Monday, July 13, 2015

The Arts of Swimming, Choosing, Healing

Sacramento Poet Laureate Jeff Knorr, reading at
Sac. Poetry Center last Monday, July 6
—Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—Caschwa, Sacramento

I heard from reliable sources
That I was born
Came out of a wet womb
To be met by a rainy Friday
Sometime last century
Who’s counting?

Raised in Culver City
Where many popular movies
Were filmed without my help
I would later see limos
Use the avenues I did
Why wasn’t I rich?

Same day, same town
When Elvis and Nancy recorded
Their “Ain’t” song together
A motorcycle crash left me
In a coma for 10 days
Did I have a vision of them?

Got married, had a baby
House, car, dog, job, etc.
Had quite enough of
Overpopulated Southern California
Moved to Sacramento
Is this any better?

Got into writing poetry
Or at least letting it speak
To me and writing what I heard
Then I changed my byline
Like changing a pair of socks
Does it matter?

Started reading the SAK BEE
(Sacramento Africanized Killer Bee)
Polarized opinions, politics
“Facts” subject to correction
Online for those who love popups
Ghostwriters in the sky?

Giant black clouds are forming
Some locals are still lighting fireworks
Scientists are tracking an oceanic blob
With a 5% temperature differential
Well-funded candidates talk nonsense
Are we really that stupid?

We should take down all the flags
Their medieval origins led us to revolt
Greek democracy was meant to be a forum
For slave owners similar in design to HOA’s
Why don’t we all just stand and pledge our
Allegiance to helping those in need?

 Albert Garcia also featured at SPC last week
—Photo by Michelle Kunert 

              Sir Arnold Bax, composer and poet (1883-1953)
—Tom Goff, Carmichael

I call the allegro Baxist boogie-woogie
—something my own to call that jazziness
almost American as a fat smoked stogie—
but really it is, in syncopated leanness,
a cakewalk. Bax was not a man for meanness,
to minstrel out notes as might, say, Debussy
in blackface iterations. Nothing loosely,
glibly contrived, no racist snazziness.

No, this is Gottschalk elevated nine planes
beyond vatic. Grand jeté sprung over the void
Jack-be-nimble, comet and asteroid.
Dissonant flute and trumpet mute, with veins
of stopped-horn moto perpetuo in this cakewalk
surprise from a poet quite Wordsworth-like
—given to lakewalk.


           Bax’s Fifth Symphony, Movement Two
—Tom Goff

Keats wrote in his letters—in the film Bright Star
he proclaims it to Fanny Brawne—you don’t
swim out
into the lake to scoot or scud to the far
shore duck-quick, but to luxuriate without
doubt or care in the immediate lake,
for the sensation of water. Poetry,
music, it’s like that. Realize how naked
swimming was then, the bare glide, utter free
play of one’s limbs and sex in liquid. Why
Arnold Bax? Immersion theory. Drink in the live
dizzy cliff-edges at Big Sur where thrive
milk cattle on downslope, fly-footed clinging things.
It’s the yawn of seawall itself over ocean, in rings:
tremors from trumpet bells ripple the tilted skies.

Here’s Celtic California, sung polyphonic.
Green swales atop faults. Planes that shift.
Fog architectonics.


—Tom Goff

I love that Lewis Foreman* defends as epic
this symphony. He situates it right
among those works composed under icy Nordic
influence. Grand as Sibelius, but the light
through Bax’s own strong-tinted English filter.
Chorale first, through a glass darkly. Then leave
that behind
for tachycardia pounding allegro, tilter
hooving with leveled lance through yards of mind.
We know if we know Bax how the heart’s a ranger,
wants life that’s heady, that plants that heart in danger.
Anticipations, full-tilt-trombone-led
in bass notes, of passacaglia to come. Well, rise
and subside, you motive, rise and subside
dolphinbacked so the chorale can ride tridented!

Then, though, Foreman dissents from the Epilogue’s
how inexorably Bax winds through his dissonances
and dark straits, almost the ultimate anagogic.
Then a brief rapture, after the long anabasis.

*Bax’s biographer

Sandi Wasserman reads at SPC open mic July 6
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove
Was a huge castle of a building,
Constructed by the WPA,
And with rooms that hadn’t
Been used, even opened
Since the early thirties.

You always knew
Where the pool was though:
Chlorine—much higher
That the recommended
Dose.  Would turn your
Hair to straw and a sickly
Green.  Eyes red for days.

And as we lived
In the center of the Illinois
Prairie, my parents
Knew I needed
To know how to swim,
And enrolled me
In lessons at the Y pool.

At dinner that night
After the first class,
My father asked “Who’s
The teacher?”  “Mr. Haddock.”
I am not making this up.
“Good man, lots
Of personality.”  Which
Back in those days meant
A fellow Kennedy Democrat.

“I don’t like him,” I whined.
“Why not?”  “He’s got a mean
Look.  And, and,” (never hurt
To try out a good dramatic
Snivel), “A whistle and
A clipboard.”  Had problems
With authority figures
Even back then.

But it was sink or swim
With my father, so I took
Lessons every weekday
That summer.  Advanced
From Tadpole to Minnow,
Then Fish, Flying Fish and
Finally Shark.  Had the Y
Triangle patches to show
For it all, too.  “Congratulations,
Kid, you made it,” taking my
Slightly wrinkled hand into
His for a manly YMCA shake.
“Great.  Can I join the swim
Team now?”  “We didn’t
Teach you that much.”


—Kevin Jones

There were places to swim
In town.  But they had rules:
Nude shower before entering
The pool; no running; no
Jumping; no splashing; no
Peeing; no pantsing; no
Physical contact with
The opposite sex.

Surely there was a world
Elsewhere.  There was,
And in it were
The old strip mine
Ponds east of town.  The
Best was the blue water
Lake at Forty & 8 Park.
Our parents’ favorite.
Though the blue might
Simply have been
A reflection of the
Busch Bavarian cans
Parents had flung
Onto the bluff from
The beach over years
Of Sundays.  But  you
Never knew when
Somebody’s mother’s
Bridge club might show
Up unannounced for
A dip, and nobody
Wanted that.

So it was always farther
Along into the mines for
The next best pond.  Green
Water was the next choice,
If it sparkled a bit,
And moved in the breeze.
Brown would do, though
It would leave you with
A slimy scum, and two
Days’ worth of the odor
Of rot.  But grey water?
Never.  Ever.  We all knew
Even that much.


—Kevin Jones
There was a rule, whose rule?
Who makes up these rules?
That men could not graduate
From the college without
Being able to demonstrate
The ability to swim fifty yards.

And so one of the few required
Courses was swimming, taught
In the outdoor pools of Western
Hall, and offered only spring
And fall semesters.  Those
Of you who know the Midwest
Know what this means.

And the class would gather,
In our Phys Ed Department
Required purple Speedos
(The school colors were
Purple and gold.  Just like
The title of the school song.
I could sing it for you
Even now, but you’d
Regret it), watching our
Instructor, recruited from
The university of Alaska, he
Told us; we believed him,
And why not, check the pool.

He carried a small hatchet on
A cartridge belt.  If it failed
To break the ice on one
Swing, we’d go inside and
Play ping pong for the hour.

Remembering it all now, I
Realize that the sight of
Thirty guys in a United
Nations of sizes and shapes,
Playing ping pong in purple
Speedos, is only slightly
Less frightening than
The prospect of
Drowning under the ice.


—Kevin Jones

Just couldn’t seem
To nail it.  Last one
For Eagle Scout:
Failed the YMCA course.
Could have been
A too-enthusiastic
Demonstration of
Artificial respiration.
The volunteers
Their ribs.

Failed the summer
Camp merit badge
Class (First Scout
In history to fail
A camp merit
Badge class).
Might have been
That I didn’t really
Want to spend
Time in the
Boathouse with the
Lifeguards picking
Stems and seeds.

Passed the Red Cross
Class at North East
Park pool.  Old,
Filtration system,
Not good, water
Yellow, so things
Went quickly.

Last task: rescue
Drowning victim
Volunteer Susie Rae.
Not the best of
Lifeguards, but she
Made up for it in
A style we’d later
Come to appreciate
On Baywatch.

I saved her.  Gallantly,
And in several separate
Ways.  Got the badge,
Got the Guard certificate,
But somehow, Susie Rae
Never spoke to me again.

 Taylor Graham's Loki in her Elizabethan Collor
—Photo by Taylor Graham

—Taylor Graham, Placerville

It started as a tick bite in the armpit. Now
Loki wears an Elizabethan collar like a 16th-
century superhero—or does it suggest
the Art of Healing still has gaps to trip over,
as my dog trips around the house. Don’t
call her “cone-head.” This courtly collar
is stylish, if primitive. It prevents her licking
the wound. It also keeps her from her
water bowl, and maybe even sweet, deep
breathing in the heat of July; causes her
to bump into door-frames, trees, furniture.
My lady-dog peers out through half a plastic
bubble and learns the art of swimming
through what was once dry land, her home;
her known world.

 16th-Century Superhero
—Photo by Taylor Graham

—Taylor Graham
                 for Loki
She doesn’t ask why she must wear
a lampshade on her neck. It radiates forward,
so her face is a lightbulb aimed at sky.
An e-collar, veterinary device to keep her
from licking the inflamed, itching
tick bite. Or maybe it’s a punishment
from the gods. What she can’t understand
she bears staidly, her eyes deep
as the wells where women gather to mourn
their losses. She knows, with heart
and all six senses, what she knows. And
here’s another mystery, why we won’t let her
jump into the back of the truck
while we reconfigure it—the last place she
saw her pup alive. How could
she fathom why her golden puppy died?
The postmortem gave no answer.
It remains an itching puzzle begging Why?
The stuff of Greek tragedy, her eyes.

 New pup Trekker (aka Troll)

—Taylor Graham
His shadow is bigger than he is. Nothing strange about that, the sun’s low, first morning of his life here. He’s so proud of the tiny stick he’s carrying. You can’t even see it in his mouth for the shadow. That’s life—he’s got it all ahead of him, learning about pebble, lichen, twig. He disappears in the shadow that’s life, just a fiber on the texture of earth, pattern in the picture moving.

 Trekker and his Shadow
—Photo by Taylor Graham

—Claire J. Baker, Pinole, CA

Long ago we kids
flattened cardboard boxes,
jumped on top.
Holding hands we bumped,
glided, spun, careened
down summer hills—
the hill
laughing more with us
than AT us.


—Claire J. Baker
Waterlilies open.
Wind blurs
for no wind.

Watching ripples
and return,
we breathe
in circles.


Today's LittleNip:

—Claire J. Baker
the setting sun
cradled in
a V-shaped limb:
a wishbone
that got its wish.


Our thanks to today's contributors for this hearty breakfast buffet! Today is the Barnes & Noble To Kill a Mockingbird Read-a-Thon, celebrating the release of Harper Lee's new novel. For info, see 

This is a busy week in NorCal poetry! Check it all out by scrolling down to the blue box (under the green box) at the right.



John Bell, reading at SPC last Monday
—Photo by Michelle Kunert
Scroll down to the green box on the left
for what's happening at the Sac. Poetry Center