—Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA
Bad enough, being shaved,
almost, of back bumper
by some doofus who’s making his
Jeff Gordon avatar slipstream
ahead in the standings in some
NASCAR fantasy-racing video-game setup.
Raises my nape hairs and spine ridges just sensing
what blazes right up my metal-and-plastic ass.
I’m sunk in the chair at Sport Clips.
A pretty hairista is asking, “Do you like
your neckline straight or rounded?” while
she keeps on buzzing. Worse yet, this is night,
and I’ve just missed an in-the-dark sideswipe
from a dimly seen steampunk nighttruck
with tubes and pipes sticking out of it,
body of an Imperial Walker.
A sign slung to its side reads
only, “HOT.” I don’t have to think
to jerk away. Now, does anyone still believe
these GoDaddy wannabees are some sort of solution?
(Symphonic, with Epilogue)
Oh, I hear it argued the sonnet is a sonata,
a two-part affair, sliced apples, brusque Scarlatti.
Idea one, then contrast, then, in remote key,
first thought, contrast again: repeat the regatta.
Octave, two stanzas, one lone conceit worked out;
then the sestet adds voltage to the plot,
alters the mood, lofts thought or scowls its doubt.
Now comes the couplet, Shakespeare, to close as ought,
a one-trick poem epiphany to explore.
But sonnets, I hold, are three-movement symphonies,
in consummate miniature. Yet Minotaurs
await outside labyrinth lines, sharp similes.
For there be dragons to lengthen the voyage on,
Janeways of helmsmanship, star-date, captain’s log,
and that’s why the Bax symphony, luminous dawn,
noon, sundown, enacts in full, with epilogue,
slow wanderings in constellations, gleams of bright ends:
star-sonnet drawn out for as long as the lender lends.
I’m reading The Bell, an early Iris Murdoch,
marveling at the speed with which it moves,
how its people stumble in abruptest burdock,
and how it reproduces the lovely grooves
(mind-groves?) in which they meander. Take naïve Dora,
a fragment of adorable; Dorabella,
which is to say, belladonna, prescribed for an
aspirant whose eyes, dilating, aquarelle a
young novelist, limning herself-not-herself.
Behold the uncanny glimmer: Dora’s hands
release a live butterfly cupped, as if part elf,
who in present elfin-tense self-understands
but a smidge: may we aver young, still-widening Iris
crowds out her eye-hues, dark-pupiled—black papyrus?
(How beautiful: poet-philosopher-novelist
full floodtide, in her lithe and ardent youth:
less lovely, her late fade, elegiac, to wistful
falter, decline of bright powers, life stunningly ruthless…)
Watch Murdoch, still a sly girl, devise her Imber,
a religious retreat whose converts she turns “rebarbative,”
a word one young boy relishes, instincts limber
—soon to be brandished? How they act, sweet, not sedative.
ST. FRANCIS AND THE FROG
—Taylor Graham, Placerville
All night I dreamed centerlines, grids and
circuits to make spaces for the frogs—red-
and yellow-legs, the endangered, threatened,
amphibians of every kind, salamanders and
lizards of a concrete world. A nightmare.
I got up in the dark to make coffee. There
sat Francis, saint in the flesh yet knowing
as if celestial answers. He said: That frog
in your wet-mop—don’t ask what species,
that’s an earthly box. Call him Friend. Have
you seen his eye? In drought he loves your
mop hung out to dry. See how he wraps
himself in mop-strings, quite at home.
Untangle yourself from grids and boxes.
The world’s creatures need space to breathe,
to unfurl legs or wings; keep dreaming.
VISION AT WATER’S EDGE
Maybe the embryonic stage of a creature
I’d never seen before, bald and limbless, dark
as conceived in a blackout; cobra-dance
of shadows across the mirror surface
as a malignancy in water, mutation of air.
And yet, overhead the oblivious
fleet-footed scurry of squirrels in noisy caucus.
But this creature—as if cloaked, about to
shed its disguise—as one man in his time plays
many parts. The sun lowering, twilight
of changes coming.
(first pub. in Phantom Frog)
for Katy Brown
Not as you describe, blinding the calf
before they beak its brain; nor burial under
stones they drop from heaven.
I read of a child who feeds crows,
and they gift her with corvid treasure:
trinkets an 8-yr-old might hoard:
a sea-green marble, buttons, micro wheels
& cogs, S-hook & a shard of bone.
Loving crows, I’d surely keep each token
they brought me; buried under a life’s
nesting clutter – books & spoons unlabeled
in the brain’s attic, bright as a crow’s eye.
In the leafless oak
a wing’s black calligraphy
on November sky.
THE WIND’S NAME
for D.R. Wagner
The place was meant for desert, gray-
bark cottonwood, dry-wash canyons.
But between the eroded hills, they planted
alfalfa. On dirt lanes between fields
and irrigation ditches, the girl
grew up on her horse, reciting lines
of her lessons as if language
could make wind speak its name,
its litany of cold vacant sky.
Her horse carried her beyond,
into the canyons – sand and burned-dry
grasses and forbs. After a rain
everything gave up its scent—
not any single species, just “weeds.”
A fragrance of all-together,
praise-name of the dead come again
to life after rain. Seeds. A girl
was her horse, black mane waving.
That rise they called the pilot-hill
was so far from open water, a dried-out
summer place where at noon you might boil
eggs in a pot of pavement, and at night
the stars simmered like wishes of forever
waiting. In the shadow of that hill
a small life grew into longing, eager
as a puppy to run from its room, to open
the ceiling like a can of preserves;
to learn tears of joy and its sister sorrow,
and feel the churn of waves, the burden
of ships set loose on the sea. How
should such a story end
but as a journey, a dream?
WHAT HE DREAMS
Must it always take the form of a train?
Spiderwebs in the high ceiling of his room
are rails he runs in his sleep.
He won’t let his mother sweep them away.
Still the roof peaks steady overhead
though the floor shakes in the dark and
the old dog who died in December comes
to him through walls, the night-
closed door, the mirror. Not a sound,
but he hears words and doesn’t wonder
how an old dog could work
in a child’s language. How that child
as if he were a house
has spirits in his bones. So true
OF PUTNAM COUNTY, ILLINOIS
—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove, CA
The five of them,
In the back booth
Of Vic’s Tap and
He gets the short one.
It is his turn
To run for Congress.
He will never
Be heard from again.