HOW TO CLIMB A MOUNTAIN
—Taylor Graham, Placerville, CA
Mother averts her eyes, clutching
guardrail of a two-lane that snakes up
on switchbacks from the river,
while Father walks out on boulders
for a better view.
How to prepare a child
for when there isn’t a guardrail
at the dropoff?
A thousand vertical feet of sky.
Sun on bare rock blinding.
The cliff falling
to a murky pond for drowning.
Mother invokes every
possibility—just read the news
and figure the odds.
The child watches Father at the edge
of landscape moving forever
away in a bright blue veil of distance
yet every detail distinct,
etched in the brain like desire.
Below the house, those guys are talking
way too fast as they work. Are they making jest
of our sorry excuse for a fence to keep the sheep
in? Such back-&-forth as they tighten ends
with come-along and tie wire, laughing too much
to be really working but look how much they’ve
done in so little time, just like when they
drained our flooded driveway after the January
storm, they waded out in frigid murk of broken
branches dead leaves mud Styrofoam what-
ever came down the creek. And now it’s June,
and what they’re saying while they’re working
isn’t in my phrase book but the job’s already
done, while a bit of breeze comes breezing
through dry stubble riffing their words into
song I can only listen to and try to sing along.
Night shuts down one world, light
opens another. And the pond wakes, rippling
blue on white, soft as glazed pate—
Japanese porcelain, Mexican talavera. Layers
of language on this land. The pond
knows no rooms, no boundaries of human
occupation. Vacant of ghosts, tales
of the heart. Who used to live here is gone,
even the ones who dammed the quiet
creek. Waking, the pond is an empty eye
waiting to be filled with morning,
a pledge to the swallows that will dart
and soar. Wild geese float
offshore, waves against shingle. Already,
sky spreads lofty as the egret
from a snag, before summer heat
presses down on landscape. Out of sight
almost out of hearing, the two-lane
hurtles toward river. Siren
heard for an instant, wavering, gone.
I scan for plumes of smoke—
it’s the season. No clouds this morning,
but a thin haze blue on white, soft as glaze
on clay. At water’s edge the wood duck
preens his plumage.
Remember the whirlpool that winter
when the sky came down to dance. Its joy
of running water—so much rain after so long
drought—swept down the creek to swirl its skirts
at our culvert. Moss sang green on the face
of stones, mouths wide open with praise
of the rain. Lace on black water. Great oaks
sacrificed their oldest limbs like first-born sons
for the joy of water. Every dead leaf fallen
revived in a sodden mass to join the dance at our
culvert. Such a huge gift, this water.
More than our culvert could swallow. I waded
out with rake and pole to unclog the flow;
tossing sticks and broken branches to the side
for my dog to carry away. Talismans of water,
its waves repeating downstream toward an ocean
too distant to see. I told my dog, in another
universe, an alternate reality vaster than
yesterday and tomorrow, he could fetch these
sticks forever. That was years ago. The old
dog has found himself in the sky’s flow.
FIREWORKS AFTER VIETNAM
—Donal Mahoney, St. Louis, MO
Joe went to the mall yesterday
and found a big tent pitched
at the head of the drive.
Someone selling fireworks.
The sign said discounts
for all veterans.
Joe thought of his brother Bob
after his return from Vietnam,
a victim of Agent Orange.
He would shake if he heard
sudden or violent noises.
He got rid of his guns and
never went hunting again.
Bob didn’t want rifles
shot over his body after he died,
an honor some veterans prefer.
His wife wanted the ceremony.
Joe cried when the volleys were fired.
He could feel his brother
shake inside the urn.
EARTHQUAKE IN THE YARD
He’s a vet from Vietnam
who won’t say much about
what happened over there
except to say his problem
began with Agent Orange,
the breathing problem he has
cutting grass, raking leaves
and shoveling snow,
the only work anyone
will hire him to do.
The money helps him live
on what the government
gives him but that’s not much
because it’s obvious
the man's not living well.
Watching him mow grass
from an upstairs window
on a sultry day and have
him stop and cough so
many times, you want to
pay him not to mow but
know that won't work.
The man can’t breathe
but he still has pride.
So you pay him well,
force him to take a tip
and wonder if some day
he’ll fall on his mower
or maybe on the grass
and won’t get up at all,
the earthquake coughing
being what it is,
ripping him apart.
It was a bright sunny morning
I was all of 4 years old
And strolled outside
Enjoying the warm blanket
Of air radiating from
I lay down and stared
Up at misshapen clouds
Inspired to contrive
Some logical framework
To define their shape
And then a white delivery van
Pulled into the driveway
And stopped directly over me
I felt a gentle but insistent
Vibration on my chest
And another dimension of warmth
I shut my eyes, opened them again
And was staring right into
The eyes of my purring kitty cat
Resting on my chest
In the bed, in the bedroom
In the house
* * * * * *
I was standing at the box office
Contemplating buying a ticket
To a murder, mystery, thriller
And then it occurred to me
This was a dream, and dreams
Don’t let you finish what you start
So I declined the offer to buy a ticket
Not willing to part with the money
If I couldn’t stay to see how it ended
—Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA
for Rita Szuszkiewicz
I met you, if the memories tell truth,
at Sac State, by the then Brutalist art building,
you, a perceptive, kind artist. My weird youth
was only music, but other arts gave gilding
to my breezeblock foundation. History
of Art, the dilettante’s survey course, was how
I came across you, or you me. Mystery,
how it could evade the so-called brain in my brow
that we were already connected, if not from
centuries previous, through close kin and kith.
At Zelda’s, soon or late, we had to meet:
lapse-of-context agnosia, then the strum
of recognition. It’s you! And, as in a myth
or mist—oh, you know Jerry! Ah life, how neat.
Transparent, now that I look back on the words
I transmit to a masculine deity
of music, lines I loose like long-pent birds
too starved to fly far: though I’m laity,
nothing of philosoph or psychopomp,
it’s clear when I seek a guiding avatar,
a cicerone at my side—no mentoring fee—
to tour with me hell and the doldrums, never the star,
is this not my sole besetting mystery?
What reason, if not my quest for the father type,
even the Vader figure, evader by death,
all black-garbed, venting his weirdo techno-breath,
to adore and battle for right-of-way through swamp?
Is this ghost assembled to act more like him, or me?
(a reply to Dana Gioia’s “Bix Beiderbecke”)
Your elegy to youth—and that ennui
a doomed cornet funneled for us to unforget—
reminds me of my jazz years: overlong spree
of sweet acrobatics, me, tyro trumpet, no net.
Our progressive-minded orchestra director
made himself over, a jazzman avant la lettre,
I mean pre-Tilson Thomas. Microfilm
the texture of celery without long strings
spooled genuine Paul Whiteman parts, all silm
under scantly rehearsed pop concert fingerings.
Violas might feign a Gatsby Twenties blues
inflection in their liltingly sawn downbows,
trombones and outré saxophones propose
a drone like stove-hot Gershwin’s rhapsodic news.
But only I got to play Bix! His solo part
swarmed tadpole across my eyes, glissando bliss,
blended with teen leg-twitch and lurch of heart.
All I must cope with was airstream; mouthpiece-kiss;
only connect ad-libs with Bixian style,
my tongue-stroke a replica clapper of his brass bell,
in “Singin’ the Blues,” “I’m Coming, Virginia,” while
wielding my own speakeasy wits as well.
Unready I was: the rhythms slightly jarred,
valves balked, barlines smudged, aims at overtones
shirked hurdles: it all went soft, not Beiderbecke-hard.
And yet, however I botched and bungled licks,
bluesiest remembrance can resurrect old tics
and aches. Wide-gaping destiny, bound up with being Bix.
ST. VINCENT’S DANCE
When I gave you that book about Millay,
did you feel twinges, tremors rise from it?
Or not yet sense that this mute gift might say
how keenly I felt you should keep her flame lit?
Her lyric flame, whose unseen sheath and point,
of diamond-shredding heat, would pierce through you
till pure injection into every joint
should numb each ligament, string by string undo,
trip, tumble you low, upend you, lay you lame?
No, your limbs limp, no puppetry of mine
could dance you loose-reined in my skeins of shame.
I wished you drunk enough with that raw white wine,
ripe from the roaring grape, to sing your wit
who spurn that dram (my dream) your own lyric fit.
—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove, CA
Want to seem
Cruel or impolite,
But aren’t those
the inside rush
—Martha Ann Blackman, Sacramento
why is waiting
just free time
time we cherish
to locate our center
for the inside is
really no different
just the perspective
backing down from
the sun is sinking low
delta breeze tickling
the night promises
open windows to
welcome the breeze
I sit quietly waiting for
the AAA truck rescue
two times in one day
dusk is slipping in
shadows soft as silk
for the tender touch
a recognition of the
give the calm
of the day
—Claire J. Baker, Pinole, CA
wearing animal skins
straw or leaves
pressed her hand
against a cave wall
waited as color
was blown through
a hollow reed
saw her hand
Who was she?
—Claire J. Baker
We drive south
across Golden Gate Bridge,
sky and water.
At ocean's edge
to platform railing,
imagine we are gulls
or sea eagles
electric with salt.
Spray stings eyes,
platform quakes; mist
plays tunes on our bones.
Tide-shadows shift over
autumn's gray-green expanse,
the horizon a silver streak.
We scamper back up, drive on
to the Palace of Honor and art,
delighted to hear a docent say:
painters of the ocean
stayed intimate with the sea
in all seasons.
Lots going on in the Kitchen today, more people lining up at our open mic than usual. Our thanks to today’s contributors for celebrating July 4th with us, and our freedom to write whatever is on our mind—or, as Tom Goff put it recently, “the work you daily post from so many talents with different views of beauty and truth”.
Carl Schwartz (Caschwa) begins his retirement on July 9. Congratulations, Carl!
Remember that there will be no reading at Sac. Poetry Center tonight; on Thursday, though, you can either go to Luna’s Cafe for Poetry Unplugged, or to Poetry in Davis to hear Will Greene and Jamil Kochai (plus open mic) at 8pm. Scroll down to the blue box (under the green box at the right) for info about this and other upcoming readings in our area—and note that other readings may be added at the last minute.
Lara Gularte writes that there will be a change in the monthly poetry readings at the Nello Olivo Wine Cellar in Placerville. For July there will be an all open mic this Sunday (July 10) from 2-4pm. Thereafter, the open mic monthly reading will be the first Sunday of every month. And information will be coming soon concerning a new reading series with featured poets and open mic. sponsored by El Dorado Arts Council. Inheritor, a beautiful new book of poetry by Sacramento’s Jeanine Stevens, is now available from FutureCycle Press; see www.goodreads.com/review/show/1662749663?utm_medium=api&utm_source=custom_widget
And Alan Lowe writes to remind poets everywhere that the deadline for the 2016 Voices of Lincoln Poetry Contest is July 23. See lincolnca.gov/Home/Components/News/News/36/2267?backlist=%2fcity-hall%2fdepartments-divisions%2flibrary
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