Monday, February 16, 2015

Like the Pearl in the Oyster

Mahogany Urban Poetry's Cleo Cartel reads at
Crocker Art Museum's family festival on Feb. 15
celebrating Black History Month
—Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

I momentarily thought I saw a friend of mine working at the S.F. Disney Museum cafe
           She looked almost like a twin of the lady who owns Cultured Kitchen, Rebecca Wise
           I said “Hi Rebecca, what are you doing here?”
           This woman looked at me like “what the hell?”
           Indeed she had the same olive skin, dark eyes, and hair, even including the nose, as my friend of Jewish heritage
           I thought maybe Rebecca didn’t tell me she dropped out of her business
           In the recent past there was a series of salmonella outbreaks in her products such as raw cashew cheese 
           and I feared that, for that, she quit or sold her business and didn’t tell me
           and now she was working for the Walt Disney Museum
           Anyway, soon after talking to her I realized she wasn’t Rebecca
           like I thought, or maybe I had entered a parallel universe
           and it was Rebecca, only with a different name.
           I still ordered a veggie burger.      

—Michelle Kunert


A preschool teacher I had locked me in a closet
I got too rambunctious following a recess 
The preschool teacher had students gather 'round for story time
where she showed a book featuring cats
I got excited and said something like, “Wow, my Mom's got cats!”
She told me to be quiet as she turned the page
I said then something like, “Oooh that looks like one of my cats!”
The teacher then decided to quit story time to grab me
and then put me in the closet with the play supplies
I recall crying, screaming and banging hard on the locked door
(which probably would have created even more of a class disruption)
After some time in this dark closet
it was the teacher from next door who let me out
but she acted like I had gotten in there “accidentally"
even though I protested that I had been put in there by the teacher
not by myself or other students fooling around
After that I understandably was “anti-social" at preschool
I’d protest to Mom against going to school
I feared that if I did anything I’d piss off the teacher 
I still don’t know to this day who trained that teacher in L.A 
—Michelle Kunert

  Storyteller Shakiri at
Crocker Art Museum's family festival on Feb. 15
celebrating Black History Month
—Photo by Michelle Kunert


—Richard Hansen, Sacramento

Thank God I was Target (except as a baby and toddler) all my life until age 56 and a little bit beyond
Thank God I used Meth Amphetamine in mid-'80s and 2001 through March 2003
Thank God at numerous points in my life everything meant nothing and I could only survive on the Word spoken to me by people who didn't apply it to me
Thank God I didn't spray a school ground with bullets even tho I'm a great shot
Thank God I don't own a gun
Thank God I question everything the Dalai Lama says because wisdom comes from a process of unlearning
Thank God 2 days before my first wife died of cancer ALL of her pain meds were refilled
Thank God I actually know what forgiveness means—that's a big one!
Thank God I care about what you think of me but it won't change what I do
Thank God I don't find him (God) in any church so far but I found him
Thank God I am alone with my dog
Thank God for coffee and beer and Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix and Martin Luther King, Jr. and my friends who live in other cities and others too numerous to list
Thank God I love my mom finally, and am having lunch with her tomorrow
Thank God I Love


            (a new theory)
—Tom Goff, Carmichael

Four thousand years ago, a piercing shock
flung lands and towers down to the liquescent dunes
that sift sand-hours long eras inside no clock.
What’s left of that continent lives inked in runes
crushed in sad books till now uncracked as that
once quakeless rock. Vast slippages tectonic
bouldered the mass through centuries, aquatic-
sunken yet sailing the magma, shearing flat
& arriving at last as a wedge of Nordic coast
we call the Baltics. This veldt brought its own warm
soft sheath of Ionic ocean & light to ghost
below ice, moss, and mist, save spring from harm.
So, when you seem Northern-sad, your gaze aimed wistful-far,
a Capricorn mischief flares hot: you’re half Atlantean, my star. 


I have always thought that art may be a disease of the soul,
like the pearl in the oyster.
                                    —Arnold Bax

—Tom Goff

Can love be love, can art stay art, which rubs,
chafes, scrapes so hard and sharp at your soft innards
that you must seal it, as we enamel our tubs
in some exquisite coat that shines, glows, glimmers?
Then, what if the grit-event, buffed lustrous, polished
to a rainbow brilliantine, must still be deemed
fit matter for rejection, must be abolished,
expelled, thrown out of the only shell you’ve dreamed,
slept, eaten, tooled around in, your life-carapace?
I hate to think what you’ve made lovely a dismal
germ you must counter with antibodies: brand,
hunt down, lay siege to, kick out. That sounds abysmal:
dark under-depths and frights I wish you’d reprimand,
rebuke back below, so quiet you might not hear a trace.

And why? Don’t lose it, but keep it: turn that grit-bit furl
(now curl, fold inward, shine shyly)—your most perverse
                    personal pearl.


—Tom Goff

From the opening notes of piping bassoon
a man determined to show he’s deeply studied
The Rite of Spring, yet drunk from a much less muddied
spring, the clear mainspring of all tendril noon’s
upsprouting into the clangorous trumpet tune
and string song crossed by tympani, dissonance-studded
till eruption upsurges rose-thorned, rosebudded.
Then wells in slow tears (Falconetti, eyes of Joan).
Quick six-eight march sunk into a brooding world,
the wordless, snarling stopped French horn, bass trombone
stunned till unstuck when motion warms, unfurled
into and out of Irish, moodily alone
long ruminations, shiveringly rippled
across a mind’s blue waters greenly stippled.

At last a quick tempo, like fire: not dactylic, not Alcaic,
more rude bird plainsong under sun, greed-fed, voltaic.

Omari Tau and Marylyn Smith sing freedom songs at
Crocker Art Museum's family festival on Feb. 15
celebrating Black History Month
—Photo by Michelle Kunert
[For more about the festival, see

—Taylor Graham, Placerville

No program in mind—but here you’re walking
up cracked sidewalk that skirts the old cemetery.
The city’s comeback lot. Some so young, their
days stolen. Each individual as if pulverized
under the gravity of stone, a marble angel veined
with baby blue, peach, powdered allspice—
basically, flesh-tone. So many disappointments
rest here. Not a sigh, recrimination, complaint,
or bargaining from the passing of a breeze.


—Taylor Graham

Two clear raps at the door.
I open, and there you are with walking-
staff raised to summon me. Dead
these hundred years and more, Elihu Burritt,
distant uncle. Blacksmith-linguist-peace
fighter always poor, your belongings
fit in a bindle or safe in your head.
50 languages, faith in man, God, freedom.
You look beyond me, into my house
of clutter. Too much, you say. In death,
you’ve pared your verbiage, slipped
off the Victorian purples. Clarity suits you.
You’d tell me what I already know.
Get rid of that bowl my mother left me and I
never use; table settings for 8 in a house
with 2 sittable chairs—6 broken, still waiting
to be fixed. Boxes of stuff I’ve lost track of
but can’t part with, dangling prepositions.
Unpackable baggage steals my
gumption and my days—what can I do?
Elihu, you’ve come to tell me.


—Taylor Graham

In the soup kitchen, volunteers
are stirring onion and garlic in a skillet.
On this spot of earth once stood
a sanitorium—imagine lying for the rest
of your life making tradeoffs, sun
against chill. Right now, onion and garlic
send a thin trace of scent out
an open window, broadcasting up
the hill to draw from the woods
diners in thrift-store attire. They’ll sit down
to blessings. They’re alive where breath
passes under sky awash with wind
passing over, always passing, never
pausing. When no one’s looking,
it polishes mined-out rocks on the hill
so they shine like promises.
Onion and garlic sizzling in the pan,
fragrances of far-off places
the wind knows, whistling horizons.
After lunch, a young man will
take his guitar, shoulder his pack and
go on his way, traveling.

Today's LittleNip:


—Medusa, thanking today's contributors, including Abraham Lincoln (who was a poet himself) and reminding you that this is a busy week in NorCal poetry, with lots of readings all week (including the release of Rattlesnake Press's latest WTF on Thursday) and a Sonnet Writing Class with Poet Laureate Jeff Knorr on Tuesday to kick off Sac. Poetry Center's celebration of Shakespeare's 450th birthday. Keep track of it all on the blue board (under the green board) at the right of this column.