—Jeanine Stevens, Sacramento
Winter warps floorboards, curls bills left
on the counter, phosphorus green mildew dusts
shoes left too long in closets. The first January
I lived in this valley, fog lasted three weeks.
By noon, the dove colored lens began to release
faint stubby fence posts, and one by one,
our Muscovy ducks lay quiet, just the throat missing
—a half moon shape. We heard no sound,
only emptiness in the hollow swale
under the almond trees.
Today, driving north on Highway 5,
late morning, multiple blank
walls. I enter and exit flat white movie screens.
Restaurants dot banks, supported on stilts
like large gray birds—legs disappearing
into the milky Sacramento River.
I hunker behind a UPS truck,
no foghorns hoot a warning for hulking semis,
teetering RV’s. It’s easy to loose your way:
45-degree angles melt into rounded corners,
darker objects briefly fade, then loom
abruptly. I miss my off-ramp again.
Safely home, I hold my coffee mug in both
hands, feel this could be Holland, the Moors,
but different than the dry crush of tires on snow,
a wetter hush, deep in time, tropical, damp,
Carboniferous remnants, still cooling
the immense dew of Florida.
(first pub. by Tiger’s Eye: A Journal of Poetry)
—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove
The name alone should have
Warned me—The Nite Jogger.
Shoes were a bright white fake patent
Leather with Day-Glo orange
Stripes and heel and toe
Reinforcements that glowed
Sickly green in the dark.
One thing about these shoes,
The clerks grinned, lacing me up,
“You’ll never be lonely
Wearing them.” I wondered
What he meant, but soon
People would stop on the
Street to stare, point,
And I think, smile
At my shoes, day or
Gaudy night. Cars would
Stop, flash their brights
To get the full effect
Of my sneakers’
Never knew if they
Made me more visible
Or just a better target.
AFTER READING JANET MALCOLM'S THE SILENT WOMAN
—Tom Goff, Carmichael
In the alone condition which is human,
I struggle and am tired of struggling on.
Reading as I am The Silent Woman,
I marvel how withdrawn and down I’ve gone
—never to surface, range my periscope
over that green mind-domain in which you live?
What must life be like, when sweetness is your burden?
When telepaths transgress, can you forgive?
I want to inhabit you—feel, shaken and sudden,
how low and slow and hidden a part I play
in your mysterious private psychomachy.
Please understand. I love you, or let’s say
you do, you do live in me, by my consent.
I thank you for who you are. I never meant
the hurt you blame. My mind’s my mind: I’m free.
That was you talking. That’s how I represent
your silence. Who’s truly silent? What one intent
will unsilence us both? Are you that speechless woman?
What feminine side of whom wants this communion?
Outside the corridor to our classroom,
glassed off beyond my reach or that of Maintenance,
a bird, sparrow or starling, took a chance
that all transparency must perforce be air,
and volplaned smack into death. Brisk the high broom,
and crooked in its overledging reach,
that brings the victim down long past romance
with all things buoyant and light. But bird stays there,
puffing with lifelike volume, rain-refreshed,
withering, shriveling smaller, drier, more fragile
with each noon pail of daylight splashed on it
to add to the dark of death the burn of bleach.
Heap of heart and muscle and gristle and wing,
you draw somehow your birds-nest thatch or mesh
around my whole attention, victorying,
vaunting over your stillness who were once agile:
loneliness in your rigor and your chill
becomes as you dwindle quieter in your core
a living reprimand to my unquiet
way of bearing or dragging my disquiet.
Alive, you might be the soul of the girl I prize
in secret, her daring voice-pipe of command,
or pliant as her delicate inward of hand
proffered to an untamed animal’s nose.
Dead, you are stone, a washed-ashore-of-river
stone, inert as I have turned who can’t forgive her
her exquisite freedom, for I am not wise.
You be my wisdom, lying there in state,
armorial in your scrapped solidity:
feathered one whose plumes no longer blow
stroked by the wind’s finger. Quiddity
left you gone far beyond where you did go,
preserving whatever beak and bluster plate
glass could not batter. In a Browning poem
a man makes a girl’s hand clasp in a last dead flex
around a flower: amid-crypt, her bone tomb
domed by the not-yet-sour fingerskin,
for she’s his unliving guardian against sin.
Be my own Evelyn Hope, and I’ll walk by
your husk without so much betrayal as a sigh…
It seemed so distant
Gun shots, ricochets,
A little zing over there
Then it was upon me
A bullet had come through
The open driver’s window
Passed easily through my
Left cheek, then out the right
My intention was to put
More distance between
Me and the volleys so I
Slammed on the accelerator
But lurching the car forward
Was not the right thing to do
Either as I now had a valley
Of pain in place of a tongue
I pulled over and dialed 911
That should be easy just to
Tell them my name, location,
A normally vast array of
Verbal tools was now
Narrowed down to labials
Gutturals and raw groans
Try saying “help” without
Moving your tongue
“Hep” just doesn’t invite
The outcome desired
In desperation, the expressions
“Shots fired” and “I’m wounded”
Came out as “pop, pop, pop”
Will they understand that?
Or will they just think I’m
Another babbling idiot
Reduced mental capacity:
Don’t take this guy seriously
Someone will make money
With this idea—install
Pre-recorded help messages
In cell phones, just one button
To push for people whose
Injury impedes their speech
OK now it’s out, run with it
Soon, I hope
—Taylor Graham, Placerville
Sun stares down, then slips away to the home she loved.
Childhood’s apocryphal tales of happy-ever-after.
Shiver of leaves like saffron silk robes before they fall.
Ice crystals at the edge of pond, to lock it tight.
Mulberry ink-drops littering the ground.
Winter inside her ribs.
A promise half-written, then the paper torn in two
and sealed with the other reasons in a jar
and hoard in memory, to refresh the loneliness.
He rigged a gin to snare the sun, caught in cottonwood leaves.
They shivered with wind coming winter. How could he be alone
among rabbit trails through dead grasses on the crusted earth?
Someone planted a flag on a mound of stones left over,
overgrown with gray weeds, tailings of old dredgings for gold.
Wind flutters autumn colors under stars so the flag won’t feel alone.
You wrote the violet essence of alone. I send you this.
The morning isn’t soundless. Roots stir in their buried sleep.
Young grass arrived with the rain, unimagined birds begin to sing.
EIN JEDER ENGEL IST SCHRECKLICH
(Quote from Rainer Maria Rilke)
At cliff-edge there’s a pull between nothing
and gravity. Call it wind emptying. The nothing
that is, and the nothing that is not. An urge
And hiking up through aspen I heard it
whispering but sweeter. Wind or wings? Later,
past midnight at the verge of a deep blue lake
among boulders, in my mummy-bag I shifted
bones against granite. I couldn’t sleep.
No one explains angels
of the high lonesome. Only laws of physics,
aberrations of the mind. Nighthawks. Invisible
flight rustling the tops of firs. I stared
at the Milky Way, stars absorbed every particle
of dust—wind or wings wiped clean the trail.
My day’s footprints
gone. Past midnight I called them angels.
Guardians of blue, aspen singers. If they
answered, it was their own language, their
Beyond the fields gone fallow
is an old grave almost overgrown by oaks.
The hall of feasts in ruins—no one
lives here except for bats and the barn owl,
its banshee wail in the dark. One night
it stopped you with its nesting-hiss,
and the two of you spoke back and forth
in Owl, a tongue unknown to you.
Next day, earth in its not-quite-liquid
phase—its natural mud—clogged
your boot-treads. Some say,
spirits live haunting the eaves and hollows
with their thin, chilling owl-screech.
In your boots of clay, you know
it was a bird with wings for flying
out of the ruins into sky.
Is this not mystery and miracle enough?
He got a really big gun
That had no safety
But not to worry
He put a sign on the back
Of his really big truck:
“Lights on for safety”