Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The RIb Cage of the Creature

—Photos by Katy Brown, Davis, CA
—Poems by JD DeHart, Chattanooga, TN

Here is a Simple Test

you can administer any time you like.
Just add water, then vinegar.
Drop in a dash of pepper.
Now measure your sense of growing
impending doom.
Now compare that to a friend.
Ask them how they feel about the end
of the world.  Are they making plans?
Have they written anything down?
Some cultures don’t.  It’s like putting
your head in the sand.  It’s like pretending
you don’t have a head, that there is no
sand, that sand is not a thing.
Sand is a thing.  I have seen it.  I pick it out
of my clothing at the beach.
The beach is also a thing.  Here is a simple
test.  See how many people you trust.
Is that number dwindling?  Welcome to the
club, baby girl.



A playful sense
of insane energy, electric
connection, like kissing
an open flame,
hair standing on end
from the open socket,
threatening and soothing
comforting and unsettling
in the same buoyant
kinetic moment.



These waters are choppy,
these waters are harsh,
like slush was given the ability
to stand up and walk around,
a soup that impedes motion.
Wind rushes by, distorting vision,
throwing balance out of its delicate
kilter, wiping away identity.
All balance is delicate.
When I started, there was a beacon
light, I am only now just beginning to
see it again, throbbing through a veil.

 Old Window


See how the ballerina,
poised, raises one leg,
crushing existence.

See how the world turns
on its axis slightly before
slipping into the sea.

Notice how the talk
began covered with kindness
as a fabrication, then became
a loathsome denigration.

Walk the balance beam.
Don't look down too often.



I was in a choir once,
not a performer, not a singer.
Struggling to find my true
adult voice.

I sat listening to people sing
around me.  When it was finally
time to try, I was ‘way too deep
because I thought you were supposed
to sing in your range.
I did not really know what a range was.

I spent weeks singing and trying to lift
pianos because the director
thought that helped improve the
diaphragm.  I listened as we worked
for a miraculous tenor that never
seemed to take hold.

Even today, every song I try to represent
exists in a low rumble.

 Bicycle Parts


It is quite something indeed
to realize that all points
of life offer some
semblance of disillusionment

If you expect the ceiling
to be so high, people to putter
around kindly, and every
object to be made of marble.



Turn again
on the side that isn’t so
sore.  Restless.  Yearn,

Outside, the neighbors
are all silent in their caves,
inside the light is flickering,
must keep it down.
Must keep it down.

I work through the discourse
in my mind.  I work through
the day in my mind.
There is hardly any day left
untouched by the end of
the night.

My fingers are tired, but
the steady-moving stream of traffic
drags me on.

 No Left Turn


Out of fine ash bones
I build a new world.
This is the rib cage of the creature,
an ancient story.
Adam, apple, Eve, tree,
and serpent.
Where did we come from?
I heard that 75% of what makes
us human is shared by all
with some minor variations.
Rising out of an obscured
past, a hidden continent, we
roamed, loved, fought,
and conquered.  Forging new
features out of old memories,
telling the same story over
and over until it beat in our
hearts and ran through our
veins.  Until it became us,
we became it, woven into
our shared narrative.



Yes, it’s nice to become
acquainted with sound
and reason of other beings,
makes one feel like one belongs
to an invisible club—
the lines were always drawn,
but it’s helpful to know they
were not imagined.
It's remedy for the sanity.

Finally nice to know what is
meant by all these chuckles,
to get the inside joke,
to speak the vernacular, try
it on like a glove on the tongue.
Practicing in the mirror
three times this morning alone.

There now, doesn’t that feel better,
or does it make matters worse,
now with a heavy mouth?


Today’s LittleNip:

—JD DeHart

Here I sit at the spinning
center of the universe.
Well, it's just a room.

Conversations go on all
around me, but I sit listening
to my mind.  Wondering.

I am the spoke in this wheel,
except I really don't think
I turn much of anything here.


—Medusa, with thanks to JD DeHart today for his fine selection of poems, and to Katy Brown for her fine visuals!

 —Celebrate poetry!

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.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Coming Home From My Darkness

—Poems and Original Artwork 
by Joyce Odam, Sacramento


Here is the map to nowhere. If you must go there,
follow carefully the marked way. When night comes
to your need to rest, the little towns you pass will
sleep behind their simple names. All windows will
be dark, as if night were the end to everything. There
is a place you can stay that has one vacancy—it always
has. And the next day’s travel will not hurry you. This
is timeless country. Sleep is made of night sky, black
and bottomless. You can stay on if you want to.

(first pub. in Medusa’s Kitchen, 2013)  


Haunted Hotel del Salto Columbia

Many stairs climb this dark. Many levels
of climbing to reach the sunken door at
the high wall with the tanglesome ivy and
the long sheer fall. Glinting windows give
no welcome. This is from your dream—
the old dream where the precipitous stairs
beckon, though they are rickety now with
a thin, deceptive rim of light along the
railing. Let nothing sway you. You must
keep climbing. The dark is as dark as dark
can be. This is your now or never. There
is something familiar here—something
familiar, but without love. Only the far-off
crying, that formless something that you
must rescue out of yourself.

After “In A Cheap Hotel” by Elizabeth Bishop,
The New Yorker, 2006

It was cold. A winter love. A love I made up
because I was full of words. Full of words for
the loneliness, and for the love. Love that was
not mine, but only wanted.

Winter was always worst—cold and lonely
and full of grieving. I was nowhere I wanted
to be—another strange town with no memory
in it. How could I live there? A neon light
kept blinking its all-night comfort. I slept for
the dreams which released me.

Morning was gaunt. Not enough heat in this
hotel. Not enough sleep—Pity walking by
the door without knowing.

I would not welcome.

Where were you then that I could not find you?


Little sad heroes of life, with their fine
hands and leanings, come dragging scarves
to their brides of goodness, with dark holes
of light in their eyes to see by.

But they get lost on the stairs; get confused
by the shadows of the halls; they mix up the
numbers of rooms.

They come to the Hotel of Pity with old blue
rain of promises instead of years, coming to
their brides on romantic knees—to cajole
them—tell them how lovely—lisp promises.



They love in the winter, when the room is warm,
when soft light holds them from the walls. They
lie entwined, the room rumples and asleep, like
them. The radio plays absent music; a curtain
flutters—warns. They stir—open their eyes, but
sleep is too heavy and takes them back. The slow
door opens, the unlocked shadow forms over them.

After Edward Hopper’s Hotel Window, 1956

In the hotel of wrong decision she waits in her red hat
and dress, her legs crossed prettily in black high heels—
posed for her own imagination—staring out at the night
which is staring back through her reflection. I think she’s
my mother; patient as always, haughty in red, sitting
there in her camel coat with the fur collar draped over
one shoulder. She thinks it will rain.

I remember her clearly—notice the wet smell of the air—
the black couch—the pale yellow wall—the blue rug—
the white pillar outside the window. When did her hair
go white, I wonder. She doesn’t seem to notice I’m there.
I’m outside the power of my observation. Her mind is
planning ahead—her purse hugged guardedly on her lap—
all her important papers in it. I get the feeling she’s
leaving for good this time. I haven’t been born yet, and
she’s already old.

Someone is changing our history—someone who is late—
or not coming—someone she already regrets. Perhaps
the night is not there—or the dim effort of light that illu-
minates this tableau of vague transition. Perhaps it will
rain and she will return to her room. She’s in control of
my existence—this woman I want to weep for—seem to
know—fear for the uncertain direction of her future. 


Askance on the wall, the long mirror
faces me, but without my face, though
still holding the lamp, the tilted ceiling,
the edge of the bedpost, a bit of my
shoulder. I can see, but not be seen. If
I turn a little to the left, then I am there—
in the mirror—looking curious: a face
across the room, in glass dimension,
amused, playing peek-a-boo with myself.
I shift and cut my face in half at the gold
frame. The lamp stares, casting its own
shadow up and down. I wave to myself—
a foolish woman looking for her humor.
The lamp flaunts its brassy base and plays
its own amusement game of glint and
shimmer : tilting its shade a bit to its satis-
faction, the mirror takes the action for its own.


The wall in the hall has a way in and a
way out. The wall stretches along itself
unhampered by the doors.

No one walks there. The hall
is too long. A shadow tried once,
but kept fading into the wall.

The carpet is quiet and vacuumed.
the baseboard has no scratches.

The rooms behind the door
have always been empty.
They are only for the stories.

It was always long ago.

It is always now.

I think I lived there once,
but only my mother remembers
and she won’t tell me.

That is me playing at the end of
the hallway with the toys
I still keep hidden for protection.

I think I remember.

 Drawing, One Continuous Line

           the white pallet the moon
           spreads across the leaves
           is like a fairytale
           turning dark at the edges
                                — Lloyd Van Brunt

You hear yourself weep softly in the night. 
You hear night answer with its own release.

The room of misery opens out
into a sad endlessness.

You feel yourself enter the permission
of the dark.

You are unhealed.
You are unfound.

Nowhere is there light,
though light surrounds you—

elsewhere—in some soft memory,
like a sheet.

It hums with direction—melts against
the cold enclosing shadow, and goes out.


Why fight for sleep when the whole moon is
shining white and near through the window,
when words are waiting to become your poem,
the one you try to grasp out of such moments

as this—the clock anonymous with numbers
that mean nothing except how they trouble you
—move you forward into more of them.

How easily it is to give mind to such intrusion
of the spirit which strives to know itself.

A siren, and the moon shudders a little bit more
into the dawn; a siren, a little howl from
somewhere in the night—near or far,
it makes no difference, the trailing
echo swallows sound, turns it
into brimming silence;
a siren, more like the
pulling of distance,
both fading now.
A shadow blots
out the moon.


Today’s LittleNip:

—Joyce Odam

Everything here is memorized: the glowing wall behind
me with its calendar, the crack in the night that turns into
a window.

I am a shimmer of light come home from my darkness;
the bright air illuminates me; curtains billow in, and I am
wrapped in dusty lace.

A sleep thread catches on me—pulls—and I unravel.


Our many thanks to Joyce Odam for these wonderful atmospheric poems about cheap hotels and the ghosts that reside there, and her lovely, haunting artwork as well. Our new Seed of the Week is (partly stolen from Joyce’s poem) Wrong Decisions. Send your poems, photos and artwork about this (or any other) subject to No deadline on SOWs, though, and for a peek at our past ones, click on “Calliope’s Closet”, the link at the top of this column, for plenty to choose from.

Bay Area Editor Gail Entrekin writes that the new issue of
Canary is now available at

Errata in yesterday’s post (since rectified): The Women’s Wisdom Anthology is
Lift It Tenderly, not Lift It Gently, and the Soft Offs don’t have a hyphen in their name.


Celebrate poetry, and the courage to write it where we find it!

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.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Do Not Bite a Ghost

—Anonymous Photo

—Michael H. Brownstein, Townsville, N. Queensland, Australia

Do not bite a ghost. They are chalk
And have no taste. You can add sage, salt,
Pepper, even garlic. It will make no difference.
Do not clean everything everyday.
Ghosts are blindsided by dust in light.
They cannot stand camouflage or invisibility
But remember to remove all of the cobwebs.
Every ghost is a collector of spiders and flies.
If these rules are not enough,
Go on living. Forget about them.
They will move someplace else.
Ghosts have an obsession to be remembered.


—Michael H. Brownstein

Some Sundays they dream in nightmare
And other nights dark and light,

A shimmer of shadow against white walls,
Cold fingered and cold breath,

A simple outlook and a simple memory
In need of a following.

They are generous creatures by habit
Willing to share covers, curtains, and wind

But never sheets or pillows.


—Michael H. Brownstein

This story is about three men tied to a cave,
black bear no longer once upon a time,
the two brothers, coyote and wolf,
and the beginning of the flight of urban legend.

I tie a knot to two other ropes,
then I tied three knots to five ropes in all,
but still the balloon is too heavy to fall from the sky
and the cloud-eating dragon hides well in the blue sky.

This is not a tale of love lust and greed—
everything turns brown on the other side of things
and nothing else stays green for long.
Discover something new.

 —Photo by Taylor Graham

—Taylor Graham, Placerville, CA

By the week, the price was right. You couldn’t
afford a hotel downtown. The lady assured
you, this motel wasn’t haunted—now, those old
buildings on Main Street, they all had their
stories. With or without ghosts, quirky as Gold
Rush. History naturally gives birth to ghosts.
You checked in. A suite, she called it:
bed and TV, tiny bath; kitchen microwave;
table big enough for a desk, two chairs. You only
needed one, but a writer needs a desk. Carpet
worn down to hardwood. The whole space dark
with lights turned on and curtains wide.
You unloaded duffle bag and computer; ready
to write. This motel has permanent residents,
but no ghosts. You heard a meow. No cat.
Opened the door, surveyed the landscape.
Empty. Just your VW parked out front. Where
were the other residents? Motel fringed with berry
bramble under a steep dark hill dense-green.
You walked that way. Meow grew fainter,
farther, twining into bramble. Blackberries ripe.
You picked a handful through thorns. Your
hands stained purple as old-time carbon paper.
Sweet, seedy. The cat commenced, persistently,
a long drawn wail-meow, again. Again.


—Taylor Graham

After all the hoopla fanfare and nostalgia
of bygone days—the golden empire of black-
stetson’d gamblers, prospectors with their picks
and pans, a mock shoot-out on Main Street—
after all that noise, he walked till the sidewalks
quieted, the hills went dark above town.
And then the moon, one perfect silver coin.
He kept on walking to his cheap motel
between the last streetlight and the home-
less camp. And sometime after midnight
he listened while an old ghost roused
to the hour to tell how it really
was in the good old days.
Or maybe that ghostly sound
was just the owl.

 —Photo by Taylor Graham

—Taylor Graham

He drew a map of the world – this child
who can’t tell left from right and
keeps transposing letters. He gives the continents
names of his own devising, ancestries
of kings and beasts who never lived.
His landforms vaguely familiar, their outlines
subtly askew from what’s in the atlas,
as if a mind-quake stretched and twisted bedrock
in its bed. Not static, to stop the infinite
resolving, tilting, tiding, breaking up
of continents and coastlines. His map is alive,
as his wings are sails. “Here
be the dragons,” he says, unventured
lands and seas of his imagination, that deep
blue-green labyrinth. He wants to
venture there. Sometimes, when you’re
just collecting your keys or caught in rush-hour
traffic, that map sails into your head,
Unknown that lies across great tiding waters.


—Taylor Graham

Your new neighbor was afraid of adders.
We only have rattlesnakes here, you told him,
and gopher and garter snakes but they’re
our friends. He didn’t believe you.
Said he moved here because it was supposed
to be paradise. Shouldn’t be any snakes
in paradise. Such ideas he has
of how the world works – but are you
responsible for his phobias and doubts? Fear
is infectious, you said, and ferocious.
He started chasing all the snakes off his land,
through stockwire fence, onto yours.
The garter and gopher snakes settle in your
garden, rattlers in safe crannies under natural
heaps of rock. All as it should be in paradise.
You watch your step on the rocks.

 Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

       When my parents went on family vacations with my brother and I
       Hotel rooms just are never designed for parents traveling with a boy and a girl
       Of course my brother and I just couldn’t share the second double bed they’d give for four
       My brother and I tried it once and it was horrid
       and we fought that whole night
       being as we never shared a bed at home and had our own rooms
       So my Dad instead often flipped a coin
       in regards to who would get the bed and who’d sleep on the floor
       If a sleeping bag hadn’t been packed
       Dad would have to split the bed in half
       Unlike the top mattress
       often the bottom box spring would obviously not have been cleaned recently
       as well as hard to sleep on
       and my brother and I would have to fight about that too

—Michelle Kunert, Sacramento, CA

 —Anonymous Photo

—Kathy Kieth, Diamond Springs, CA

Somehow I always end up
in a cheap motel: you know the one,
on the edge of town between the tracks
and the Interstate, dank rooms with pea-
soup paint peeling back from some crooked,
faded print—a seascape, maybe,
with yellowing lawn furniture and geraniums,
someplace far from here—

These pea-soup paper walls bulge
with borrowed sounds: shards of sibilants
cut right through that dingy seascape.  Scored
mostly for soprano and bass, muffled lumps
of snores and sex and crying babies bump and bang
around my soup-can room as if the ocean
on the wall has roared to life.

I have stayed in ritzier digs, with valets
and free shampoo, and soda machines
that actually work.  The cool brass and glass
in such still places reflect only silence; no faded
prints hang in those empty rooms.

So I’m heading back up the Interstate to
the cheap motel.  I guess I miss
those seascapes. . .


Today’s LittleNip:

—Jones Very (1813-1880)

The morning comes, and thickening clouds prevail,
    Hanging like curtains all the horizon round,
Or overhead in heavy stillness sail;
    So still is day, it seems like night profound;
Scarce by the city’s din the air is stirred,
    And dull and deadened comes its every sound;
The cock’s shrill, piercing voice subdued is heard,
    By the thick folds of muffling vapors drowned.
Dissolved in mists the hills and trees appear,
    Their outlines lost and blended with the sky;
And well-known objects, that to all are near,
    No longer seem familiar to the eye,
But with fantastic forms they mock the sight,
As when we grope amid the gloom of night.

For more about Jones Very, go to


Our thanks to today’s contributors! The cheap motel theme seems to have brought out our ghosts, who have, as Michael Brownstein says, an obsession to be remembered, Halloween or not. Certainly my ghosts do…

April is National Poetry Month, and Nevada County will kick it off on Saturday, April 1, with the First Annual Sierra Poetry Festival, with keynote address by Cal. PL Dana Gioia plus many other poets, open mics and slams, discussions, workshops, youth voices, Poetry Place Vendor Fair, food from Briarpatch Food Coop. The Festival will take place at the Sierra College Nevada County Campus, 250 Sierra College Dr., Grass Valley. For more info (including complete schedule & registration), go to

Manzanita Writers Press is ready to publish their
Out of the Fire Anthology, which is being published to “heal the community after the life-changing effects of the Butte Fire, and to create a lasting record of the event”. In order to fund the publication, they have organized a Kickstarter Campaign: for a donation of $25 or more, you will receive a copy of the anthology after it is published. Go to; there are several levels of donation. Deadline to meet their goal is May 8. For more info, go to

This week's poetry in our area begins tonight at Sac. Poetry Center with readers from the Women’s Wisdom Art Anthology,
Lift It Tenderly, 7:30pm. Thursday at 8pm, it’s Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Cafe, with features and open mic. On Friday, 7:15pm, Keynote Poets Honor Barbara West at Stellar Studios, 202 23rd St., Sac. Saturday at 2pm, Poetic License read-around takes place in Placerville at the Placerville Sr. Center, and then that evening, the Soft Offs present their annual “moetry” (music and poetry) fundraiser for Sac. Poetry Center, 7:30pm at SPC.

This Sunday at 1pm, Poetry on Main Street—a new venue in Placerville—will hold an open mic at The Wine Smith, 346 Main St., Placerville. 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. (They almost always are…)

And check out Medusa’s new photo album on Facebook, this one by Michelle Kunert of last Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Old Sac, at (Love the green poodle!)


Celebrate Mondays—and the Spring Solstice!

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.


Sunday, March 19, 2017


—Léonie Adams (1899-1988)

When I stepped homeward to my hill,
     Dusk went before with quiet tread;

The bare laced branches of the trees
    Were as a mist about its head.

Upon its leaf-brown breast the rocks
    Like great grey sheep lay silentwise,

Between the birch trees’ gleaming arms,
   The faint stars trembled in the skies.

The white brook met me half-way up,
   And laughed as one that knew me well,

To whose more clear than crystal voice
   The frost had joined a crystal spell.

The skies lay like pale-watered deep,
   Dusk ran before me to its strand

And cloudily leaned forth to touch
   The moon’s slow wonder with her hand.


—Medusa, reminding you that Patrick Grizzell and D.R. Wagner will be reading in Placerville today, 1pm, Love Birds Coffe & Tea Co. on Smith Flat Rd. 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.

For more about Léonie Adams, seeéonie-adams

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Stopping the Infinite

Beach Art
—Poems by D.R. Wagner, Locke, CA
—Visuals Provided by D.R. Wagner


His face gave nothing away,
Maybe a couple of small wrens
Hanging upside down from the fine
Branches of a birch tree in Winter,
Dining on seeds, but that was about it.

At any moment you may be given
To understand something that
Will push darkness aside and
Allow all to stand on the upper deck
Totally stopping the infinite,

Plundering it for even more ideas.
Wandering deeper and deeper
Into the labyrinth, hands in
Pockets, whistling a South American
Tune, expecting nothing, watching
The great power of the waves.

We went inside, put some water
On the stove for tea, a perfect moment.

 Fantasy Landscape

             (for Alvaro Mutis)

The town lay dying on the edge
Of the river flowing black, flowing dark brown,
Shining as the widow spiders do, teardrop
Abdomen, reflecting red as its hourglass.

People were begging door to door.
In a back room someone was shouting
Orders but no one seemed to care.
It was like a dog barking against
The street, a lethal eruption with no one
To notice it.  These streets know infection
All too well.  A stage lit up.

“You boys aren’t going anywhere soon,”
A voice said.  It was saturated
With a ferocious conviction that
Didn’t seem to be directed at us at all.

We let it float by, a companion who
Had forgotten our names, dissipating his
Passion in bad ideas and somehow feeling
We must be responsible for all his doubts,
Perplexities and dull memories.
We excused ourselves and went outside.

“I can’t stand the noise the living
Make,” said Lev.  Three gray birds
With brilliant ruby patches on their
Wings shot past us as we disembarked.
“We call them clock birds because
They tick when they are eating the
Purple fruit that grows high on the
Trees.  Keep your eyes on them.  You
Could learn something if you’d care to.”

After a while, this all begins to look
The same.  I’ll wait for you at
The end of these words and we
Can travel a bit further together.
I’ll be going away from the sea for
Awhile.  You might enjoy the journey.
The jungle is so different and there
We will be unable to have an agenda.



Music in a basket, taken to make a room
And then a dwelling and then a palace.
It has proven itself to be no
Architecture for living.  There is no
Inside.  The rooms are beautiful
But without doors.  There is only
Sound at the end of an arm or a
Stepping across a threshold trying
To direct the forward motion of the whole

We live in the crescendos and
Diminuendos.  Legato to the
Edge of the cliffside
To see the view and there,
To once again discover the
Woven basket,
Capable of any season,
Full of song and placed beside
The clearest water of a Spring.



Bring the traces of the evening
To the edge of the page
To light the words.

The insects that can make noise do so.
The air is electric buzzing and stridulations.

I am able to understand
The frogs and the crickets.
They know their songs well.

I forget the words to mine.
“What did you say, brother?”

It was a poem.
It burned its way out
Of my mouth.



She bewildered the angels.

Here was a heaven made
of light.

She sang songs about dogs
Who knew each other but had
No idea they dwelt in different songs.

Drifting stars,  always forgetting
To tell each other such important information.

I called myself to be here, addressing her
From deep in a place from which no one
Could make me move.
I thought I had hidden myself.

How could I know I was a book?
That I was being read at night
Under someone’s covers.
The words flickering under a flashlight.

 Dogs 2


If this is a language
Then I will speak
Of love and of war and
Of silly things and poverty
And wealth and luck
And dreams, of animals
That fly but are not real,
Of children born with
Perfect wings that we
May never see but still
Know they are there
And lips that kiss your lips
And trusted strong belief
That, even though these
Be pure words, you
Will know them there.

Fox and Bee

Today’s LittleNip:

—D.R. Wagner

Carried in from the car,
Feigning sleep, just to be carried.
Almost too old for any of this.

The pure moment of it all.
Being held.



Our thanks to D.R. Wagner for today’s poems and photos! D.R. will be reading tomorrow at 1pm with Patrick Grizzell in Placerville at Poetry at the Mine, to be held at Love Birds Coffee & Tea Co., 2021 Smith Flat Rd. (off Hwy 50). And today at 4:30pm, Laura Rosenthal and Sue Daly will be reading at Sacramento Voices, Sac. Poetry Center. 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.


 D.R. Wagner and S.F. Poet A.D. Winans
Celebrate Poetry—and poets!

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.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sail Every Sea

—Poems by Donal Mahoney, Belleville, IL
—Assorted Vintage Greeting Cards


Cold Coffee they call him
and only a few people know
his real name, this odd fellow

who raises pigs off the coast
of Ireland and comes to town
bouncing in his horse and wagon

to buy supplies but not food
because he eats from the harvest
of his fields and a piglet now and then

that he can't fatten up for market
to take with his sows and boars
that always bring a good price.

He's been called Cold Coffee
for decades now because as a lad
he wanted to be as rich as Trump

and sailed in steerage to America
to make a wonderful fortune but
then sailed home in just a month.

Everybody would ask Cold Coffee
why he didn’t stay and all he would
ever say with his toothless smile was

he missed his sows and boars and
the only thing he got in America was
a demitasse of cold coffee.



Some folks have a problem with authority,
legitimate and otherwise, and I have spent
a lifetime festering in that group.

An event in youth convinced me that
big people are no different than little people
despite their titles and the homage paid them.

The event that changed me was in third grade
when a nun asked me if I was cousin to a cardinal
in the Catholic Church. She had heard my father,

an immigrant blue collar worker, was first cousin
to Cardinal Stritch. Little as I was I had no idea but
I said I’d ask my father and I did that night at supper.

He kept eating his cabbage and potatoes
then finally said we were cousins to the cardinal
whose people also took a boat from Ireland to America.

So I blinked and said to him, “Pa, Sister wants to know
why don’t we call Cardinal Stritch and tell him we’re here.”
Looking up from his cabbage and potatoes,

my father took a sip of tea, shot a laser in my eye,
sniffed a bit and said, “Ask the good sister
why the good cardinal doesn’t call us.”


Memories never go away.
They’re visitors from yesterday
arriving unannounced

often to a mixed reception.
Faces aren’t clear but
we know who they are.

We don’t remember every name
but it’s enough to see the faces
and remember how we felt.

They hide and then come back
to show another movie of the past.
We were young and knew so little.



A wound like that
doesn't leave a scar
because it never heals.

Fifty years ago
the doctors didn't
have a name for it

but that's no help
to Jimmy now.
Ginny's dead

and their six kids
have children of their own,
some of them in college.

The doctors know
how to treat it now.
They tell mothers

what to watch for
after giving birth.
They tell fathers, too,

but that's no help
to Jimmy
in his wheel chair

sitting in the lobby
of the nursing home
watching silent

movies of his life
flicker through his mind.
A rerun every day.

He can't even
speak about it
since the stroke.

A wound like that
doesn't leave a scar
because it never heals.


He’s a citizen who has
a problem with people

walking toward him
walking behind him
walking next to him

not so much when
he has protection



It’s time to stop
the killing by order
of the courts.

Time to stop
the injections

hanging people
if we still do that
in America.

Time to stop
pulling people
from the womb.

Innocents now die
every day by order
of the courts.


Smitty isn't Schulte.
He doesn't drive a Cadillac
and doesn't hit his wife
often any more.
Schulte, on the other hand,
drives a Cadillac
and hits his wife
usually on weekends
for no good reason.
He's been doing that for
more than 40 years
ever since the boys
came home from Viet Nam

not knowing they had been
touched by Agent Orange,
Monsanto's gift to war.
They had a double wedding with
girls they liked in high school.
Smitty says therapy
has helped a little.
He hasn't struck his
second wife in years.
But Schulte hasn't changed.
The police have come again
tonight, sirens blaring,
gumball lights swirling.

Two big officers,
matched like bookends,
march Schulte out in cuffs.
He's cursing at his wife
who's in a nightgown
bawling on the porch
as if Schulte's going
back to Nam again.
Smitty swears Schulte
never left the paddies, that
he's still knee-deep in water
bright with Agent Orange,
Monsanto's gift to war.



He tries again to situate his grosbeak
nose beneath his spectacles.
He twists the silver toothpick in his teeth
and hunches now a little more toward her,
saying “Listen, dear, I’ve said all this before,
and now I'll say it all again.
Perhaps this time you'll listen:

“You’re slovenly and gross. Your jowls
swing beneath your jaws like testicles.
Your mammoth breasts need tweezing.
Your freckled calves are carved of lard.
These things are true, my dear.
They’re not some crazed
vision of conjecture.”

The lady belches as she reaches for
a pickle spear, a slice of cervelat,
and begins to comb her yellow hair.
She hunches now a little more toward him,
saying “Listen, dear, I’ve heard all this before.
What’s happened here is eminently clear.
You no longer love me.”


In a very crowded bar
Fred decides he must
tell this fellow
something important
so he whispers

“Don’t be an ass
and go home tonight
and raise hell over
a matter like that.

“She did nothing wrong
except hurt your feelings
without knowing it.
She meant no harm.

“Be happy you married
a good woman like that.
Let’s pay the bill and you
go home and hug her.”

But Fred shuts up
when the barkeep
brings the tab with a smile
and says, "Fred, you
talkin' to yourself?"



Otis was once a monk
who took no vows, was
free to leave the abbey
and eventually he did. 
I met him over chicken wings
at Sadie's Soul Food Grill.

For almost 20 years
every spring and summer
Otis labored in the fields
raising vegetables
and crops of every kind.

In fall and winter he
would gather leaves and
plow the snow, wheel
ancient monks up and down
the endless silent halls.
He loved his work
because he liked to help
anyone in need.

I asked Otis why he left.
He said because at first  
he thought life was a burp
somewhere in eternity.
He still believes that but
wants to hear the burp
before he’s in eternity.

Otis likes the chicken wings
at Sadie’s Soul Food Grill,
especially the real hot ones.
He ate chicken at the abbey
but nothing like the wings 
at Sadie's Soul Food Grill.
A real treat before eternity.


He asked and so I told him.
The “cancer” poems stem
from cancer in the family.
Daughter’s terminal.
Son's a five-year survivor.
Mother died at 59.
I had 13 polyps, all benign,
snipped a year ago.
I go back next month
for another roto-rooter.

As one grows older,
neighbors, friends and folks
one doesn’t know
die from it.
That’s life, isn’t it.

One never knows
but the question’s not
“Why me?”
The question is
“Why not me?"

Think about it.
We’ll all pop something
now or when, won’t we.



It’s an old clock
hanging on a wall
in a small room
on the third floor.

We go up there
four times a year
exchanging clothes
to mark the arrival

of another season.
Not much else in there
except my wife’s vases
and our yearbooks from

the Fifties and some
good novels we hope
to read some day
if there’s time.

Once a year
the clock stops
and I bring up
a new battery.

But not this year.
I told the clock don't move.
Stay right there
and we’ll stay with you.

Today’s LittleNip:

—Donal Mahoney

Dive under any
skirt that floats
your way, Amish
or otherwise,
metaphorically speaking.
Be an explorer.

Sail every sea until
you find the eddy
you want to swirl in
the rest of your life.
Then stake your claim.
Make it your own.


Thanks, Donal, for today’s fine poems! Tonight, JoAnn Anglin and Katy Brown will be reading at “Sharin’ o’ the Green” at The Other Voice in Davis, 7:30pm! 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.


 —Photo of Donal Mahoney with his wife, Carol, 
taken by son Brian Mahoney “too many years ago”

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Words of a Daydream

Amherst Common
—Poems by B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA


March frost
all over the field
of Amherst Common

Even in an elation
of Emily Dickinson
in a rope of first light

She expects
us for a poet's visit
her words seem to levitate.



Under the Andalusian sun
writing with purity

Birds are gingerly
eating their meal

Thinking for a moment
about the erupted words

that fill
his tabula rasa.


The neon butterfly
touches the fringes
of the curtain

in the study
you hear Nabokov's voice
explain a lapidary deferment

which kept us familiar
by the sunken Neva River
far from home.



Even when you
doubt your eyes
and ears

or jumbled words
in your power to conceive
the Aurora Borealis

the time will suddenly
appear to believe
into a fervent poem

with nature lifting the bulbs
by the garden shed
in flower bed of Iris.


Rilke unwilling
to give up a word

at the edge
of the river

recalls the first

of hidden



Adorno cannot sleep
he sees every note

in colorful shapes
scattering on the music stand

with retouching
his cadences and cadenzas.


Juices flowing
with loyalty
to the words

of a daydream
as freedom
strikes in symbolism.



The voice
   of detachment

yet she enriches
every hesitation

of flowers fallen
in the figures

of Warsaw's tree


Today’s LittleNip:


An off-beat poet
on the streetcar

outs the meter
and gets himself

the change
that justice expects.


Many thanks to B.Z. Niditch for today’s poetic “improvisations”; he says the poems “mark an evolution of modernism grasping onto one string of thoughts as on a violin.” Stay warm back there in Massachusetts with all those storms, BZ! For more about Nabokov’s butterflies, see For more about Nigerian Poet and Nobel Prize Winner Wole Soyinka, go to

Today we have several poetry events in our area (which is bursting with spring right now): At noon, Sacramento’s Central Library on I Street will have a poetry read-around: bring your favorite poems (preferably by a writer other than yourself) which deal in some way with the season of spring and/or its side effects: keen expectations, irrational joys, irresistible celebrations. Then at 8pm, you have your choice of Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento, featuring Angela James, Adrial Doligon and open mic; or head over to Davis to hear Erin Rodoni and Lauren Rudewicz plus open mic at John Natsoulas Gallery. 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.



Celebrate poetry!

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Slithering Through the Garden

—Poems by JD DeHart, Chattanooga, TN,
Accompanied by Miscellaneous Anonymous Fractals


Speaking to some people
is like nesting beside a microphone,
every sound and mistake broadcast
across grandest expanse.
Samson slew an army with the jawbone
of an ass, and it is easy to see why.
How I used to believe in perfection,
graceful human kindness, but have too
often tasted the singe of others’ tongues,
not cast in altruism, but wearing the azure
shade of the serpent’s underbelly,
calmly slithering through the garden,
searching for innocence to lose, sniffing
to see if the fruit has yet to be tasted,
reporting the latest bit of juicy gossip
among the blue hairs and bonnets.



A youth in smoking jacket
Lighting up:
You should read Henry Miller
I do, and it blows my mind
I listen to a college class on Thoreau
I decide I want to be this man
Disillusionment sets in when I realize
            Only one night in prison
I consider row upon row of lit mags
Climb the campus up and down.


Our conversation was
Born on the back of
Elizabeth Bennett, and I,
A rare figure in a rural
Town who had read
Sense and Sensibility, and
You explained to our friends
What the novel was
Explained what I was.



Frantic and fervent, the creature
attempts to attack its offender, the self.
The poor creature has not learned,
as we have, that it can never escape
its own body.  The move to warmer climate
did not matter, the devoted promising
fell short of true change, and the figure
staring back in the mirror is an assemblage
of the same fears and half-truths.
The result of not wrapping my arms around
that poor insecure being is dizziness,
perhaps a sudden fall due to the exhaustion
of the mindless, absurd chase.


I feel the climb in my legs
to this day
and remember how I felt
immortal like Icarus before
my rise

I looked down on earth
from that great height
and realized my limits
too late, the earth
spinning below

my body tensing
my mind closing
as if entering a cave.



Bubbled and sudden
the reaction unfurls in front
of us, two tables across.
It is the loud conversation
from another room, never
exposed under full view
of light, a wriggling salamander
of social situation, his face
turning crimson and hers
a wool blanket of embarrassment
giving slow way to its own
blush shade, erupting of its
own, two volcanoes floating
in a sea of passing appetizers.


they do not know
where they are going
as they stand at the gate
although they are stamped
for anywhere

until someone comes
to take them
hold them back from flight
above the earth
and across continents

slamming them back
into reality and bars.



Wisp of white, delicate flower fabric
from the 1970's, and one final remnant
of who mother was, we were incredulous
to find the family had given the dress away.
So we planned a midnight secretive search,
poring through the wares peddled at local
consignment shops, and now the rescued
part lays spread on our own mannequin.


from first line born
with a slight cracking
to the last punctuation
punch line

with just the right pause
and the necessary
inflection there

there was no way
to predict
a silent room response.


Today’s LittleNip:


With cog and whir,
the invention began to love
until jealousy grew,
pulsing, and jealousy found
the off-switch.


Our thanks to JD DeHart for his fine poems today. He writes that “Steep” and “Passport” have been published at
Bold Money, the others at Commonline Journal.


 Celebrate poetry—and spring!

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
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