Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wine-Maidens & Love Songs

Langston Hughes

—Langston Hughes

On sunny summer Sunday afternoons in Harlem
when the air is one interminable ball game
and grandma cannot get her gospel hymns
from the Saints of God in Christ
on account of the Dodgers on the radio,
on sunny Sunday afternoons
when the kids look all new
and far too clean to stay that way,
and Harlem has its
washed-and-ironed-and-cleaned-best out,
the ones who've crossed the line
to live downtown
miss you,
Harlem of the bitter dream,
since their dream has
come true.


—Langston Hughes

I could take the Harlem night
And wrap around you,
Take the neon lights and make a crown,
Take the Lenox Avenue busses,
Taxis, subways,
And for your love song tone their rumble down.
Take Harlem's heartbeat,
Make a drumbeat,
Put it on a record, let it whirl,
And while we listen to it play,
Dance with you till day—
Dance with you, my sweet brown Harlem girl.


—Langston Hughes

Of the jazz-tuned night,
Sweet as purple dew,
Like the pillows of all sweet dreams,
Who crushed
The grapes of joy
And dropped their juice
On you?


—Langston Hughes

Desire to us
Was like a double death,
Swift dying
Of our mingled breath,
Of an unknown strange perfume
Between us quickly
In a naked


—Langston Hughes

The earth-meaning
Like the sky-meaning
Was fulfilled.

We got up
And went to the river,
Touched silver water,
Laughed and bathed
In the sunshine.

Became a bright ball of light
For us to play with,
A yellow curtain,
A velvet screen.

The moon,
Like an old grandmother,
Blessed us with a kiss
And sleep
Took us both in


—Medusa (who says farewell to Black History Month with this tribute to Langston Hughes)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Wilderness of Mystery

Photo by Art Beck

—Art Beck, San Francisco

In 1501, or was it 1502? I can’t remember. Cesare Borgia
gave a surprise party for his father, the Pope, and his sister, Lucretia.

It was a mild autumn, and on an impromptu stage under the great arbor,
fifty prostitutes danced, demurely dressed, and then,

danced naked for half an hour before dispersing to crawl
under the dining tables to beg for chestnuts.

Perhaps Cesare thought the revelry might cheer his sister
who was still mourning—though she’d be damned if she’d

let them see it—her treacherous husband those bastards
had strangled. She’d really loved that eager, ignorant,

frightened boy. But politics was business after all. And
did the chronicler mention Julia Bella, the comfort

of Pope Alexander’s declining years? Was she at the party?
Five years earlier, when he was sixty three, and she was still

the fourteen-year-old he’d married to one-eyed Orso Orsini
he wrote to remind her he was the Pope as well as her lover.

And if he ever caught her in bed with her husband,
he’d excommunicate her and damn her soul for eternity.

A nasty family. But history reminds us violent Cesare
was the most exemplary of princes; that Lucretia grew

gradually old and repentant, and died a near saint; that Alexander
was devoted to the Virgin to the point of superstition,

and—as corpulent as any well fed tenor—would sing
the Christmas mass in a voice so lovely it brought tears

to the crystal hearts of the pious. The righteous
may like to imagine their Borgias roasting in hell with Hitler, but

Christians should forgive and, personally, I’m touched
by the thought of old Alexander roasting chestnuts, sipping his Sangiovese,

waiting for the dinner to start and wondering
what that sly son of his had up his sleeve for the evening.

“What the hell’s the point of being pope,” I can hear him muttering,
“if you can’t indulge your own little sins, as well as the sins of others?”


—Art Beck

When Jack had Judith Exner brought around back
to the little maid’s room in the big White House,
he always made sure to do the job, three, four times
before relaxing on the pillow with his cigar.
He liked to tickle her nipple just so slightly,
nothing too blatant, while he set out to learn
what he wanted to know. “That old pervert, Giancana.
Tell me again, how he tries to do it to you.

I want to hear. I want to know everything.
I’ll bet he’s got some juicy things to say about Bobby, eh?
Just stick it out a little longer. Doesn’t that feel good?
Don’t I make it up to you? I just need to know a little more.
Sam will get what’s coming to him in the end, don’t worry...
Listen, Judy, all that stuff you hear about Marilyn, don’t pay any attention.
That’s all bullshit. Why would I want a fluff like that? ”

Fifteen years later, a new president—a man of Jack’s
very own party—but not very clear on the concept—
assured us that he, like the rest of us, suffered
from unrequited lust—and that he’d never, ever, tell a lie.
Hearing this, all across America, we slept peacefully in our
marital beds. But in Arlington, the earth quaked, as Jack sputtered
and turned, over and over, in his smoking grave.



The government of sneak thieves has finally
been overthrown by a revolution
of murderers. Our children
are in the streets, stalking their prey.
People are numb. They can’t
make simple choices, can’t decide
whether to go to work, drive
to the store. They cling
to their houses like trout behind
rocks in a winter river.

We watch the new leaders on television:
Master Sergeant Waldo, Monsignor Kelly,
the ascetic Police Captain Striker.
Each is wary of the others.
They agree on the points of order
without smiling. We realize
it doesn’t so much matter what’s forbidden.
It’s only important to know that all
penalties have now been reduced to death.

We lie here, naked, on the covers,
washed by the flickering silver light,
titillated by their static voices.
All non-procreative sex is now banned,
they agree, and our puckering
middle aged bodies are dazzled
by the forgotten excitement of mortal sin.

—Art Beck


—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

Some people waded into the sea,
Like tourists in a poem by William
Carpenter. Others dropped from fine
Lines into the mouths of caves, never
To be seen again. Some boarded planes
Or ships or began walking away from us
Until they were no longer in sight.

They went back and forth into each
Other, buoyed by love and a welter of sweet
Declarations full of color and a brocade
Woven of intimacy and whispers.

They entered careers. They entered politics.
They entered priesthood, became cult members,
Began reading infinitely long books, joined one
Another on rafts across barely charted seas.
Left the clearings for the forest, went into Samadhi,*
Deep meditation, abandoned known methods
Of communication, joined centers of research
To carve the riddles of outer space, of inner
Space. They declared entrance into vast
Realms of magic, probed unafraid the worlds
Fictions, entered into communication with angels,
Those long dead, esoteric discussions of meaning
In the symphonies of great composers.

Most entered schools of one kind or another,
Marriage or deep friendships pathways of loss,
Or simply crossed state lines or passed into, through,
Around and out of places defined by geography.

This is a central activity here. This entering.
This earth life. We enter it. We are here.
We enter the next life. Every second
Seems a most extraordinary event if looked
At as a passage. These words enter your life.
You enter into conversation. I enter you.
As the words cease we enter yet another place.

May this be always so. May entrance never
Be denied. May mystery always reign as we
Enter. May we enter always with grace.

(*a state of ecstatic bliss)

Photo by Art Beck


Today's LittleNip:

We do not understand much of anything, from...the "big bang," all the way down to the particles in the atoms of a bacterial cell. We have a wilderness of mystery to make our way through in the centuries ahead.

—Lewis Thomas



Friday, February 26, 2010

The Hells We Choose

Photo Enhancement by D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

—Dawn DiBartolo, Citrus Heights

i was in church.
familiarity was distant
and the kids sat in his lap,
all of them, while i sat
in my pew alone.
the devil had
a European look,
long curly hair,
seducing fingers roam.
he spoke to me
in cryptic tones
that distracted me
from the sermon.
when all was said and done,
he left me
to clean up the mess, alone
hauling armfuls of debris
through the empty soulless fields.


—Dawn DiBartolo

out of boredom
or curiosity, i jumped
on board,
pushed the button
marked heaven.
as i began to descend,
what seemed like only one floor,
my heart rose, pulsed
in my throat.
i was afraid of
open doors,
and these split to reveal
a boiler room hell—
lead pipes and steam
right in front of me,
but no one waiting.
the doors began
to come together
and relief washed over me.
just before they shut completely,
a harried man of buttered toast
in a cool ash business suit,
red tie,
slid thru. “thank God.”
he proclaimed,
and hit the same button
i had
to end up where i was.
instead of up, we traveled
bending with the tracks
i’d not seen before.
we traveled long
without words,
and he checked his watch
i fretted over the growing distance
between me and those i loved—
how would i ever return?
finally, we stopped.
before he disembarked,
he leaned in, as if
to kiss me,
came close enough
to steal my breath
into his lungs,
though we never quite connected.
he left me there, alone
and hollow,
and i awoke not sure
if i ever made it back.


This weekend in NorCal poetry:

(for a more complete listing of events, go to

•••Fri. (and every last Friday of the month), 8-10:30 PM: TheBlackOutPoetrySeries inside The Upper Level VIP Lounge, 26 Massie Ct., Sacramento (located inside of Fitness Systems Healthclub, by Cal State Skating Rink; exit Mack Road East to Stockton Blvd and then make a left on Massie, right past Motel 6) features poets Daynomi "IrRegularflow" Thomas from Los Angeles, Cleo Cartel, Jesse Brown, Elika Bernard, Malik Saunders and The Mustard Seeds. and open mic. $5.00. Info: 916-208-POET or

•••Sat. (2/27, and every last Sat. of the month), 7-9 PM: TheShowPoetrySeries features Daynomi "IrRegularflow" Thomas from Los Angeles, Mario Ellis Hill, Chara Charis, DeLaire Doyle, LaRah and more. Wo'se Community Center, 2863 35th St. (Off 35th & Broadway), $5. Info: 916 208-POET or E-mail:

•••Sun. (2/28), 1 PM: Salvatore Salerno reads at McHenry Museum, 1402 I St., Modesto. Free; open mic; refreshments.

•••Mon. (3/1), 7:30 PM:
They're scattered around town—on buses, trains, cabs, in restrooms, bars, left along with the tip; stuffed into a stranger's back pocket. Whatever. Wherever. Small poems in small booklets half the size of a business card. A project of the 24th-Street Irregular Press, which cranks them out to be taken by the handful and scattered like seeds by those who want to see poetry grow in a barren cultural landscape. On March 1, Sacramento Poetry Center presents Poems-For-All Celebrates Nine! Poets will read short poems from their miniature books published as part part of the Poems-For-All Project's ninth anniversary, as well as poems from others who are in the series, including William Blake, Kenneth Patchen, d.a. levy, William Wantling, Emily Dickinson, Roque Dalton, Jack Spicer, Jack Micheline, Ted Joans, Dr. Seuss and others.

PFA Celebrates Nine will actually take part in two different locations on two different days: On Monday, March 1, at SPC (25th & R Sts., Sacramento), and on Weds., March 10 at The Book Collector (1008 24th St., Sacramento, hosted by Rattlesnake Press). Here are the readers for both nights:

MARCH 1st (Host: Bob Stanley)
Manny Gale
Frank Graham
Rachel Hansen
Ru Hansen
Susan Kelly-DeWitt
Rebecca Morrison
Geoffrey Neill
Danny Romero
Rivkah Sass
Abe Sass
Bob Stanley
Mary Zeppa


MARCH 10th (Host: Kathy Kieth)
Martha Ann Blackman
Taylor Graham
Ann Menebroker
frank andrick
Bill Gainer
Rachel Hansen
Ru Hansen
Kevin Jones
Kathy Kieth
Joyce Odam


—Dawn DiBartolo

in the mist of cumbersome sleep
fear found and coddled me
gave me dark and waking dreams
that left me shaken and weak.

in the hollows of the night
where shadows manipulate sight
and the winds evoke writhing fright,
clung assurance with tattered might.

with the sun came fractured day
full of woe and dismay
“come child, shift this way”
the unfettered hauntings say.

and with gloom and solemn dread
fear and hauntings filled my head
with all dreams lost and all things dead,
day followed as night-demons led.


—Dawn DiBartolo

what is the price
for letting go
and riding the descent?
at what cost
do i begin
with black canvas
and ghostly white ferris wheel,
eternal death, the conductor?
as i hand him my fare,
the coins carved of soul,
slide thru the iron gate
waist high, legs lost
to the darkness.
which rocking car
holds my fate tonight?
what journey
shall my mind take,
and make real
for the moment’s sake?
strap myself in
and hold tight
to begin.
there are demons
known only to me
and they slice thru
like wind as i spin
thru night sky,
wondering how the light
will ever reach me again.


—Dawn DiBartolo

dance with the devil, she said,
to know your limits, like each
time testing the rope that holds you
suspended; only then will you know depth.

the fibers are frayed, i say,
will snap and leave you lost
to the falling…falling…

but i’ve been falling, she believes,
for so long now, bottom may
quiet the screams…

and there is no escaping
any hell you willingly choose.

Photo Enhancement by D.R. Wagner


Today's LittleNip:

Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on.

—Winston Churchill



Our thanks to Dawny-D and D.R. for today's art and poetry on our Seed of the Week: The Devils That Chase Us. Both of them have been published by Rattlesnake Press; check 'em out at or The Book Collector.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Playground Keeps Shifting


Cracks line the paths and
Danger lurks within the shadows,
As I pass unarmed
Through this desolate wilderness
In search of water and my soul.

—Ronald Edwin Lane, Weimar


—Claire J. Baker, Pinole

"Shine, dear one, shine"—
a phrase one might whisper
to a lover,
to a baby at christening,
to a beloved who has
just passed on,

or phrase to keep
within, near the surface
to kindle kindness, like

hear me, believe me
when my eyes urge,
Shine, dear one, shine.


—Claire J. Baker

We flew the origami
doves you made for us
one yellow, one red

we taped together
and placed in
our dashboard cup.

The wings grew shabby,
the beaks got bent.
They had to fly

beyond our dashboard
sky. We wanted you to
know they flew for years.


—Laura Baumann, Fair Oaks

Dredged from the depths,
shivering memories
like sunken treasure.
Recognize them.

Never again will you be
brave as you are now.
This couch—this room.
One witness records your life
but alone you search time.

Vacation where the bodies are buried:
tasting the taunts
inhaling the shame,
your loneliness.

You may never love your life,
but you can claim it!


—Laura Baumann

Wear these clothes; pick the
right Trapper Keeper; and
buy brightly colored pens.

Will that make it better?
It never matters much.
The playground keeps shifting.

The popular girls wear
down vests, powder jackets,
Levis and Adidas.

They take gymnastics and
all have haircuts just like
Dorothy Hamill.

Dr. Pepper flavored
Bonnie Bell lip smackers
make their mouths lipstick red.

They talk about Jaws, the
shark movie, but how can
they go? It’s R-Rated!

I like Jimmy Carter,
but must bite my tongue—
they prefer Gerald Ford.

How did they learn these rules?
I never did. I just
watch them chew Bubble Yum!


—Charles Mariano, Sacramento

i wrote a song

well, not a song
a dumb-ass song

started out
rattling in my head
while driving

it was
i-done-her-wrong kinda song
only i didn’t,
not really

jotted the first line
on a napkin
while driving

hummed a few bars
of the chorus:

“i don’t got no money,
she don’t give no honey!”

ripped a guitar riff solo
some serious drums
then a big
head-boppin finish,

“ohh babyyy,
you’re the pain
that drives me
on the plane,
in the rainnnn!”


Today's LittleNip:

I like pigs. Dogs look up to us.
Cats look down on us.
Pigs treat us as equals.

—Winston Churchill



(Thanks to today's contributors, including Katy Brown for finding the silly cat on the 'Net.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Our Own Private Devils

Steal your breath?
Photo of "Venus" by Katy Brown, Davis

—Patricia Hickerson, Davis

Sometimes it started as an echo
slipping from under the bed
a slur of taps not sharp and clear enough
not in time with Mother’s drumstep heart

The not-so-famous child of the ‘30s
in the night vault her bed the coffin
for kids who failed to smile
roll their eyes as they danced
Mother frowned at her
from across the studio floor

When she couldn’t sleep
still seeing workers
on the catwalk high above the soundstage
they stared down at her
just one of a dozen toy soldiers
tapping out a stair dance for the camera’s roll
don’t fall, don’t look at the steps
klieg lights blink her eyes
take after take with stomach churn
sick after a day’s shoot

In the night,
just in time to the bathroom—
(body still burnt orange
from the 6 am makeup)
spill it all into the toilet

How it started onstage
five years old dancing with Mary
the piano played “Two Little Girls in Blue”
the spread of darkened audience
the wave of clapping became hands
that squeezed the dough of her yeasty core
Mother’s head, her mouth a round O
head sliding along a high taut wire,
Mother’s head with its blue-lit eyes
glaring down at her from above the coffin


—Patricia Hickerson

that moment of ecstasy she gives herself
before falling into deep and satisfied sleep

it’s about these women
she has known them all her life
they whisper at twilight over teacups
tell secrets in the kitchen
behind the swinging door

the older one, hair stacked in grey wieners,
laughs, stirs the gravy
eyeglasses steam up at the stove
bends to the sewing-machine
pumps the treadle
the younger one always watching
blue eyes like glacial stones
her smile a glare of bright fangs
across the dance studio

they have been with her since she was born

harsh streets where these women lived
shop and office where they worked
then she came along

when they need money
the women strip off her showgirl costumes
the ones they’ve measured her for
pinned her up in
glitter of rhinestones
sheen of satin
velvet moss
all thrown in a heap on the floor
tie her half-naked to a wheel
splay her out
invite men in


—Mitz Sackman, Murphys

When I was little
It always troubled me
That no one would
Answer my question
Or they would give a non-answer
Like because I said so
Called the ISS Postulate
In our mathematically inclined household

They would say
Do this
Do that
But when I asked why
I would be in deep trouble
They thought
I was being disrespectful
But I only wanted to know


—Richard Zimmer, Sacramento

Getting up from his brimstone bed
the Devil decides to go a-walking,
to look at this snug little world,
and to take stock of things here.

Fred prays to be delivered from the,
Devil who roams the earth, and can
take any shape to seize, unawares, a
poor man’s soul in its glooming gloom
of depression. Fred then goes to sleep.

A stranger comes to Fred’s door, with
a bible, reciting passages, Fred knows
the Devil can cite scriptures and feels
a faint cold fear in his veins. Fred grabs
hold of the man, demanding of him…

Who are you?… What is your name?
The man makes a weird growling sound.
Fred, startled, lets him go, and the man
runs away. Fred angrily shouts after him,
I know who you are! I know who you are!


—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Worry drives at swelter-speed down
asphalt two-lane, its barbecue of roadkill
rabbit, sparrow, dog; on all sides
vacant landscape, tiding sea of brown.
Devil Worry walks you up a little hill, rocky
island in that angry sea – or is it only
wild with possibility under a flame-torch
wind? The cost of life. April’s flowers
drowned in grasses dried and brittle. Brown
nattering of flies, a seething under surfaces.
Snakes beneath this rock or the next,
coiled to strike. Stand tip-toe upon a little
hill, trying not to touch the lethal ground.

Photo by Katy Brown

Today's LittleNip:

More eating rice, less talking mouth.

—Chinese Proverb



(Thanks to today's artists for riffing on our Seed of the Week: The Devils That Chase Us.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On the Way to My Urologist...

Hugh Fox

—Hugh Fox, E. Lansing, MI

I just wish my thirty unpublished novels would
get published and made into films, all about Jews
converting to Christianity and then back to Judaism
again, about guys and gals falling in love, breaking up,
getting back together again fifty years later, and then
dying, about my mother's funeral and her life as
secretary, M.D.'s wife-dictator, about a millionaire-
friend in NY whose money came from his wife, she
died and he married Vampira Moneystarved...into
print, then filmed, some millions in the bank, buy
houses for my kids in Carpinteria or Venice (California),
San Diego...get them all within a mile of me, kids
and grandkids, and be surrounded-surrounded-surrounded
by kids, son-in-laws, daughters-in law, little grandkid
monkeys full time instead of me and the computer and
"light snow for the next hundred days," a Brazilian
wife whose sisters are dying off ("I've gotta get back
to Brazil!"), and bytesville wrapping around my neck
all day and strangling me on my way to my urologist.


Thanks; Hugh! It's an honor and a pleasure to have Hugh Fox with us today. Hugh Fox was born in Chicago in 1932. Polio at age 4, cured by a pre-Salk experimental medicine that worked. Spent his children totally immersed in the arts, was part of the All Childrens' Grand Opera group run by Viennese genius Zerlina Muhlman Metzger, studied violin and composition with P. Marinus Paulson, art and ceramics at the Art Institute in Chicago, was pushed into Medicine by his M.D. father, finished four years of pre-med and a year of medicine, then got an M.A. at Loyola in Chicago and a Ph.D. in English/American Literature at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. It was at Urbana-Champaign that he met and married Lucia Ungaro Zevallos, a Peruvian poet-critic who was getting her Ph.D. in Romance Languages, and after the marriage they moved to Los Angeles where he taught for ten years at Loyola-Marymount University and was immersed in the film-world. At the same time, thanks to his wife, he began to go to Peru to visit his Peruvian family and slowly visited all the major ruins in the pre-Columbian Americas. He met Harry Smith in Berkeley in 1968 and they became best friends and for some twenty years Fox would visit Smith 2-3 times a year in New York City/Brooklyn and work on Smith’s magazines, get to know the poets and writers in the New York scene. He was a Fulbright Professor for a year in Mexico (1961), two years in Caracas (1964-'66), which especially made sense because he married a Peruvian in 1956. In 1968 he moved to Michigan State U. and taught there until he retired 6 years ago. While at Michigan State U. he had a Fulbright professorship in Brazil where he met and married a Brazilian M.D., studied Latin American literature on a grant from the Organization of American States at the U. of Buenos Aires, and after beginning to make archaeological discoveries and have his books on archaeology published, he received another grant from the Organization of American States to spend a year as an archaeologist in the Atacama Desert in Chile. He has some 104 books published.


—Hugh Fox

Workers with salaries, every day at the
hospital, 95.5% jovial, of course always
a pathologist or radiologist with midnight-
all-day-downness, and then into the
favelas / ghettos / slums, painless, slouching
porches, clunkers, some of the young blacks
wearing human clunker uniforms, once in
a while an old Bohunk planting La Boheme
flowers, can I buy a pliers, pair of shoes, coat,
notebook, copy of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
not made in (Cheerios next) China?


The devils that chase us: love and lust, ennui and torpor, sadness and sorrow. This week, write about the devils that chase you. What niggles at you in the night? One (or more!) of the Seven Deadly Sins? Old or new griefs? Shine some light on the big or little beasts for our Seed of the Week and send your exposés to or P.O. Box 762, Pollock Pines, CA 95726.

Poems-For-All Celebrates Nine!

March is Anniversary Month for Richard Hansen’s Poems-For-All, and this year PFA will be celebrated by two readings of previously-published PFA books, the first presented by Sacramento Poetry Center at HQ for the Arts, 25th & R Sts., Sacramento, and the second by Rattlesnake Press at The Book Collector, 1008 24th St., Sacramento. Both will begin at 7:30 PM. Here are the readers for these two stellar events:

MARCH 1st: Hosted by Sacramento Poetry Center/Bob Stanley
Manny Gale
Frank Graham
Rachel Hansen
Ru Hansen
Susan Kelly-DeWitt
Rebecca Morrison
Geoffrey Neill
Danny Romero
Rivkah Sass
Abe Sass
Bob Stanley
Mary Zeppa

MARCH 10th: Hosted by Rattlesnake Press
Martha Ann Blackman
Taylor Graham
Ann Menebroker
frank andrick
Bill Gainer
Rachel Hansen
Ru Hansen
Kevin Jones
Kathy Kieth
Joyce Odam

Headed for New York?

Next time you're in The Big Apple, you have to stop at Poet's House. (You may even find some books there from Rattlesnake Press, though apparently some of them have disappeared...shoplifted? What an honor!) Free and open to the public, Poet's House now has a new location in Battery Park City, overlooking the Hudson, and it features many wonderful programs, displays, readings, classes, symposia, a Children's Room. (Did you know the U.S. has a Children's Poet Laureate, Mary Ann Hoberman?) May will feature a seminar on Ecopoetics, including Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, and many other familiar names. Check it all out at


—Hugh Fox

Out in the Ohio wildlands, all the family but
me there, my M.D. wife on call at the hospital
over Chirstmas week, he asks me to come
down anyhow, "Come down and visit with the
rest of them, there's this great hotel just 14
hours away in Akron...if you can get off
our mountain in the middle of the glacier-storms.
I can always lend you a climbing axe so you can
carve steps in the ice...we've still got sixteen cows
and five bulls left, and a hundred and fourteen oughta try swan-meat...kind of like
Bernadete...her and her swan legs...oops...
sorry for the lusting...that's the way it gets
when the sun breaks through the clouds.
Which isn't often around here. Most of my
paintings these days are black on black...
maybe a little grey (optimism) thrown in."


—Hugh Fox

Father O'Malley Christmas Day Mass
At Holy Cross Church in Somerville,
sermon-time, "It's beautiful, isn't it,
decking the halls with holy and silent
nighting it, jungle-belling and queens of
angels and all the lonnnnnnng historical
tracking...I just wish-wish-wish I could
believe in eggless-spermless conceptions
and resurrections of any kind...I'm
retiring on New Year's Eve...I guess I
can believe in solstices without sungods...
but..." tears, back to the altar, prayers
for the dead.


Today's LittleNip:

I feel a very unusual sensation—if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.

—Benjamin Disraeli



Monday, February 22, 2010

Between Two Seasons

It's Tulipmania time in SF!

—William Bronk

There was something I meant to say
before the spring had come
as though it were now the time
if there ever were a time;
as in a dressing room between
two acts of an old play,
some actor changing costume,—
there, in the unpresented moment,
would be the thing to say.

Now, in the radiance of spruce and cedar,
as on a winter hillside in the sun
but the snow gone now,
the ground tawny,
the grass down and tangled,
now, on the quiet earth between two seasons,
there would be the thing to say.


Deadlines loom: Time to get serious about three upcoming deadlines this week:

•••2/26: Penumbra:
•••2/27: Tule Review:
•••2/28: Tiger's Eye Spg. issue & Contest:

Also coming in NorCal poetry this week:

(for a more complete listing, go to

•••Mon. (2/22), 7:30 PM: A Night of Translation with Adam Siegel's Johannes Bobrowski and Friederike Mayrcker, Christoph Meckel, Marly de Oliveira, Ledo Ivo, Carlos Nejar—plus an open mic calling for anyone to read poems translated into English. Sacramento Poetry Center, 25th and R Sts., Sacramento. Info: 916-979-9706.

•••Weds. (2/24), 7 PM: SPC and River City Brewing Co. celebrate Sacramento Beer Week with A Fermentation of Verse, with Richard Hansen, Cynthia Linville and an expanding cast of others. River City Brewing Company, 545 Downtown Plaza, Sacramento. Open mic for all who wish to wax poetic about hops, kräusening, the wort and the mash. $2.50/pint all night!

•••Weds. (2/24), 6:30 PM: California Lawyers for the Arts presents Relax With Tax, a seminar on the essentials of income tax for individual artists of all disciplines and small arts businesses will be presented by Dennis Yep, an Enrolled Agent since 1968. Topics include: record keeping, form 1040, Schedule C and self-employment schedule, deductions, hobby losses, home offices and more. 1418 20th St., Ste. 201, Sacramento. Refreshments. Seminar Fee: $40 general, $30 members of C.L.A., $20 students/seniors $5 off for registering in advance. Seminar fee includes the tax workbook, The Art of Deduction, at no extra charge. This workbook is updated each year. Info: Phone: (916) 442-6210 ext. 102 or email to register. Please see the CLA website for Relax with Tax dates in other cities:

•••Weds. (2/24), 6-7 PM: Upstairs Poetry reading at The Upstairs Art Gallery, 420 Main St (2nd floor), Placerville. It's a poetry open-mike read-around, so bring your own poems or those of a favorite poet to share, or just come to listen. No charge.

•••Thurs. (2/25), 8 PM: Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Café, 1414 16th St., Sacramento presents Judy Wells and Lytton Bell. Open mic before and after.

•••Sat. (2/28, and every last Sat. of the month), 7-9 PM: TheShowPoetrySeries features Daynomi "IrRegularflow" Thomas from Los Angeles, Mario Ellis Hill, Chara Charis, DeLaire Doyle, LaRah and more. Wo'se Community Center, 2863 35th St. (Off 35th & Broadway), $5. Info: 916 208-POET or E-mail:

•••Sun. (2/28), 1 PM: Salvatore Salerno reads at McHenry Museum, 1402 I St., Modesto. Free; open mic; refreshments.

…and don’t forget the annual Tulipmania in San Francisco at Pier 39, the annual festival running through next Sunday (2/28) which includes an outdoor display of tulips in every color, plus free guided landscaping tours at 10 AM daily, beginning in the Pier 39 entrance plaza. Info: Poetry and photography inspiration abound!

Is your life memoire-able?

The Hart Senior Center’s third cross-generational writers conference will be held April 24 from 8 AM to 4:30 PM at Cosumnes River College, featuring some of our local poets, including Julia Connor, as faculty. It was designed for people 50 and older (though apparently they’ve expanded beyond that); there are 150 spaces, and registration ($30) is due by April 9. Info: Hart Center at 916-808-5462.

Goldrush Writers Conference, April 30, May 1-2: Mining the Word Poetry Workshop

Monika Rose of Manzanita writes: Come join me in a poetry workshop at the Goldrush Writers Conference. Whether you're a seasoned or unseasoned poet, you will add substance to the poetry soup and come away with some poems and soup starters for yourself. Bring your rambling prose drafts and journal entries, if you would like to mine them. You can bring photos and memory-stimulating objects and mementoes that can fit in the palm of your hand for an unusual journey. Or bring nothing but yourself and a note pad and materials will be provided to unearth your hidden language and bring it to the surface for surprising results.

There are fantastic workshops and events planned for the Goldrush Writers Conference April 30, May 1-2, to be held at Historic Hotel Leger, 8304 Main St., Mokelumne Hill. With three days of writing workshops and networking, this conference is priced reasonably—and will be a stimulating boost for your writing projects. Learn some great techniques for mining raw material to convert into poems that project ideas and thoughts trapped in your subconscious. This is a stimulating approach for unearthing unusual imagery and emotion, using existing material to scaffold your interior journey. You will be drafting a poem in the workshop from your excavations and adventures in language and if you wish, sharing it with the group. Bring some of your own prose writing, journal entries, letters, email printouts of writing to a friend, and photographs of memorable events, to use in the process. Other media materials will be provided for digging. Mary Mackey will be the keynote speaker and will conduct a workshop in memoir, and the conference fee includes picnic supper Friday evening in a Victorian garden, Sat. lunch and dinner, and Sunday brunch. Additional faculty includes Michael Arkin, Mary Web, Indigo Moor, Tom Johnson, Lucy Sanna, Kevin Arnold, Monika Rose, Kathie Isaac-Luke, Helen Bonner, and Antoinette May.

Visit the Conference website for full details, including schedule of classes and faculty bios:

Workshop listing and descriptions:
Registration form:

Early Bird special if you sign up by March 30!

Monika Rose
Manzanita Writers Press


—Richard Zimmer, Sacramento

The Turtle:
Preacher man, preacher man, tell me if you can,
will I go to heaven when I die? If not, why?

Preacher Crow:
The path of righteousness has many a turn—
our place in heaven, we have to earn.

The Turtle:
I'm big and clumsy, almost always fall—
will I be forgiven for anything at all?

Preacher Crow:
The gate to heaven's narrow, the gate is straight.
Those who don't get through, meet a terrible fate.

The Turtle:
My wide frame keeps me out of the game,
but I really like to stay in church and pray.

Holy pictures on the wall— velvet curtains in the hall.
This is where I like to be. Can't you see? Can't you see?

Preacher Crow:
The rules are hard to bear, as we're all aware—
but the rules all stand, not to be broken by any man.

The Turtle:
Butter Beans! That's the word for what I've heard.
The church was built for men to comfort them.

Good bye and hallelujah—thanks for talking to ya!
There's a church up the block. I think I'll join their flock.


Being in the shopping market lane
I see a cover on a Rolling Stone Magazine
and I had to rhyme like the rain poem
Little Wayne Lil' Wayne, go away
You got tats that look like you belong in prison
and now you're crying about serving time
with gangbangers you so adore in your rap lyrics
likewise you didn't think about causing others pain
Please Wayne, go away and don't come back someday
unless it's to be Dwayne Michael Carter again
a name suitable for a real responsible gentleman
Or else it's an early grave for you like Tupac Shakur

—Michelle Kunert, Sacramento


I had a cold "strangling" my throat
Coughing gasps like a tourniquet around my lungs
Though I do not smoke,
a vegan who doesn't eat dairy or gluten
What did I do to deserve this,
a lung infection?
Ironically though I could buy alcohol,
an addictive poison for which one needs no license
But for medicine I needed a doctor's prescription
and risk infecting others in an office

—Michelle Kunert


—William Bronk

in their strange morality,
are shocked
by things their elders do unthinking,
by casual kissing and bad words,
not sensing
intricate enlargements of the mind.

in its full obscenity,
summer disturbs,
in the logic of the seasons,
ruthless non sequiturs to spring.

But when we are older,
we take the summer in our arms
to say this is enough,
being no better than we should be
nor worse.


Today's LittleNip:

One of the most important facts about man is that he is a wanting, desiring, longing, aspiring animal. Indeed, this is the essence of him and the source of his power.

—Edmund W. Sinnott



Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Dirty Word

—Karl Shapiro

The dirty word hops in the cage of the mind like the Pondicherry vulture, stomping with its heavy left claw on the sweet meat of the brain and tearing it with its vicious beak, ripping and chopping the flesh. Terrified, the small boy bears the big bird of the dirty word into the house, and grunting, puffing, carries it up the stairs to his own room in the skull. Bits of black feather cling to his clothes and his hair as he locks the staring creature in the dark closet.

All day the small boy returns to the closet to examine and feed the bird, to caress and kick the bird, that now snaps and flaps its wings savagely whenever the door is opened. How the boy trembles and delights at the sight of the white excrement of the bird! How the bird leaps and rushes against the walls of the skull, trying to escape from the zoo of the vocabulary! How wildly snaps the sweet meat of the brain in its rage.

And the bird outlives the man, being freed at the man's death-funeral by a word from the rabbi.

But I one morning went upstairs and opened the door and entered the closet and found in the cage of my mind the great bird dead. Softly I wept it and softly removed it and softly buried the body of the bird in the hollyhock garden of the house I lived in twenty years before. And out of the worn black feathers of the wing have I made pens to write these elegies, for I have outlived the bird, and I have murdered it in my early manhood.



Saturday, February 20, 2010

Name Us Rain Forest

Photo Enhancement by D.R. Wagner

—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

Three trees, the only landscape.
I couldn’t see past the surface
Of the water. There was a kind
Of sweet smell coming from my flesh.
The light was shattered by the afternoon.
It lay all criss-crossed on the floor,
Smashed into the door of my room and banked
Off the wrought iron bedstead.

Car skids around the corner, takes out
About three feet of fence, backs up, guns
The motor so hard it blows the muffler and
Disappears in a blast of taillights. Perhaps
It is the Winter light that makes the houses
Look so old and tired and hurt? They try
To fill themselves with the holidays, try to
Bend poor Jesus into “everything
Feeling so good.” Perhaps it is just that avenue
Of trees, near the water, pretending to be
The eternal now?

When I look close at the tears in the fabric,
They seem to have been bitten through. It
Seems as if the fabric is made of so many pairs of
Old denims, plaid shirts, socks, jackets and
Navy coats with rainbow cuffs, used to grab
Big hunks of music out of time and twist them
Around guitar strings. Sometimes it is a moment
Of wind, the space before the comma, the sound of one’s
Own footsteps reaching the ears. Look, over here,
Near the end of this creek, where it joins the lake,
The water seems to be making a shape, looks like
An angel. Its wings tricking against some twigs
Caught in the flood. They seem to move, then do.


Call for Artists, Artisans and Writers

MatrixArts announces a call for artists, artisans, and writers for three upcoming shows at the Pop-Up Gallery@R25, Midtown Sacramento, 1719 25th St., Sacramento.

1) If These Walls Could Talk (March): Art that tells a story, a mixture of words and images, just images, just words, poetry, prose, photography, posters, book cover design, artists books or anything in between. Work must be delivered to MatrixArts@R25: Deadline March 1 for jpgs. or March 6/7 for actual work.

2) New Works/New Voices (April)

•••New Works/Work created in the last two years or that shows a creative edge. Acceptable items: All categories of handmade artwork including original art, paintings, prints, collage, mixed media, assemblage, photography, BookArts, jewelry, textile art, art for wearing and ceramics (all must be able to hang on a wall). Deadline for jpgs. March 27, April 2/3 for actual work.

•••New Voices – a showcase of writers who haven’t been published or haven’t been published in the last two years. Four categories: fiction, creative non-fiction, general non-fiction and poetry. Winner will have their work designed and published in a chapbook plus have worked performed yourself or by an actor, in front of an audience. Guidelines available by February 19; check the website at

3) @R25 Festival (May-June)

MatrixArts Member Show and Studio Artists will be held the last two weeks of May and first week of June. Must be a member of MatrixArts or have a studio @R25 to show. Membership is $25 per year. The @R25 Festival will also feature theater performances, live music, food, free hands-on art workshops, and an artist studio tour.

For more information contact: Joy Gee, Artistic Director, MatrixArts, or 916-370-5628. See also


—Dewell Byrd, Eureka

Groves of stately aspen
March across the meadow
Haloed by a million mouse ears.
Wisps of fog drape the canyons
As silent as a heron's whisper.

Spired spruce, soothing—
Love-hand caressing without touching—
Fleeting moments of exquisite silence
Herald a tear-stained smile,
Mystic balm to winter's world.

Scattered squalls on yellow trumpets
Salt black-kneed lambs to lee,
And test lace 'neath hollow mushrooms,
Drop on drop on drop of thee to me.


—Patricia Hickerson, Davis

when the eyes are hardly open
I moon for you
as though you were still alive
sun on a sunless day

you were born at dawn
bleary January day
shadowed by a great cathedral
God announced your birth
in the voice of a surly head nurse
she threw you down on the bed
tried to alert you to the world
open your eyes she said
you were her favorite—

little golden baby
didn’t wake up for 6 months
finally rolled over, hit the floor
cried out

my poor darling
hurting all your life
sometimes the sun came out
radiant but harsh
60 years later a nurse with a needle
put you to sleep


—Patricia Hickerson

twilight in the darkening room
clink of cups and saucers
Mother and Grandmother re-tell their stories

a child lingers in the dream orchard
sunlight warms her, church bells charm her
she reads the Sunday School story of Adam and Eve

Who was the father of Neva’s baby?
Aunt Ara had to put all four kids in an orphanage
I told Minnie you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip

she takes her puppy for a walk
she waters the hollyhocks
she knits a sweater for her doll

they keep murmuring—
when Pa wasn’t around
I would jump on a horse and ride bareback
down to the creek to meet your dad

she holds tea parties in her playhouse
she picks a bouquet of buttercups

Ancil couldn’t hold a job to save his life
Uncle Ed ran around on Aunt Laura

those voices in the room beyond—
she pats on Grandmother’s Coty powder

Uncle Drew used to hit Nellie….
say, he was run right out of Kentucky
for killing a man

and bangs out ‘Here Comes the Bride’ on the piano

Aunt Lizzie…Doctor Richards’ bastard child by his cook

she tries on Mother’s wedding gown—
she throws apple peel into the dirt
it forms the initial of the man she will marry


—D.R. Wagner

We sat on the edge of the blue
Inlet and listened for the question
To become complete. A slight
Drift of smoke carried the scent
Of the cities through our clothing,
Peeling layer after layer of feeling
From us as if it were the heart,
Caught in its room of ribs and breathing,
Unable to understand hands, the movements
Of high mountain goats among the pinnacles of forgetting.

Sounds poured forth from us,
Continents of them, ripe and with
A million yellow mouths, all wanting
Something other than words could
Give, caught in melody and stripped
Before our eyes of the darling vestments
So beloved by men everywhere;
Truth, Knowing, the Sublime, Instinct.
“All lost, lost,” the captain said, unable
To recognize the land any longer.

We have no maps for things like this.
We are forever thinking we know
What will happen. We are forever
Calling, searching for echoes, the voice of angels,
The smiles of children blessed with tenderness,
Founded in waking up to see the sun
Slipping between the window blinds,
Not a dream at all, rather a way of knowing.
We embrace them and weep endlessly.
We name ourselves rain forest.

Fern Canyon
Photo Enhancement by D.R. Wagner

Today's LittleNip:

You exhale roughly a liter of water per day into the atmosphere, and most of this water rains or snows back down again within about a week’s time. The total global precipitation is about 1,000,000,000,000,000 (one quadrillion) times greater than the amount of water you exhale, so your impact on the weather is pretty minor.

But even if you contribute only one quadrillionth of the total water content in a snowflake, that is still about 1,000 molecules. It depends on how well things are mixed in the atmosphere, but there are probably, very roughly, about a thousand of your molecules in every snowflake.

—Anonymous (contributed by D.R. Wagner)



Friday, February 19, 2010

Beyond the Bickerings of Mice

The Hansens: Richard, Rachel and Ru
Photo by Katy Brown

—Joyce Odam, Sacramento

I will send this key to my old lover—
make him guess. Love is mysterious.

He will wonder what it’s for:
what love . . . ? what door . . . ?

(Key-to-my-heart door,
the key—the lock—my heart—all rusted.)

He will unwrap the key with expectation
—turn it in his hand and try to remember

why it seems familiar—
why it keeps growing smaller and smaller

until it becomes a flaking blemish
in the rusty hollow of his palm.

(first appeared in Poets Forum Magazine)


Thanks to Joyce Odam and Mitz Sackman for today's riffs on our Seed of the Week: Locks, and to Katy Brown and Jane Blue for their wonderful, wonderful photos.

Yesterday, in a fit of impetuosity, I signed up for facebook. So now I'm on facebook and trying to figure out how to use it that's different from the blog. Pictures, for one thing: they can stay up a long time and there's physically room for more, given the whole "album" thing. So check out my page for more photos from the Snake Tribute. There's a shortcut down at the bottom of Medusa's Bulletin Board, but you do have to be a member of facebook. Which isn't hard—it's free, and you'd be surprised at how many of your friends will welcome you.

Need some condoms?

According to Bob Shallit at the Sacramento Bee, PR magnate Bill Bradley, co-founder of Sacramento’s Me Communications, has initiated a “couplet contest” to solicit the best lines of verse promoting condom use for National Condom Week. Top prize: 144 condoms. Send poems to Pharmacists Planning Services, P.O. Box 6760, San Rafael, CA 94903 by April 29. Note: they’re calling it a “couplet contest” but I can’t tell what the actual parameters of the contest are, and there is no more contact info, so I dunno. You might bug Bob Shallit about it at or 916-321-1049. [Insert “never too many condoms” joke here…]

This weekend in NorCal poetry:

•••Friday (2/19), 7 PM: Terry Moore will celebrate the release of his new book, Born To Love You, with a performance at the Upper Level Lounge, 26 Massie Court, Sacramento. $5. Info:

•••Fri. (2/19), 7:30 PM: The Other Voice features Zoe Keithley and Carlena Wike plus open mic, sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis (reading is in the library of the church located at 27074 Patwin Road, Davis). Info: [See last Monday's post for bios.]

•••Fri. (2/19), 7-8:30 PM: "A Marathon of Love Poems: Poems of Love, Lust, and Heartache" with twenty local poets reading a few poems each (five minutes or less). Featuring: Katy Brown, Joe Atkins, Josh Fernandez, James Lee Jobe, Lytton Bell, Alexandra Sage, Jeff Knorr, Frank Andrick, SibillaHershey, Jim Benton, Catherine Fraga, Michelle Johnson, Stan Zumbie,l Crawdad Nelson, Quinton Duval, SLiC, Patricia Hickerson, Brad Henderson, Arnold Robbins, and EPG. Note location change from the Vox to SPC, 25th and R Sts. in Sacramento. Hosted by Cynthia Linville at Free.

•••Sat. (2/20), 8 PM: Word, Sound and Paint features V. S. Chochezi at Carol's Books, 1913 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento. Free but donations welcome; all donations will go to Doctors Without Borders & St. Martin Helping Hands International. Plan to buy a book and support your bookstore.

•••Sat. (2/20), 9-11 PM: Phoenyx Reign is the featured poet at The Artistry of 319 at the Jazzyblues Cafe, 319 6th St., West Sacramento. Art viewing, poetry and spoken word. $5 Admission. Restaurant and bar open. Open mic.

•••Sat. (2/20), 5 PM: A very special poetry reading featuring novelist/Poet Mary Mackey and New York Editor/Poet/Publisher Sandy MacIntosh at Luna's Cafe and Juice Bar, 1414 16th St., Sacramento.

•••Sat. (2/20), 8 AM-5 PM: The annual California Duck Days will be held at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area Headquarters, 45211 County Rd. 32B, featuring an exhibit hall with interactive displays such as trout fishing for kids, duck calling and a live bat workshop, as well as field trips. Cost is $20-$25 general, free for children younger than 16. Registration suggested for field trips. Info:

•••Sun. (9/21), 8:40-11:40 PM: NSAA & Ross Hammond perform experimental jazz plus poetry plus lyricism at Naked Coffee, 1111 H St., Sacramento. $5.

•••Mon. (2/22), 7:30 PM: A Night of Translation with Adam Siegel's Johannes Bobrowski and Friederike Mayrcker, Christoph Meckel, Marly de Oliveira, Ledo Ivo, Carlos Nejar—plus an open mic calling for anyone to read poems translated into English. Sacramento Poetry Center, 25th and R Sts., Sacramento. Info: 916-979-9706 or


—Mitz Sackman, Murphys

The only locks on our lives
Are the ones we place ourselves
The locks on our hearts to keep secrets
Too horrible to tell
The locks on our souls to keep safe
No matter what the cost
The locks between partners to carry
The weight of the burdens of life
Created by our locks


—Joyce Odam

(After “shadows on wall” – Mitchell Funk
Camera 35, March 1971)

All night they run past their shadows
on the wall—that patch of light

that holds them like stopped film:
time has locked and frozen them

to a moment of decision in this
fluke of light that won’t let go—

they strain within it—looming
out of perspective—their shadows

flailing—their bodies broken off
somewhere in the disconnected dark.


—Joyce Odam

(After “Henrietta & Astrid, Rome, 1987
Photograph by Marsha Burns, 1988)

hands together in their wealth
they light each other’s cigarette,

caress each other’s cheek
and love each other’s love

they touch and touch
and never touch enough

they smooth each other’s hair
and trace each other’s wrist

they move their hands like
envelopes of lust

claiming the shielded doorway
young and tough

they lock-in all the emptiness
they don’t discuss


—Joyce Odam

she said
croon me to wisdom till it snows


they rocked each other’s dreams
they locked their toes


they sang till morning found them
safe as souls

(first appeared in Urban Voices That Matter)


—Joyce Odam

I want to steal what the child artist
sees—this primary circle
addressed with wildest fingerpaints:

the thick red, the safe black underlay,
upheld by a sky-lake of purest blue—
no perspective to consider

but deep as a tilt of time
holding back death from life—
a center of love made reasonable.

A child’s eternity has to be
Now forever—
like this mandala—a cross of lines

to hold it from expanding
or shrinking, where one can be safe
as a tick-a-lock—all the way around.

Almond Blossoms in Capay Valley
Photo by Jane Blue, Sacramento

Today's LittleNip:

It is necessary for me to see the first point of light which begins to be dawn. It is necessary to be present alone at the resurrection of Day, in the solemn silence at which the sun appears, for at this moment all the affairs of cities, of governments, of war departments, are seen to be the bickerings of mice. I receive from the Eastern woods, the tall oaks, the one word DAY, which is never the same. It is always in a totally new language.

—Thomas Merton