—Caschwa, Sacramento, CA
A songbird came
And swiped one berry
Leaving a cheerful
She will return and
Gather several more
As many as
She can find
Each time a new chirp
Not yet a song
Not yet a full meal
Later in Spring
I will notate the chirps
Because then it is
My turn to steal
WHERE’S THE BIRDSONG?
Here she is, full front, digital.
I know that disapproving stare, the why are you
still here? tilt of pointy eyes. Pursed-tight
bill of House Wren, toes gripping an oak limb;
tail hoisted like a stubby battle flag.
She’s so present/intense
we’re practically nose-to-bill. If she weren’t
a photo on my screen, I’d say I got
too close to her nest, ramshackle of twigs
with bits of moss, dirt, cow- or dog-hair;
a jackstraw labyrinth no predator
could navigate to find her motley eggs.
All that’s missing from the photo
is her song. Loud and bubbling, according
to my bird-book. I say, simmer at a boil:
Get out of here, you can’t come in.
Some bird was calling
like a dial tone. Spring on the meadow,
anything can happen, monkey-
flowers like so many yellow clowns,
dirt-track mud squiggled
with tread of rubber, beetle, worm;
a vernal pool brooding secrets of undiscovered
unnamed life. I was perplexed
which way to go. My dog harked—
sniffed mud sky vetch overflowing the path
and took off toward the lake.
There she stood gazing deep water.
One—no, two wild swans—black swans
so far from shore, so far from where
I thought they belonged. So close their mystery.
Something called across waves
of sky. The phone answering. They lifted
and were gone.
Behind plate-glass on Main Street,
gold pans on display, a portable sluice box,
mining-claim signs in warning-yellow,
a classifier with its bottom mesh;
guide-books of rocks and minerals—
all the ways of capturing stone and naming
it. From somewhere above, behind me
pours birdsong I can’t identify,
but the lyric is pure spring.
WELL OF THE WORLD’S END
take-off on a Scottish fairytale
Here are frogs, the woods loud with song.
Frogs ecstatic with water.
I came to see the storm damage.
great chunks of soil ripped out, creek cutting
new routes, freeing rock to sweep down current.
How can I ever fix it?
Prince of the land in disguise,
a tiny masked frog hops to boulder beside me.
Fix the leaks with moss, he says, and clay.
I don’t believe him.
The next rain washes moss and earth away.
This is the well of the world’s end,
he says. You saved me in drought, when
the world-as-we-know-it fried.
I cloaked myself in your cool wet mop,
swam in your bucket when ponds went dry.
Look to the land, he says,
to save us—its plain old moss and clay.
To hold the water in your hands
takes faith. You supply the mop and shovel.
You’ll be rich as the land is ours, he says,
rich as the land that owns us.
He’s come again, vivid as emerald Oz.
Every spring he gorges on rain, stomps muddy
bootprints everywhere, kicks divots
so the swale bursts out weeping springs of water
that cut new paths down to the creek running
muddy as an essay gone wild for lack of
punctuation. The turf that roots it all together
is berserk with growing wings. Vetch
climbs beanstalks of grass, headed for the
clouds. Whack! you say in Weed-eater—
magician’s wand if you can wield it all season-
long; if your arms are strong enough to break
the spell. Your magic of swift gestures, gas-
powered, akin to scything but with fumes.
Weeds are tougher than hearts. When green dies
each summer, you don’t put it in the waste
bin; no, you feed it back to the land,
fodder for a monster that comes back every
year as sure as taxes. Take a break
for birdsong. Sit down on a bit of unmowed
grass. Look out across the tiding swale
and say the magic word: Wonderful.
—Ritchard Hansen, Sacramento, CA
Conditioning or Not Being Brave or
Convenience or Depravity
It's a curiosity.
What people think they think
the final say
which is True is
What they do
those around them
are involved with them
many times or all the time do?
Not see what they saw
but they saw it.
it works sometimes for a long time
The Greatest Love of All
doesn't last very long
Requires youth and naivety
a personal history full of
the severe contrast between
that Blast of Joy
and every other day
I don't know
Except for me so far
There is no closure
for the walking brokenhearted
But I remain
to new information
—Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA
Your face of pure white honey—no, full sun—
appeared one infinitesimal moment here
to freshen, cleanse, all my life from its long dun,
blear, dour monotone rain to one sweet blue clear.
Just when you had seemed vanished, disappeared
like someone stretched to invisible, far gone:
whittled, via dark gravity, point and spear
to whiskaway teleport where black holes yawn?
Back from wherever you went, you came to me,
lent me absolute help. Your smiling shone
white white white truthful hot high beam head-on.
Oh come hold me again, my Recovery,
Restoration, Reformation, Renaissance.
Orb of my seeing, your dawning, blaze held askance…
TO SAINT JAMES!
(Santiago de Compostela)
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages…
Good palmer, ply your staff where women before you
have struck across vast steppes of cobblestone,
raw rock, or shale or clay to mar and score you,
bruising your feet while making your legs, thighs moan
for pity, in return for the primal uplift.
Bless you as you venture carnal stings and stresses:
this road is meant to spiritualize your gift
of sweetness, torture-test love till it blesses
you back with almost vengefully tender thought.
Struggle to Compostela, that nestled-by-coast
lodestar that allures faith as Earth’s magnet core
binds us all together. Now blend your heart and ghost
deep into your pain; brand James’ grave into your lore.
Come brimming unearthly plainsong as pilgrims ought…
GRAND PIANOLA MUSIC
She battled me over ivory and black keys
till fear to leap unlooking with left hand
won daily her upbraiding at the non-grand;
what could I do, what could I not do, to please
this teacher who with her students would gambol at ease…
if I could have played the simplest allemande,
the crosshand maneuvers a snarl of typewriter keys,
or by any mode managed that whole broadband,
the dense bass bottom to highest-frequency squeal,
if only with mountain-goat deftness I’d footed the pedal…
Scared out of and into mistakes by her ever-sharp spur:
Let go of it. Was all benefit hurt by the evil?
She taught me my notes, she stiffened my mettle.
That sting from her lips, administered firstly to her.
The mind’s eye recoils, as over the iron-framed wonder
the daughter at grapple with mother—wrist-slap, bone thunder.
Young vines grow long around the obliging pillar,
given the least excuse from virgin sun,
soft water. Crisply the apples ripen, won
over by harmonious autumn, chiller
& preserver of tart skins, the piquant flesh.
Twine, bramble, wriggling electric-wire tangle,
so does the fern-strewn undergrowth enmesh:
insurgent green—light, dark—crams every angle
with upsprung plenty. So I rise, I surge
with that same verdant uproar in my veins,
longing to sprawl across the bedspring plains
as you, my sweet sun-nourished one, come flood
with simplest touches from your hands my blood.
You burst from shadow night, my demon, my urge.
Spread over my form intolerable warmth,
singe me with joys ecstatic, just shy of harm…
Head angled back
The moon records
My dental history
Coming and going
Harder to reach
The back side
One giant step
Many, many thanks to today’s tasty cooks in the Kitchen! Lots of poetry choices in our area this week, starting tonight at Sacramento Poetry Center with Carlos Reyes, Arturo Mantecón and Arturo Balderrama, 7:30pm. And the Calif. Poetry Out Loud State Finals continue today in the Senate Chamber of the Capitol. Tomorrow night brings another Sac. Poetry Center reading, with Archana Venkatesan and Sikkil Gurucharan, 7:30pm.
Thursday at noon is Poetry at the Central Library; then at 8pm, Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Cafe presents Angela James and Adrial Doligon. Also Thursday at 8pm, Erin Rodoni of Sixteen Rivers Press will read in Davis at John Natsoulas Gallery. By the way, the publishing cooperative, Sixteen Rivers Press, is now accepting submissions for their new anthology; see www.sixteenrivers.org/call-for-submissions-our-new-anthology/. Deadline is April 15.
Friday night, The Other Voice, also in Davis (at the Unitarian Universalist Church), presents Katy Brown and JoAnn Anglin, 7:30pm. On Saturday, Sacramento Voices at Sac. Poetry Center, 4:30pm, features Sue Daly and Laura Rosenthal.Then on Sunday afternoon at 1pm, travel up to Placerville for Poetry at the Mine with Patrick Grizzell and D.R. Wagner. 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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