—Charles Mariano, Sacramento, CA
there’s white hair
all over my arms!
and my face,
way too young
at a time
makes perfect sense,
i feel totally,
not sure why
(or maybe i do),
but everywhere i walked
smelled like pee
—Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA
Longfellow’s beard grew as new brush does, from fire.
Formed of gray flame, the beard spread upon Fanny’s loss.
She wanted her daughters’ souvenir locks of hair
secure in stout envelopes, their flaps embossed
with hot wax. That wax, or candle-flame, caught her dress.
Dress blazed up. Fleeing the demon-spiral vesture
treeing upward, crown fire topping her hair and face,
she tries doors, hallways—how can she divest her
of agony? Speeding to snuff her searing pain,
Henry beats hard with a rug: the flames catch him.
The price of parental sentimental gestures.
We forget, condescending to skim his ancient hymns,
sweet airs, quaint ornaments, poems of woodlands, pastures,
what lesions, underscars, shine most where they turn tough.
Thus Henry takes note of a permafrost cross writ rough:
Hurt’s the braid; subsurface knots, in Longfellow’s brain.
(See “The Cross of Snow” at
PROKOFIEV SEAMOUNT, 1941
Submerged stone submarines, Prokofiev
and fellow classical composers stud
Pacific seafloor. Long before they can rev
propellers, planes belly in carriers breasting scud
above these salt-drenched peaks. There’s irony.
While Pearl-Harbor-bound, each hostile squadron
reenacts naval quadrilles most musically
danced days ago over this grisaille-hued cauldron
that seethes dark storm, white foam—fit dissonance.
By Kimmel’s warships Prokofiev last was crossed,
half battle rehearsal, half reconnaissance.
Fair warning denied them, how many men soon lost,
ships docked, war-hatches unbuttoned, at low alert.
The attack fleet, via the Mendelssohn Seamount,
perchance via Seamount Chopin, must hit, then spurt,
as soap bars slip grasp, up the dim northern route
whereby they arrived in stealth, the Vacant Sea
—swept clean of all commerce—obligingly left free
for Kido Butai to glissando off secretly.
Did they roll over Chopin? Scarlatti? I insist
their brumal arpeggios rippled past Seamount Liszt.
(See Day of Deceit by Robert B. Stinnett at
HOMESICK FOR THE PUPPET STAGE
—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove, CA
The puppet is the perfect actor.
—Edward Gordon Craig
Hospital where I worked
As an orderly was
Laying off. Folks
From day to day.
I knew this; I can tell,
Like Keats, with
His stained handkerchiefs
Just how long
I have to go.
Was considering the end,
When a nursing supervisor
Asked if I might
Be interested in doing
A puppet show for kids.
There was overtime,
Maybe a little more time;
There were cookies,
And there was
I confess: I’ve been
Hung up on puppetry
Since I first saw
Howdy Doody. And
Admit it, so have you.
She gave me a script,
Told me when to show
Up in the hospital’s
Room for “Peter Patient’s
Party.” I did.
Puppets were horrid:
Ping pong balls, in long
Hospital gowns done
By a well-meaning
On a bad day.
Script was worse: basically
Yes it’s gonna hurt,
But you’ll probably
Get better. Voiced by
Dr. Good and Nurse Kindly.
Nobody I’ve ever met
Nor have you. Or want to.
The lemonade and
Chocolate chip cookies
After, ideally, an anodyne
To the performance’s
Message, never worked.
I’ve had poetry audiences
Look at me with less terror,
And I felt bad (then, with
Kids, with consenting adults,
Less so now). But I have
A natural tendency
And I think, often, Dr. Good’s
Worked a kindness, and
A calming. Though
It once panicked my
Usually the relentlessly
Cheerful director of volunteer
Services: we were short—
Puppet stages, mostly,
Are, built on the cheap.
Departure from script
Got further and further
And kinder, and kinder,
I like to think, till
Finally, eyes rolling,
My partner managed
To kick over the stage
(A puppeteer’s nightmare)
Leaving us with nothing
But smiles, and our hands
Filled with puppets.
The audience, children
And parents, all cheered
(when’s the last time
You saw a standing
Ovation for a
After, the nursing director
Came up, “Empty your
Hands, Kevin. You’re
Through.” But I saw
Her smile as she took
The puppets and gave
Me a chocolate
Chip cookie in trade.
Some days, your sole treasure
is solitude dissolving in the river’s mood—
pebbles released from bedrock ages old,
granite, sand, maybe nuggets
of gold. The mountain’s memory
longer than that of ferns or trees.
Longer than your dreams. A library
of learning: rocks and gravel, maybe gold.
Rain and the storms it rages
down canyons, tempest remaking
the river, its banks and bars. A swirl
of sand in water. Let it settle:
earth’s yin and yang. The river’s
caught for a moment, dancing patterns
in your pan. Reflection, sun
on water, flash of sky or is it golden
flecks of flame
spilling from your questing hand.
She never expected him to come back
in such a strange language.
Celtic with the lilt of rain pinging
an empty bucket of the heart. A pulse
of rhymes in the wrong places
of a line, surprising
so they made the air dance
after the song of wing on transparent
wing has been gone so long.
A length of time like centuries
that carries no conversations
with the dead. The crickets are back.
She walks outside to hear
their song somewhere
between strings and bells. Stridulent,
begging her to answer him.
Dead my old fine hopes
And dry my dreaming but still...
Iris, blue each spring.
(Tuesday) will inaugurate a new Poetry Off-the-Shelves
read-around at the El Dorado Hills Library, 5-7pm.
Thursday brings Chris Erickson to Poetry in Davis as
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