Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Fool's Calculus

Devon Balwit
—Poems by Devon Balwit, Portland, OR


I’m socked in but can’t help straining for something beyond
fog. There’s no horizon, no cliff, no beach house windows

winking sky. I orient by the throb of surf alone, gulls winging
in and out like thoughts. I come to the coast to leave myself

behind, but not today. The fearsome blankness traps me as I did
the Steller’s Jay that flew into the house, white bowl, white lid

slid in place. I batter against restraint but get nowhere. I want
a horizon line farther than I can go, space for the surprise intrusion.

This is too much like the shroud with no voice calling
“Lazarus, come out!” —exactly the kind of death I fear.



Tell me how to parent in an age of assault
rifles, when places of jubilation can turn
deadly, when a sound might be a firecracker

or a shot, how to let my children risk each day.
This is the new normal, my daughter chides,
bullet casings, beheadings, the surprise

dirty bomb. There is no slamming the barn door—
the horses, muzzles frothing, have thundered off.
Is it thunder or explosives? Reassure me.

We have to venture out as if we will return,
love in our usual stumbling fashion. Anything
less admits defeat, and I will not admit it.

 Evening Sunflower
—Katy Brown, Davis, CA


The wind gusts maple samaras across the road
in a spinning cloud. If it were locust country,

I would run. As it is, I watch fecundity mound
on concrete, good seed on sterile ground. I want

a push broom to give each a fighting chance,
just as I want to lift each of the 500 kids

in Freehold, New Jersey, studying in an open
warehouse to a quiet prep-school nestled

along greenway. Each small thing deserves
its full unfolding. Which would you leave

behind, like awful Noah with his stingy pairs,
letting rising waters drown the rest. For me,

the futile rubbing of a washcloth to release
a possum foundling’s bladder, or repeated

forays to rescue earthworms after rain. So many
lost causes, and yet the heart insists on more

dumb compassion, a fool’s calculus
tallied only in having tried.



Somewhere beyond the last fence,
    quiet resides,

settled along the seam of a
    mown field

after the birds have fallen still,
    worry untethered.

It rests in the space between

adding nothing to nothing,
    not busy,

not purposeful, watching
    cloud skeins,

the warp and weft of breezes.
    And even though

noise will come—the tractor’s

the farmhands shouting the day’s

it doesn’t fret, just gently holds
    its patch.

 Evening Sunflower II
—Photo by Katy Brown


The empty glass commanded the center
of the tablecloth like the focal point

of a renaissance masterwork, all sight lines
converging on its reflective bell, its deep

absence, asking me to make it mean
something.  I considered it from all

angles, fondled its stem, hefted the
unfamiliar weight of it, and set it down. 

I needed a docent to explain the symbolism
of abnegation.  She would have stood

beside me with her well-modulated
voice, gracefully pointing there, and there. 

I would have nodded and left wiser instead
of sad, the moment a brush of crumbs.



Don’t say “I’ve been sober for over a month now,”
my daughter warns, or people will think you’re
a recovering alcoholic. Heaven forbid. St. Sebastian

with one more arrow. “What should I say?” I ask.
“Dry? Not drinking? Off the sauce?” My only
concern is starting again someday, which, no doubt,

I will. Then, believing me off the wagon, people’s
eyes will skitter away, as at couples fighting in public,
failures in self-control best left at home behind pulled

curtains. I could call it, trendily, a thirty-day-cleanse
that went to fifty and beyond, or give it a new name,
Super Scrub, Vice Killer, like a Viking sword. 

I appreciate her concern even as I don’t our judgment.
We love when Leonard Cohen sings cracked is how
the light gets in, but sure as hell don’t believe it.    

 Sunflower, Ready to Burst
—Photo by Katy Brown


The photocopier consumes each form with a digestive
rumble. Zero being the worst and ten the best. Please

comment in the space below. Judgments flash—
more like her! (the her, not me, nor the beautiful!

nor the funny!) I sort mine, setting all the negative ones
on top like a cork in a bottle, insisting I don’t need

what’s beneath, that other doors open to love. I pass so kind
in the hall, nod to handsome, check out professional. 

Tomorrow, I will take roll and pretend I didn’t recognize
their handwriting. I don’t care what they think. I fill

my empty glass with recriminations and drain it dry. 
Three months from now, anything could happen.


Today’s LittleNip:

walking on water
        (for the artist Christo)

yes, let’s walk
on water,

toes sinking

into wavecrest.
let’s stand

above murk,
the drowned,

be light

bobbing figures
the shorebound

can just barely
make out.

let’s clasp hands
in the dappling.

we will arrive

if changed.


Our thanks to Katy Brown for her sunflower photos, and our welcome to Devon Balwit today, who is an ESL teacher in Portland. About herself, she writes: “When not writing or serving my yellow lab according to his whim, I tap dance to get students to love English as much as I do. (Thus the drinking.) My work has found its way into 5 chapbooks and many journals, but some of my favorites for the supportiveness of their editors are:
The Ekphrastic Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Poets Reading the News, Five 2 One, and Mockingheart Review.” Welcome to our Kitchen table on Flag Day, Devon, and don’t be a stranger!


 Devon Balwit
Celebrate poetry! And don’t forget 
Poetry Off-the-Shelves in Placerville tonight, 
5-7pm. Scroll down to the blue column 
(under the green column at the right) 
for info about this and other upcoming 
poetry events 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.