Monday, June 13, 2016

Trial by Summer

El Dorado County Wagon Train, 2011
—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis, CA

—Taylor Graham, Placerville
              Highway 50 Wagon Train

The juxtaposition’s timeless—
pickups, sedans, SUVs slowed to draft-horse
pace down the two lane
that winds above snowmelt-rushing river.
Scenario: many horsemen over the Sierra Crest,

route of the famous Pony Express,
of immigrants and wagon trains.
How efficient can travel be, on creaky wooden
wheels endlessly circling? Don’t honk!
it might startle the horses.

Once I happened on a hitch of six
great horses grazing in a field. Were they
meditating on the steep climb coming—Tahoe
basin up to Echo Summit, every muscle
quivering to pull their load?

Manifest power on mammoth hooves.
They grazed green grass,
at peace with their morning. I asked them.
They answered in the soft
dark of their eyes which has no word.

 Percheron Wagon Train Horse 
("manifest power on mammoth hooves!")
—Photo by Katy Brown 

—Taylor Graham

The Wagon Train is due any minute.
It’s behind schedule, moving on horse-time.
It left Stateline a week ago—at least
no prairies or cactus flats like the old-time
pioneers—but it’s still a long hard haul,
out of Tahoe Basin up to Echo Summit, then
down the rock-and-timbered west slope
to here. Our town’s lined up to greet it.
I’m standing against a great old ponderosa,
edge of berm, my buffer against a crowd.
I listen for hooves on pavement
beyond a staged shoot ‘em up, wild-west
marshals vs bad guys. A tiny girl’s near
frantic, crying with every shot; she
doesn’t understand historical re-enactment.
Stories based on fact, imagination, truth
and time’s deception. My ponderosa’s seen
it all, shadows eating shadow under a tall
sun. I’m waiting for the horses to make
their appearance. The wagon train is late,
what’s keeping it? It moves on horse-time.
Pray a wooden wheel didn’t break, no rider
fell off his mount. It’s been a long hot
trail. May I learn patience from the horses
and this ponderosa, tall tree just standing.

 The Patience of Horses
—Photo by Taylor Graham

—Taylor Graham
Over Main Street, our poems offered
themselves like produce at the Farmer’s Market
down below—shoppers inspecting squash
of every description, leafy greens and fruity
golds; a spotted puppy on leash but
in pursuit of a world, sniffing everything.
That summer market ran till dusk.
Up in the 2nd floor gallery, we read poems
to each other, releasing them to free-
range air. Too hot to keep inside. A/C in that
old building was guillotine windows
wide open, and a plug-in fan.
Down the hall, the door closed on a lady
evasive about her art, as if we’d force colors
and texture into ideas we might steal
like grapes off the vine. No,
we let our words free-flow to settle
like sunglow dust, till twilight
ended the market day,
and every melon slipped into a shopper’s
bag to be carried wordless away.

 White Nectarines
—Photo by Katy Brown

—Taylor Graham

Early June. Already, ground squirrels—
our foothill prairie dogs—hunker
in their burrows as if a refuge
from parch and heat. Thin comfort
in our shadows, shrunk to an edge
of straw, sunburnt stubble.
The dragonfly disappears in blue
above rock-bed where that ancient stone-
cutter, the creek, has died again.
Heat is a wave to drown us dry.
Retrieve your book,
come sit under the oak
that’s seen so many summers
and still remembers how to call a breeze—
its leaves skin-of-paper inscribed
with the legends of trees.

 Tall Trees
—Photo by Katy Brown

—Taylor Graham

When the well stopped pumping
it was July on the ridgetop
sunstrike glitter gold. Hot.
She drove down canyon
past the guy with goldpan. Stripped
off boots, socks, into gush
and pull of water cold remembering
snow it came from, molding
itself around rocks, boulders,
ankles, bone and then
she lay down and let it wash summer
away to the sea, she’d just stay here
river that laps whoever lies
down in the arms
of water. Who needs gold?

 Wagon Train
—Photo by Taylor Graham

—Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA

       "Truth is a dream, unless my dream is true."
               —George Santayana (1863-1952)

I dreamed I worked at a college, Mission-style,
and shook hands with the philosopher Santayana.
Why him? But Santayana he was, all wiles,
ideals, and muscles, tough as historical annals.
Why am I telling you this? You share your dreams;
I don’t. Are dreams embarrassments to daring?
Can’t they foreshadow fundamental themes?
Let me never again prove less than caring:
you have dark visions to confide. And yet
should we be lost to reveries? The past
is birth, is childhood. Adult lives: are they to set
fresh models on realist rock-structures that last?
Let’s cornerstone, starting here, our solidest scheme
from footprint to domecrown. Isn’t this still sheer dream?

 Wagon Train Riders
—Photo by Taylor Graham

—Tom Goff

If ever life’s frustrations weigh me down,
I listen while you mingle song and flight.
No nightingale poem can ever quite requite
the worth of my witnessing you draped in your gown
of mimicry. You copy the long-drawn
surrender of logs to sawteeth, then you indite
your ode to snowmelt over stream-gravel. Bright
incessant scraping cicadas. Next, the wound
turnkey, a child’s mechanical toy cat
clack-clack across linoleum. All true,
your granular tunes, your liquid lilts, while you
stay perched…or else glide, my piping acrobat.
You lave and lave the hot sky in your semblance,
all ancient RKO broadcast-pattern emblems.

 Baby Nuthatches in their nest
—Photo by Taylor Graham

—Tom Goff

    “The Celt within me stood revealed.”
            —Arnold Bax

Demonic syncopations, harlequin
of coat—quite jolly—switch in sharp reverse,
their linings seamed with darkness learned in Erse.
Bleak Gaelic seas flash jagged glimpses fin-
and-tail. Yet this sorcery’s mere feint,
for out of the faraway first movement’s shade,
three wistful falling notes tilt retrograde,
dark seraphs waft up renegade to saint.

What should be ceremonial dry ice,
a childlike vapor mimicking the celestial,
turns Irish paradise, the green terrestrial
fortressed by lakeshore mist through which may slice
the distant blades, ancestral eerie sun.
This Celtic instant lives, dissolves, a lifetime hidden… 

 Buggies at Fresh Pond, 2016
—Photo by Katy Brown


Many thanks to today’s fine poets and photographers: Tom Goff, Kevin Jones, Taylor Graham, Katy Brown! The annual Wagon Train has once again captured the attention of us up here in the Placerville area. El Dorado County Poet Laureate Taylor Graham, always on the look-out for ways to promote poetry, wrote about it this week and took some photos. And, photographic feast that it is, Katy Brown came up and took photos, too. (If you’d like to see her past wagon train album on Medusa’s Facebook page, scroll ‘WAY back on there to June 11, 2011.)

Taylor Graham’s poem, “Trial by Summer”, hit home with me because we just lost one of our beautiful big oak trees. Drought? Old age? Too much water here in suburbia? I mentioned it to Taylor, who wrote: “We've lost some old oaks since we've been here, and lots of big dead limbs. The sheep nibbled off every acorn-sprout; now that the sheep are gone, I see baby oaks coming up all over the place. But I still mourn the great old oak we had to take down years ago, up the hill; nothing to blame for that one, just old age I think. I'm sorry for the oak you're losing. They should all outlive us."

 Chez Kieth, pre-oak death
(when the tree was still healthy)

Chez Kieth, post-oak death

Sacramento, too, has recently suffered some poetry losses: in publishing, WTF and DADs DESK; in readings, Sandi Wasserman is finishing off the Einstein series. Even the El Dorado Wagon Train, which usually boasts nationally-know cowboy poets and cowboy poetry, is silent this year, poetry-wise.

But as for Medusa, the old gal seems to have renewed enthusiasm these days, with new features, many poets submitting from far and wide, and lots of support from the local community. I notice that some of our inner link-pages have gotten out of date, so I’ll be refurbing those in the next few weeks. Loss and gain both come in waves, yes? May you have many gains and few losses in the days ahead!

Start off your poetry week today at 11:30am by attending the Cal. Lawyers for the Arts workshop on “A Legal Guide to Book Publishing”, then tonight go down to Sac. Poetry Center to hear Matthew Cooperman. Thursday starts at noon with Poetry at the Central Library (take poems on weddings, marriages, partnerships and/or mutual discovery, preferably by someone other than yourself), then in the evening you’ll have to make a choice between Poetry Unplugged at Luna's (Lara Gularte and Rhony Bhopla) or Poetry in Davis (Andy Stewart and Kim Stanley Robinson). Friday is the official release of Susan Kelly-DeWitt’s new book, Spider Season, at SPC; on Saturday at 2pm it’s Poetic License in Placerville, and then the After Hours crew will be back together in Grass Valley at 7pm (Todd Cirillo, Julie Valin, Bill Gainer). Finally, on Sunday, there will be an open mic at Nello Olivo Tasting Room in Placerville. Wow—something almost every day! Scroll down to the blue box (under the green box at the right) for info about this and other upcoming readings in our area.


Today’s LittleNip:

—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove, CA

Grandmother said
“Don’t go out in this
Heat. You’ll melt
And there won’t
Be anything but
A little grease spot
On the pavement.”

She said a lot of
Things like that.
Grandma had
A thing about
Grease spots.

Went out today
Anyway.  Lots
Of grease spots
On the pavement,
But nobody
I really recognized.



 (Anonymous Photo)
Celebrate poetry by reading, reading, reading!

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