Sunday, October 31, 2010

Known Devils

Davis Devil
Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

—David Lee

We were loading a boar, a goddam mean big sonofabitch and he jumped out of the pickup four times and tore out my stockracks and rooted me in the stomach and I fell down and he bit John on the knee and he thought it was broken and so did I and the boar stood over in the far corner of the pen and watched us and John and I just sat there tired and Jan laughed and brought us a beer and I said, “John it aint worth it, nothing’s going right and I’m feeling half dead and haven’t wrote a poem in ages and I’m ready to quit it all,” and John said, “shit, young feller, you aint got started yet and the reason’s cause you trying to do it outside yourself and aint looking in and if you wanna by god write pomes you gotta write pomes about what you know and not about the rest and you can write about pigs and that boar and Jan and you and me and the rest and there aint no way you’re gonna quit,” and we drank beer and smoked, all three of us, and finally loaded that mean bastard and drove home and unloaded him and he bit me again and I went in the house and got out my paper and pencils and started writing and found out John he was right.



Sophia and the Great Pumpkin
Photo by Janet Pantoja, Woodinville, WA

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Starry Veins of Words

Michelle Kunert

For Halloween I'm a can of spray cheese
with a red and blue logo saying "KRAP"
also as an entry to chef Jimmy Oliver’s bad food contest
(also to get a $2.00 burrito at Chipotle)
to be one of the creepiest foods ever with strange history:
Starting in 1903
J.L. Kraft couldn't sell his processed cheese in Chicago
can you imagine this German immigrant
actually pushed it, going door to door
with a wicked grin like Jehovah’s Witnesses
"Scuze me Madam pleaze buy my vun-derful cheeze!
Okay, den it haz many other uzes if you don't eat it…"
But alas for Mr Kraft, Americans still ate "real" food—
being an era when food was still "slow"
from the farms, to be prepared in kitchens
not cranked out of factories and made with petro chemicals
But in WWI he sold his cheese to the military
because they wanted stuff that wouldn't spoil
Therefore "cheese" goop with indefinite shelf life began
along with other pre-packaged products sold as "food"
that would last in the same state for over a thousand years  
to make Americans sick and clog their arteries
and make them the fattest people in the world

—Michelle Kunert, Sacramento


—Carl Bernard Schwartz, Sacramento

The morgue
is full of unmet deadlines:
ice cream fallen from its cone,
the vitality of tomorrow gone
from the marrow.

A bustling maternity ward
features due dates
throughout the room
oft hastened by technology
that severs the womb.

The editor’s desk
juggles brilliance and dull,
a zillion submissions lay on the floor
what’s one to do with this unrefined ore?
too much cargo will sink this old hull.

Rehearsals, rehearsals,
we must all be ready
when it is our time
to stand up and shine
like a wave pounded jetty.

Now we’re back to the dead
lined row after row
under markers and gravestones,
flowers, silent moans,
it was too soon to go.

The new issue of Sacramento Poetry Center's Poetry Now is now online at And don't forget that today is the new, extended deadline for SPC's Tule Review:


—Nelly Sachs

White serpent 
polar circle
wings in the granite
rose-colored sadness in blocks of ice
frontier zones around the secret
heart-throbbing miles of distance
wind-chains hanging from homesickness
flaming grenade of anger—

And the snail
with the ticking luggage of God's time.

(Translated from the German by Michael Hamburger)


In the blue distance
where the red row of apple trees wanders
—rooted feet climbing the sky—
the longing is distilled
for all those who live in the valley.

The sun, lying by the roadside
with magic wands,
commands the travelers to halt.

They stand still
in the glassy nightmare
while the cricket scratches softly
at the invisible

and the stone dancing
changes its dust to music.

—Nelly Sachs
(Translated from the German by Ruth and Matthew Mead)


—Nelly Sachs

Be perhaps
smoky with error
have still created a wandering universe
with the language of breath?

Again and again the fanfare
of beginning blown
the grain of sand coined at full speed
before it grew light again
above the embryo's
bud of birth?

And are again and again 
in your domains
even when we do not remember night
and bit off with our teeth
the starry veins of words
from the depth of the sea.

And yet till your acre
behind the back of death.

Perhaps the detours of the Fall
are like meteors' secret desertions
but inscribed in the alphabet of storms
beside the rainbows—

But who knows
the degrees of making fertile
and how the green corn is bent
from soils eaten away
for the sucking mouths
of light.

(Translated from the German by Ruth and Matthew Mead)


Today's LittleNip:

Moderation in all things—including moderation.

—Mark Rotter



Photo by D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rattling the Wind's Name

Street Art
Photo by D.R. Wagner

—Joyce Odam, Sacramento

Oh, the ghost in the cornfield,
in the night,
under the full moon it loves,
does a white-moon-dance
with its sleeves
from its fixed position
though it tries to leap freely
from its ties.

Oh, it shudders and cries
with its wind-hollow voice
and beacons its eyes
to the eyes of the windows.
It knows there are watchers there
who admire it,
and it flaps and moans the louder
until it is even more of a rag.

And tomorrow it will deny all this.
Tomorrow it will merely flutter
from inside out
and simply hang on a stick
like a farmer’s joke
and twitch back
at the crows.


Susan Hagen, Award-winning Nonfiction Writer and Teacher, Offers Classes:

•••Sun. (10/31), 9:301m-4pm: Sunday Story Circle for Women in Santa Rosa. Susan co-authored Women at Ground Zero: Stories of Courage and Compassion. The Story Circle is a day-long gathering of women who meet to write, share, reflect, and remember who we are. Limited to 10 women.  Beginning, experienced and exploring writers welcome.

•••November 5-8: Autumn Writing Retreat for Women at St. Dorothy's Rest in Camp Meeker. Located in West Sonoma County, this program focuses on the writer's spirit and heart; we'll use meditation, guided imagery, and nature-based practices. Small circle limited to eight women; lots of time and space to write and share. Beginning, experienced and exploring writers welcome.

To enroll, please contact Susan at 707-824-6886 or or visit [I know, it's kind of late for the first one, but I just got this...]


Yesterday I commented that you'd better keep checking Medusa's Deadlines page (under the SNAKE ON A ROD) for submissions opportunities—that goes double today, because I just posted some new ones on there, thanks to the timely email Ellen Bass sends around.

And thanks, Joyce and D.R., for today's contributions. Joyce sends us a poem about the elections—far scarier than Halloween!


—Joyce Odam

Once when I was nearly young, and politics
were hung like outcomes on the vital hour,
I went where celebrators poured champagne
in paper cups. The work was done. The heroes
were not there. And it was raining in the streets.

I was in costume, a vinyl hat disguising
half my face. I drank champagne. The warlock
smiled. I am a priest, he said – though not with
words. I laughed. I followed him around to watch
him look at me. I am your mother, Priest, I smiled.

The streets that led us later, led us wild,
looking for a place that was not there.
The one we found was frowning at the door –
we were so loud – so full of night rain,
paper cup champagne, and mood of victory.

How late we came to endings,
to nothing we could share. It toned us down.
The highs were only moment-high
and must be fallen from. Night took us back –
to all its rain – not quite as happy as we came.

(first appeared in Poetry Now, 2002)


—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

I dreamed you beside me in the morning,
The winds of sleep still rolling through
Your muscles, fields of diamonds cascading
Your dreams, white water on the white of oblivion.
You did not see me as I lay beside you, watching
Dawn slip across your skin.  You did not know
I kissed you then or that you were other than
Your present self.  I know and only I can know for sure.

I was surprised in this dreaming, dreaming that
You dreamed about me.  Who knows what highways
Sleep will let us travel?  All our lovers in their cars,
Zipping through the chemicals that unlock door
Upon door and let us see these loved ones again,
Living or dead.  I dreamed that we were loving,
Making love with all attendant skies and being touched
By angels as we were there together, again and again,
Falling in and out of sleep, first you there and then
Again you not.  I spread my hands upon the whiteness
Of the sheets and they were flat and cool, not you at all
And of more substance than such dreams.

This morning you were gone.  You were birdsong
On the electric wires, the net of energy that surrounds
Us in our cities.  You were slow breezes off the delta,
A dancing in the leaves of the trees, the sound of the mind
As it clears all sleep from its fine sifting screens, a moment
When, before the water hit my face, when you were truly
Real and I did not know that such a thing as this were


—D.R. Wagner

We have been walking out here
For a very long time.  The dark
Colored glass of this valley
Was making us sick.  It might
Have been the smell that roiled
Through dressed like a five year
Yearning for blind angels to
Ministrate to us about the great

God, she looked
So beautiful as the ornaments
Of sleep crept into her face.

We couldn’t stay here any longer
Let alone wait for the great
Wings to show us what was
Really meant by those circles
Beaten into the stones telling
Us to love all things.  There was
Unrest in the weather.

We watched them cock their
Rifles and come down the rows.


Today's LittleNip: 

—Joyce Odam

bush-shadow shudders
against white siding
rattling the wind's name
under loose windows



Thursday, October 28, 2010


Photo by Jane Blue

—Jane Blue, Sacramento

One crimson blossom of the Rose of Sharon peers
through the kitchen window, little hibiscus
of late Autumn.

What do you say?

That beauty is random.  You must look at it
and seize it.  That life goes on.

The sun so bright, ash leaves glitter as they fall.

Beauty is not random.  It belongs to the young.

Beauty is like a gun to your head.  Beauty
is like a ravaging disease.

Life does not go on.  The leaves are piled, swept
into dull mounds in the street, like
biers, like cairns.

Halloween:  fog comes, obscuring the fake
cobwebs and gigantic spiders
crawling up the children’s houses.

Let beauty fall on you as the sun,
that even above the fog, is there.  And at night,
the moon to reflect it.

The moon is dead.
Only the sun brings forth its beauty.


"I Am the Dream and the Dream is Now" RT Poetry Contest for Grades 3-12:

The Sacramento Regional Transit District (RT) is celebrating its 3rd annual Season of Civil Rights with a series of events during the months of December, January and February to build awareness about the significant role that transit played in the American Civil Rights Movement. In preparation, RT invites students in grades 3 through 12 who attend a school within RT's service area to participate in the "I Am the Dream and the Dream is Now" poetry contest. RT will display the winning poems on RT interior transit cards in each bus from December 1, 2010 through February 28, 2011 to commemorate RT's Season of Civil Rights. Winning poems will also be on display at special events during the three-month campaign, and winners will receive a $25 bookstore gift card and The Rosa Parks Story DVD. Deadline is November 12. Info:

Watch Medusa’s Up-coming Deadlines! page (under the SNAKE ON A ROD) for other deadlines, and don’t forget the extended Tule Review deadline is Oct. 30 (see b-board under SPC’s red box).

Thanks to today’s contributors, including this Pleiades from Carol Louise Moon. More about the Pleiades form next week!

—Carol Louise Moon, Sacramento

With longy ellow throats, the Yellowthroats cry
Witchery, Witchery, flying through the sky.
Woe! to the one who does not heed:
witches’ spell, witches’ brew, or witches’ breed.
White magic sing-songs
whisper through the trees
while Yellowthroats, on the wing, sing Witchery.


—Richard Zimmer, Sacramento

Now comes the haunting hour,
the sun is setting in the west,
Halloween has arrived—
Trick-or-Treaters start their quest.

On this day in late October,
Children hurry all around—
little boys in vampire garb,
little girls in witch’s gowns.

Climbing stairs for Gummy Bears,
sticky things for them to eat—
chocolate bars and candy corn,
the rewards are truly sweet.

All about the moonlit night,
happy children knock on doors.
Back home by pumpkin’s light,
candy pours on front room floors.


 Photo by Janet Pantoja

—Janet Pantoja, Woodinville, WA

What's rattling around
in the closet of your mind
this Halloween—spiders,
ghosts, goblins, witches,
warlocks, monsters, wolves,
dragons, a Frankenstein?

Thought pictures in all kinds
of disguises parade through
the closet of our minds . . .
weave subtle webs of entanglement
that would convince us that Good
could be undermined.

Shine a flashlight on these
thoughts—what do you see?
just fear . . . dressed up, lurking
powerless in a corner—as weak
as a spider's web—to be swept away 
by the Broom of Understanding.

So this Halloween dress up
in your scariest costume—
party—have a terrific time!
be on guard though . .  .
watch the door of your mind—
invite thoughts that are only Divine.


Today's LittleNip(s):

Here lies John Bun,
He was killed by a gun,
His name was not Bun, but Wood,
But Wood would not rhyme with gun, but Bun would.

Here lies Sir Tact, a diplomatic fellow
Whose silence was not golden, but just yellow.
                  —Timothy Steele

Here lies the preacher, judge, and poet, Peter
Who broke the laws of God, and man, and metre.
                  —Lord Jeffrey

Here, richly, with ridiculous display,
The Politician's corpse was laid away.
While all of his acquaintance sneered and slanged,
I wept: for I had longed to see him hanged.
                  —Hilaire Belloc



Photo by Jane Blue

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Go Find a Ghost!

Photo by Kathy Kieth, Pollock Pines

—Kevin Jones, Fair Oaks

My father had been
A mounted disciplinarian
At the youth farm
And he
Had his methods.

For minor infractions
I’d be sent to the far room
In the cellar where the
Double murder/suicide
Took place

Spent a lot of time
Down there.  Night vision
Is still very good—
Whether things
Are there or not.

Has always been
Pretty dull
For me.


—Taylor Graham, Placerville

The City’s condemned the Hangman’s Tree,
saloon dating from the Gold Rush days, its bar
built over the stump of the noosing oak. They say
it has a ghost, or several. The City’s not afraid
of ghosts, just of collapsing walls and timbers.

When they tear the building down, where will
the ghosts go? Is there truly a ghost? Surveillance
cameras, audio recorders, dousing rods, probes
and sensor meters—inconclusive. But how about
exhaust fans, to move ghost-scent around,

make it available to a dog’s nose? A dog trained
to sniff out humans, alive or dead—bet he
could smell a ghost. Maybe tonight, without
a moon, I’ll sneak under the yellow DO NOT
CROSS tape and tell my dog, “Go find a ghost!”


—Taylor Graham

Tonight the membrane between worlds
dissolves—as if, on your shelf, a letterpress edition
of Poe bled into the latest issue of JoVE.
Outside, you’d swear a wind of 30 knots swept
through memory like a sailor’s ghost. Could it blow
the Seven Seas to your door? Ports of call, uncanny
portals. Dead leaves speak in brittle tongues.
What does a Journal have to say
about the clock balancing on a whisker of time?
Even the cat listens to the wind’s words.
   (with apologies to Robert Louis Stevenson)
—Patricia Hickerson, Davis

one Halloween night
Mr. Hyde, you lost your key
get back to your lab, couldn’t do it
your lab, secret den of drugs
that made a beast of you
you could leap gates
climb trees
seize women
bay at the harvest moon
cape man, your hideous shadow
bit the moon
leaped gates, climbed trees
sacked women
o you, Mr. Hyde you!
smart Mr. Hyde clever Mr. Hyde
your very name
a play on your identity
your double code
secret key smoking potions
petry dish and fluted tube
back door to ecstasy
thought you were sitting pretty
then boo-hoo

poor Mr. Hyde lost without your key
couldn’t get back in
through the hidden door of your desires
the back door
on that night of a night of a night of a
yes, night of a
dusky orange sizzling in a boiled sky
witches’ brooms sailing mindless
lost without your key
that’s the night, Mr. Hyde,
Halloween night
you never got back in
not on that or any other night   


—Patricia Hickerson

3 witches threw a party in the dark
prepared a pot of oil for a stew
hollered hocus pocus for a lark
invited every warlock that they knew

prepared a pot of oil for a stew
threw in some frogs and rabbits they had caught
invited every warlock that they knew
chanted all the curses they’d been taught

threw in some frogs and rabbits they had caught
o boil o bubble in that nasty pot!
chanted all the curses they’d been taught
danced the warlocks crazy till they drop’t

o boil o bubble in that nasty pot!
they shouted as they writhed and reeled around
danced the warlocks crazy till they drop’t
and finally scraped their partners off the ground

they threw them in the pot to make a meal
hollered hocus pocus for a lark
as then into their coven dawn did steal
3 witches threw a party in the dark

(first appeared in Yolo Crow)


—Patricia Hickerson

no one knows Vampira’s despair
coffin can’t hold her
gritty elegance stalks Halloween
teeth gleam in the moonlight
energy leashed
dog Frankie pulls her along
his sleek black fur
hers a long licorice shimmer

tears rut her chalky cheeks
only one thing will help
a bite of human flesh
go, Frankie
Frankenstein unleashed—


—Patricia Hickerson

once upon a midnight dreary
while she settled weak and weary—
heard his bedsprings squeak
he leaped out of coffin
waking her once again
to fright and desire;
her dark his dawn
wrapped in cape slouching low
Halloween shadow
siren scream far off
afterthought of someone’s rape

he’s at her door knock knock
she cowers once
she cowers twice
then thinks it through
she’s seen him come and go
the upstairs man this big fat guy
with tortured belly hanging low
cringing along the corridors
not much of a vampire, she thinks,
could hardly get into the ranks, she thinks
just smoke and mirrors…

all night man, she finally calls, come
yes, come, dead sissy
and sink your teeth into my swan’s neck o yeah
bite the giddy hell out of me
your pusillanimous foreplay
only a tease on All Hallows Eve…   


Today's LittleNip:

I can't understand why a person will take a year to write a novel when he can easily buy one for a few dollars.

—Fred Allen



Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Warlock Evenings

The Crows
by Dorothy Lathrop

—Jane Blue, Sacramento

There is something innocent about September light
when it spills down the gutter at 7 p.m. Another day
coming home from something, we drove part-way
on the piece of freeway overpass where it ends
at the river: a little later, twilight now, and lights,
blue and red, flashing. We couldn’t tell what kind
of vehicles they were then, but in the paper the next
morning, words: a rope swung from a cottonwood
up on the levee, out into the middle of the cold river.
Boys; I see in my mind the hole where one of them
went down, a maw right in the center of the wide
Sacramento. Then he pops up like a seal
and his friends laugh, but the next time he plunges
he doesn’t rise. It was 5:30, 6:00 when they called
for help, 7:30 maybe when we passed by, divers
scouring the river bottom; we didn’t know this yet.
His family was there, the mood turned somber,
and everything was changed forever. The thing about
drowning is, when you are drowning, you know
you are drowning, but those on the shore
continue their chatter, their fun,which you were
a part of, until it’s too late, that horrible
realization that you’re not coming back. The river
is close, the death was close, but I will not remember it
so long, not like your mother who sat vigil
on the bank for two weeks until your swollen body
finally revealed its hiding place; close to shore,
thumping against debris. This morning sun reached
through the curtains and fell directly on the yolk
of my egg at the breakfast table, a fluke
of the season’s changing, and I felt suddenly alive.


—Janet Pantoja, Woodinville, WA

Semester break was over—
time to leave Sacramento
for U.O.P. in Stockton.

Winter darkness now
claimed the late afternoon
at five o'clock.

Mom and I chatted longer
than we should have—
that wasn't the problem.

Dense Tule fog had crept in . . .
blanketed the valley . . .
I hadn't even noticed.

I drove away—
headed down Highway 99,
I could barely see.

My headlights bounced
off a wall of fog:
I was scared

and alone—except for CC
who sat unruffled under a cover
on the front seat.

I chattered to assuage my
fear.  This night ride in pea
soup seemed to never end—

but it did:  Safe in my room, I lifted
the cover on my parakeet's cage,
whispered . . . "Goodnight CC".

—Carl Bernard Schwartz, Sacramento

Just before bedtime we let our 5-
pound chihuahua loose in the back
yard as we sat on the patio.  She
put her nose to the ground and
scoured all the usual places looking
for traces of squirrels, birds, cats
and even bugs who had dared to
trespass in her domain.

Finally, after purposefully visiting
each corner of the yard, she posited
herself on the lawn, nose extended
as high in the air as her miniature
frame would allow, fixing her gaze
on tree limbs and fence tops.  All
this is her standard routine.

Then something totally unknown to
us caught her attention and she ran all
out toward the back fence, quietly
disappearing for a moment under a
tangled blanket of pungent oleanders. 

Suddenly, she darted right back to her
people on the patio, as if bearing a
most urgent message.

This hurried excursion between the
back fence and the patio repeated
several times, leading us to wonder:
What’s causing all this excitement? 
What’s over there that we don’t see,
hear, or smell?

The next day we got our answer.
As we were driving our car a short
distance from the house the street
paralleled some railroad tracks, upon
which sat a circus train that must have
passed by the night before, unknown
to all but one of us.


First of all, happy Sacramento Poetry Day! The day was officially decreed by the Mayor of Sacramento a while back, and although I myself have sometimes proclaimed the entire month of October to be Sacramento Poetry MONTH, it remains important to hang onto whatever official titles poetry can glean, yes?

Second, we’ve been celebrating Sac. Poetry Day this past week with poems and pix about Sac., and thanks to the poets who helped us finish up that thread today. Now let’s move on to—you guessed it—Halloween. Plenty of inspiration around you, so have at it, and send your poems and pix to Here are some bewitching ones to get you started; more from Pat Hickerson tomorrow (she’s been working on Halloween for weeks, now!). 


cursed the coven, weary of ritual
stirring a boil of soup in the cauldron
wispy witch of wonder fell in,
bubbled into warlock world
wasted, wailing, woebegone
wanton wishes from boredom bred
her shut tight heart
a raging anvil on which
she forged a one-way ticket
warlock evenings smokin’ hot
at the mercy of frolic and fire
flames licked her lips
singed her brain
roasted her spirit
get me out!!

cool night and a sister’s concern
pulled her from the pitch of Hell
clothed her in black magic and a pointy hat
sent her sailing moonward
she rides her broom into make-believe mystery—
the Halloween sky

—Patricia Hickerson, Davis


—Anne Sexton

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
wining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bit my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.


Today's LittleNip:

Old sailors say that the corpses of men drowned at sea sink more and more slowly as they reach great depths until eventually they cease their downward motion altogether and float to eternity in some eerie intermediate level presided over by Davy Jones.
—Guy Murchie
The Song of The Sky


—Medusa (with thanks to today's contributors, including D.R. Wagner for the LittleNip)

Photo by D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

Monday, October 25, 2010

Resenting the Flugelhorn

Black and Violet
Painting by Wassily Kandinsky, 1923

Pruned by the drone, drone, drone
of stingless bees,
I now resent
the flugelhorn, ocarina and kazoo
that sound only
to hear themselves
disreguarding cellos
and harmonicas
that cool the edge ot the air
meeting at the juncture
of north to east walls.

Rocks of slush
are tossled
between the bridgework
of an acrobat
with palasied mind
and torpid finger.


Part I

There was a small sun
in the sky that week
a thimble-size
but better than before.

Margie was glad
growth was on the mend
except the balance of certain items
seemed ramified
too much.

Nigel would agree
if he only could
the page was misaligned
next as much as the moon.

The warts read by the shorter
Olivia held no water
just a pulp
and graham cracker-thin touch.

Part II

Nigel still retained
his two-hour showers
despite the lack of interest
from the over-riding sky.

Margie wears real ocelot
the last one anyway
it was dying under
tires of possum-like stealth.

Olivia does everything else
no flair of course
expecting the insidious incisors
that bring doubt along
at the biweekly wake.

Part III
Margie meets Olivia
at a deal table at Lemonade Joe's
carrying one seashell
the other opposes
and Leo the clergyman concurs.


Heart attack
to death,
not too old.

In 1952,
they would have refused
such a transfusion;
the Guilifoyles of central Mississippi
could not take
such a shock.....

they depended on others
to use
and survive,
and let those lesser
always know that
was a God-derived fact.

Blanche would never be
any longer
just the opposite
if you will.

Equality achieved
for many Southern wrongs.



Lester said
I hate my body
it won't work
with me
to get to nirvana.

The eyes won't look
deep enough inside
and the heart is
close to the surface of
basic days and places
The feet won't cradle
any shoes just right
and the neck can't even suppot
a decent-sized noose.
And the brain
can't hold tangents
as well as logic

that is what disturbs me the most.


Tugging at the traditional
trying to open it up
to new adventures

I throw the rock
of rage wracking
its face to response

The khakis are stained
the knit tie frayed
the cataclysm concluded.



Just saying it

after spilling a zombie
atop my blue BMW
forgetting my day of graduation
from Notary Public school
slapping me a little harder
than necessary for calling
your cousin Carleton an ugly baby gone to seed
keeping me around twice
with no thing to do
soiling the pages
of my new book on Upton Sinclair
with huckleberry parfait
or washing my dog with tomato juice
just to tint his black fur

would have most likely ended
World War IV


Today's LittleNip:



—Medusa (with thanks to Michael Cluff of Highland, CA for today's poetry!)

Daybreak, Tagesanbruch
Poster by Joan Miró, 1968

Sunday, October 24, 2010

KB and KK's Excellent Adventure

Sharp scent of cinnamon—
Gnarled arms of apple trees
Bend toward Halloween

Narrow bars of black pupil
Search out hands holding paper cups:
Goat food: 50¢

Musty-fust of dusty museum:
Cobwebs crisscross a sewing machine while
Plastic rooster guards his coop

Hillside blanket of yellow and burgundy
Acres of fall chrysanthemums—
Surprising left-turn in the forest!

Large pig in small pen
Rolls rocks to mark time:
Sisyphus in a petting zoo

Mares’ tails draw wispy lines
On crisp cerulean skies—
Snap of fresh-picked Gravensteins…


Photos by Katy Brown, with scattered LittleNips
by Kathy Kieth

(Katy Brown and I went scouring Apple Hill 
in search of adventure, 
and these are some of the things we found.)

Katy Brown

Saturday, October 23, 2010

More About River City

Photo by Kathy Kieth, Pollock Pines

MEMORY LANE IN RIVER CITY                       
—Janet Pantoja, Woodinville, WA

I used to live in Sacramento . . .
city of many trees and two rivers—
where salmon run and the American
and Sacramento converge at Discovery Park.

I used to live in the Capital of California . . .
a thriving city derived from gold discovery—
where Sutter's Fort and Old Sacramento
memorialize that era.

I used to live in the Central Valley . . .
where summer temperatures soar
to triple digits and ice cream beckons—
at Gunther's or the CA State Fair, now Cal Expo.

I used to live in Sacramento . . .
home to the Memorial Auditorium, Music Circus,
the once magnificent Alhambra Theater—
usurped by progress—and all that jazz in Old Sacramento.

I used to live in Sacramento . . .
before Hwy. 50 was super-finished, Arco Arena or Light Rail,
when Country Club Centre boomed with business—
Rhodes, Woolworth's, Leed's Shoes, Montgomery Wards—
and the Coral Reef Restaurant was open on Fulton Ave.

I used to live in the Arden-Arcade area . . .
in the "Garden of the Gods" on Orion at Pluto—
a 1965 grad. from El Camino H.S. before it was fundamental—

when C.S.U.S. was Sac. State, before the Woodlake Inn
became the Radisson, or the Sacramento Inn the Red Lion.

I have many memories of Sacramento . . .
when calls were dialed on Princess rotary phones
through Pacific Bell—the only phone company—
Sac. Metro. Airport was on Freeport Blvd., a brand
new bridge crossed the American River at Watt Avenue,
President Kennedy was assassinated and the Beatles
appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.   


—Tom Goff, Carmichael

The Roseville Galleria set on fire:
sky, beside smoke, a pale seawater.
The music of an underwater choir:

lips open, Jesu’s Joy or Mammon’s Desire,
lungs fill and mother chokes the daughter.
The Roseville Galleria set on fire,

ink black enough, the squid can flee the fighter.
What fire sale is no butcher slaughter?
No music but an underwriter’s choir

soothsinging profit salvaged from the pyre,
this handbag, ash and yogurt batter
left by the Roseville Galleria fire,

arson to blame and useless to inquire:
hold him gently by wrist, flame heats young minds hotter,
so sing we all, one underwater choir.

The freight-train groans as forest crown burns higher,
Hamlet’s cloud-weasel Ophelia’s father.
After the Roseville Galleria fire,
soft music, “bare ruined choir” heard underwater.


Two inmates escaped from Folsom Prison
    quite possibly the car thief and the drug violator
    found something in common and fell "in love"
    and then agreed "We've got something else to do
    other than be livin' out the Johnny Cash blues in here"
    and decided together to bust the joint,
    to go hit the road as two traveling tough guys
    Let us pray that maybe these two minor felons
    go out and cause trouble for really big criminals
    such as the kind that run this country

—Michelle Kunert, Sacramento


—Patricia A. Pashby, Sacramento
subdued this day,
the color of pewter
tranquil under pale blue skies
she meanders past skeletons
of old trees, roots exposed
lining her banks—
a testimony to her tantrums

past the heavy wooden picnic benches
past the feral cats hiding in the long grasses
past the birds asleep in the breeze

a houseboat quietly floats by
as tiny waves nudge the shore
rippling the rocky edges

serenity restored
she is subdued this day meandering . . .


Today's LittleNip:

Unless we read poetry, we'll never have our hearts broken by language...

—Anatole Broyard



Photo by Kathy Kieth

Friday, October 22, 2010

Music to Further Sadden

Photo by D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

—Joyce Odam

A helicopter drones and drones
over some neighborhood
like a circling bird of prey.

Tonight, no squeal of tires—
no sirens—nothing contagious
in the air. Something has escaped.

Walls lean close and merge.
Nothing slips between. Window lights
go out. Buildings empower their emptiness.

From somewhere, music floats. Late music.
Can’t sleep music. Music to further sadden
the heart that guards its sadness.

Tree shadows shudder through streetlights,
make loose pattern on the sidewalks,
thanks to artistic breezes.

Only dreams venture out now and possess
the mind’s movie screens—making no sense,
or hiding great significance.

A gear-shifting motorcycle flies straight up
through the path of moonlight—all the way
to the round and perfect moon, leaving no scar.


—Joyce Odam

We are riding back to Sacramento
when a Tule-fog sets in
and we are immersed in its gray
on a disappearing freeway
with only an occasional glimpse
of white line—all taillights snuffed,
the road-edge lost to us,
no way to go but go—
I staying gripped to you,
pressed against
your body-rhythm with my own.
We are alone in this—
time-stopped while time
speeds on, re-ceding from itself.
I think no thought
but that of getting through,
in total, helpless trust of you.
The sound of us is loud—almost
a radar of a sensed direction
we don’t know how to measure,
as brief a time-path
as it is, but we pull out of it. 

—Joyce Odam

on days that sound like ides
such days as the
15th of March
at such a time as
one minute after midnight
they’ll let the telephone lines
get through

and then
we will send our late and
urgent conversations
over the tingling wires
we will be witches with old news
cackling like actresses
who pretend they are witches

you will call me
I will call you
and friends will have to
wait their turns
while we boil and bubble
till the cauldrons all run dry

too long between
we will cackle
and our crows will laugh their
ominous laughter
and we will too

get ready my friend of
the shortened distance
on the 15th of March
at one minute after midnight
one of our telephones
will jangle

(First appeared in Pearl, 1974)

(Sacramento Reads)
—Joyce Odam

He bends like a sad whisper to the grace of her
eyes.  She is saying goodbye to him, there in the
park, in the turbulent day, children all around.

He seems to need her, his vague melancholy upon
him like a familiar thought for which he has no
control.  He is a mute gray in the catch of light

that finds him lingering; he will stay a little
longer in the crowd—some purpose here that
holds him; she will wander off among the others,

the children following, straggling apart in future
directions.  He will watch them from the shade of
a tree awhile, then turn away, forgetting or

remembering this or that of himself, of her, of
the why of anything he cares about, then turning
to listen to the something else of himself that

is so quiet now in the family-light that bears the
summer down upon him.  He sees her and the children
disappear in the crowd as if into time, that mystery

through which he suddenly feels so cut apart.

(First appeared in Parting Gifts, 1998)

—Joyce Odam

A helicopter overhead.  Blue evening at
the window. TV

Books in hand, they separate toward
their silence:
he to couch, and she to bed.

The orange sun has fallen
from the day, making one statement more
for them to speak:

They glance and say: Oh yes, they love
the view . . .  Oh yes, it is so beautiful . . .
It is enough . . .

The twilight trees become old silhouettes,
like they are.  The helicopter
flaps and drones—as if to stay.

They frown and glance
away from that annoyance and finish their
errand of goodnight—that separation. 


Today's LittleNip:

—Joyce Odam

The shock came at 12:16.
I marked the clock with my eyes.

I felt my house grow tense with silence.
I waited for a siren.



Photo by D.R. Wagner

Thursday, October 21, 2010

On the Way Somewhere Else

Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

—Kevin Jones, Fair Oaks


Sam Brannan,
They say,
Helped start
The Gold Rush
By running
Through the streets
Of San Francisco
Wearing a bottle green
Suit, waving a vial and
Shouting “Gold!
Gold from the American
River above Sacramento!”

I’ve always appreciated
Good advertising,
But where
Would you find
A bottle green suit


On the way out west,
My wife and I
To take a ride
On the Grand Canyon

Wide.  Deep.  Impressive.
Less so was the inevitable
Black Bart the Train Robber,
With his usual henchpeople.

Soon dispatched by gallant
Trainmen and conductors,
They were replaced by
The less inevitable
Celtic folk group.

I like the Celts, and my wife
Is fond of percussion.
Drummer let her
Try his bodhran.

“Where you headed?”
He asked.  “Sacramento.”
“Pretty,” he said. “Can I
Have my drum back?”

“Lovely place.  Lots of
Trees,” he said, “Please,
My drum?”
Paum, pam, pum.

“Please! You’ll love
Sacramento! Can I
Have my damn
Drum back?” Pa-
Rum pum pum pum.


We were going through
Redding on the way
Somewhere else.

Beneath the overpass
I noticed a
White and bright
Blue train
Heading south.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Boys and girls—
The Ringling Brothers,
Barnum and Bailey
Circus train!

We pulled over
To watch, along with
Maybe the rest
Of Redding.  From
The crowd: “Where
You going?”
The reply, big and
I said.
I said.


Claudia Lamar writes to say she is launching an online poetry journal, Phantom Kangaroo, and is soliciting poems for her first issue:


—Thérèse Plantier

Forgot to mail my letter to my friend Death
lost my pocketbook
took a lot of turns too sharply to the left
caught cold caught hot caught tepid caught fire caught nothing
skidded on an ice patch
had to chase from one place to another
screwed up (got control in time)
hit the jackpot in matters of sheer idiocy
buried a cat I wrapped in the morning paper
was ashamed
was brave
was down and out
talked too much heard too much
tore my life to shreds
burned a hole in my pantsuit with a cigarette
and all at once caught sight of night.

(Translated from the French by Maxine Kumin and Judith Kumin)


—Thérèse Plantier

They unfold before the sky
I escape from these doors
into my vast night
without you,
you alone, restless,
on your island splashed
with the squeezed juice of animals,
you come apart through your own powers
you sink under your own weight
in the middle of a black concrete clearing
where octopus trees move away
each tree replaced by a smoking door
by a blinker
a circular house
puncutated by innumerable incinerations.

(Translated from the French by Willis Barnstone and Elene Kolb)


Today's LittleNip:

Like a sweet apple reddening on the high
tip of the topmost branch and forgotten
by the pickers—no, beyond their reach.

Like a hyacinth crushed in the mountains
by shepherds; lying trampled on the earth
yet blooming purple.

—Sappho (translated from the Greek by Willis Barnstone)



Photo by Katy Brown

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Daughters of Longing

Photo by Carl Bernard Schwartz, Sacramento

—Carl Bernard Schwartz

We spend millions on some trains and tracks
that never leave the museum,
and millions more on politicians
who meet where voters don’t see ‘em.

The capitol stands so handsome and proud
just blocks away from depression, while
our prisons are full of debts long unpaid
as criminal courts stay in session.

One by one the candidates speak
on how to make government smaller,
if only they had unlimited executive power
and each worker had to wear a choke collar.

There are 7 million fewer people here
than in the Los Angeles area,
which makes life easier to some extent
unless you get shot and they bury ‘ya.


Writing at Your Frontier Oct. 30

Sat. (10/30), 1-5pm: Writing at Your Frontier workshop with Alexa Mergen and Michelle Marlahan at It's All Yoga, 2405 21st St., Sac. $45. Michelle and Alexa were curious about the factors that go into the directions we choose as writers, from journaling for ourselves to writing for publication in blogs and magazines. So they put together a workshop based on good poems that will generate discussion and yoga that will get us breathing and stretching. As with yoga, growth occurs with writing when we inhabit the frontier of our writing, a place of possibility. What and where is a frontier for you? Combining asana practice with conversation and journaling, this workshop provides time to reflect on your role as a writer in and of the world. All levels and experiences welcome. Only 12 spots available; please register early. For more info call 916-501-4692 or visit

—Taylor Graham, Placerville
In the main hall, folks are dancing
to a Texas cowboy-swing.
From the barroom comes the smoke
of a torch song.
But here in the woodshed, there’s
just these two old guys,
you’d say they’re almost deaf
and blind. But listen
how that one fingers the strings
of his guitar like the tresses
of a sweetheart – how long ago! –
and the other nearly tips
from his chair as he sways
in the arms of his saxophone.


—Taylor Graham

In the Kaiser parking lot, I touch the patch
over your eye. Remember those kids at the Nature
Center? Blindfolded, they reached out to trees,
trying to name without seeing; running fingers
over bark, sniffing the platelet crevices, pressing
ears against the trunk, trying to hear
what a tree says.

Now, in this hospital parking lot, you’re
half-blind — a steroid shot in the eye.
A big-city miracle, that you can see at all.
I want to tell you what unseen bird
is singing — I never was good
at birdsong, or at being sightless.
This gift of a visible world. 

—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

We were standing below the eaves
With the rain coming down hard,
Almost unbroken as if the water were
A solid that had been forced to
Reconsider its mission.  What was it

To do? Be drunk? Irrigate crops?
Flood a street? Drown an animal?
That and the day around it, gray
With an insistent dull red of the
Traffic light breaking through the torrent
On a predictably regular mission
To change the day with its insistent interruptions.

It was no good.  We knew we would
Be here for a long time. The world
Had turned soft and soggy around us.
We were no longer able to talk through
The downpour.  I remember thinking “This
Is what it must be like all the time when
We grow old and once again live alone.”

I knew this wasn’t so but it
Became a banner and I imagined
The years running away from me,
Afraid of what would happen next,
The water rising above my shoes,
Slapping at my ankles.


—D.R. Wagner

The stone birds shattered
On the tiles just below the garden
Arch.  Broken heads, bodies in
Pieces, more still than death is
Able to make us understand.  There

Was no blood.  It was not a great
Tragedy, just an unwinding, a slow
Unwinding of late morning
As we returned from the hill near
The edge of the sea, from watching the
Morning slide its fingers into the cove
Through the woods.  You said the sun looked
As words might have looked had
There been sound beyond the soft
Ticking of the waves into the coolness.

No, it was just the fact they were
Broken.  The end of a sentence or
The beginning of a lesson we hadn’t
Contracted to understand.

“Raccoons,” the gardener said, “They will
Do things like this occasionally.  I think
they do it just to see what it looks like,
Just to see what will happen.”


—D.R. Wagner

This belongs to the night.
It has those lights about it.
It has that shape we love
That curls into our own body
As we lie abed, not sleeping
But remembering how sleep
Was and what kinds of gifts
It brought to us.

We are unable to speak,
Think ourselves still asleep,
Covered in the cream of darkness
That pulls on our legs, urges us
To dance if only for a moment.

We stand upon the water.
This must be the part of dreaming.
But we find we are water, we
Move through one another,
Scooped into an iridescense
That we can barely remember,
“Mommy, I was glowing.  Am
I still glowing?  I think I am.”

There is Saturday everywhere.
The morning leaks through the blinds,
Slides across the room and finds
Our eyes.  “Yes, you are still
Glowing.”  Right now, it’s the sun
On your skin, the soft, tiny hairs
On the body captures light for
Its moment and fills the morning
With smiles that will stay with us.
They are the daughters of longing.


Today's LittleNip:

Life is a rummage sale. No returns.

—Sally Friedman



Photo by Frank Dixon Graham, Sacramento