—Robert Lee Haycock, Antioch, CA
What more can I say?
Everything is falling apart,
Has always been falling apart.
Two moons dance in the sky now.
Teacher is not pleased.
Forty years late for my lesson,
I squirm about on the piano bench.
These hills are the color of a week-old bruise.
There is no sense in any of this.
Shall I go on?
—Ann Wehrman, Sacramento
dissolve burnt sugar
desire on my tongue
to four winds
under cold feet
we dance in my dreams
on the rim of the world
you in black tails
my crimson gown twirling
Eros’ flame spirals
from soles to star
crowns on silvering manes
spirits dance in cosmic marriage
keep time in eternity’s steps
paint the world
cadmium red, cobalt violet,
A BRIEF CONVERSATION WITH A CLIFF AT BIG LAGOON
Thousands of years
written on its weathered face,
the cliff stands firm, proud
massaged by the sea.
I ask, “How old are you?”
“I’ve been here forever,”
it seems to laugh,
“and unlike you,
forever I’ll remain.”
Yet it knows,
as do I,
that one day both
mountain and man
—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove, CA
About this time of year,
Back in Illinois, I’d head
Over to my father’s cabin
On Rock River to shut things
Down for the winter—drain
What needed draining,
Cover what needed
A Visqueen wrap, fortify
Myself with Irish coffee
And Victorian ghost stories
Till dark enough for bed.
The one I remember best,
Or at least think I do, as I’ve
Only been able to make it
Through that one time, was
Algernon Blackwood’s “The
Willows.” When The Prince
Of Darkness, not Ozzy,
The older, better dressed
One, signals not
To go any farther on the river,
You’d do best to heed him.
And then the lights went out.
And I heard it. Peaked out
The blinds to see it moving
Upriver, a dark boat, propelled
On quickly flashing
Muffled oars. No rower
In sight. I never told
Anyone, till just now.
Out here on the coast,
Stories of ghost ships,
Treasure, the unforgiving
Lost at sea, abound.
The tale of a haunted
John boat would get
Few chills from around
A dying campfire.
THERE ARE REASONS THAT POETRY
SHOULD NEVER, EVER BE OFFERED
AS AN OLYMPIC EVENT EVER AGAIN
(Was, in the first Modern Games, 1896,
Along with other things, an Icelandic
Form of wrestling called Glima, for instance.
You don’t want to know.)
Because you’d rather not
Imagine Ezra Pound
In track shorts.
Or imagine your
In track shorts either.
Because there are always
More than enough haiku
Any one time in the world
You’ll never see
To think about it.
But not enough
Go ahead, try.
You’ll end gasping,
And a half unfinished.
Never going to
Do an epic: don’t
Hurling it right
Of the craft.
Does not count.
Bind up your
Worst in a ball
And hurl. Sixteen
Pounds the limit.
Rhyme and meter
Folk sail over,
Free verse people
And difficult lives
In the infield.
Just don’t let them
Any of them.
PREPARING THE MASK
—Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet…
You took pride in a living room
festooned with riches, African,
signifying never a span
of tourist-kitsch collectibles,
but lores and magics—meaningful
one way to their makers, another to you.
Yet you were of the outside few
who prize as godly the carved-wood mask.
Too soon before you lay the rueful
premonition: the hardest task,
grasping hold of that one last husk
which represents the wearaway
of so much of you, the self, the truthful.
Prepare a face? To meet who? What?
You carved a countenance of that
tree bark, root-fiber, extract of color.
No hollows laced with Prufrock lace.
A mask to admit you—its angular face
etched out with cheekbone patches, eye-holes—
to one last labyrinth: giving on grace?…
HAZARDS OF INSTINCT
Primeval, archival, once upon a wag
stands one like man confronting first a tail
astern of a wolflike prow of snout: brief lag
to assess the threat. He can’t unsee the flail
in that tail: it gestures club to a hominid.
One moment for everything: friend or unfriend?
Dark bind, or blend, whichever—quo pro quid.
A shuffling submission’s rewarded by a bite,
and dog and man by food and fire are bound.
What does life say for humans who missed the guess?
Something our ears didn’t catch, though trained for sound.
There but for the grace of instinct dines
the beast on manflesh, or the man on dogfeast.
What instinctual accident made tines
of branch-forks neatly shaved to points that skewer,
instinct plus the inventive mind at heat?
Odd how we partner with dolphin, wolf, dog—dragon.
What sort of mongrel race are we, no truer
a purity of intentions and functions, any more
than a platypus, eggs inside us, or an appendix
(book of errata and eros, grain and meat
commingling in our bio-muesli mix)?
And what, my soft white dragon, leads the wrong
human to dragon nostrils, thinking fire
is always and everywhere a cleansing ewer
or a space heater for iced feet and fingers?
Soft as you purr your deft soft smoke-puffs harmless,
I survey the valley where you have enmeshed
men by the hundreds, lizard-mesmerized,
feet deep in lime, a ripe harvest yet to thresh.
Then, like the slow-beating mallet on a gong,
soft murmurs beat at my ear. Your fiery mouth,
each syllable spaced so flame can’t issue forth,
feeds me deep dreams, in tongues not yet surmised.
I struggle, insect on pin, pigeon on skewer,
but my limbs work; my mind is what malingers,
cooling to reptile serenity, coiled yet formless.
And you now, yes, my dragon, what do you have
to say for yourself? You’ve counted on the innocent
to stride or sidle toward you, confident
that in those smoking nostrils, backed by light
that peeps out from the clamp of lip on lip,
we’d see a warm dry animal to slaver
us over with a gentle beastly heat:
we’d only need to figure out what it ate.
Then one step past a boundary, through a force-field,
and you lash out in one flamethrower spate,
synaptic impulse unites with internal furnace:
a roasted statue stands so that we learn us
by bitter knowledge when not to be sweet
or kind near the cunning things of low remorse-yield…
—Robert Lee Haycock
He had never been able to overcome his fear of sopranos. Teams of therapists, myriad drugs, still his palms sweat whenever he heard someone sing anything higher than C above middle C. Just once, under hypnosis, did his hands remain dry as the doctor played a recording of Victoria de Los Angeles singing "Musetta's Waltz" from Puccini's La Bohème. That time, he began to blaspheme mightily. The doctor almost fainted.