What was it, following me on the trail
this morning? or I following it? So young a seed
enchanted into movement. Small, silent, pert,
slipping from shadow to bright as if it knew
both places; from life to life. Running on fours,
then rooted upright at attention sniffing
the breeze. Coat brilliant as light in swirling
water, as valley-oak before its leaves drift
on changing weather; wild oats unharvested.
Coat of furred gold as if drawing rays
of sun to itself through tangles and labyrinths
of trees. What was it? My dog might tell me
with his nose. The spring of life
is a fountain unquenched by words.
If I spoke in Human to what shadows me,
how would it respond? Ear-twitch,
rustle of leaves, glint of stone. Better
to walk without language, in the silence
fitted to the creature like its skin.
Would I know or want, or even believe in
a plain answer? Each new life a question.
This morning the grumpy ghost keeps to her
attic. A memory arrived by midnight, now it’s
dawn. Restless wings. With chicken-foot talons
she grips a hanging lamp that once made light,
then flaps old boa feathers, sails through cob-
webs scattering dust; perches on windowsill—
panes long gone like lenses of life. That’s
the way the music went. Once she was a white
swan at dances. Does she wish someone
would fix the place up? Maybe crumbling stair-
cases are beneath the notice of a ghost. Maybe
she’s settled into her newest transformation.
On her way to stone, its music so slow she
seldom hears it, but it’s broken all the mirrors
that showed her face. Beak as tough as bone,
clacking dissatisfaction with the way things go.
Her voice like the 12th century, or even older
ages ago. Let her rest. Even dead, the place
still pulses. So many secrets on either side
of walls. This morning through masonry gaps,
the grand old house lets April in.
All her sisters disappeared. Ground squirrel?
rat? Death can squeeze through invisible
holes and whisk a barred pullet away. One by
one without a trace. Our survivor cheep-chimed
their knell. I shuffled her between truck and
bathtub. For days we hunched in the dust
dismantling plastic mesh, snipping rolls of
chicken-wire. Hens don’t resort to blackmail,
but Cheepie flapped atop the fencing, showed
how agile, how clever-footed a feathering
chicken can be, balancing with half-flag tail.
She perched on my arm and pecked its freckle.
She sang to me, ardent without words. The job
was more than we imagined. The hen-yard
fortified, we have new chicks for her to mother.
If another being sings to us, we pay and pay.
OLD AS THE TRAILS
The road’s broken here—a locked gate.
He used to hike this forest, listening for souls
of ponderosa conversing with incense
cedar over trails that meandered who knows
where. A dry meadow, free-range
beyond old homesteads long overgrown.
Today, he says he’ll hide where only
the dogs can find him. He with his two stout
poles for balance. He used to trek all over
these mountains. Now he’s about blind.
What’s a locked bar-gate to a man
who’s dizzy with past adventures? Just look
at him. Two sticks to anchor him to his
shadow as he disappears into green labyrinth—
as if a soul moving through the trees
by a light that gets inside of things,
finding old trails by the light of memory.
The leash is connected at one end to halter,
at the other to his collar, and somewhere
in between, my two hands separately guiding.
How I long for the day I can walk my dog
off-lead, without stiff leather that
transmits signals I’m not even aware of.
He’s forever on-guard. And yet, born
with the same trusting eyes as all my dogs
before him. Adopted as a baby eight weeks old.
Now a year into training, he should be
my partner. Connected through hand-touch,
eye contact, voice. A dog I can take anywhere,
or leave at home without fear the house
will be torn apart. Just look here, on the carpet
this small electronic device disconnected
from its now-chewed-apart parts—remote-
control less intricate than a living
being. A dog. He looks at me, bewildered.
—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove, CA
I’m on my knees in the 3am
Midwest summer mud,
Collecting dew worms
For a fishing trip
Don’t want to go on.
I hold up
A muddy hand full.
“Put them back,”
My father says,
“How can I tell?”
I’ve never done
“You could ask them,
Or you could
Just look,” he says.
—Claire J. Baker, Pinole, CA
Here in Sierra foothills
we break camp at dawn,
drive into mountains.
A hilltop oak snags
a sinking tennis-ball moon.
The road veers
into a round horizon fire.
Four stubborn last stars
point to a coffee shop.
We enter to browns, golds,
pungent beans, exotic spices.
An espresso machine grinds
fragrantly. Steamed milk
greets with a friendly hiss.
We sprinkle cinnamon
and vanilla over lattes.
ready for adventure,
we lick off milky mustaches,
chug on to a Camelot
—Claire J. Baker
For years on summer nights
rangers at Glacier Point
burned huge mounds of
red-fir bark, shoveled embers
over the brink—a 3,000 foot
fall into the Valley—
sparks like fire birds gone wild.
In the 60s we climbed the Mist Trail:
slippery stone steps,
Vernal and Nevada Falls arched
rainbows—spray blowing like
white manes of galloping horses.
Back in our campground, relaxed
after barbecue dinner and coffee,
we gazed high above sugar pines
to Glacier Peak; anticipation
melded hundreds of campers,
then a distant chant: "Let the fire fall,"
a communal "OH" as the spectacle began.
Tonight, aged past steep climbs,
we Yosemite Valley campers gaze
toward that granite wall scarred
from years of fiery falls.
Embers are no longer pushed
over Glacier Peak.
Yet we still see fire falling.
Our thanks to our Monday morning chefs in the Kitchen for starting our week out with this hearty breakfast! Tonight’s reading at Sac. Poetry Center features readers from Red Indian Road West: Native American Poetry from California from Scarlet Tanager Books, 7:30pm; Wednesday will be Poetry off-the-Shelves, a poetry read-around in Placerville, 5-7pm; Thursday will be Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Café in Sacramento. Then SPC’s Second Sat. Art Reception will feature Photographer Michael Kelly-DeWitt on Saturday, beginning at 5pm; and Nello Olivo Winery in Placerville will host an open mic at 2pm. 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 events may be added at the last minute.
—Claire J. Baker
(after Kit Kennedy)
are a basket
endings may turn
the basket's weave.
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