—Tom Goff, Carmichael
I love the vast surface of silence; and it is my chief delight to break it.
—Carl Nielsen, Danish composer
Do silences have surfaces? Oh, yes.
But yours is not the surface of silent ice,
the Danish ice-note of Nielsen’s we might guess.
Every time you arrive like wedding rice
or manna or sparkler sparks, I feel a mess
alongside you the lovely, you the so nice
despite a childhood destined to unbless:
yet here you come unblemished, without vice.
Oh, this is me breaking silence, telling you
that if I were to demand your aching clasp
in spring-thaw surrender, tender aggression, few
would register the held-breath iceburst gasp
that races my blood and runs my symphonic clock.
You would, sweet key: my far-northern cryptic lock.
I gave away the book a dear young friend
inspired me to buy, named for the Castle of Heaven
where JS Bach indited his poet’s blend
of contrapuntal breadstuff mixed with fine leaven,
the yeastily dancing galant. She gave me joy
of the lissome or densely dramatic choral art
called Passion, raising Suffering to a ploy
for darkening, then lifting the errant heart.
And all in one book. And I just gave it away,
lazily, cravenly yielding to the social,
feeling it gently urged from hand by a new friend.
How asslike, me when I’m led on some ethereal
thread, yet strung by the nose, to make a brute end
of deep care and remembrance, light as in play!
What does it imply, when far from her as never
I surrender the stuff of her soul—and she’s nearer than ever?
—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove, CA
Jimmy was the Junior
Assistant Scout Master
For Troop 80. He took
His job, with its many-
Syllabled titles, very seriously.
He was always impeccably
Turned out in an A uniform,
Long sleeves, patches
Badges and sashes,
Whatever the occasion, whatever
The weather. And always,
Always, with the odious
Green Pea Soup tie
Tight to the neck.
We all knew he did at least
Several extra good turns
A day, probably to make up
For us slackers who found
It difficult to get even one
Old lady across the street
(Curiously, they never wanted
To go). And we all
Knew he was always
Prepared for everything:
Second coming, tsunami,
Zombie riot, Nuclear winter,
Anything. And he would tell
You that, with a smirk that said
He knew you were a lesser
Being, an inferior scout.
He could also play a bugle
Beautifully, if such a thing
Can be said. At camp, Taps.
Six in the morning, Reveille.
Truth is, everyone hated
Jimmy, camp staff, scoutmasters
And assistants. Grunt scouts.
He never got
A single vote for Order
Of the Arrow.* We older scouts
Counted votes. Sometimes
Things somehow got lost.
But there was one thing
About Jimmy that he did
Admirably, and well.
At the Boy Scout Courts
Of Honor (We were all about
That, in those days), he would
Light the candles—
The Spirit of
Scouting, the sentences
Of the Oath, the Twelve
Points of the Scout Law
(Don’t make me repeat
Them, no. Because I could).
And at the end of the ceremony,
Go back through it all backward,
Clipping the candles to darkness,
With forefinger and thumb, all
But one. The Spirit of Scouting
Burns on. Well, maybe.
Asked Jimmy once how he
Did it. Said, eventually you
Built up enough wax
On your fingers, and
Nothing hurt. “But doesn’t
That mean you never, never
Wash your hands?”
“You have to
Give up something
For the magic to work.”
*The Order of the Arrow is the Boy Scout Society
Of Honor Campers. White sashes with Red Arrows.
It’s a Big Deal. Think Fraternities before
You have to take the SATs.
—Taylor Graham, Placerville, CA
She came home to her house
disastered. Cascades of blood-red candle-
wax hardened on the long-stemmed crystal
vase, wedding gift from her mother-
in-law. Festoons of cobwebs in every corner
(her mother-in-law loathed spiders).
Walls singed as if a dragon brigade marched
through the rooms before flying out
every flung-open window. What to do?
Inform her mother-in-law
the Pied Piper had arrived, playing
the most enchanted flute, and she was
following him out the door.
And please don’t come this Sunday.
Brooms and dustpans, feather dusters.
Scrape the candlewax from floor and table,
melt it in the old brass pot to make more
candles. Nothing shall be lost but every atom
salvaged as if it were a soul. Sweep cobwebs
from the corners—but only dusty webs,
and spare the living homes of spiders, eight-leg
creatures of God who feast on ephemeral
wings. Dance your brooms across these tiles
laid down by hands so long ago, and twirl
your dusters in the crevices that hold
each window so it lets in light. Be intimate
with wax of bee and silk of spider, wood
and stone; for everything is holy.
ON A BENCH IN VIENNA
—Claire J. Baker, Pinole, CA
Curled Viennese cat,
what language can I use
to have you know me—
a homesick American poet?
Your fur feels the same soft
as California feline.
Tail snaps like Bay Area
tom cat prowling the hills.
Marie Antoinette, doomed
daughter of Maria Theresa;
the Schonbrun palace/gardens.
Lacking your language
I stroke your ears,
translate Austrian purring
into California dialect.
—Claire J. Baker
If I keep still
maybe some poet
in the crowd
called Life will speak
phrases I might
ever hope to hear.
Then I will express
my own words,
Ekphrasis is a long-running journal of ekphrastic writing which has been published since 1997 by Sacramento poets Laverne and Carol Frith. (If you don’t know what ekphrastic writing is, check out this journal!) The latest issue is just out, and may be purchased at ekphrasisjournal.com/
DADs DESK is the region’s only large print poetry journal and is edited by Carol Louise Moon, who also edits Sac. Poetry Center’s Poetry Now. The latest issue of DADs DESK is available at The Book Collector (1008 24th St., Sac.) as well as by subscription (4 times/year for $8). Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
The latest issue of Canary, the Bay Area’s online environment poetry journal, is available at hippocketpress.org/canary/.
In order to tempt back readers and entice new ones, Song of the San Joaquin Quarterly is offering a special price for the rest of 2015: a year’s subscription (4 copies) for the price of three: $15. After that, the cost will return to $18 a year (still a bargain). Subscriptions would make lovely Christmas gifts. Checks may be written to Song of the San Joaquin and mailed to PO Box 1161, Modesto, CA 95353-1161. More about SSJ at www.chaparralpoets.org/SSJ.html
Scroll 'WAY down in Medusa’s blue box (under the green box) at the right of this column for a list of other journals in our area, such as convergence, Poetry Now, Tule Review, WTF, Gingko, Brevities and many more. Small press journals are the lifeblood of poetry!
—Claire J. Baker
Imagination opens us wide;
we believe hope
will inherit the earth.
of beginning again,
we pull fresh starts
out of our hats
pure white rabbits.