OUTSIDE THE BOOK
—Taylor Graham, Placerville, CA
You wanted me to look
outside the book for a Willow
Flycatcher. You sent me out with tape-
recorder and camera in search
of a bird seldom seen here anymore,
so high, 8000 ft, a mountain meadow.
You told me to capture its image
and song. I drove past the lake—
scent of campers’ woodsmoke in thin
air—up the jeep road to trailhead.
A Raven flapped ponderous
black wings from the top of a pine
and called down Thunder!
Off we went, my dog and I, in search
of Flycatcher. Paintbrush in all
its shades of bloom, a swirl of red
into rainbow. The silver taste
of snowmelt in July. Creekside
thicket was green, quick with wings
and birdsong but alas, no Willow
Flycatcher. Clouds rigged for storm.
My dog caught scent and sound
of a thousand miles of winds to buoy
her. I kept a waft of woodsmoke,
zing of silver snowmelt,
and the echo of Raven’s thunder.
TO TRAP THE HORIZON
Ice cracks the boulders,
river runs between banks
rabbits in winter—
an old man drives blind
snowflakes furring the windshield
under starless sky
one-lane twists up ridge
down canyon till its ending
at the river’s edge
no matter how cold
he wades with pan and shovel
for the chance to hold
what time and river carry
off—the gold of illusion.
A small black cat watches sprinkles
flutter against window glass—fantasies
of bird flight. She dreams winged
vistas beyond the neighbor’s high rock
wall, and beyond that, a solitary
monk sprinkling love on monastery
rhubarb, cabbage, and the grace
of squash. Perhaps a small corner
set aside for catnip. Has he a cat?
The black cat fancies a bounce
in the step of those at garden labor,
when they possess a cat to pounce on
garden pests. Birds will come back home
to nest. Black cat curls into sleep—
a perfect circle, purring.
Didn’t you always want to see
our grounding earth from way up high?
But for a fear of heights, you’d be
a bird and soar clear up the sky.
How ridges, canyons, mountains lie
like building blocks, so many parts
to some great whole. You’d wonder why
those borders; watch the unseen charts
of ocean currents, follow darts
of rivers splitting rock. Why not
discover questions in the arts?
You ground your hands in fibers—dots
of wheat, silk, lichen, shimmers, blots
of ink, a weave of shadow, sun
as it moves, highlighting some spots,
leaving others secret. That one—
from what eons of bedrock spun?
You see it in your mind, the earth
laid out—and now you’ve just begun
to dive, to almost touch its birth.
—Tom Goff, Carmichael
How many years I’ve known your bravery,
in my mind handled like crystal facets, clear
as your uncomplicated smile and free,
your intricate folds of mind more strange the more near,
still fresh and wild.
How I remember you running everywhere,
traces of you a bridal train behind
for others to trip upon, not you; I swear
a Browning poem describes how hard to find
the sought-after child,
once tutored by trauma, neglect and dire distress
to melt into weeping sorrow, weeping rage,
now a magnificent woman whose finesse
reveals the pupa opening on the mage
whose voice reconciled
me to this life, cleansed of anger and regret.
I look on spirit and matter differently,
see wholeness caught in one tight-meshed stout net,
existence, massive and dark, transcendently
sifted, turns light.
Just now, I almost ran down with my car
an innocent solo quail, topknot in place,
yet, fearing the engine block and all that jar
and jolt of wheel that loomed fit to erase
him—bird so slight—
not flying, he kept his own slow-sidling gait
until the car braked and the road was crossed.
Oh you, my bird, came sent like him by fate,
strong far beyond size or speed, and nothing lost
in the suffering years
but the vapor from tears.
Strengthen me, feminine truth, as years grow less.
Draw me close to my last weird wilderness.
Once, high in the Sierras, at Smith Lake,
a bee lay struggling in the shallows, deep
to insects. A dragonfly hummed near to keep
a lookout for it: buzzed as if to make
us free that waterlogged bee. Now dragonflies
pair in their aerial mating, double-winged.
They hold their droning course pressed one against one,
they will not stop their flight in broadest sun
till they have that for which they clung close-hinged.
My totem insects might be telling me
they flit in a living-sensual poetry,
foreplay and climax mingled with gallantries
of courtship, all this so done upon the wing
as makes airiness in all poems mean everything.
[Tippi] Hedren’s performance is one of the greatest in the history of cinema, and it’s inseparable from the pathology of Hitchcock’s approach to her, personal and cinematic.
She steals from safes, she loves the horse she breaks.
Her skin emanates porcelain glimmers.
Subdued in soft skin, the violence that takes.
Her director, practiced actress-handler, drapes
her in visions of cinema-shimmers.
She steals from safes, she loves the horse she breaks.
A Philadelphia Scotsman’s blackmail makes
her stiffly feign sexual simmers.
Subdued in that skin, the violence that takes
the she-burglar: marital predator-savior stakes
his claim on this sinner, as tamer.
She steals from safes, she loves the horse she breaks,
harassed near broken by that auteur who shapes
her the radiant almost-beginner.
In unsubdued skin, the violence that takes
her half-pliant light-creation places, shakes
with cravings he can’t infuse in her.
He craves the stealer from safes; her loved horse breaks.
Sublimated in film, the violence, take after take.
The holy calm of mountainfast and lake
becomes a devil’s interval for Bax.
Beloved but trying Tania, he must take
from clinic to clinic, questing after pax,
respite for her from mental states that rake,
her undermining her with doubt she lacks
her erstwhile pianist strength; a cough to shake
and scrape at her lungs’ insides: ah, it racks.
Who hasn’t, like you, Bax, had to press through strange
and bitter spans to partner a partner safe?
That interval, pure fifth atop flat fifth,
undergirds with devilment fit to derange
your brilliant Symphony Two. The Alpine rock
before you inspires most. To you, it stands for shock.
TWO EARTHQUAKE POEMS
Precious, the stone clock tower, lovely each house
the long-ago clothed in stone of the mountain air,
all atoms crisp in their granite-hearted lair
that yet cannot hold as the dance of quake flings spouse
upon spouse, girl upon girl, and boy beside boy
rained under by shuddering stones, “mortar turned sand,”
once brickwork sublets into separate lumps, the spanned
beams, life-nesting girders lethal, released from employ.
Praise be to Italy’s first response against shock,
praise to the world of helpers who come and tug
a sweet survived ten-year-old girl from encrypting rock.
Yet let us revise the old bandage-and-burial play.
Encoding fresh templates of structure, shouldering snug
new palazzos and houses, let Renaissance relive its day.
* * *
Days of 1985
México, morning quake: Aztec lakebed,
eager to swallow city? In Tasqueña,
crockery, stomachs upended, scraps of hints
at dead downtown. Señora Irma murmured:
“A pity we should sit here, arms folded.”
Young Juan Miguel burst in, back from civic
center: “I saw one building sledgehammer
another, there was this just-like-the-movies
sidewalk crack crawling after me!” That
night, our cables broke, blue sparks
aiming street-sweeper for our heads
and the brave masks covering them.
(first pub. in Sacramento News & Review)
Many thanks to today’s Master Chefs for such a tasty Friday morning feast! Taylor Graham took the week's challenges on both fronts: her "Skydive" is a Seed of the Week: Skydiving Without a Parachute, and a "carbon" poem as well (see last Tuesday's post); Tom Goff takes on earthquakes, both recent and past (and Taylor and Hatch Graham had search-and-rescue dogs in Mexico City at that time); Stacey Morgan sends us a camera full of light with her striking flower photos, and Katy Brown sends us photos of beloved family members Venus and Lucas. Note that Katy Brown also has a new photo album on Medusa’s Facebook page, this one of the Thursday Night Workshop Readers in South Sac last Saturday. Check it out!
A reminder also to check out the latest Poetry Now issue at poetrynowblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/events-calendar-2 for calendar events, poetry, interviews and news, including info about Poets on Board, the local program that puts the poetry of local youth poets and other artists on Sacramento buses.
Save the date! The 9th Annual Jack Kerouac Poetry Contest and Jazz and Beat Festival will take place in Davis at the John Natsoulas Gallery Oct. 7-8. Deadline for contest entries is Sept. 26. Go to natsoulas.com/jazz-beat-fest-2016 for all the info.
And tonight Sarah Chavez will read at Studio J in Midtown Sac. Contact Kate Asche on her Facebook page for directions and details on the potluck. 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.
CURIOUS THE CAT
Don’t worry about repercussions.
A cat can float, eyes closed, on thin air
and settle safely on all fours.
A charm invests the cat, his face
of Cheshire. He drifts
over brambles, above volcanoes
and he’s neither scratched
nor scorched. Don’t ask
about parachutes. The cat inhabits
all of his lives
looking down on the world
and lands when, where, and if
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