—Jeanine Stevens, Sacramento, CA
West Shore, Lake Tahoe
How snow obscures broken fences and closed
motels, worn down colors sanctified in white.
Plastic bags and beer cans poke from drifts along
the beach. On pilings under the dock at Ehrman Mansion,
thick ice cycles hold fast. There are few remnants
of the Godfather II movie shoot visible, scripts sealed
in deep gray. Early birds stand like plaster casts,
everything glossed over. Soon, cedar-scented rain
will come, another runoff ending in Pyramid Lake.
I’m ready for grassy greens and sunflower yellows.
My mind has shifted to spring, but the weather asserts
its prerogative. In another year we will forget
and again believe the sunny forecast. I kneel on dark
sand, touch water—Aegean blue, frothy, and warm.
HUNTING FOR A NAME
We planted a little cloud
In the back yard
Nourished it and
Watched it grow
We weren’t sure
How to trim it
To dwarf it
So we let it grow
Taller than us
Taller than the fences
And it prospered
Bore beautiful fruit
To steal bites
We tried to cover
Our little cloud
But it had gotten
Too big for that
We didn’t want
To share it with
But it was impossible
To not share
Here come the birds
Oh aren’t they just
So cute and obedient
Like pawns on
We are the masters
Higher than royalty
So they must let us
Manipulate their places
Put our unwashed hands
All over their
Shapes and contours
All so we can say
That we did it
It was gratifying
And we will return
We don’t have to
Give them pay or benefits
If their health fails
We simply find others
They may look into
Our eyes as if
They have eyes as well
But of course they don’t
Because we didn’t
Allow them the awesome
Power of emotion
The cleansing of tears
They are instruments
For us to play
For us to enjoy
We, the one percent
A TALE FROM UNCLE VERN’S JUNK SHOP
—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove
My Uncle Vern probably warped me
More than any of my other elders,
Though in a good way.
Vern owned the scrap yard
And junk shop (The difference?
If you could lift it, it went
To the junk shop. If not, scrap)
Across the street from our house.
Vern understood I was different
Early on, a kindred spirit, perhaps.
And none of his treasures were
Off-limits to me. Reading old
Field & Streams, True magazines,
Early Mads, ancient yellow National
Geographics in the back room
On a bear skin rug—worth at least
Two advanced degrees, maybe three.
Vern would smile and nod,
Especially if he happened to
Pass by while I was on the
Infamous page forty-nine
Of the Geographic. Had an
Eye for beauty, Vern did.
And it was nowhere so apparent as
When one misty October afternoon,
Vern came out of the far back
Of the store bearing a Brooks Brothers
Clawhammer coat dated 1859.
You know the style—James Buchanan
Wore one as he stalked the Oval
Office carpet, fretting, wringing
Hands, hoping to get out of D.C.
Undamaged and alive.
Historic reputation be damned.
And seeing the coat, I understood—
A singularly lovely thing: over a hundred
Years old, it still glowed with a darkness
And a seriousness that rumbled, “Important
Person inside. Listen up!” Vern
Settled the coat on my shoulders,
Shoved me out into the growing dusk,
And for once closed up shop early.
Suddenly, full of gravitas—or something—
I circled the block two, maybe three
Times, even went as far as Al Hill’s
Cash Grocery, the parking lot
Of the Shamrock Inn. Nobody
Noticed. I went home, placed
The treasure on a nice wooden
Hanger. And waited for its next
Opportunity, our moment.
Turns out it wasn’t mine. A few
Years later, my friend Young Fragd
Dropped by; scuffling worn Converse
On the doorstep, asked if he could
Borrow it to wear at his wedding.
Of course. Young Fragd was from
An even more interesting family
Than mine. Fragd’s granny,
Local gypsy matriarch for
Instance, hung out in the county
Courthouse, telling your
Legal fate for three espresso beans.
She was seldom wrong.
“Can I come to the wedding?” I asked,
Handing over the coat. “Sorry,”
Young Fragd shook his head. “Need
To impress the bride’s family. They’re
From Southside Chicago. Have most
Of their own teeth and everything.”
I understood. Young Fragd put on
The coat and danced down Rose Street
And out of sight. Few people danced
Down Rose Street. Few had reason.
But Young Fragd did. And he was
Remarkably good at it.
A few days later: a mournful Young Fragd
At the door. Abashed. The Fragds
Did not know the meaning of the word,
Sorry. He dropped a single naked
Bone button into my hand.
“That’s all that’s left.” “Rough
Reception?” I asked. “Lots of fights?”
“Nah. Tried to have it dry cleaned
Before bringing it back. Guess dry
Cleaning didn’t exist back in those days.”
Another thing, I suppose, James
Buchanan should have been grateful for.
DOWN THE DARK HALLWAY
—Taylor Graham, Placerville, CA
A use for everything, my folks believed,
until there’s nothing of it left to save.
Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or go without.
If you throw that scrap away, you’re sure
to need it tomorrow or the next, sooner or late.
Some day. It’s Fate. Remnants of decades.
My father’s rotating-oscillating desktop fan,
heavy enough to weight a life as it
swirled Time away. Encyclopedia N-Z without
a spine. Old Polaroids, sunlight dissolving
colors from their forms, and a half-
finished landscape in oils still waiting for your
father’s paintbrush. In a whimsy-drawer
I never open, my mother’s turquoise thunder-
bird, wings unfurled. How she kept a tidy house
I’ll never know. My dad fixed anything
so it would go, and go, and glow. Lacking
their knack, we live in a junk-shop
of fixables, whatever we might need some-
day or want, or can’t let go.
THE INK CHILD
Blues and greens on butcher-paper, not even
trying to be representational. The design reminds
you of an old-fashioned skeleton key blossoming
at the finger-end in a flower; a bird in flight,
a stylized 4-point leaf; way-sign of a different
kind of motel, light in the dark of omens. Your
child is made of springs seen through the door-
frame of a circled square. You magnetize
the ink-sketch to your refrigerator. Remember
driving runic country roads, glimpsing
through the rearview a hex sign on a barn.
It held ancient wisdom. May your child’s design
blossom like a marker on the hazard road.
WEEDS SEEN THROUGH GRAY
The day’s bituminous, storm on asphalt.
Sky’s a scrim of rain dissolving Saturday.
“Let’s foot it out,” you said. My boots
already soaked with wet grass and the fancier
mixed diction of flowering weeds. They
won’t divulge their names, they’ll always be
contemporary, prolific, vigorous in spite
of herbicides and other hocus-pocus.
They speak vegetative slang, they hang out.
In a certain light, luminous. If you look close
enough, new and wondrous, otherworldly.
I stumbled on it as if by accident.
Bedrock mortar where the first people ground
their acorns ages ago, hidden by brush
on the canyon’s steep side. I was trying to find
my way through manzanita so dense,
I thought I was lost. I kept on climbing, trying
to get out, and it drew me, magnet-stone
at the head of clearing. One granite boulder
on a wooded ridge. Scribed with lichen
and moss, it beckoned. I invented finger- and
toe-holds; scrambled up to its rocky
crown and looked out over canyon, the next
ridge glowing gold as a vision caught
in slant of sun. Granite stars
sparkled underfoot. The path has overgrown
itself again, hiding in thicket. I become
one of the first people stumbled into the ages,
lost in discovery. No one will find me.
THE PICNIC HARP
—Claire J. Baker, Pinole, CA
In a rustic clearing
near the Coast
as we broiled burgers,
turned hot dogs
on a red-hot grill,
Lee's small harp, idle,
leaning on a tree,
intoned sounds of oak,
pine, ocean, sky
along its strings,
fingers of the wind.
as if halfway
COUNTING ON SHEEP
—Claire J. Baker
drifting into sleep
a woman counted
beautiful black sheep
one by one leaping
over her life
wearing dark fur
wearing dark fur
one by one
beautiful black sheep
leap over a woman's
on her to sleep
the night, drifting.
Wow! What a sumptuous feast of poems and photos we have today! Hearty thanks to all our contributors, and a note that Taylor Graham will be reading and celebrating her new book, Uplift (Cold River Press) at Sacramento Voices this coming Saturday, 4:30pm. Other readings in our area this week include Kimberly White and Mariam Ahmed at Sac. Poetry Center tonight, 7:30pm; Poetry Off-the-Shelves read-around in Placerville Weds. night, 5pm; and Sandra Garcia Rivera and Leticia Hernandez at Mosaic of Voices at Avid Reader in Sacramento on Sunday, 2pm. And of course Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Café on Thursday, 8pm. Watch this spot, though, for other readings that may pop up during the week, and, as always, scroll down to the blue box (under the green box on the right) for details.
One other note: Friday, April 15, is the deadline for Rattlesnake Press’s quarterly journal, WTF. After more than seven years of publication, this issue, which will be released at Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Cafe on May 19, will be the final one. For submission info, go to rattlesnakepress.com/wtf.html and remember—this is your last chance!
Got a blog or a website? Kimberly White’s can be reached at www.purplecouchworks.com, and Medusa’s Kitchen has a long list of more sites if you scroll ‘WAY down to the lower section of the blue box to the “Poet to Poet” section. If you have one that’s not on the list, send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org/. And you might check to see if yours is on there, and if so, if it’s accurate. I checked all of them this past weekend, but I noticed some are a bit on the elderly side, with no recent posts; maybe you’ve changed addresses, or…? Lemme know.
While you’re scrolling around down there in the depths of the blue box, check out the "Hot Links" section for resources such as the “Advice to Poets (Starry Night)” link. The Starry Night Reading Series is no longer happening, but they posted some wonderful advice about how to read poetry in public. All of these links should be up-to-date now, and there are some dandy resources there. Again, feel free to send me additions. Or subtractions….
WHEN YOU LOVE SOMEONE
—Claire J. Baker