Crazy with poetry and weed-eating—
all that new spring growth head-high by now—
I put down the Echo, the pencil, the mouse,
and drove to Clarksville. Once a bustling place.
On just one day a year, they open the gate
to the old ghost town. This was the day. I hadn’t
expected such a crowd of the living, come
to see ruins of the old Wells Fargo station;
black Percherons hitched to a wagon;
Pony Express riders; classic car parade;
Mormon Battalion with its replica Howitzer
and “fire in the hole!” One-room schoolhouse
now the center-piece of a barn. Walls
that have stood so many tomorrows. Old
cemetery with too many infant headstones.
Purple thistle blooms beside a home long vacant.
No whisper of a ghost; but one might yet
come to visit, passing on-wish through a gate
kept locked except for yesterday.
INSIDE A CURLY-CUE FENCE
Calla lilies bloom as if forever by a house
where no one’s lived for decades. This side yard
must have been some woman’s sanctuary
with no statue of a saint, but soil that grows
many prayers. I imagine she might have
put out a dish of water in summer for birds
and lizards to drink, and the sun to
admire its reflection as it passed, turning field-
grasses brown and flammable by June.
When she flung her wash-water onto a bit
of garden-green, did she dare denounce the heat,
the wind, a siphon-cloud changing some
invisible balance of mountain and valley;
the chance of just one wayward spark? Did she
check the sky for smoke above the ridges?
The whole landscape’s broken—uplift
and fractured stone. Land of broken axles, quick
fixes to get your rig back on the trail.
You come once a summer to make yourself
whole under sky. Ancient juniper reaching tree-
arms in blessing on a rock ridge—
a human heart-stop on the torturous way.
You’d rest under the shade of its uplift arms.
This year, you stop in the suddenly
shadeless spot; speechless. The blessing’s gone,
fallen under too many winters’ snows,
when no one was there to witness, to hear it fall.
And nothing in your toolkit could ever fix it.
DEEP IN THE CLEARCUT FOREST
He became a tree. Climbed into a hollow stump
and pulled old slabs of bark over the top. Made
himself comfortable. He heard the west wind
blow across his roof, sweeping the clearcut.
He could hear ants following their leader up and
down the weathered trunk that had been cedar.
A bird sang in its own language which he tried
to understand, and almost did. Gooseberries
ripened their thorny crimson lanterns lit
with sun. Did he miss his home? his mother
calling from an open door? Someday maybe
tomorrow or today, he’d wander back that way.
She doesn’t walk into a wasteland with
rake and shovel, meaning to create a paradise
with sweat and tears. She prefers to do
the groundwork in her head. Figuratively, she
squints at a square of cloth, needle in one
hand, basket of fibers in all possible colors or
as many as she can afford, and where had
been blank white fabric she creates a garden.
Forget Penelope at the loom, undoing
every night what she’d done that day, although
work often seems like that. Science teaches
that nothing is forever, and vegetable gardens
get ripped out at the end of a season,
used-up plants fed to the stock, plowed back
under or turned to compost for microbes
to go to work. No, her garden is kids’ minds
and the fancies of folk who hear a song
in their head and want it freed. A garden mixes
metaphor as an artist mixes pigments
on her palette. Mint wild-green in summer,
sending roots every-which-way growing
so strong you’ll never eradicate it.
How could she believe the dream?—knowing
fairytales, legends and myths with barbed truths
in guise of fable slipping to melodrama.
He stole the key to the kingdom, citadel of
a heart kept safe—or was it captive?—in stone.
He slammed shut the door, caretaker’s cabin
whose dark no sun would strike. The key locked
inside. Are re-enactments real? She woke
to tomorrow; found one path led to the next.
Logging spurs disappeared in thicket at the edge
of dropoff. She kept on going, down, skirting
cliffs, drawn by the call of wild river.
Not a moat—even if the kingdom stood on the
other side, across water running fast and cold,
snowmelt from mountains of cloud. River
that might become a meditation between where
she left and that quiet kingdom high on a sun-
slope. For him, a moat. He’d never find her.
—Carol Frith, Sacramento, CA
A snake? I've forgotten how to write
a serpent. Quetzal, with your feathered scales
and brother to the moon? A god, not quite
a snake. And I've forgotten how to write
about the moon, who slept with you, her light
a memory that all light somehow fails.
Bright snake, I've forgotten how to write
about you...Quetzal with your feathered scales.
* * *
—Taylor Graham, Somerset, CA
The vixen knows her way about this land
for ages. Engineered, a new bridge cuts
her roaming-ground in half, her river spanned.
The vixen knows her way about this land
but has to find new paths, and understand
geometry. A sturdy arch abuts
what vixen knows: her way about this land.
For ages engineered, the new bridge cuts.
May 29, 2005, was the first-ever posting in Medusa’s Kitchen, so we have an anniversary coming up. At the time, I was putting together Fangs 1, which was an anthology of poems about snakes. (Yes, snakes—celebrating Rattlesnake Press.) I was wheedling snake poems out of people, including Carol Frith, who sent me the above “Quetzal”, and I posted it on the third day of the Kitchen (May 31). Taylor Graham then wrote the above “Adaptation” in response to Carol’s poem, and I posted it on June 3, making her also one of the first poets to join us at the Kitchen table. She’s been a loyal contributor ever since, sending poems and photos, particularly about nature and about our heritage in Placerville (she is El Dorado County's first Poet Laureate), and often writing in response to our Seed of the Week and to other poems posted on Medusa (particularly D.R. Wagner's Saturday posts).
By the way, some of the other ‘way-early poets posted were Don Feliz, Bill Gainer, and Anatole Lubovich (his Colonoscopy poem!), Mary Zeppa, James Lee Jobe, and Patricia Nichol. To find older posts, all the way back to the beginning, scroll down in the blue column at the right to Medusa’s Rap-Sheet (the archives), then click on the caret for the year you want, and then the month. Warning: some of the older posts don’t look very good, because formats and computers have changed over the eleven years. As has my brain......
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