Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Sheltering Moments

—Poems and Photos by Joyce Odam, Sacramento, CA


I am what sings here at the mouth of the cave.
I own the darkness.
My pure memory reminds me of light.
I am vague as a sorrow.

Whoever comes to me
will stay
and be blessed by their own travel.
Bring your own mirror if you would see deeper.

A bird of warning sits on a shadow-branch
that sways. We love
the winter with its eloquence of snow—
the way the white surrounds

and disappears.
Do not fear. Pretend with me 
that you were never the one I loved.

The Sweep of Memory


remember the way to the harbor ?
the seagulls were circling and circling
the skies were so broken we shuddered
the breezes came up of a sudden
the turbulence sudden with meaning
the docks set to rocking and rocking
the twilights grew longer and colder
our long-ago summer was ending—
moonlight and starlight’s last ember
we watched the small boats bump together
we watched how the lights touched the water
we lingered    then lingered the longer
remember ?    remember ?    remember ?

 The Difference Between


All night the captured dreamer must ride on the back of
the bull through the forest of her own dream through
tangles of vines with white leaves that catch at her hair,
and through the four directions that keep pointing and
quarreling to keep her lost. Morning is at the other end
of the dream but she is holding her arm across her eyes
as if she can stay asleep and not believe where she is—
her sleeping-gown in shreds—her posture one of mes-
merized foreboding. The night is heavy and deep and 
has no dimension—it has swallowed every sound and
left her this muffled passage where the bull, like an old
protector, must bear her along—for as long as she needs,
in this precarious half-sleep, where she cannot feel or
hear the comforting snort of his effortless breathing, or
the carefully stepping delicate tread of his feet.

(first pub. in Poetry Depth Quarterly, 1999)


After Girl with a Stick, 1881 by Camille Pissarro

the child is so perfectly a child
     a gathering moment
          captures her for its own

removes her from time
     and holds her heartbeat
          and gaze and lets her belong

to a distant age—a future
     that will remember her
          as a phrase of meaning

on a leafy day full of broken sunlight
     when she was released
          from herself and death

and did not know—
     a child that the sheltering
          moment will never let go.

 Heaven's Echoes


Did curiosity bring you in—to die in spite of us—test
our compassion—our own curiosity and awe?  (What
does death care for whales or humans struggling in the
shallows?) What will we do with you, here among us—
huge as a guilt impossible to remove by the weight of
water, or watery wish, or weight of some far loneliness—
like a pall of festered memory. And we in our clumsy
pity, near enough to touch you, make you real, feel your
struggle as our own. Was it curiosity, that last force of
decision that turns toward or away from whatever obli-
gates such misdirection? Was it the lights of the harbor,
or the luminous drifting voice of music, that drew you
in—a sound mirage you thought you could enter—was
that the narrowing you swam into, as into any path of
deception—how else could you have misjudged the tides,
or was it our wonder at your presence as the ultimate un-
obtainable, the hugest wish granted, but with a price?
How did we steal you from the sea of our morbid atten-
tion, finally able to touch your ruin as our own? Oh, we
tried to save you—we really tried, before we turned
cruel and turned you into an object—to circle around in
fascinated ritual, and poke, and slice, while you looked
at us—your eye like a drowning.

 In All That Difference


It’s in the eyes—
far-away eyes,

not dreaming,
but gazing into somewhere lost.

The sky is raining dust—long-ago dust,
from an old place that memory knows—

so it goes, the old field hat
to shield the sun,

filter the light,
keep time in place;

it’s not the history, the face too grim,
the truth too silent.

Some inner hum keeps humming—
texture of words no longer sung,

but remembered;
the crosshatch crying of the face

that no longer cries
or sings against the light.



You caught my eye, a twitter of movement
in a winter tree, I loved you—
that you could claim this much of me.

Then there were two of you—
I glanced around at the huge cold sky
for dangers—found none—

and went back to watching your flurry of
brown silhouettes in the stark branches—
your smallness—your oblivious joy.



I heard black sparrows sing
in the darkest night
in its black tree.

At dusk the nervous sparrows
              fly out,
                        fly out,
             in the

  waiting branches that became
    for them their place to sleep
and then the moon rose from the
 darkest dark from a spreading
 cloud bank full of twitterings,
            or just the dark.

All night I tossed and listened to
  the sparrows thrill the mystery
  —that only sparrows know—
   till finally, they let me sleep.


Today’s LittleNip:

—Joyce Odam

the drunk who was crossing the street
on red
did a dance to the bus

when the bus had passed
gave a finger to the bus
did a drunken maneuver

and before he got to the corner
slanted off
from between the safety lines

turned east
and was silhouetted into the sun
of 8:00 a.m. and Friday


Our gratitude to Joyce Odam this morning for her photos and her talk of love, loss and that intriguing flock of sparrows!

Our new Seed of the Week is Spare Time. Send your poems, photos & artwork about this (or any other) subject to kathykieth@hotmail.com. 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 of others to choose from.

Davis Poet Laureate James Lee Jobe writes that he has three suggestions for getting your poetry fix online while we are Sheltering at Home:

•••Live-feed poetry readings on Facebook by James Lee Jobe. The first will be this Thursday, March 27, at 8 pm. Go to Facebook.com/JamesLeeJobe to connect.

•••A blog for your poems: Yolo County is the name of the blog, and YoloCountyPoems.blogspot.com is the web address. You may email your poems to James at this same email address, JamesLeeJobe@gmail.com, and please put “Poems” in the subject line. Any topic, but family friendly, please. Include a one-sentence bio if you want.

•••Poetry videos online that you can see right now. The web address is YouTube.com/JamesLeeJobe.

Thanks, James Lee! This coronavirus situation will hopefully spur all kinds of creativity in poets, finding ways to keep them linked house-to-house, person-to-person, poet-to-poet.



 "A twitter of movement in a winter tree..."
—Public Domain Photo

Photos in this column can be enlarged by
clicking on them once, then clicking on the x
in the top right corner to come back to Medusa.