Friday, February 28, 2014

Blue Auras

Creek Rock
—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

(After Julie Larios in The Best American Poetry, 2006)
—Jane Blue, Sacramento

Asking you, again, about love and all that jazz,
barracuda swim like living-room elephants, a tally
considered and ignored; and conches, whose sex––
defense or impossibility––I do not know. Tomorrow,
eternal tomorrow, I’ll ask you, with a shiv
for protection, and maybe then we’ll say adieu.
Gadabout me––ah, in my dreams I’m a gadabout––
hennaed and wearing clothing of colorful dyes.
I can travel far away from you; I can be martyr or
jester. Have I mentioned that I feel antique?
Kilimanjaro's snows are melting, and the ship,
Lilliputian, to take me there, has a captain who
melts away in the morning; like you, he’ll run,
nihilist, from the government of my dreams, and from
otters, from the manatee, the walrus, the sea-snail,
pleasing or not, as is the way of dreams. I’ll walk,
quietly away from you, suddenly on my own hadj.
Rosters of our friends will dwindle to alumni,
shellacked and elderly, torsos on plinths, with
telltale beards and wrinkles, and without rings:
Ur-people, people fleeing Dodge, fleeing the sheriff.
Vibrating ever so slightly, they’ll come to nestle
without shame in the williwaws, without dread.
X-rays are more to be feared, at least in this epic.
You’re still with me, aren’t you dear? Plumb,
zeroing in on me, recognizing my blue aura.

(first pub. in June 2008 Rattlesnake Review. A double abcedarian begins each line with a to z, down the left side and up the right side. Jane would not recommend attempting this more than once in your life.)


—Jane Blue

In twilight haze a line of panel trucks,
billboard size, dream-like, stretch up Broadway,
the smell of exhaust and the Chinese Buffet:
"The End of the World is Coming Soon"
painted on their sides.

Once a scared and rash young woman
fell in love, then
inevitably fell out of love; she felt
she had to be wrenched through life, to feel
as if it were the end of the world over and over
for life to count.

many years later:
slant shadows on yellow siding;
how pearly tear drops cling to the undersides
of rose canes and dogwood twigs
after an early December rain; how they
will not be dislodged and it is quiet
as snow; how cars swish down wet streets;

how sun whitens the angles of a tea pot
on a shelf in the kitchen window; how the trees
outside are bare and narrow.

(From Jane's new book, Blood Moon, available from FutureCycle Press at Reviews at Amazon and Goodreads.) 

 Sprinkler on Trees
—Photo by Katy Brown

—Linda Jackson Collins, Sacramento

A collapsing of distance
a compression in time,
where darkness shimmers
and silence pounds.

I am suspended
in this breathless void.

There, the earth—
a thicket of furies
lies beneath its muslin sheath.

There, the moon—
no mysteries revealed
on its unveiled surface.

Both seemingly in reach
yet still I cannot choose.

—Laura Martin, Sacramento

She was a Baptist by choice,
saved by grace
and loved to read (especially her Bible),
watch movies, write letters
and crochet.

She never drove a car
she never wore pants—dresses, always dresses
(housecoats mostly, though, in older life)
and she never swore except that one time
when the word “shit” fell out of her mouth
as the sewing machine needle made
a second pass through her thumb.

She was a Southern girl who got sent away
to live with California relatives when her mother died,
became one of the first to cross the Golden Gate Bridge
and one of the last to see Amelia board that flight.
She lost one brother to the war,
her mother to TB
and her father... well... he was always lost
somewhere deep inside a bottle.

She had a passion for Thrifty drugstore brand black walnut ice cream—
“You don’t need a bowl to eat ice cream when you live by yourself,
just eat it out of the carton with a big spoon...”
Those were words she lived by.
Her independence was fierce.

For everything good that happened
she’d lift her hands high in the air
and gave thanks to the Lord.
For everything bad that happened,
she blamed my Aunt.

While my friends read The Diary of Anne Frank,
she gave me the journals of Corrie ten Boom
and reminded me always to always to always
be “thankful for the fleas.”

She never wore makeup and wouldn’t leave the house
without first putting on her earrings.
She cried when she talked about Jesus,
had a big crush on Sam Elliot
and was convinced the terrorists would take over America
if George W. didn’t win a second term.

She divvied her tithing amongst televangelists,
Indian orphanages, and local charities.
She was quick to point out that the older black gentlemen
who lived next door was a good Christian man—
sometimes they’d read their Bibles together.

With wild hand gestures she asked me once,
“How does all that information move around up there in the air...?”
then listened intently as I explained to her—the Internet.

She taught me how to make Jell-O Poke Cake,
how to take in a pair of jeans too big around the waist,
how to recite John 3:16 (by heart) and how to crochet
an entire afghan in one chain.

She once visited her own gravesite
so she could see for herself the only piece
of property she ever owned.

On every birthday she’d mail to me
two shiny quarters Scotch-taped to
a birthday card, and when I became double digits
she upped the ante to a $5 bill wrapped carefully
with a blue Kleenex, tucked inside a Bible tract
and a “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” bookmark.

She smelled like Jergens hand lotion, lilac,
black coffee and buttermilk.

She’s been gone six years now and I am $30 in the hole.


Today's LittleNip:

—Olga Blu Browne, Sacramento

I remember how the rain felt
in my memories,
I remember memories that gathered
dust and memories that should have
been but never came to be.

—Medusa, with thanks to today's contributors, and a reminder that Linda Jackson Collins and Laura Martin will be reading at Sac. Poetry Center this coming Monday night. See for details.

 Farm House, Apple Hill
—Photo by Katy Brown

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Eiderdown of Stars

Pear Detail from "Autumn Garden Spirit"
—Poems and Art by Jennifer O'Neill Pickering, Sacramento

(after viewing "Pears" by Renaldo Cuneo)

Before the skies pepper with fowl

the first hard freeze she climbs the knoll

booted feet the muddy road

complaint of knees 

basket slung on flannelled arm

the farmwoman’s charm bracelet

Fog cobwebs the orchard

noon sun brooms away

surveys a family’s labor

a daughter’s inheritance  

She chooses Mirabelles, Bartlett, Anjous, Bosc

for their fragrance: honey and spice

imperfect skins conceal pale sweet flesh 

chooses for color: lutescent coppery, sumac red, 

those blushed by summer’s constant gaze

for their song of curves

for how they fill an empty hand.

Grandfather was a patient teacher.
There was no more gifted orator
on the fly, trade secrets
netted in her braids,
tucked beneath a straw hat
with the marabou jig. 

              Summers he’d demonstrate the way
to bait a hook, when to troll,
with the right bait:
nymphs, dillys, Velveeta.
Follow the moons phases
leading to the deepest pools,
catch and release what needed
to lengthen another season.

             She gave up the pole
never getting her limit,
reel in the elusive lunger,
fishing in ponds of words,
in streams of consciousness,
following in his footsteps,
another pursuit that cannot be rushed.

Putting My Life Back Together on Paper


“Your Mother will not be with us long,”

says the river with no name 
that feeds the pond.

“The fowl take flight in round full song.”
She thinks of her mother

in the small room with

the varnished floor 

whitewashed walls

spooned in honey light 
old wounds

split open 
like dogs


Feed dark hunger. 

“This is normal,” says the woman

who lives with a peacock at the pond.  

“Reach in your throat for the missing language 

that speaks to the part stretching in all directions.

Follow your mother on gauze of stars, 

to moons sweet enough to eat.” 




Sound chalice
incised with tongues
blood stained
born of darkness
green notes fastened to
rungs of light.

Here with robins
lifting twigs
through sodden air
clouds of gnats   
all one song.

I ask morning if
there is a poem in the
sparrows’ hedge
lemon cupped narcissus
brimmed with steady rain
in the iris releasing
fists of bruised blooms? 

 Tree at Black Berry Patch Cottage, Pt. Reyes


sit cross-legged in the air
supported by something rooted into earth,
anchored to the sky
to trust in another
to break your fall
take another’s shape
older than first memory
cause friction
climbing to disks of sun
trust in your own strength
on the avenues of squirrel
embark on junkets of clouds
with creatures of song
add to their choir
wait for the rain
receive gifts of flowers
bows of leaves
tied with fruit
live with change
crowned with moons
wrapped in the eiderdown of stars.



She hasn’t had her heart broken
moped around with blood-shot raccoon eyes,
slammed doors, pounded  pillows,
sponged the stream of tears.

She doesn’t think she’s going to die or wish them dead,
is not on the rebound, had a one-night stand,
doesn’t ignore the text message,
isn’t taking a Facebook break,
still thinks the music on her iPod eases heartache,
has good appetite: isn’t binging on junk food,
demolishing cartons of cookie dough ice cream,
watching tear jerkers, 
stuffing, starving, sublimating pain.

She’s in Paris, purchases a love padlock
from a vendor on the Pont des Arts,
makes a wish for good fortune in love
attaches the lock to the bridge’s railing,
tucks the key in a safe place.

(first appeared in Tiger’s Eye: A Journal of Poetry)


Our thanks to Jennifer O'Neill Pickering for today's poems and artwork! Jennifer grew-up in Tierra Buena and Yuba City, CA and lived in New York State for many years.  Her writing appears in numerous publications. Some of these include: Tiger’s Eye: A Journal of Poetry, Sacramento Anthology: 100 Poems, Earth’s Daughters #53, Yellow Silk, Sacramento News and Review, Heresies Vol. 23, and Harlequin.  Her poem, "I am the Creek", is incorporated in the Sacramento sculpture, Open Circle. An audio link of her poetry can be found at: Restore and Restory. She’s published two books: Poems with the Element of Water, and Mandala Art, Poetry, and Instruction. She edited and compiled The Sable & Quill v1, an anthology of writers and their visual art, and is co-editor of Walking and Writing at the Creek. She studied art and poetry at S.U.N.Y. Buffalo and has an MA in Studio Art from C.S.U. Sacramento. Her art has been featured in several literary journals including: Moon Mist Valley, WTF!? and Blue Moon Literary & Art Journal #8. She frequently donates her art to non-profits for fundraising events. Some of these include: the SPCA, KVIE Art Auction, Women’s Wisdom Project, Lawyers for the Arts, Diogenes Youth Services, Chalk It Up, St. John’s Shelter for Women and Children and W.E.A.V.E. She works in many mediums has exhibited at the Crocker Art Museum, S.U.N.Y. Buffalo, Robert Else Gallery, Poets’ Gallery, Capitol Public Radio, Fe Gallery, the Red Dot Gallery and elsewhere.

Copies of The Sable & Quill may be ordered from Jennifer at


Today's LittleNip:


when you try to straighten them out
they might go along with you for awhile
then, they’ll jump their banks
to snatch back their wild.
All you really have to do is:
widen their boundaries
let them meander.



 Jennifer O'Neill Pickering

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Our Wild Ones

A Shadow of Dread
—Photo by Taylor Graham

—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Halfway up the new screen door—
its glass slid aside
this first warm day in February,
almost-spring of our kitten’s life—

Blink hangs by four curved claws
between dread
of falling, and dread of never
quite living. His hind-claws boost

him higher toward the ceiling.
Nothing keeps him
from a visible, unattainable world—
free air, free birds!—

except the fine-mesh screen.
Outside, graceful arch of oak limb
just leafing out; bird-feeder wild
with sparrows. And inside,

Blink—forelegs extended as if
crucified with desire
to leave his walled life, to reach
to embrace the world.


—Taylor Graham  
The small silver box blinks at me, a green light unknown to nature. It says I have 1 missed call: 10-digit number; date and time. How could I have missed it? Where’s the message? This new system is beyond my understanding. The old dread rises: I’m becoming a little more extinct with every breath.

My dog lies quiet at my feet, chewing a bone for its messages of life passed. Forget the phone. I’ll take my dog for a walk under oaks about to leaf out naturally green as March. If I miss a call, it may not matter.

Messages in my
dog’s every ear-flick. Messages
in the phoebe’s song.



above roof and floorboards.
Underneath the house, black space, a void
calling for Wild.
While we were trying to hold onto
papers and forms
the kitten found a gap, a crevice
into crawlspace. Shadow on shadow,
world below our feet
where moonlight won’t penetrate, black
horizon our kitten found—no mice,
no skitter-flitter bird flight.
Nether silence, heart of famine
as we searched the upper house-scape.
Past suppertime, from floorboards
came a muffled mew
mournful, lonesome. At last
dragged out by his kitten-scruff,
tonight under a half-moon, against my ear
the lost-found kitten purrs.

—Taylor Graham 


 —Taylor Graham 
If after all these years we’re still
together, then it’s a clutter of planning
and improv, jars of chutney,
old tax returns, bird skins not yet sent
to museum. If the two of us
are paired parentheses, then we hold
something together, a language
before it’s lost. If we hoard images
behind a coupled eye,
one is a campsite in the midnight
sun-shadow of Denali.
And if we’re glued together
in a decoupage of bats, forsythia,
and winter sunrise,
then thousands of snatches of moon-
light are filed away safer
than boxes, furtive as memory
after all these years.

Carol Louise Moon and Barkley

—Carol Louise Moon, Sacramento

Tremendous Diminutive is soft curves, 
black Vienna sausage tail. Four stick legs 
are no more than for a doll luncheon table, 
supporting the Dachshund dogbody of this 
tiny Pinscher, which is the mainstay heavy 
main-stock. Twin doe ears flop and bob 
above the sweetest-head; two rotating eye-
thoughts of expression with a prankster-
knowing look. A small tongue protrudes 
from upper-body beautiful like red lettuce 
below a leather-button nose (two big unsewn 
holes). The tan-handsome broad chest of 
volleyball-playing lifeguards exudes 
confidence that he is Guard Dog, even 
lifeguard-dog-to-the-rescue, Macho Dog.

But, enough of Tremendous Diminutive 
photo-op. What of characteristics? What 
of inner worth to pet owner? Faithfulsome 
tendencies toward Lady-of-the-Apartment 
Carolina falter and are broken merely 
momentarily, but are easily and quick-
silver forgiven. Steady diet of affectionate 
lick sounds matched only by the crunch-
kibble-crunch of each and every afternoon. 
Kisses dogward are silent due to lips buried 
deep into “seal fur” atop this doggie sweetest-


—Carol Louise Moon

Barkley the miniature Doberman lives well 
in midtown, running along the sidewalk, or 
riding in his dog stroller through a neighborhood 
of like-minded dogs.  When not out and about 
on the town, Barkley is playing one of several
indoor games.

The apartment has a very small nook separate 
from the main studio, partitioned with a gray 
plastic child-gate which serves as Barkley’s 
volleyball “net” for his morning and evening 
rounds of volleyball with Mistress Carolina.
Barkley positions the ball with precision between 
two paws and “serves” the small ball over the 
“net” with his nose. He is also known to “spike” 
the ball with one paw when receiving a volley. 
Otherwise, he returns volley-for-volley with his 
nose, in quick response.

His enthusiastic jumps lead Carolina to consider 
signing him up for city league basketball. If 
someone will please name their team 
The Dobermans, she knows a very cute, 
talented mascot!


—Tom Goff

       for David Houston and String Theory

What strikes me is how, when cramped for space,
violinists will still massage their bows
so’s not to fiddlestick the face
of a next-door-shoulder, a neighbor stringfellow
virtuoso-swirled into the jigsaw pace.

Not once does violist Michael Frost,
while he slithers the fingerboard slalom run,
upbow his upbow too tempest-tossed,
no misplaced tip ever smacks or abrades a spun-
sugar painting’s impasto that hangs embossed

on the wall, out of bowshot, we hope, at Luna’s.
No eyeballs endangered? (O Fortuna!)…


—Tom Goff

(in memory of Marie Ross and Michael J. Cluff)

A student reminisces with me at lunch
in the glassy cafeteria around which loom
the Folsom hills: growing up, she would see,
on grasses just south of Highway 50, a small
herd, not of cattle, but horses, the purest
of wild horses. Few enough to count;
she counted them. Five; then three; one,
then gone. Did they starve, were they sold?
What cattle now graze there, we prefer
not to mention, but murmur of the lost
ones a while. We’re looking out on these
greenhill expanses the rainless heavens
have grayed one by one, in small batches
rich with houses, not horses.

And what of our wild ones? Where do they go
dwindling, these lyric horses? Will our wild
lutenists plant themselves on Parnassian slopes,
as does that brave new Tuscany all around us?
When all are gone from our sight, how
is that fair, how can we even talk of
a herd being culled? My student lives
high up in the green uplands of Lotus,
where downhill
the rapid cold water runs Lethe.


Today's LittleNip:

—B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA

(for two late February poets: Victor Hugo, 2/26
and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 2/27)

We note celebrity dates:
Hugo a city romantic
composed Hernani
became an opera pick,

Longfellow wrote of
Hiawatha's fate and pride
also Paul Revere's
great ride.



—Photo taken in Berkeley by Cynthia Linville, Sacramento

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In the Tiny Room of Our Survival

—Poems and Photos by Joyce Odam, Sacramento


Like this is some thrill made of cloth,
like an urge to touch—sensation of soft,

like satin used to be
on Jean Harlow, say, before Marilyn
and in the light—oh, perfect

movie-light—how you could move
under satin and become beautiful,
and someone would

love you no matter what your reality
—someone would hold you
and become satin, too,

and you would dance together—
in the mirror where a far-off music

played your favorite song
that made you weep,
and the room would be soft with shadow-light

and the doors would seal
and the ceiling fan turn on
to a starry sky that revolved

and threw its shards of light across the floor
and you would release the song
from a heart that never broke.



Late summer.
Sundown. A long empty beach.
Thinning cries of gulls.
Slow shushing of the waves
—only my footprints on the gray,
wet sand. I am singing to myself.

My memory house is somewhere
up ahead with all its lights on,
but I am not late. 

The waves rush up, and back,
leaving small tickles of foam
and gold flecks on my feet.
The slow, circling gulls
scold my presence.
But I do not hurry, or mind
their scolding. This is my time
to own all this—even them.

(first pub. in Poets' Forum Magazine)


Let us be melancholy together.
We are so poor, with our
serious dance and deepest stares

into the shadowed mirrors of each other.
Let us say love with a particular
meaning. We are so sure

of destiny and fate—merged
into some dim happiness.
We are not meant

for sorrow, our favorite word,
polished with our tears. And so
we dance in a small circle,

in the tiny room of our survival,
the window, rained shut,
and the hours fading into morning.



now when he sits across the table from you
in the red velvet lounge
he looks around the room to find out
if he is important you are telling him,
look, I have this rose
growing in my stomach like a
child its thorn is killing me

um hum, he smiles,
right at you
since he thinks that that blonde is watching
and you tell him about the way
the black leopard you have brought
keeps tangling its ribbon under your chair
and that its gold purring
is driving you up the wall
since you
cannot stand purring
and he nods his ripply gold smile
and purrs yes at you

and you tell him you have brought
poison to put in his soup
and he throws back his head
so his favorite laugh can tickle the room
and you die a small regret
right there in front of him
to make your point
and he looks at you wise and says, really?


Today's LittleNip:



let us play with our egos.

I’ll go first.


—Medusa, with thanks to Joyce Odam's poetic delights in the Kitchen today! Joyce's poems often have a shadow of dread as their underpinnings; let our Seed of the Week be A Shadow of Dread. Tell us about when those shadows appear for you: early morning, before the sun comes up? Late at night? Deep in the woods, or out in city traffic? Send us whatever your muse comes up with at No deadline for SOWs—and don't be shy about photos and artwork, either!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Snagging a Rainbow

frank andrick with David Houston and String Theory 
at last Thursday's release of the latest issue of 
Rattlesnake Press's WTF!
—Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—Claire J. Baker, Pinole

The renowned psychiatrist
urged his patients
to watch rain falling,
listen to hushed rhythms
almost a hum
on trees and pavement

Walk in rain, feel it
splash eyelids, foreheads
hands, lips, taste the drops
how pure

I turn off classical music
listen to rain on the roof
bird bath,
wind chimes.

(from Trails of Naming,
Book Two, 2013)


(after his poem in Rattlesnake Review #24)
—Claire J. Baker

Diving out of the blue
the fish-hawk snags
from the river
not a rainbow trout
but a rainbow;
wings it under his belly
to a slightly different
part of the sky.


Pondering over the seed packages 
How shall I plan my garden for Spring
The winter's frost turned my garden nearly barren
just spared some snap peas climbing on a trellis  
I stare at the big empty spots; 
there are dried-out roots where last year's tomatoes were 
I take a rake to them to make them compost 
I think by late February the chance of frost has past
I put some crookneck seeds in
Also, do I even have the patience to grow squash or tomatoes from seed?
I've had heirlooms waiting in their paper packages for several years now
Or shall I just go the nursery?
Anyway, just like a piece of art
the garden plot is intended to reflect me

—Michelle Kunert

—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

—B.Z. Niditch

Some people skate
in life to get by
others reach home plate
or merely catch a pop fly,
a few runners are satisfied
and after so many miles, fold,
another sports her laughter
with smiles commanding gold,
watching the Olympic
dancers on ice
some win silver or bronze
in their one chance or twice
bathing in their esteem
capture our attention
on long wintry days to dream
over a poet's amazing invention,
the spring dawn will bring in
cliff swallows to again sing
along the nests of Chino hills
resting in San Juan Capistrano,
and this alto sax guy
will compose on his feet
for the keyboard piano
as a blues-playing Beat.


—B.Z. Niditch

Outside we open to nature
whether on the basketball
court or ice skating
downhill or at the pond,
we wait with any skill
over a winter's vacation
casting an aura
of good will
at any weather's invitation
when we have time
whatever team we play on
there is still a thrill
in ping pong or soccer
trading in our silence
as we prepare in the locker,
hoping what we achieve
will be fun and not a dare
yet to inspire others,
not unlike the days
of ancient Virgil or Dante
we have laurels and songs
for our achievers,
yet we are warmed
even by watching the Olympics
on our T.V.'s
as awesome believers
from a far country
they too are our sisters
and brothers.


—B.Z. Niditch

Watching the Olympics
silent yet feeling invisible
through now unfrozen clouds
of my old television
brought up slowly
from the basement
on a back and neck
once traveled with exercise
now riddled with tinges
of dry pain
here on a warm pillow
now enchanted by
younger athletic movers
runners and chasers
on their endless mile treks
in a cross country event
like shining young athletes
in Aeschylus play
The Persians
on his poetic epitaph
about the Greek victory
at the Marathon 456 B.C.,
yet how many bodies today
lay fractured by practice
voices nasal
throats still raw
on stretchers
scattered on black ice
from the preliminaries,
some looking afar in dim light
now briefly palpable
like frosty ice sculptures,
drinking from water cups
before they embark
on snow-hazed skis
along white hilly paths 
yet exhibit to us pure gravitas
like earthly astronauts
swimming through thin air
in zero gravity
by colorful banners
of deafening friendly supporters
who wait for hours
by thick tree trunks
on empty fields
awaiting to view
the technical "spot on" numbers
for the record books
or taking videos
for their family and fans
as they are stars back home,
yet with a glass of red wine
in my tired hand
from shoveling the walk
reminding my memory
there are also
forty-year-old skis
in the frozen cellar
which once clearly stood
in the Aspen sun.

 René Char

Feb 19, 1988
—B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA

This exchange student
dispatched to Paris
with a cold arm
full of books
in a woolen sweater
to protect from the rain,
reads from Le Monde
of the passing of René Char
surrealist poet
and Resistance friend
on that cold February bus
putting in my diary 2/19/1988
answering his life's
graduated aspirations
still hopeful in a time of grief
with the unsayable knowledge
that a great soul in France
was following my finger
of my consciousness
in this slim volume
of a sacred few pages
even at unpronounceable words
realizing at that moment
how each French phrase
was important
as in any confession,
for justice mattered
like others of our voice
hanging on to this epiphany
which rise on occasion
convincing us in language
we are on the right road
when a Sorbonne woman
with a yellow umbrella
takes my book
and reads from the text
I'm missing my stop
for such pubescent ecstasy.


—B.Z. Niditch

When we were younger
and feeling modern and arty
we turned to jazz singles
and W. H. Auden at his party,
sitting still at his reading
from this witty English gent
and selfishly conceding,
wowed by his accent,
then invited to a buffet
of wine and cheese
much laughter on display
we celebrate with ease,
at table he publicly signs
an autograph for his fans
by long lines
and music from rock bands
makes way for a thrill
of greeting such a gentleman
on his birthday meeting
as only an epitaph will.


—B.Z. Niditch

Before my open door
outside my tiny room
leaving my chess board
at early dawn
waiting with raspy breath
with colonies of tourists
to be their Cape guide
along the ice fishing paths
of Frog Pond
here at the halfway hotel
putting on my new gloves
in an affable panic
asking the pale creeping sun
to exchange its morning face
for some tiny vanilla
snow kisses
on branches of love nests
in the open air fields
covering the rising white hills
as a frozen-whiskered cat
named Valentina
follows and won't leave me
and may sense some danger
from the black ice,
meeting two Russian-speaking
figure skaters
training for a future Olympics
doing their warm-ups
to Swan Lake's music
on their iPad
as it starts to lightly snow
asking for a shock wave
of a lesson on the indoor rink
and giving them a teaching
on basic English verb forms
as Valentina casts her shadow
to be our guest
who stays with us
until the stars are out
without a promise
of any more Northeast storms.


Today's LittleNip:

(In memoriam)
—B.Z. Niditch

So many flashes of wit
and lines to ponder
being an actor with a gift,

we can read you forever
as your soul skis
in the great beyond lift.


Thanks to today's contributors for our epicurean delights! You may've read in Saturday and Sunday's Kitchens about the passing of long-time contributor Michael J. Cluff of Corona. About Mike, Carol Louise Moon writes: I will miss Snake Pal Michael Cluff's postings. But we have a nice archive of his work that can be accessed at the push of a button at the top of Medusa's screen anytime we want to read him. God rest him. He was a good poet. 

Then yesterday, Taylor Graham passed along an announcement to me of the passing of Stockton's Marie J. Ross. I first met Marie about 15 years ago when she was assisting David Humphreys (who has also passed away) in a reading series at Barnes & Noble in Weberstown Mall in Stockton. Over the years, she contributed to Rattlesnake Review and to Medusa's Kitchen, and it was a shock to hear of her passing.  Recently, she was involved in A Starry Night readings; see for more about her. Here is her Facebook page if you would like to leave a message there for her family/friends:



Marie J. Ross

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Outside the Lines

Michael J. Cluff

—Michael Cluff, Corona, CA

I will easily admit
to slamming Eustace
smack in the head
with that thick
black, dented
frying pan,

Drina said,

no smile though
except in her voice,

over in the nice, clean
sink there.

It was
the only,
out of many
and untrue, ways
to get him
to finally pay
some attention
to me.

If he's bleeding bad
or messed up in his head,
it will learn him
to listen
to me
when I speak
real cozy-like to him.


—Michael Cluff

She left
an empty bottle,
of Vanilla Lace spray perfume

Just a sixteenth-inch
of light amber
almost a cream soda-colored puddle
knocking slowly
against the clear
cold glass sides.

No smell remained,

an oddity

either due to the time
between use and departure

or the sinus infection
I have suffered through
since last Sunday

her Sabbath
not mine,

and the new penny
from 2005—
who knows?


—Michael Cluff

Julia and her French toast
or with maple syrup
has sweetened my life up
without the stickiness of convention.

And her son Neal
and daughters Amber and Eileen
only add to it when
he, she, they, us and me
color inside the lines in blue and gravy
but outside in cyan and indigo.


—Medusa, with thanks to Michael Cluff for all the poems he sent to Medusa before his passing this week. Today's poems are some of the first of his posted here; they were part of the feature on him that was in the Kitchen on June 5, 2007. For updates about Michael and his passing, keep watching his Facebook page. Your words will live on, Mike! 

—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Shadows in Love with the Moon

Moon Above the Wires
—Poems and Photos by D.R. Wagner, Locke


I think, ‘The moonlight is thick tonight.’
It is not but I think that it is.  That maybe,
I could hold it in my hand and it would take
A long time to run through my fingers
Back down the ditches to the river.

I used to come here at night, long
Before I even knew you and I never saw
Anyone else this close to the riverbank.
But then the place had a lot of shadows
And shadows are in love with the moon.
They follow her everywhere, believing
They know her.  But they only know
That crisp blue-white that reflects
Like Emily Dickinson did when
She found a piece of blank paper
And brought the horizon closer
Than we have ever been able to see it.

I sit on a rock for a few minutes.
I can hear the Nightjars, their wings,
That sound they make.

They are cutting the palm fronds
For the Sunday services.  It is still too
Far from Easter to create purples
This deep, nights this still.  I have
All the time I need to wait for it.
Somehow, I always think that I do.


The rider locked on the carousel.
The inability to show motion
While the whole of the day
Remains overcast and gray.

Night not so much coming
As it is attached to the moments
With an adhesive tape
Not found in the imagination at all.

The voices come together like parentheses
Gathered into a bag along with peppers,
Cauliflower, containers of tofu,
Cat food and paper products
Separated from each other
In yet smaller bags, chapters
Of a novel.  The folds are screens
Set up to divide a room
Or perform a service that proclaims
The imagination while showing us
Images of the old Battersea Bridge,
Architectural drawings, collections
Of West Indian bird skins and hundreds
Of picture postcards decoupaged
To pretend a language of exploration.

We find ourselves opening and closing
Our mouths, obstructing what
Might be seen clearly
As a collection of jars and wheelbarrows,
West-running brooks and songs
Of the self.  Changes of melody
Attaching themselves to any object
They may choose, hoping the song
Will still be understood
After the parties have fled the room.

 Battersea Bridge (Grimshaw)


We thought we would find stars
But the garden had been abandoned.

There was a blank light at the end
Of the field, no light outside
Of its crisp circle.

The rooms filled with red.
The little wolf bounding across
The new snow listening
To the ice shattering on the tree
Branches.  The rain of frozen

Someone unwraps a package.
Startled deer pour from out
The silver box.  Their movements
Are slow, like clockwork.  They are silver.
Their eyes founded on children
Who have become lost in the forest
Never to be seen again.
The faith of the high circling birds.



The branch that blooms with eyes
And we can see through them
Yet they are not our own.

What is more hideous:
That men die without seeing,
Or seeing through these branches
Thinking they are their own visions?

Where do we gather?
This giant hall has a thousand
Doors and each opens on a different place.

Angels killing children.
Kings trembling on paper thrones.
Airstrikes crossing the morning
Of generation after generation.
The glaciers melted.  The water
Gone deep into the earth
Where it again becomes sacred.

We are the beasts of transformation.
We run ahead of the meat-eating
Animals striking down the poor,
The halt, the blind and deaf
To make food for these dark animals.

They will catch us eventually.
Our teeth will be the lion’s teeth,
Our golden eyes, their golden eyes,

All of language lost, lost, lost.
A horribly long and narrow
Hallway filled with terrible roaring.

 Flowering Quince


From the window we could see
The wind skitter across the yard,
Over the pond, intent on making
A Winter of itself before it lost
What it knew of the world,
Becoming a glass the spirit
Could only move across.

Never a majesty again, only a part
Fitted like a lilac or forsythia,
A long and twisting smoke.

Could it be that silences are fitted
To our cells as the seasons are
To our souls?

We are not without feeling.
We are object only to the idea of silences.
This was the setting when silence
Became the chords, where it is
Always late and all is going to sleep.

The light comes from within that sea
Where silence is permanent.
We recognize those silences,
Thousands of them, millions of them.
They shall never be stronger
Than they are now.  We feel
Their nobility as they flood
Into the sea of our imagination.

They will become water again.
The window will remain glass.
The Winter will still delight
In showing us its teeth.

From the edges of the room
Silence covers us once again.
It becomes deep as if we were
Finally without our breath
And covered with earth.



You may find yourself
At the side of the road
Trying to explain how you got there.

You may find yourself, gun in hand,
Creeping between cars to keep
From being noticed by a pursuer.

You may find yourself caught by the arm
During a dream, only to wake
Up with blood on your sheets,
Your eyes swollen shut.

Let these dreams go by.
Let them remain as such.
Do not fear the glowing, pulsing
Light in the forest or the strange
Singing that comes forth from
The darkness surrounding you.

You are the high thing.  You are where
The singing comes from on this white
Night.  Do not fear the journey.  We all go.
You are in service to that which shines.
No one can touch you.  You are the shape
Of heaven blinding even the angels in your
Miraculous dreaming.  You may find yourself
Saying that you love someone and pushing
Another round into the chamber, fondling
Peace as if it were the child of God.


Today's LittleNip:


An infinity of misery.
It has its own landscape and is bereft
Of people.  Cricket sounds,
A part of the night thrown
Across a plain.  Parts of the plain
Were dark, while others had light.

Haphazard contradictions.  A house
With its lights blazing and four feet
Away, children swimming in a sunlit
Pond.  To inhabit this kind of place.

Imagination seems higher than anything.
Come here.  Sit beside me.  We shall talk
Of the shifting of the light
In this manner.  Imagine
An ultimate good.
We will call this our lives.


—Medusa, with thanks to D.R. Wagner for today's Kitchen fare, and a note: poets and other friends of the Kitchen will be saddened to know that Michael J. Cluff, loyal contributor of poetry, passed away this week. Michael was an English Professor at Riverside Community College in Norco, Cal. as well as an actor, teacher and director of community theater. I posted a poem of his yesterday as the LittleNip without knowing he had passed away; he sent me poems several times a week for years, and was featured in the Kitchen on June 5, 2007. Check that out, and his Facebook page as well. You and your work will be missed, Michael—another poetic voice lost.

Michael J. Cluff, Corona

Friday, February 21, 2014

Every Poem is New

The Isle of Serendib
—Photographic Manipulation by
Robert Lee Haycock, Antioch

(After reading “The Garden Shukkei-en” by Carolyn Forché)
—Carlene Wike, Elk Grove

As if in double helix, twined thoughts
meld into experience; lodge in corners
of dreams; leave impressions in the still-wet
putty of days not yet hardened into living.

This is how poems live on, as lichen,
as mistletoe, galls clinging to the tree
of another’s life. Fresh form emerges
born out of the union of reader and read.

There is, in art, an evolution;
who picks up a pen assumes a mantle.
Nothing is original anymore
yet every poem is new.


—Carlena Wike

After midnight, the population of the world
thins; makes room for the peripheral—
Poets and poltergeists, abandon shrouds
and bedclothes, knock about the house
haunted by things unfinished, left behind
or wondered at; unable to rest in peace.

Clocks, aware of the elasticity of hours
before dawn, are not alarmed; merely watch
as shadow dwellers riffle out, seeking the lost
or never attained; phantoms or phrases tucked,
god knows where, that might soften sleep.

Cats and children know about this; seek comfort
in beds of the sweet unconscious who brush
them off or (there, there) pat their heads
and take them in.  As night drifts toward dawn
the dear unrested depart, avoid the sun and slip
under beds or covers, gather the shards of sleep.


—Carlena Wike

Life is no clock, ticking forward only—
more like a moon, working its way around
the orb of our experience, waxing, waning,
stirring the sea of memory back and forth,
back and forth, losing nothing, dropping hints.

Sifting the sands of my private beach
I pick up the old bones and polished shells
of my existence, pocket them and, like a child
with a bucket, dig for nigglings, soft-shelled
thoughts still scuttling, resisting brine.

Surveying the cache, I finger life’s single lesson;
these scattered shards grace a common shore.
Nothing found here is uniquely mine. Each life
emerging from all life, crests and crashes,
upholds the rhythm and is added to the soup.


—Carlena Wike

Morning tells such beautiful lies
pats my rumpled head and sighs
and I awaken and accept once more
a sip from the lip of pure possibility

I follow the siren clear to noon,
know that I will be abandoned
by my fickle lover and that soon
alone on the rim of midday

I must suffer the wrath of truth—
ruthless matron with a fallen bosom—
who, like a school-marm, taps my head
turns it toward the lesson.

By nightfall, and all in, I fall in bed
and offer myself to darker dreams
than daylight proffers, the mahogany
knowledge that night must have its say

that every day, in spite of detail
tells the story of our lives,
spells out in three chapters
the arc of our existence.

Waiting for Spring
—Photo by Taylor Graham

—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Morning cold-drill
to the bone. My puppy says
“let’s go!”
Before my fingers on the long-line
thaw, we’re past
the soccer field. My pup is
fueled up, flying! Pulling me along,
up the shortcut into woods,
we hit the dirt-bike trail
(47 humps & dips in a hundred yards).
She won’t break stride
except to nudge a bedroll stashed
behind a tree—fresh human
scent! Up to the rodeo grounds,
around the horse arena—
if I could bottle this lightning
puppy heartbeat;
if I could sell it, I’d be rich.
The little zoo; three wolves watch
us through fence; my pup
doesn’t flinch, she’s wild &
focused, she’s on-trail. We keep on
running. And here’s our quarry,
Kim, sitting on a bench. I’m out of
breath but energized—
as good as rich.
The sun’s gold coin shines
tiny, high and cold.   


—Taylor Graham

Loki is driving me crazy.
Puppy-energy to spare, to annihilate
the household.
No time for favorite search-dog games
or running to catch the horizon.
So we seek out
the closest jungle-gym:
explore a world not built for dogs.
Imagine earthquake rubble
in the guise of swinging bridges,
chutes, and spiral slides.
Instruction: dexterity on four legs,
how the hind must follow
where the forefeet lead; a dance
as Earth sashays
underneath. Loki leads me up
the ladder, trusting
there’s safe-landing at the top,
just enough ledge
for balance; trusting
I’d never ask her to walk off
the edge of the world.


Today's LittleNip:

Just as rich as Beef Wellington
I embrace the music of Duke Ellington,
made those piano notes really flow
fills me with a warming glow
made his art look so smooth
all granitized hearts he could soothe
into reception of all on earth
to give everyone his or her equal rights bestowed at birth.

—Michael Cluff, Corona, in honor of Black History Month


—Medusa, with thanks to today's contributors: Robert Lee Haycock has sent us a new series of photos, and we'll post more from this series in days to come (click once on Medusa photos to enlarge them); Michael Cluff reminds us that Black History Month continues; Carlena Wike often attends The Other Voice in Davis and has been helping host Allegra Silberstein with publicity; The Other Voice is meeting tonight, featuring Hannah Stein and Jan Daunt—you might see Carlena there. And R.D. "Raindog" Armstrong will be reading with Murray Thomas at Red Alice's Poetry Emporium next Wednesday night at the Shine Cafe; Raindog's Lummox Press has published two of Taylor Graham's books: What the Wind Says, and her chapbook, Walking the Puppy. Coincidences abound in poetry.... Details about all such NorCal readings are on the blue board (below the green board) at the right of this column—check 'em out!

And the newest issue of Rattlesnake Press's WTF is available, beginning our sixth year of publication. Get a free copy at The Book Collector, 1008 24th St., Sac., or order one for $2 from our website:

San Francisco tout à l'heure
—Photographic Manipulation by
Robert Lee Haycock


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Embark We Must

Max West

—Max West, Sacramento

Sheelah, lead singer of the band,
                leans toward the other members at her table
                while watching the lone guitarist
                                               across the room
and murmurs, “at last
                         I think I understand:
       as part of a famous group
                          we expect others
                                to ingratiate themselves
       but he has long since given up
             on any acceptance but his own
             and so lives in
                         the most exclusive club of all,
                         with a membership of one,
       and an inner life behind those eyes
              that demands nothing of us…
                     unless we wish
                                to be let in.”
—Max West

Embark we must
To emblazon our sail colors
Onto the blue wind
To embrace our solitary silhouette presence
Dwarfed by an enormous yellow orb
To embolden each step in accordance with the tempo waves
As we begin an expedition of rescue
For the distressed damsel
In our own unacknowledged smile—
Her beauty terrifies as it beckons
But we are brave
From long years of addressing fear
Long days of working true lines
And a lifetime played
Out on relentless waves


—Max West

Now I know I’ve fucked up
Most likely worse than most
But too much effort spent
On old apologies
Is just more wasted time
As far as I’m concerned
And my present actions don’t have to explain
Or justify my past
Any more than one crooked step should mean
I have to jump off the ledge
Or spend my remaining life
Looking over the edge and


—Max West

Once the tracks of an act have been lain
The tendency of momentum
Draws the engine down
So far into the brain
Even the scar disappears
Until we attribute such detours
In our inner workings
To quirks
Of personality

To know the full course
Of our own goings
We have to see
What we’re doing
Before we’ve begun,
Which means always examining
A moment’s happening
With eyes headlighting the place
Space comes from


—Max West

I’m sorry, sometimes
I really wish
I could write best-selling
Works of science fiction,
Traditional novels
Or introductions to
The compilations of past masters

But it’s not an issue
Of “should”

I can only write
What I have to

Then, if
There’s anything left
I’ll consider one or two
Literary vacations
Externalizing the interior of things like
Imagination and dreams,
Putting together puzzles that please you
Or visiting close friends

Right now, I’ve still
Got some exorcising
To do


Today's LittleNip:

—Max West

A press of unseen caresses felt softer than lips.


—Medusa, with thanks to Max West for today's delights in the Kitchen! Max is one of the many poets and artists who will be represented in the new issue of Rattlesnake Press's
WTF to be premiered tonight at Luna's Cafe, 1414 16th St., Sacramento, 8pm, hosted by frank andrick. Max West is a creative writer, musician, and graduate of UC Davis, who has published articles, a book entitled Fourteen Months and Two Weeks Downtown: A Fictional Documentary with Names Changed to Protect the Guilty, poems and several chapbooks of poetry, including Professions, Pocket Poems Vol. 1 & 2, and Semi-Serious Multi-Faceted Flowering Wheel Poem. He resides in Sacramento. More words from Max are available at

The lively photo below is by Los Angeles-area's Audrey Bitoni, and it graces the back of the new WTF cover—be sure to get yours tonight for free at Luna's. Thanks, Audrey!

Luna Park, Australia
—Photo by Audrey Bitoni

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Philosophers, Professors, Prophets & Reverends

Al Young, Calif. Poet Laureate Emeritus,
reading at Sac. Poetry Center last Monday (Feb. 17)
to help celebrate Black History Month
—Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—Jennifer O’Neill Pickering, Sacramento

It might be you forget where you are. It might be you enter 
a dark room or one drenched in light furnished only with a 
prayer pillow, a desk with pen and paper, with the blue glow 
of the computer, the comfortable chair. You’ve not meditated 
for a long while but sit, release your breath. Thoughts cross 
your threshold; it might be you say “not now" or it might be 
you say nothing. You see a word spelled out on a great white-
board, or a blackboard, or virtual screen.  Your mind has an 
eraser; your mind has a delete key that makes any other word 
disappear. It might be you are here now, and not there and not 
ahead of where you are or behind where you already were. 
After a time, your thoughts travel where consonants and vowels 
chain, words gather, linking breathy sentences.


—Jennifer O’Neill Pickering

sparrows chirp under full moons

the dog’s hair thickens at the nape of her neck

cats refuses to go outside

roses drop false blooms 

grey mouths of sky

swallow dark fruit of crows

spiders nest in corners of the house

crickets appear on the hearths 

pigs gather sticks.

there is an abundance of acorns

pipes burst before they can be wrapped

dreams lengthen

heavy fogs in August

frequent halos around the sun

we take to bed earlier and wake later

raccoons sport bright bands 

rats strum the rafters 

we crave brandy in spiced cider

ants drink from kitchen faucets

mice pilfer the hoosier cabinets

cheeks ripen in the morning cold.

Will Alexander reading at SPC last Monday
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

—Celeste Hackenberg, Davis

Yarn bombs are hand-knit jackets of excess yarn—

           loose ends bunny-looped like laces dangling
                                  old, empty shoes over power lines.

Graffiti is a lower case g stenciled and sprayed—

           between the Han and over Dr.
                      decreasing property value,
                      & substituting plain with urban.

Graffiti is not a message written on a leaf,
or paper littered in a floating bottle.

Words carved in a tree could be controversial,
depending on how many, what kind, and how deep.

Mechanical lights hang in pre-programmed sockets—
changing on fixed timers,
                                                 while obedient cars
                                                 wait impatiently.

Night is the only chance to break—
The sky dark, red and empty.


—Sage Robbins, Sacramento

The way my fears finger their way into my dreams.
To watch sunlight dance on the grass that I keep green.
Scumbag disguised as a Sleazeball
Isn't any better than
A Creeper masked as Dirty.
A dream job isn't any better
Than one that lets you sleep.
The only way to increase your wealth
Without more worry
Is to spend the most on charity.
Little lies are told
By those who will also tell large ones.
Lofty goals are achieved
Only by those most selfless.
Thus, no reason to retaliate.
To each their own.
Have faith in fate.
Tending my own garden,
Watching art awaken,
Reveling in childlike wonders,
I find beside me allies.
The more times I get up to open the door,
The more gifts I find have arrived.
I'll strive to live with certainty.
Step with strength and a smile.
Poets are philosophers,
Professors, Prophets and Reverends.
But only because we're more like
An ancient trade-bound family
Than we are polite, informal friends.


Today's LittleNip:

—William S. Gainer, Grass Valley

If you are going to hang pictures
you have a responsibility
to keep them

Got it?


—Medusa, thanking today's contributors—all these poets will be part of the new issue of Rattlesnake Press's WTF, due to premiere tomorrow night (Thursday, Feb. 20) at Poetry Unplugged at Luna's Cafe, 1414 16th St., Sacramento, 8pm. Editor frank andrick will host, and he has plenty of surprises lined up!

And thanks to Michelle Kunert for the swell photos of last Monday night's reading at SPC. For more photos of some other recent readings in our area, see Michelle's latest album on Medusa's Facebook page.

Host Justin Desmangles reading at SPC last Monday
with bassist Harley White
—Photo by Michelle Kunert