Three Glimpses, Eyes Burning
—Tom Goff, Carmichael
A disk of orange, and this is the golden sun
hours before sundown. If here were the Seine,
this scene might be Monet becoming the one
to ignite all pending Impressionists. The rain
or mist of his soft sky here utterly dry.
Burning Amador’s smokelight silhouette
stands also where crowds of exiled Syrians vie
for minimal help and shelter, tentless, wet:
smokelight guttering for them as a torch
sodden or torch ashen-spent; the luminous stinger
shuts eyes upon fumes: the smother with its ember’s
an endwise-curling fist, an iris of finger
and thumb, whose involute shutting turns June December.
Thus freak moth-storm-dance blackens lightbulb and porch.
A disk of orange, and this is the golden sun
hours before sundown. Smoke and cloud mingle:
“if snow be white, why then her breasts are dun,”
the goddess of runaway flame upon roof shingle
darkening California much like Syria,
whose ghosts alive reach through a false Monet
of hard-candy solar disk in gray cloud deliria,
stretching their hands to beseech or preach dismay
and anguish, fear and starvation. We must help;
or so we chatter of exiles and Red Cross
or Crescent. As well stretch fingers out to whelp
a mother dog in breech birth, last pup a loss
and mother a loss before our skill-less faces.
We’re fools in smokelight, traipsing abandoned places.
I reach toward you as despair herself might beg,
in one of the Syrian-exile camps razor-wired
where fathers must cajole their hunger-fired
younglings away from barriers that shred legs
back into the warm, dark, and threadbare tent.
Under that twilight moon that’s really sun
stifled in smokelight clouds no rain’s undone,
or under rain pouring to spite the battlesmoke,
I might be the visaless wanderer treading mud;
or sand, till the naked sole-scrape siphons blood.
But this is melodrama, and you are sweet,
you are the one who shyly, gently spoke
word-caresses years ago, and I, discreet,
couldn’t respond in words, not so much as joke,
and life is dreadful for me, whose generation
unlike yours has squandered all that was given
by guilt-touched parents coddling an after-nation,
left wilderness shredded, glaciers and species riven.
You now, go and do better: speak if you find love,
but here’s what’s urgent. Once when our country throve,
what quickened it was the touch of us few at random:
but whom we reach hardest to help, we most abandon.
I write you my hurt thought, send, then press it unsent.
Palmyra, glimpsed by potent fiction:
hugely consequent amusement.
Once-damascene Palmyras ashen
puzzle a wonderer what the ruse meant.
Streaming from a nationfire, a
people historylorn, stunned wistless.
detonated, dustblown, listless.
Struggling valiantly to survive
Turned brown by drought
Shriveled to almost nothing
Stolen by the smallest breeze
It wondered while falling
Why did God bother to create me?
To serve no useful purpose
Only to be cursed as a chore
Maybe now that I am on the ground
Reagan’s trickle-down theory will work:
I will pull myself up by my bootstraps
The future is brighter than ever!
It works better than a rake, said the biped
Just run the mower over those leaves
Then empty the catcher; makes it easier to get
Rid of them and improve the neighborhood
Soaking in the sunlight
A jungle predator at rest
The now barren tree is still standing tall
Like the CEO of a bankrupt business
—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove
There were two kinds
Of dragons back then
If you counted the
Denizens down in
The capitol, but I suppose
Every place has those kinds).
There was the Dragon
Of Winter, the Snow Snake,
Whose breath came in a
Freezing white mist, so
Thick you were blinded
Till spring, body parts
Turned a shade of blue
Never intended for flesh.
Left you confused, chilled
So that no fire, well,
You get the idea.
And then there was
The dragon of summer.
Dry lightning and flash fire
Preceded it, singing hair,
Nostrils. Then came
The actual breath blast,
Stealing your lungs,
Sending you choking,
Hurrying to pack the cart,
To leave this desolate
Land, this heat.
Everyone knew the dragons
Were there, but I
Was the only one
Who saw them. Visionary,
I called it.
But the people had
Other words for it.
BEFRIENDING THE DRAGON
You could sometimes
Make friends with them,
Even train them, a bit,
If you encountered
Them young enough.
Runts, outcasts of the
Litter, were best for that,
And in colors other than
The usual red and black.
I had the best luck
With the lighter shades:
Pastels, mauve, robin’s
Egg. No less fierce, but
Young dragons love
Apples, the older reds,
Mostly: Jonathan, Winesap,
Russet. Present them
With a Granny Smith
At your peril. There are
Few things worse
Than a dragon with
A belly-ache. Roasted
Perfectly with one breath.
Dragons never share
An apple. But if they
Really liked you, they’d
Tell you where
The gold was hidden.
Not theirs, of course.
Back in those days
There were signs
All along I-80,
From just south
Of Chicago to the
This place be dragons.
Beware.” And you thought
That was just the stuff of maps.
You could never
See them from the
Road, just the
In the distance,
Then the scent
Of roasted meat—
Lamb, pork. Hey,
Eat lunch too.
BUT DUCK’S BREATH
PUTS ON A GOOD SHOW TOO
The phone crackled,
And besides, I don’t
Hear all that well
Anyway. Friend said
He had tickets—“Dragon’s
Breath Mystery Theatre.”
And I thought, “Yes!”
—Entertainment so hot,
You’ll be seared for life.
—A hot time
In the old town tonight.
—Who would come between
The dragon and his wrath?
Me, I would.
THE ONE THING YOU NEVER
SAY TO THEM
“Move along, now.
—Taylor Graham, Placerville
THE OPEN WAY
—Rudyard Kipling, “The Way through the Woods”
They say he knew the lay of this wild land
by its hogbacks and ridges, its canyon
and the river in all its moods.
He’d speak of the fox in its den, the news
as told by ravens in black hoods.
They shut the road through the woods,
the wind says. The dirt road closed its blind eyes
"Nothing will stand in the way of thy acting
justly and soberly and considerately"
but a lack of imagination in coming up
with reasons not to do so
"to expect bad men not to do wrong is madness"
but we overlook such things if they're our allies
"free speech is not for thee"
but only for me