Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Handful of Buttons

—Painting images today are by TJ Owens
—Poems and Photos by D.R. Wagner, Locke, CA


What, the way the coast comes upon us.
We topped a ridge of wild roses and nasturtiums
And the ocean was there forever, white teeth
Of waves crashing into dark rocks.  The explosive
Music or water against the end of land.

The arrow never reaches the mark.  It is sightless
In its sleep through the air, sliding though centuries
Of dust, a kaleidoscope of once-spangled time left
Blowing through gossamer webs, the light entertaining
Itself over and over again, bouncing light to the bottom
Of the well.  I use the reflections to show you violets

Very nearly the shape of the world.
We put our ears to the great stone walls.
We can hear the ages trapped in the granite.
I chance to look into your eyes.  I can hear
Great distances far behind their amazing depth.



These were soldiers.  We have found
The bones.  What do we know of such things?
Ramon has found a handful of buttons,
Some rotted cloth, a dagger, rusted and silent.

In the tales of battle, there were two black swans.
They once had names.  Let me call your name.
There were portents.  Three cats, tales of Maine
Morgor from the old books, when armies fell
Upon one another and what were tears then?

Nothing, my sweet children.  Do not trouble with war.
What comes into your house will be brave.
Let no bad work come to stain your walls.

I got up this dawn and made some coffee.
The sounds of the killing went through my body.
And now, here on the lip of the morning, bones.
Bones so old they should teach us lessons.
Broken shields, skulls smashed beyond dreaming.

We cannot stay here.  The fires rise up around us.
We tell these children, “Know the faces of your companions.
Know the way they formed words in their mouths.
Take joy in the language that they speak.  Learn
The breathing they bring to your spirit.
We may die for love of all these things
That you may know them without blood."

The sweet smell of pine trees just as dawn
Comes before us.  We arm ourselves and go
Toward what we think is beautiful and proud.
We are the fools of legends, dead
Within all of the stories.  Lost to you.
Bones like these, white and without
Any song at all.  A handful of buttons. 


I was living here before the earthquake
And tsunami.  There is only rubble here
Now.  This is no longer a place.
The dreams have been pounded out
Of the things we knew.  Now the sea
Is flat.  There are no longer rooms
In which we can be safe.

What is amazing is that the sea is flat.
The tsunami wrenched it awry and covered
It as far as one could see with gyres of debris.

These are all the songs of the dead and are sung
At every chance.  The wind says where
To stand to get the best acoustics.

What is amazing is that the songs never stop.
“Dropping from the veils of the morning.”
I find myself walking in a dream.
I am a white deer.  I am supposed to meet someone.
They have gone to sea and have been gone a long time.

I remember seeing the buildings shaking, tumbling.
I recall hearing the tsunami coming toward the shore.
I remember the dead riding on the lips of the tsunami.

What is amazing is that these words are here at all.
The sea is flat.  The songs fill the air.  I stand
With my feet in the water at the edge of the sea.
Beyond all of this, I imagine you reading these words.



“… a static line that danced now
and then like a drunken cemetery.”
                              —Richard Brautigan

The dream was running on tiny silver rails
That looked like railroad tracks
But were much closer together,
As dreams don’t need a very wide track.

Of course it curved away, out of sight
Long before it came to the horizon.
No one would notice it but me anyway
And I’m only telling you this so you
Can get to the part where the clouds
Begin to bring in all their luggage,
Plop it down near the mountain
That is on fire and then go out for more.

They aren’t doing much of anything.
At first they look like smoke
From the fire and the next minute
Like they are going to pour rain
Like nobody’s business.

You probably noticed there aren’t
Any people in here except me.
That is because the dream was about
A beautiful silver bell and I haven’t
Got to that part yet.

The wind picked up and got so
Strong it lifted the tracks off the ground.
I was running as fast as I could
To grab at the tracks and pull
Them back down to the ground
So the dream wouldn’t get interrupted.

Just as I made the top of the curve
I saw it hanging in the air like
A harrier falcon, except it wasn’t
A bird at all or anything like it.
It shone beyond my entire imagination.
Just hanging below all those clouds
And just above the tracks,
The most beautiful silver bell
You have ever seen.


I will not talk to you just because
You are talking to me.
I’ve heard a lot of what
You have said regarding
Crows in general.

None of you people
Have any idea of what
We do everyday.

We often do the final
Job, when the buzzards
Aren’t interested or the
Work is too much
Of a bother for them.

We find you interesting
At best and a real pain
Most of the time.

We do belong to the night.
You’ve noticed our beautiful
Color.  All us black birds
Belong to the night.

We are here to remind you.
When you remember things
You may now know
It is because of us.

Look up to the morning sky.
Look up to the evening sky.
We pass in great numbers.
Beware of what you dream,
Should we visit you there.


The Night has somehow developed
Its own mind and chooses to occupy
What small room I call my own here.

A second-story apartment, small
By many standards, above a former church.
Tonight I am filling it with Rachmaninov’s
Vespers, a choral work that recalls liturgy
With a chorus unaccompanied by instruments.

And now the Night wants a piece of this.
Nothing personal, I am sure.
It loops in through the open windows
This cool and autumn fragile evening
And begins naming the nameless,
The things Night can never know well,
Morning, afternoons, worlds lost in equations
Made by weather and the soft sound crickets
Make in late September, their own kind of vespers.

A glow that has nothing to do with the moon.
Nameless, it finds its way into this room,
Moves through it, in windows, out of windows,
Never bothering to consult the wind about anything.

I will greet it.  I am alone this evening.
Lost in the impermanence of all things.
Contemplating why the Night might want
To behave in this manner, quickening
My blood, causing me to go down the stairs
To the outside and stand inside its body,
Full of stars and broken clouds.

I give myself a prayer.
I will call it sunrise.
I will move to greet it. 

 Rapids near Horseshoe Falls, the Niagara Falls, NY


Near the end of the story
We could see that here was fire
On the mountains.  The air itself
Was a gray-blue shroud tossed
Over our heads, a demon,
A full-rigged ship of clouds and smoke.

We struggled to complete the story
Before it was too late.  I was not brave.
I could see my shadow on the ground.
It too looked like smoke.  I thought of killing
Myself but I could not leave my shadow
Here alone.  The waters began to overtake
Me.  I would not wait for the end of the story.

The whole story is dripping with blood,
A mythology canonized by yesterdays,
Hints of nothingness, whispered over
And over again without end.  Only
The fire persists as the ashes fall
From the sky, as the ocean too
Becomes a gray mask, its own oblivion.

 Terripin Tower near the Niagara Falls, NY, early 1900's

Today’s LittleNip:

Reduce intellectual and emotional noise until you arrive at the silence of yourself and listen to it.

—Richard Brautigan


Many thanks to D.R. Wagner for whipping up a mighty fine breakfast for us this morning! The painting images he sent us are by TJ Owens, an artist who lives in Walnut Grove part of the year and in Sauve, France the rest of the year. The series is called "D.R. Wagner, Stuart Walthall and TJ Owens on Stuart's front porch". For more about TJ and his art, see


D.R. Selfie
—Celebrate poetry, and the fine poets who surround us 
in our community! This afternoon, head up the hill to 
Placerville for Poetry Off Main, featuring Cynthia Linville 
and Chris Olander, plus open mic, at the Fausel House Gallery, 
3-5pm. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green 
column at the right) for info about this and other upcoming 
readings in our area—and note that more may be 
added at the last minute.

Photos in this column can be enlarged by clicking on them once,
then click on the X in the top right corner to come back
to Medusa.