—Photo by Jeanine Stevens, Sacramento, CA
—Poems by Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA
A poet and middling playwright, Robert Browning,
pens letters to Elizabeth Barrett Barrett
—the perfect-rhyming last two names are claret
to beverage any bard in ardor drowning.
Why this odd juxtaposing of two Barretts?
Did some first cousin kiss a cousin frowning
to trembling smiles that pierced tearfalls to spare at
least one heart’s ravining at life’s dawning?
That “I love you” (Robert’s first impulsive missive)
dislodges not one silver-hinged barrette
Miss Barrett must employ to pin dark ringlets
while flutters flit inside her, tiny kinglets.
Mid-sofa. Small dog’s back props paper. Scarlet
face. Brown eyes, for once, lit sparks, transgressive.
[Soon, what will Papá say? Dreading the dark floods
to come? Two singers mingle Jamaican bloods?]
(For this theory of Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett’s implacable opposition to marriage for Elizabeth, or indeed any of his adult offspring, see Dared & Done, by Julia Markus.)
AND THE DEATH-HOUR ROUNDING IT
All the while you both suffer, Calais to Paris to Pisa
to Florence: you & EBB; the carriage-bounces
bone-jolt shuddering through her hips, back, knees, a
packet, less than eight ounces
tucked away in her luggage, you won’t know
for years yet. Wary, then ripening, love-sonnets.
Tucked away too, a knowledge you both forego,
packed deep within bonnets.
What rounds the day that brightens, light and space,
what hedges it in with soft, dim, dark, pitch black?
What secrets lodged in Jamaican cane-fields trace
your lines-of-lip, daub skin, eyes, yours, hers, so dark?
All stuffed down deep, more deep than a brother’s drowning;
too gooseflesh, bone-grinding, for even a Robert Browning.
Man, woman, now free of breath
while those more dark-skinned yet meet death…
BATTLE OF THE BLACK PIG
(Arnold Bax, Third Piano Sonata)
Adolescent dreams of more than life can give…
—Clifford Bax, poet, fiction writer, playwright
Piano Sonata Three, a strange brave piece,
introvert triumph, brooding, wholly inturned
—those moody, twisting figures, no release
in the first-movement dark. Triumph is earned.
And over what? Consumption, Tanya’s illness;
her instability in love, devotion,
loss of interest in her keyboard, of stillness
found far beyond tunnel’s end, perpetual motion?
Through all this, your strange Irishness of thread,
wishing more green than even Éireann’s green,
more flawless russet than Donegal suns at dusk
can spare from their rose chalices, serene
wave-lappings more than ever soothed deep dread,
more human heart than lives in your parched husk…
Your soundstream gleams, though pitched in a vocal realm.
Despite Franz-Liszt-style filigree, all song:
soprano-tenor, agonized till slow
come wistful traces, only taking glow
in consolation—man self-hymning wrong
more right keeps firm as captains finger helms.
Arnold-and-Tanya scrimshaw; private wars
carve patterns in our zeitgeist, culture scars.
Cloud-life, tone-clustered darkness, animal shape:
transparent at first, each beast-of-gloom’s rain-grape.
Is this the Irish Battle of the Black Pig,
an all-Celt war fought for desire and art,
song’s arrow-shaft still quivering in the shot heart
of nullity, the ultimate ripe split Fig?
(Bax refers to that Irish almost-Apocalypse,
the Battle of the Black Pig, which might be waged
on the fields of art and literature, in Farewell, My Youth.)
A SEA SYMPHONY
(Ralph Vaughan Williams)
No shakeup wakeup early warning—hurricane!—
so Triton-horned as this fanfare-alert:
Behold…the sea! a full brass-section spurt
to stir the choir’s awoke, our drowsy, brains…
Tides, thunders, deep rock-slaps, wet slosh on stone,
salt flung into noses, eyes, ears, that same salt
which crusts on sails like acrid snow, the tone
of water fisting on barrels, keels, hulls, vaults
in palaces Poseidon keeps reserved
for longest god-journeys. Today a rude recitative,
sings Baritone Man. Passed hand-to-hand, tune swerves
up toward Soprano Summit. How does he give,
VW, such well-mastered word-rhythm & cadence
that rough Walt Whitman sounds (but better!)
like Shakespeare rewrit for maidens?
(John Skinner, 1945-2017)
for Susan Maxwell Skinner, after the John Skinner
Memorial Concert, Carmichael, 9/17/17
Whenever hired as your sideman, I played
probably as I stepped, with wary eyes;
you warmed to me, I think; yet I’m afraid
we saw each other never at actual size.
Now one last set: I hear you, trumpet man,
bandleader, a hero late in the days of swing.
Your horn came with you in that moving van
for aviators—practice was everything—
an Air Force cargo plane. Echoing cockpit notes!
If I’d only flown like you in the Flying Tigers,
I’d surely have seen fog clear away, cloud-motes
that pinned me under what you winged over, Eigers.
We’re listening to your legacy, your band,
brass-blazing-out as in your days up front.
Your alto-sax man makes improv blues expand
to Paul Gonsalves legend-length, no stunt,
not one cliché that I can tell. Kurt Pearsall,
Rick Baker, more men I half know, shout out
riff upon riff, endanger the back wall
with walls of sound. Transcending grief, no doubt,
in this brief channeling of you. They get down!
True, I hope not to hear “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”
yet one more time. But that’s just it! One more time!
As Basie said, so you did. Kind of like rhyme:
the secret you knew was lay down what we know
and add jazz sauce, jazz kick, jazz strut, jazz glow.
JENNY WITH THE GREEN PARASOL
A portrait of Jane Austen, age thirteen,
white dress beyond the Austens’ normal reach,
style French pre-Empire, maiden-simple sheen.
The dress, near-royal humble-affluent sheath,
mere setting for the perfect facial oval,
short chestnut hair, an almost pixie cut.
Arched eyebrow-cockades ornament sheer foveal
acuity. Eyes of this pouncing hawk rebut
all manner of prattle, busywork and cant.
No Gainsborough sweep of wind and “landskip” blur,
no accent of adolescent breasts by sash
across that white Empire of dress can abash,
any more than those vestments can obscure
Her. Candor, meaning kindness, candor meaning
truth-speaking, aimed as upright as, no leaning,
this Jenny-grenadier, parasol at a green slant,
holds no green doubt. Such diamond-tipped command
intends no note of ballroom allemande.
Smile’s rosebud; her gaze deals out adult shames
or praises. Those eyes relive in P.D. James.
Your reddish hair-cap the dusk subdues, the now
and here of eye-appraisal, your almost-bow
upon a stage prepared by sky and earth
from your half-Sappho, half-Aphrodite birth:
so present, yet redolent of things far and fey,
Miss Austen, you become a bright One I knew,
One whom Remembrance still sketches and once drew,
a pre-Tennyson Almost-Loved, now far away.
(On the recently reidentified Ozias Humphry painting, called the Rice Portrait of young Jane Austen, a website devoted to it gives convincing evidence that art experts have long mislabeled a major portrait of the novelist at age thirteen, painted in 1788. See www.janeaustenriceportrait.com/.)
—Rhony Bhopla, Sacramento, CA
Today I read that Rosa Parks is dead.
⏤ Joshua McKinney
Today, I read that Gandhi is dead
I read that the earth will erode
that water has dried.
Today, I read with a teacher
I held the book, while she moved
her hand across the page.
No earth crumbled, but silence
made me gasp, as the mountain
in the story, heaped lava in our eyes.
Our thanks to Tom Goff and Rhony Bhopla for starting out our week with their fine poetry, as well as thanks to today’s photographers. Rhony will be hosting next Saturday’s release party for the new issue of the Sacramento Voices anthology; see below for the schedule of readers.
For an article about Sacramento Band Leader John Skinner, as in Tom’s poem above, see www.sacbee.com/news/local/obituaries/article168320117.html/.
The Fall issue of the environmentalists’ poetry journal from the Bay Area, Canary, is available now online at canarylitmag.org/.
Readings in our area this week begin with Poetry in Motion in Placerville, 6pm, at the Placerville Sr. Center. Then at 7:30pm, Joshua McKinney’s Long Poem Class, Part II will feature Katy Brown, Marilynn Price, Laura Rosenthal, and Leigh Jordan plus open mic at the Sac. Poetry Center in Sacramento.
On Friday, the Speak Up Storytellers and Poets series presents Both Sides Now, with poets and storytellers reading original work at The Avid Reader in Sacramento, 7pm.
Saturday, the Fifth Annual Sacramento Voices Book Launch (from Cold River Press) will coincide with the annual 100 Thousand Poets for Change (100tpc.org) at Sac. Poetry Center, with a reading beginning at noon. Host Rhony Bhopla has sent us the schedule; she says to arrive early to get a seat:
READING START TIME 12 NOON:
FEATURE: 12:00 Noon Katy Brown
12:20 Barbara West
12:28 Jenna Turpin
12:36 Angelica Vera Franco
12:44 Stanley Zumbiel
12:52 Patricia Nichol
FEATURE: 1:00 p.m. Haley Karin
1:20 Shani Zuberi
1:28 D.R. Wagner
1:36 Patricia Wentzel
1:44 Sue Daly
1:52 Stephen Daly
2:00 Aeisha Jones
2:08 James Lee Jobe
2:16 Joyce Odam
2:24 Norma Kahout
2:32 Robin Odam
FEATURE 2:40 p.m. Carol Frith
3:00 Mary Zeppa
3:08 Victoria Dalkey
3:16 Susan Kelly-DeWitt
3:24 Kathleen Lynch
Then on Sunday at 2pm, another unveiling: Crocker Art Museum and Susana Haifon present the only showing of the documentary, In, Done, & Out, a film about the poetry of Evan Myquest. Info: www.facebook.com/events/753642964807151/. This will be the ONLY showing, and it’s a short film, so be sure to get there on time. Free meter parking on Sundays!
—Photo by D.R. Wagner
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