HE'S THE REASON FOR THE SEASON
—Carol Louise Moon, Sacramento
The cross-stitched puzzle picture
Each puzzle square depicted a
One bottom-row puzzle piece
Because counted cross-stitch work,
I can do without a baked potato,
—Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA
How little we suspect the world’s events
determine our own small events—just then,
terrorists and victims freshly slain, forever prone
in the Bataclan, only then do I turn, with at best
a sleepwalker’s insensate groping knowledge
of the Why-I-Do-This, to pick up Victor Hugo’s
Ninety-Three. That rapid suspenseful study
in carnage, French Revolution devolving into
actual civil war, utter anarchy. Incisive pen-portraits
of the one dauntless leader several times repeated,
from the Marquis de Lantenac to Danton, Marat,
Robespierre, each of them the same mixture,
part Valjean, part Javert, only the proportions
differing; Jedi inseparable from Sith, Nazi
from Maqui, in each of these intrepids,
all sensitive, all honorable, all ruthless,
men of the Terror devoted as any of today’s
hooded ones to the earth-scorching:
the Then and the Now Terrors merging for
the reader in Absolutes.
MUSE AT YULETIDE
Church concert, full orchestra, choir: I despair
of seeing you here, but have to perform somehow.
You materialize! I assemble you, your hair
a shimmer, face-framing dark, amid this crowd.
Now I must perfectly trumpet out my part
for you alone, red skirt, soft stockings red
with one sweet effect, unplanned by wily heart
or art, your holy-in-holly tones—unbled
as I now bleed whole notes into a horn,
wanting Joseph Jongkind’s Alleluia,
its ravishing Ravelian scroll of dawn,
to unspool crescendo-butter all the way to you
warm at your scarlet-shod feet, our liquid trumpets
dripping of milk-fed gold, unscrupulous crumpets.
Applause for our pain; a handslap surge uprears.
I seek just two meeting palms—you’ve disappeared
—back down that darkly merry congested funnel
of throng rom-coms would render soft cloud-tunnel?
Despair and fatigue, a recipe for more
fatigue and despair. I looked, and you were there,
my smiler, in this room. I looked again: no more
of you than your back of head, soft plumes of hair,
vanishing with someone down-corridor.
Oh, cried Bax the composer, there’s more technique
as we grow old. But is there one rapture more,
or indeed anything, to express, unique;
sheer Oversoul to be sought for past mere words,
mere notes? How many times must you and I
commune on a page that emits one mute white sigh,
though your pure face exhilarates like birds?
Today: treed goldfinches singing, sunlit through
their skins to their hearts. I could grasp them. I want you.
—Taylor Graham, Placerville, CA
When did all the butterflies
over rock. July’s halls
MAKING THE BED
New, clean sheets. The same old
for William Wells Brown, once a slave
I was young, full of the seeds in my hands
as I ran from my master north through the states
of winter, my mouth full of dreams, scattering
seeds as birds do, freeing the unborn
from its dry husk, giving it birth in flight.
My mouth full of dreams common to all men—
I had to speak, to be free to live as I’ve
always lived in spirit. Freedom, our everyday
common, yet most uncommon, dream.
COLLECTOR OF STARS
You go out after dark, before her bedtime.
You promised her the vault of heaven.
What stone columns hold the sky’s vault up?
You should have studied more than numbers.
Above your heads, stars gather with the planets.
Crane your neck—Jupiter straight up, splendid
as a headlight. Your daughter peers into bright-
spangled blackness. “Look, a swirl of lightning-
bugs that never blink!” Stars dying, still on fire
to your eyes, stars unborn. Their names exotic
as princesses in a fairybook. Each star a spark
of common dream stinging you awake. Adjust
your eyes for dark, its blinding brightness.
I spot your still, prone shape,
small but immense.
From this great height
you seem to have died.
Then your wings flutter.
Now you are a live man
or a shaggy angel. Up here
at my church on the hill, men
have cut down sun-blocking
Monterey pines, for roof solar.
Stumps bleed fresh sap—
trees wanting to live.
But now too late.
My thoughts go blank & sad
missing that canopy in the sky.
when will you stop falling,
when, please, will you fly?
—Claire J. Baker
Our Indian friend
makes "Dream Catchers."
A hole centered in web
stagger in darkness,
tumble into a black hole—
These unique webs
are perfect for saving
Sally tells us: each
finished dream catcher
is more genuine,
more true to life, when
left with a flaw.
Our thanks to today’s fine contributors, and a reminder that the latest issue of The American River Review will be launched at Sac. Poetry Center tonight, 7:30pm. Note also that convergence, another local journal (this one online) is now available at www.convergence-journal.com/winter15
For more about the bragi poetry form, see www.poetrysoup.com/poems/bragi
For more about Jinshan Peasant Painting, see travel.cnn.com/shanghai/life/shanghai-painting-peasant-village-468776