Mormon Emigrant Trail
How many days of moving away from
their own shadows, following the sun west
over mountains, crossing the same river twenty-
seven times with loaded wagons (even
a horse can count such travail). And now,
against the sun, but again into a great Unknown,
it seems a retreat, one shadowed hoof
in front of another, a horse’s life. Climbing
wooded ridgeline forever in the blessed shade
of cedar and pine, until they leave the trees
behind, their own shadows bare on granite,
on snow. Ever closer to the sun, air
so thin it tingles the nostrils, snow taller
than two horses. The master scoops snow
with his guiding hand, picks wildflowers
with the other. The sun casts horse-shadows
before them as it sinks behind mountain.
It grew tumescent under foundations, finding every crevice, sliding between books on the shelves. It lurked under letters waiting to be stenciled on the side of observation cars, and made remarkable the single pimple that bloomed overnight on a pretty girl’s nose. It danced a freestyle shiver under the ladder of an old lady picking peaches. It would not be underrated. It was what gave form and definition to whatever sunlight touched.
A BREAK BETWEEN
The Fairgrounds Crows were restless,
spreading their news of Storm:
the tallest Ponderosa on the ridge leaning
over its precipice, waiting for Wind’s other boot
to drop from heaven; a Ghost-pine quavering
in its departed-yet-still-present way.
Then silence. Then one Crow rose
circling into the eye of Storm—there!
a Hawk in trespass like bad weather. Territory
is territory, even if it’s about to blow
or wash away. Crow circling screaming,
and the Hawk was gone.
You stepped outside into a riot of insect
murmurings; frogs in every damp spot. Weeks
of rain. Mud. The buckeye’s exploded
into leaf and suddenly everything has sprung
into song. Wing-strumming and clicking,
pond-booming, peepers in the higher
registers. Tiny green LED lights in the dark—
glowworms? The whole province of life
bursting out unexpected if not
abnormal. Weather’s been a rush down-
heaven down-creek boiling flooding
as if all at once in a hurry back
to join the great sea.
Inside, she was wiping a porcelain
bowl fragile as spring blossom,
when from the driveway
you shouted, “Fire-
AT RATTLESNAKE BAR
the American River at Mormon’s Ravine near Newcastle
—Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA
Death’s a fierce meadowlark.
And life’s an even fiercer meadowlark,
straining on against death’s overbearing.
So soft mergansers ply their mighty kicks
against the spring-thaw’s juggernaut current. Sparing
no one, river. Yet the mighty life.
Frightening, how it breaks out, fern and bush
sprouting their Green go the Rashes, O!
Smooth twigs defaced with infant leaves like hives,
green tender yet edged to scratch or sting a foe,
the beelike martyrs. This near-rosacea bursts
so breathtakingly verdant, bud and bole,
we think each thrilled-alive offshoot will worst
that nemesis, torrent, who downs us one and all.
Barbarian verdure thrusting spiked and raw
from each green mace and cradle—this we saw.
SHEER WHITE LIGHT
O lyric love, half angel and half bird…
This poet, the man-half of that couple blamed
for love in defiance of parental hate,
for flight to Italy, invoked and famed
where love and poetry strive against sure fate,
this man wrote eloquent poem-song upon song,
yet deprecated the rainbow hues that tint
his largest and smallest works as if it were wrong
to aquarelle his paper with soft hints:
he ached to speak out in a great glare of pure light
so made up of all the spectrum it would paint
eternity with its iris-transfiguring white,
so white that Poetry, if not the Lord, would faint.
Well, I too wish to speak in sheer white sounds,
tell you of your honest self and forthright life
whose beauty is genuine and whose truth no bounds,
not even of pain to you, detain the white knife
that never wounds except to help and save
as doctors do. You always guide my aim
to center on human, fundamental, brave
grasp of the realities. All slips, my blame.
But you are not only the realist. You dream,
create, yearn long in manifold colors of paint,
think white or subdued words on the page in schemes
which manifest in signs, however faint,
that you, like Mr. Browning, yearn for all white,
that which comes only midsummer to northern Riga,
tinting, expanding auroral sky with eager
unbroken bands of star-banishing light: White Night.
Are my eyes wrong to discern in the snowy glows
dim shadows, palest orange, diaphanous rose?
AT THAT EDGE
Sometimes each ecstasy life can offer riots,
runs Pamplona-chaotic into streets
darkening, narrowing with disputes, disquiets;
black as eyeliner, running gutters meet
and mingle their bleak streams. But then again
rough alleys give upon sun. This touches shadow;
where absolute light meets absolute dark, then
that spinal porcupining, De Chirico.
We live and work at the edge of that bristling square.
Love is still love that flares or shrinks at that edge.
Let not released words firework their noise
into the subsurface harmony we pledge,
amphibians of ambivalence. What buoys
us, drags us through checkerboard Sargasso fears?
King-Lear-in-the-storm-worthy dissonance, whipcord sounds
in Moeran’s Symphony, agonizing rapture,
agony, brimming over forgotten bounds,
bliss filling floodplains. Ambivalence be our captor.
[Bax’s Sixth Symphony] makes me think of Sir Fred Hoyle’s latest lecture, the Fremantle lecture, about universal intelligence and whether composers who have gone through their romantic states have not reached out for the influence of universal intelligence drifting down through the atmosphere to us.
It is and is not the intelligence of us,
dusting us with pulverized star-debris.
Immediate as your fingers light on my face,
brushing with giddy sensation, oddly free
of the personal, pouring on us dark spaces vast,
this chrism whose sifting began so long before birth
that nothing of its traversal comet-paced
knows us or denies, light striking across light-years.
Yes we are it and it is us. Reflect
how different you and I are at work in art,
how strangely blended yet separate we are,
all near-harmonic-convergent meteor specks
rolled into one body compounded of all heart,
yet widening forever driftwise, far, far.
Diverse and divergent, mingled and dispersed,
we never need lose faith, keeping radiance:
events in a life, specific gravity’s versed
forms binding us fast, unburdening soft as chance,
rose-shaped, rose-colored vibrations expressing the distant dance…
Such silences, such low clouds mist her—
we see her violin to shoulder
in an old photo.
What mischief, sprite behind a boulder,
shrinks her name as if by spell?
This is Arnold Bax’s sister.
Another shirtwaist-and-skirt figure,
more shrouded than Mozart’s Nannerl.
Is she not that one left in Connemara
when Arnold must rush off to capture
the Unattainable One of Ukraine?
Half dissolved in gouts of rain,
or, better said, in sepias,
tones brown under glass and framed in brass,
a gift ex voto
left to an idol unknowing of her.
Who can say if true genius teemed
in her quick woman-mind: demon-themed,
stream of insatiate dreams and dolor?
She seems a girl who loved ignored
or, worse yet, lived admired by fits
among the small bits
of family lore, foil to you, feral
and fiery brother—at your peril
she languishes, flame nullified
in the house of never.
I put it to you in terms of tide.
Can your oceansurge’s throbbing diastole
pulse without that same comber’s receding systole?
Her ebb was forever.
All seawave green destined to fade by prejudice of your times,
yet emerald as a grove of lindens—named, in England, limes…
He thought woman made only for obedience, and man only for rebellion.
—Samuel Johnson, Life of Milton
Loving Eve as Milton seems to have loved,
the poet nevertheless awards the Sin
to our first woman: even the man who’s roved
from truth and limps beside her to begin
the rough long journey holds no special guilt:
in Milton’s patriarchal eye the fault
is that his gentlest rebel who unbuilt
our place in Paradise seems to have taught
Adam the role of Eve’s subordinate.
This dread reversal of the woman’s part
as second fiddle, granting it to the man
who goes along, seems Milton’s take on Fate.
But you and I, in this fallen space that spans
all sin, know we are equal, blended at heart.
Whether you eat my shining apple, or
I try yours, what matter? You are Eve,
I, madam, I’m Adam, sharing with you one core
of sweet strong love through trials that jar and grieve.
Who knows what female government can do,
having for centuries tried rage and war
by masculine paradigm? The proud, the few,
should they not submit? You prove your daily worth
to me…remake this world of sand and tar.
Our home for a pattern, you may yet deliver our Earth.
A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here
A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That science cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.
It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.
Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:
A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.
Our thanks to today’s contributors as spring stirs on this Presidents’ Day, with daffodils popping up and blossoms on the trees. Tonight will be an inaugural reading at Sacramento Poetry Center by Indigo Moor, Sacramento’s new Poet Laureate, along with outgoing PL Jeff Knorr, as well as Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), Gerry Pineda, and open mic. 25th & R Sts., Sac., 7:30pm.
On Friday at the Parkway Theater (5051 47th Av., Sac), Women’s Wisdom Art poets will read from their new anthology, Lift It Tenderly, 7pm. Then on Saturday, the Poetic License poetry read-around in Placerville will take place from 2-4pm at the Placerville Sr. Center, 937 Spring St. The theme is “phone calls”. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about these and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.
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