the mood turned somber
and everything changed forever. The thing
about drowning is, when you're drowning, you
know you're drowning, but those on shore
haven't noticed. Drowning is quiet, and then
that horrible realization that you haven't appeared.
The river is close to me, your death was close,
but I will not remember it for so long,
not like your mother who sat vigil on the bank
for two weeks until your swollen body finally
revealed its hiding place; close to shore, thumping
against debris. This morning sun reached
through the curtains and fell directly on the yolk
of my egg at the breakfast table, a fluke
of the season's changing, and I felt suddenly alive.
(first published in Lily Literary Review)
—Tom Goff, Carmichael
Two caramel apples at Apple Hill:
can it be the apple tastes a bit smoky?
Of course, everything ever caramel
was first a bit singed, like all sweetest things;
like you, my lost one, who came to me
scented with fire—oh yes, flame retains
a most definite scent, elusive, pungent,
its tang quite apart from the smoke,
campfire smoke, California smoke,
King fire smoke, Applegate or applewood smoke.
We linger over inward fruit perfection
and crunch, the burnt sugar tooth-
stripped, the diced peanuts a memory
recapturable only as scatters who’ve
strayed into our blowaway napkins.
Angel of love whose eyes are darkest raw chestnut,
whose pupils dilate the color of sweet soot,
tell me again how we came here:
was it really you urging us uphill, slicing
the Apple along the 50-to-Placerville bias?
Have we strayed like chopped nuts blown far?
Are we stuck for all time to the caramel
of original purpose? How close will we ever gnaw
to the pithy, stringy nucleus of travel?
Come with me deeper upcountry
as we bisect our own soft landscape,
fusing and surging together,
then coming apart like fission,
or whatever’s the matter
dispatching our quick dark seedpoints
to dart upstem all through the headlong core
which, wherever split, reveals close-set twin
apple-eyes peering intently,
stonesteady where sightlines entwine:
their crosseye gaze absorbs all of it,
from snowless mountain above on down
to peachpit Sacramento, and beyond
to the juiceladen wetlands, rivermouth
and baybreaker, witnesses forever monitoring
what sweeps or is swept up deep inside
the tree of the one tart apple Everything…
ENDINGS AND THE PROMISE OF ENDINGS
—Katy Brown, Davis
September slides toward us through the yellowing grass―
out of the east― whispering of endings and the promise of endings.
A wind boils out of Zion, carrying the roll of thunder.
On T Street a small maple tree sets tiny crimson leaves
on its slender branches. It shimmers between garnet and emerald:
September slides toward it through yellowing grass.
Behind the beveled-glass window of a house down the street,
a mother dusts in her son's room. He won't notice from Kandahar.
A boiling wind out of Zion carries the roll of thunder.
On 51st Street two houses on the same block fly American flags:
one also flies the Marine Corps banner; at the other, the flag is upside-down.
Sliding toward us through the yellowing grass, September approaches.
A recruiter talks to young men at the local high school.
He offers them incentives to join-up: a job, career training, signing-bonuses.
Thunder rolls on the wind that boils from the east out of Zion.
Afghanistan seems far away from this Elmhurst neighborhood;
yet a mother waits for email from her son there, and a flag flies upside-down.
Here, September slides toward us through the yellowing grass,
and the desert wind boils out of Zion, carrying a roll like thunder.
THE DRUNKEN PIANO AT STEEN’S
—Joyce Odam, Sacramento
The drunken piano
at Steen’s has plinky keys
on Saturday nights.
At least a third of them
have lost their ivories
(the keys—on second
thought, the men)
and leap up brown
between the nicotine-white
and sweated black
in half-remembered melodies.
The dialectic songs
go half-way out
into the room
to thicken in the smoke
and blur of talk
and deaden there
where sentimental singers
mouth the words
not even they can hear.
Upon her handled wood
the men have put wet glasses
while they played her
through the years.
a bawdy female instrument
would allow such hurt of love.)
Old whore piano
still adores her beer
and wears its white stains
like her other pains.
Old as she is,
love’s poor musicians still bring
their common talents
in the faulty octaves of their hands.
Faithful to each,
she gives them
all the music that she can.
(first pub. in Windless Orchard, 1974)
LISTENING TO CHOPIN ON A GRAY DAY
I play Chopin, over and over, all morning and into the afternoon,
and fall into some old time that was his and feel how sad such
distances become and how wonderful to still connect. And I am
glad that I have made the reach, and wonder about him: Handsome.
So young. Tubercular. A genius. On his way to early death—that
stealer. I feel the gray day as tenacious as that—this day-long fog
that sifts into mind and mood and sorts out the music of my bones.
I am in love with music that can use such gray to enhance the
misery of winter. He must have felt the same cold about his shoulders,
in his composing hands, and so created what I listen to today—hour
after hour—how I defeated for awhile that Sacramento Tule fog that
stays and stays and stays.
I am taught.
I am taught to obey.
And to hold still.
But I do not obey.
And I do not hold still.
Look—I am over there
on the sunlit wall.
I am making poses.
You think I am funny
and you laugh.
I am not funny at all.
I am taught.
I am taught everything
you want me to know.
But I cannot listen.
I am in an ear
the ear of deafness.
I am in the sea
the sea of myself,
and the shell’s silence
goes inward to where
I am hearing the silence.
I am taught what to do
with my patience
which is loud
which is loud as snow
after it has blinded everything.
And there is my footprint
going into myself
just before the sun
shines upon it
from the patterned wall.
We are riding back to Sacramento when a Tule
fog sets in and we are immersed in its gray on
a disappearing freeway with only an occasional
glimpse of white line—all taillights snuffed, the
road-edge lost to us, no way to go but go—I
staying gripped to you, pressed against your body-
rhythm with my own. We are alone in this—time-
stopped while time speeds on, re-ceding from
itself. I think no thought but that of getting through
in total helpless trust of you. The sound of us is
loud—almost a radar of a sensed direction we don’t
know how to measure, as brief a time-path as it is,
but we pull out of it.
POEM FOR THE THROUGH LINE BETWEEN
WILTON AND SACRAMENTO
on days that sound like ides
such days as the
15th of March
at such a time as
one minute after midnight
they’ll let the telephone lines
we will send our late and
over the tingling wires
we will be witches with old news
cackling like actresses
who pretend they are witches
you will call me
I will call you
and friends will have to
wait their turns
while we boil and bubble
till the cauldrons all run dry
too long between
we will cackle
and our crows will laugh their
and we will too
get ready my friend of
the shortened distance
on the 15th of March
at one minute after midnight
one of our telephones
(first pub. in Pearl, 1974)
A SACRAMENTO MOMENT
Passing by the church steps, I see a man, bent—
washing his feet from a water bottle, and a cloth
—intent, intent—his shoes placed neatly side
by side. It is twilight and still warm for October.
He does not seem to see, or care, that I see him
do this. It is his need, and this is his only means
and place. He will have his bare feet clean, then
lean back, maybe, and watch the people pass.
(first pub. in Poetry Now, 2005)
THE STUBBORN TOUCH OF WINTER
She walks with her blanket pulled around her
like a shroud. Her ruined face peers through
as we brush our shoulders by, averting our
attention to the all-night café, where we
will talk a while—saying nothing or
much of our desires and wisdoms
—our little jests and gossipings,
whiling away an hour or two
on this spring night with its
stubborn touch of winter.
When we come out we shiver toward the car and notice
her again across the street—asleep in the narrow cot of
the doorway—her blanket binding her like a wound—
the breezy shadows of the night whipping around her.
SOUL OF THE REDWOODS
While waiting at the bus circle, Sac State campus
—Ann Wehrman, Sacramento
into the horizon
deep blue green
belies gathering chill
to midnight blue austerity
brilliant fusion of all color
sequoias’ arms spiral
as Spanish moss
in light’s lack
stillness, strength rule
in hushed. timeless patience
defy hoar frost’s grip
stubborn, blue-green Redwoods
cling within earth
entwine their roots
GROWING OLD IN SACRAMENTO
I lift a glass to you
wish it were plum wine
lift my cup of coffee to you
at midnight as I toil, write
keep a clear head
live day by day
pay down debt
work in my field
generations of women fought
for this independence
live on my own supported by friends
who am I to demean, depress, destroy
this version of womanhood
free, responsible, wise
writer cherishes alone time
reader loses herself in book after book
woman of certain age comforts herself
with care and experience
in your cold autumn night
I fear ending my days alone
do I not love others well enough?
am I too self involved?
surely, it is not simply age, weight
or face, body no longer
glowing with youth’s beauty
do what you love
do not look for love
love will come to you
but by that time
will I be too old to care?
AT THE SACRAMENTO ZOO
—B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA
That October month
emigrated from Boston
and Sonny, my uncle
her other nephew
who worked on publicity
for one of the big studios
in Hollywood and hired me
crawling with ambition
that past sprawling summer
to read some film scripts
having majored in English,
and not to be selfish
for our family's sake
we decided to help
her stuff lying around
boxed in by huge luggage cases,
she always putting us up
and putting up with us
back home in the East
at her house in the Back Bay
listening to me play jazz
all hours of the night
and now wearing a shirt
Sonny bought me
that said Tarzana on it
and munching on sourdough
cookies from my aunt's
new lemony kitchen
holding onto her Boston Terrier
brought to the zoo
near the tiger cage
reciting Blake's lines
about "burning bright"
and staring at the young lions
remembering what King David
wrote about being strong
in his poetic songs and psalms
of surviving the beasts in Zion
among Saul and his enemies,
then spying at the bird cages
swallowing my pride of words
writing my eager poems
about the cool climate here
when the earth shook us up
and almost falling
for a few seconds,
and changing clothes for dinner
Sonny talked about
Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago,
how they had
to leave different
to make the film,
and about Is Paris Burning
and its history
in World War II,
about Elizabeth Taylor
and Richard Burton
and the innovative movie
on a black theme
One Potato, Two Potatoes,
receiving my education
so combining of all that I heard
wrote down thoughts
for my first one-act play
still under the stress
of having to move
a striped sofa
and two mattresses
hoping my skilled words will
open the minds
and skin of others
in not too far-off off-Broadway,
WHERE RIVERS COME TOGETHER
—Taylor Graham, Placerville
At water’s edge, a drift of Styrofoam,
a shoe with missing sole, a broken comb.
We’re looking for a man—my dog and I.
He used to live here under oak and sky
among the other shadow-folk who roam
from tarp to quik-stop with its coins and chrome.
They’ve given up the workday’s metronome.
By nightfall they’ll return again to lie
at water’s edge.
What are their stories? Read their tracks in loam,
in dust. They gather in the twilight gloam
or dark. Faces by campfire belie
one man missing. A young girl’s lullaby—
what memory does it touch, what thoughts of home
at water’s edge?
This yard whispers histories, heap to metal
heap. A Kenmore range with rusty edges
and the burners gone, spaghetti-stained, and
chicken-wire, meant to keep a garden
from greening all over the lawn.
Mailboxes. Tire chains in tangles.
A brass lantern: still reflective face.
And oh, the bedsprings!
There’s so much more: bent, dented, angled
steel and tin, aluminum and iron, parts
that used to fit in intricate ways, and work.
Smelted, welded, molded, cut to specs.
Structure and plumbing. Detritus of lives,
we haul it back. We’re paid pennies
on the pound. It waits in sorted piles
to grow useful in some other form.
What will become of us all?
The ancient lady behind the smudged
window smiles and hands me a fortune
cookie with my pay. Nowhere else
have I gained so much for riddance
of old junk. As I leave, a spool of wire
flares from the welder’s torch.
My fortune: Never forget
where you came from.
(first appeared in Sacramento Anthology)
GRATITUDE OF GRASS
The ER doc came in wearing civies,
carrying his scrubs in a duffle that might serve
for tennis togs on such a Saturday afternoon.
He passed you on to the ophthalmologist
on call, who left his kid’s ball game
to drive against weekend traffic, arriving here
to diagnose your disintegrating eye,
and call someone who could fix it. Next,
in a clinic across town, a specialist
in evening clothes, who gave up dinner
with a friend she hasn’t seen in years, and two
tickets to the symphony, laid you flat
on a white table, numbed your
face and magically stuck your retina back
in place, then sent you out into the one-eyed
night with a patch over half your vision.
Now, by parking-lot security lights reflecting
pavement, you find you’re walking
on damp lawn that glints and sparks,
springing soft uncertain as your footstep over
earth that gives and gives and gives.
(first appeared in Pudding Magazine)
THE PIPE WORKS
—Jeanine Stevens, Sacramento
I come to the old neighborhood,
a canopy of bare trees, cool azure sky
just right for ethereal tunes.
I touch underground wires, old trolley lines
that pull in my collective psyches.
Pale stones wobble my eyes.
Small shops shrink behind new coffee bars
and tacky nail salons. I kick hard pebbles
against their purple doors.
I miss my old sandwich shop.
Roasting beans, AH! the aroma tempts me.
I sit down for a latte and read the paper.
Here is a cartoon, an old “Far Side”
featuring two souls in hell. I mutter,
“I don’t know this place. No more cheap-eats!”
I want to smell something fermenting: sauerkraut
on one-buck franks, honest dust from the pipe works,
the distillery’s old corn-based sweetness.
How can small-scale guys compete
with mocha javas and rhinestone inserts
on toenails masking blue bruises?
Neighbors oppose an open-air waste
station: the stench, sore eyes, hulking ugliness,
but the work force will be protected
(picnic tables for outdoor lunches),
yet residents turn testy. Posting signs are costly.
A fair approach: let’s build taller levees.
Forget about convening the people,
wait until a small red bird re-arranges cobwebs
inside the clock. A thread is all we need:
unraveled skein, nightgown’s satin ribbons,
guitar string, mustard plaster gauze,
even an old fishing line might do. Just
a little strand hugging my finger
to follow the next piece—and the next.
(Found poem from the Sacramento Bee
and the Sacramento News and Review, February, 2007)
1/4 OF BIG
—Robert Lee Haycock, Antioch
Leland, you old cheat
What was your mark-up
On those bags of beans
Shovels and pans
Rolls of cotton duck
That you finagled
Into a railroad?
How many keen eyes
Did you see on their way
To keening in the diggings?
For the eucalyptus
—Medusa, thanking all the contributors celebrating Sacramento Poetry Day (today!) with Medusa's Marathon Mega-Post (wow!), and reminding you to check in on the remaining half of the Cal. Capital Book Festival at the Convention Center. For a schedule of today's poetry readers, see ccbookfestival.com/poets.php