Monday, December 31, 2012

Talisman: Let Us Begin Again

Frozen Sea
—Christina Sandefur, Rescue

—Timothy Sandefur, Rescue

Here was the brink of all they knew:

In the hollow sky and teeming blue,

All time and law, all mass and space,

All faith and reason terminates.

On rigid cliffs, obsessive waves

Mold the aeons out of days,

And crumble epochs into years.

Holistic oblivion; the boundless sphere

Of the sole and solipsistic sea

Dissolves us in eternity;

Where all is all and nothing's else,

We find no bond with another self.

But then the kanaka crossed the strand,

Followed newfound stars to land,

Became the first to cleave in two

The unitary solitude

Of heaven. Knowledge has its start

In separating light from dark,

And waters from the firmaments

Where life is born in difference.

Meet on the beach to make again

That fathomless journey from if to when

Find the equator, and call once more

"Aloha!" to Janus waving on shore.


—Patricia Wellingham-Jones, Tehama  

The silent bell tolls
the last hours of the year.
A kestrel keens across an ice-blue sky.
In the sycamore grove a great horned owl
calls the night in soft murmurs.
The big white dog turns limpid eyes
on invisible walkers near the live oak tree.
From the rough roadbed a perfect round stone
splotched gray-green with lichen maps
pulls me.

(First pub. in Rattlesnake Review, 2007)

Daisy's prints in the snow, Port Sanilac, Michigan
—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

—B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA

You imagine
with a perfected
ear drum
at seeing my task
in my solitude
of voice
drawing a blank
on a space
of snowy
trying to recall
what intention
rounded my
orbit of words
crossing my notes
with the sound
of syllables,
waiting to be scanned
and read out
of the existence
on a gag of lip
hungering for
cold apostrophes
at burning language
in my gnarled mouth
catching eyelashes
of proverbs
and a spectrum
of wrangled notes
with a patch
of tiny adjectives,
imprinted commas
nagged in
an arrangement
on a doubtful page
of vagabond labor.


—B.Z. Niditch

Opening files
for the new year
on a mouth
left open
to flesh out
the past
swallowed in time
to know
how it happened
before the war
after a plane crash
or scandal,
keep it simple
it says on
your holiday shirt
as a memory
was once created
and imprinted
in all of us. 


Today's LittleNip:

—Olga Blu Browne, Sacramento

Let's go behind this hour, and
let yesterday begin again.

Never till today did I dream
of tomorrow.



Another frozen "sea", Lake Huron
—Photo by Katy Brown

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Part of the Larger Hoop

The Indian's symbol is the circle, the hoop.
Nature wants things to be round.
The bodies of human beings and animals have no corners.
With us the circle stands for the togetherness
of people who sit with one another
around the campfire,
relatives and friends united in peace
while the Pipe passes from hand to hand.
The camp in which every tipi had its place
was also in a ring.
The tipi was a ring in which people sat in a circle
and all the families in the village
were in turn circles
within a large circle,
part of the larger hoop
which was the seven campfires of the Sioux,
representing one nation.
The nation was only part of the universe,
in itself circular and made of the earth, which is round,
of the sun, which is round,
of the stars, which are round.
The moon, the horizon, the rainbow—
circles within circles,
with no beginning and no end.

—John Lame Deer


—Medusa, remembering Max Schwartz, who passed away December 10 in New York. See

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Golden in the Morning

Pachypodium Namaquananam


There is certain majesty
That lives still in the
Highest places where
There remain the palaces
And magic lands of story
Books.  Birds of light,
Even golden light and
Clouds of many colors
Piled up against each other.
The whole place seems a
Stage for fairy tales
And diadems.  Oh single
Rose, oh song of the day
Is true and of fair
Maidens and spells and
The best of manners
These things grew.
We were sitting on the edge
Of the meadow just
Where it begins to lift
Toward the high lakes and
The stoney outcroppings and
Small woods and copses.

A certain crystalline glaze of colors
Was left wandering across the
Best of evening.  I was
Going to chase it but found myself
Full of a sadness
That may have been of the season
But probably had thicker roots.
Something prompted by the color
Of the day? What the breeze had said?

(A flush of quail showing pure gold
And amethyst with silver beaks, ruby eyes.)

The sky a million doors
Opening and closing constantly.
All is revealed.  All is concealed.
Even the continents moved
Beneath our feet.

O trees, oh grace of
The dream revealed.

We walk among you as you
Do among us.  The brink
Shines upon us every minute.
The light moving.  Oh, its
Jagged lines across the
Edge of the horizon,
Just above the ground.

These trees move.  They are
Not stone.  I have seen
Them migrate through
The tongues of sailor songs
Touching the edges of the clouds
At night.

And when they thought,
They thought in trance
And could not be harmed,
For the grace of protection
Kept them safe from all danger.
In this state they could
Travel and rule without
Being seen to have moved.
Such was the gift of trancing.

It was rain, or it was fog.
It was lifting from the streets.
It was lifting from the fields.
I could stand here all night
And talk to you about
Which roads came down
From the mountains,
Which ones led to the cities
Or the sea, where we were
Required to be blind and
At what moment we must
Open both our eyes to see.
And you shall be golden in the morning.

And the light will pour down on you.
And there will be millions
Of drops of water in the air.
And they may or may not
Have come from tears.
Or they may or may not
Just have blown here
By some wind.

Just as we may or may
Not have been where we
Woke this morning and
Saw the fog or the rain
Or the tears of an entire
Nation as we sat without moving.



The morning, a blear of leaves
Trundling before a wet wind.
They had delivered their message
For almost a full season,
Chased the squally days into

The white-topped wavelets
Clustering near the shore line,
Grumbling into the shingle
Far below the bald tor
That had watched the sea

For centuries, content to be a place
For wolves and an occasional man
To gain for a few moments,
Commanding its view, then strike
The trail back down to the shore.

We come here to release the days
We have spent sequestered in our
Rooms, imagining the edge of land
To the west, huddled over
Books or writing of such a place.
Imagining it could be so real
Rather than black marks
On an off-white page.
To be the leaves this morning.


They were lighting small lanterns
All the way across the headlands.
Ships were coming.  They
Had been seen from the pilot hill.

Bright flares on the tops
Of their masts.  The lights
They carried were of many colors and
Occasionally shot bursts
Of colored flame into
The high atmosphere
Illuminating the bottom
Of the clouds.

The coming of these ships
Had been foretold but
They were not expected
To arrive in the dead of winter.

The children had begun
Behaving strangely about
A month ago and the Teal
Gulls were seen on the
Edges of the Father glade.

At night the booming
Of the fisher bells
Could be heard at
Curious hours of the night.

There was a hesitant
Music coming from the
Taverns that was neither
Joyful nor sad.  It held a
A great sense of longing in its notes.
We were unable to determine
If there were words to the songs.
The crowds grew well into the night.

The ships arrived much past midnight.
Were these sailors Gods
Then, plucked from the night
And to be proclaimed
Throughout the land?

Their garments were magnificent.
Some of us could see
Them, some could not.
Quickly there were stories of them
Before the morning came
People were waiting upon
Them for answers.
The ships glittered with lights.

In the morning they were but
Hulls abandoned and gray.
Peopled by shades the same gray
As the forged bullets with which
The world infects itself.

There was no conversation.
There were no oracles.
Glimmers ran softly up the sails
Like fairy lightning and
Nothing was forthcoming.

All day they sat in the harbor,
A kind of fungus on the water.
By nighttime fires were
Started on their decks.
They burned with sickly
Colors and drove flights
Of dark birds around
And around their sails
Even as they burned.

On the following morning,
Ashes on the water.
The children packing
Their lunches and
Heading off for school
Whistling tunes and
Singing songs we
Had never heard before.

By the end of the week
We were once more
Upon the beautiful
Hills gazing out to sea,
Hoping to spot a sail.



We were told to move.  The order came
Very late in the night.  There was no way
To prepare for this.  We gathered what we could,
Saddled the horses, loaded everything on a travios.

We headed for the western provinces.  These were
The ghost provinces on the borders of your world.
This was quite serious.  When we reached Belin
There were reports of the lakes rising up into the air
And hurrying toward the mountains where they crashed
Into them, inundating thousands of villages nearly like ours.

The sky was filled with birds of all kinds and spirits
Who trailed long strips of cloth from their bodies.
They travelled just on the close edge of night with arms
Outstretched, shrieking furiously, begging the winds
To begin and break the tumbling of the clouds.

This was the Maddenah we had been told about
In the old tales; a cleansing of the land that occurred
At unexpected times throughout our history.  It was
Often thousands of years apart that it came, but it
Had been known to happen as close together as five years.

We knew the songs and could repeat the words
To the prayers.  We had heard them all our lives.
The Maddenah was brought to us by our own dead.
They could see the needs of our  people and prepared
It for us, to help and cleanse our souls.

We have lived long in this land.  We have seen
Peoples come and go across our land.  We have
No great feeling for these people.  They are not
Lateeta as we are.  Even though we may live
Many miles apart from each other, we know we
Are of one people because it is our people who hear
The orders to move before the Maddenah.  We have
Come here for awhile to be safe.  We will leave you soon.
Learn to listen to the land, to dwell in its spirit, to beg grace.


Today's LittleNip:


Little brick and charm,

The baby angel say to us
“Don’t let him come to harm."

Give him a flower,
Let him call it a day.
Give him a perfect night
Let him dream it away.

One day is for golden breath.
One day is for singing.
All the days they crowd around.
Who knows what they’re bringing.


—Medusa, with thanks to D.R. Wagner for today's poems and pix!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Let's go someplace toasty!
—Photo by Caschwa

—Caschwa, Sacramento

counting months to term
belly expanding greatly
weeks left, then days
finally the moment

First we count the fingers
and the toes to make sure
no factory warranties
can't take it back

we start a savings account
with the hope that its
future owner will mature
enough to use it wisely

then we look around and see
some of the horrible things
grown adults do
to other people

she will always be our baby


—Charlies Mariano, Sacramento

December 27th
staring, somewhat cautiously
at 2013
racing ‘round the bend

paying bills,
scraping at a bowl of oatmeal,
and typing this

did you know
you don’t even have to lick stamps

and the stamps,
famous dead poets
(least i think they’re all dead)
Stevens, Roethke, Hayden,
Brodsky, Bishop, Cummings

a regular
dead poet’s society

billions of unknowns
in life’s darkest rooms
like me,
infinitely lost,
trampled to death,

and no postage stamp
no sir,

just take your complimentary
your ink-stained
Costco notebook,

and exit out
the back door


On Dec 26 it was almost as mad as Black Friday at Arden Fair Mall
  But only now there were no more parking lot attendants as before
  I guess they said they were now all fired
  so we go back to chaos as usual
  with the fear of a collision with someone else in the parking lots
  and what your insurance company will consider about that
—Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—Photo by Caschwa

—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Back then, we set out in the old van—
the also-ran, max speed set by the weather,
oil-pan held in place with duct tape.
Carefree days before cholesterol pills
and fueled by the astonishing fizz of lime pop
from a bottle; before someone told us
the evening news was truer than
poetry, full as it was of people falling
to their knees in hopeless gray cathedrals.
Now we keep arrays of jars carefully labeled,
and worry about water from our kitchen tap.
Look outside, it's raining. Let's set out
again and wear out the tires. Find
a world. See how everything could change.


—Taylor Graham

Phenomenal snowfall, afternoon into dark.
Erstwhile granite heights meringued, ermined—
we searched for simile as east-wind played
banjo with our tent-strings, tent-flap a flag
extended for battle. Still the snow fell as we
shivered in our mummy bags, made strategic
plans for morning. Uneasy sleep to the cant
of fir-sway, pine-limbs creaking under weight
of snow. We woke to dawn—gold-rim sun-
burst under cloud, this silver snow-gift world.


—Taylor Graham

On this last day I put away my books
of otherworldly journeys, gothic lore
and fictions, history or not. How dawn looks
now, here: endangered, never seen before.
I walk out, latch the latch, and gaze around.
A hawk is taloned to the highest bough,
a towhee goes scratch-shuffling winter ground.
A scrub jay tells me, loudly, This is Now.
My two dogs chase each other on the grass
until the old dog stops, lies down to roll
and grunt delight. All this has come to pass
like shadows playing catch on fields and knoll.
The old dog rises, shakes, and leads the way
down fence-line, to the gate of this next day.


—Taylor Graham

Your mother's larder, when she died,
was full of chicken-fingers fried
and fish filets, a breaded tide.
Put it aside, put it aside!

It's so greasy, it makes you sick.
But it's a dish to fix real quick.
Pop in the microwave—it's slick.
A breaded trick, a breaded trick.

And yet you love my homemade bread
so full of fiber. In its stead,
this stuff's enough to leave you dead.
That's what I said. That's what I said.


Today's LittleNip:

—Olga Blu Browne, Sacramento

Here poetry is the thought of

Where there is more space than
time can offer,

and the night is empty except for
a thousand stars,

waiting for a winter's moon to rise.



—Photo by Caschwa

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Series of Instants

Seven Swans A-Swimming
—Photo by B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA
[See his poem of yesterday's post; today
the swans have gained another...]

—Tsang K'o-chia

A pair of feet, born so nimble,
Whirl around like the wind.
A soft scent wafts from the hem of her clothes;
Love blossoms all over the patterns of the carpet.
(She never said that she was tired.)

She knows how to use clever words
To coax the awkward pleasure of a patron.
She knows, too, how to use her wordless glances
To coat other people's hearts with honey.
(She never revealed her own heart.)

Red-colored and green-colored wine
Pin a spring blossom on her cheeks.
The scent of flesh intoxicates more than the wine's scent,
While her youth burns brighter than fire.
(Youth flees so fast she has no time to reflect.)

Her throat is gifted for singing,
Note after note draw an echo from your heart.
Joy, sorrow, she knows how to sing them all,
You need only name your choice.
(She never sings her own song.)

Alone she bears a night of solitude,
The lamp shines on four walls of quiet grief.
Memory lights up the way from the beginning,
She heaves a deep sigh and closes her eyes.
(This moment she has only herself in the world.)

(trans. from the Chinese by Kai-yu Hsu)


—Ho Ch'i-fang

                   To Those Who Sing Ever So Gently

Get drunk, get drunk,
Those truly drunk are lucky
For paradise belongs to them.

If alcohol, books,
And lips that drip honey . . .
If none of these can cover up man's suffering,
If you proceed from being dead drunk to half sober
To fully awake finally,
Wouldn't you keep your hat cocked and
Your eyes half closed,
To act slightly intoxicated throughout your life?

The flies shivering in the cold wind
Flutter their wings before the paper window pane,
Dreaming of dead bodies,
Of watermelon rinds in high summer,
And of a dreamless void.

In the epilogue of my ridicule
I hear my own shame:
"You too are only buzzing and buzzing
Like a fly."

If I were a fly,
I'd await the sound of a fly swatter
Smashing on my head.

(trans. from the Chinese by Kai-yu Hsu)


—Han Yongwun

I'm no artist but in bed
I can paint with my fingertip
your breast, your mouth and cheeks,
and surely that crooked smile
that floats around
your eyebrows as you sleep.

When the neighbors are gone
and even the crickets quiet
I am still too shy to sing
the songs you taught me
to the sleeping cat.

I am not a poet but I can describe
your glance, your voice,
the way you walk in the garden
before coming to bed,
even each separate pebble
on the path that runs
the twenty steps from here to there.

(trans. from the Korean by Bruce Taylor)

—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

—So Chongju

What the devil is his gripe
that he comes moaning in the night,
clearly cradling some complaint
against my father and mother,
against me and my wife to be?
My poems first, then my face,
a single hair out of place . . .
Indeed he's known to spy by day,
far away in the shadow of gloom,
reciting his weird incantations.
Though blood-red waves from the other
world drench his wings, he turns
unblinking eyes to the sky. Owl . . . owl . . .
long ago you built your round nest
and dwelt in the dark night of my mind.

(trans. from the Korean by Kevin O'Rourke)

—Ko Changsu

Slowly the ocean-liner
moves in dreamy motion
as if an island were shifting ground,
weary of its fixed gravity.

Like a baby whale coming for milk,
the pilot boat comes near,
snuggles the ship for a while
and then reluctantly moves away,
leaving the island on the sea.

A little hurt despite its elegance,
the ocean liner struggles over the boundary
between affection and disowning
and gradually travels into memory.

(trans. from the Korean by Chang-soo Koh)


—So Chongju

Once one year, and I don't know when,
So lonely I could not stand it,
I became a wanderer and spent the year
roaming the mountain district,
and as I did I broke and gathered
a handful of flowers, a bouquet.
That bouquet of flowers I
gave to some child by the roadside.

That child by the roadside
by now must have grown,
and perhaps being lonely he too
has plucked a handful of flowers
to give to some other child.

And after some ten years have passed,
crossing over yet one more bridge,
might that present of the bouquet
pass on to a child I haven't seen?

And so on a certain day
one thousand, or one thousand five hundred
years from now, below a mountain
where the sky is clearing after rain,
on a vast plain as the sun begins to fall,
where the hand of a new wanderer extends the bouquet,
is the child coming to receive it?

(trans. from the Korean by David R. McCann)

Today's LittleNip:

—Don Pagis

The sand is swift, overflowing,
burrowing inside itself, searching
for remnants, tombstones, ancestors'
I never understood this hunger
for the past. I
am a series of instants,
shed my skin with ease,
outsmart myself.
In all this desert only I can guess
who was who.

(trans. from the Hebrew by Stephen Mitchell)



Red and Yellow
—Photo by Katy Brown

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Poet in a Red Scarf

—Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Moon-ship above canopies of limbs and leaves,
above clouds, above us searching through the dark.
A fingernail-paring sliver moon filling
itself heavy as tides. Moon-rigging full. Ageless
archeal moon gazing down a haze of cloud
on us looking for a boy disappeared since noon,
eleven hours gone. My dog leads a way
through woods. No help from moon's regal
silence. Moon-ship full of the dead, waxing moon
of skulls in search of landfall, bones shining
over oak limbs, fallen leaves. Aim my flash-beam
low, high, into every cranny. Does only moon
know where in dark a boy is? Old, cold
moon weary of seeing. Waning moon-ship
sailing from us ever more away. Even if moon
has no words, my dog may say.


—B.Z. Niditich, Brookline, MA

Snow is indifferent
at first light
wrinkles the wind
from a four-day
early winter storm
a few strong squalls
snap and snatch
the bark whirring
on oak trees,
at the sealed window
a poet in a red scarf
and dark jacket
waits for calm
to explore thick woods
along the bridge
sunshine gleams
on a lonely road
and grackles
search for bread
in the faded dawn
of an unruly coast
a collapsed kayak
on the Bay
from the home harbor
drifts in constant ice
of a ditch water shore.

—B.Z. Niditch
The first swan
the meditative one,
under the sun shower
at noonday
followed by Twonela
toned as a poem
in the warmth
her primed feathers
in the airless landscape
as the third, Aurora
in a swan song
with oracles
for her silent partner
on the blue lake
with jumbled music
for the fourth swan
interlaced in a circle
of flowery arms
and nape of her neck
on the journey's duration
followed by a fifth swan
named Granada
over wells of water
as incarnations
rise by curly bed rocks
shells and shale
by a porous acrobat
the sixth, anonymous
caught in a flash
of camera and lightning
for a brief pose of birth
skims a chilled darkness
through silver liquidity
in a mute absence
of solitary secrets
from a growing afternoon
on a row
at the last chain
covering space and time
pass as dancers
at the ports of voyage
by water pillars
of the suns' reflections.

Wayne Kunert's Lego Village
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

—Caschwa, Sacramento

The trees lining my street
got news of the senseless
killings in Connecticut

with tears of rainfall
and shrieks of wind
they spoke as if in unison

dropping tender young
saplings to the ground
many longer than I am tall

lives cut short for
no good reason
Winter just beginning


Some say this is not
just another ho hum day
it is the beginning of
a new Mayan calendar

however last I looked "Mayan"
was not a synonym for rock solid
or reliable or the mainstay
of investment portfolios

in a world where we rate cars
by crash test statistics,
top our pizzas with delicious
fungus and mold

consume our spare time
with bungie jumping
and are visited by a fiscal cliff that
has far overstayed its welcome

one more living-on-the-edge
prophesy is just another day
death and taxes
ho hum


Thanks to today's contributors for their fine poems and pix! About her photos, Michelle Kunert writes: My brother Wayne's seven-month-old kitten Pandi is having fun on Christmas eve. His two "sisters" Butters and Shades wouldn't come out from hiding, though. (Wayne found out Pandi's about 11 pounds and not fully grown yet!)

Carl Bernard Schwartz (Caschwa) has sent us two timely poems, including an end-of-the-world poem which we didn't get posted during the Christmas rush; thanks, Carl! 

And about his poems, Barry Niditch writes: For the last few years when I go to Rockport, the most distant point out on the Atlantic, an art colony where T.S. Eliot visited, six swans follow me even as I go early to a great coffee shop for muffins they are outside the window waiting for me. Outside the window it was snowing this Christmas Day. The poem came miraculously and is my gift to you at Medusa' Kitchen. Thanks, BZ, for thinking of us from all the way in Massachusetts! I wrote back that we have four black swans who are residents at the near-by lake; now that's a picture in the snow!

New Beginnings: that's our Seed of the Week. Send your thoughts about fresh starts to  Medusa likes fresh starts as well as anyone.


Today's LittleNip:

What memory when an elegy of energy returns as a visionary's verse.

—B.Z. Niditch



—Photo by Michelle Kunert

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Look For The Helpers

—Photo by D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

—Caschwa, Sacramento

Fred Rogers' mother said
when times are truly bad
look for the helpers

put aside for a moment
the stereotypical
depictions of cherubs

as winged pudgy infants
and open your hearts to
real people helping people

every day there are people
who can swim saving people
who cannot, and motorists

pulling victims from burning cars
and there are organ donors
and so many others

some quite ugly by
Hollywood standards—
all with huge hearts.


Today's LittleNip:

—Olga Blu Browne, Sacramento

Let's you and I talk of silvery

where I was once the moon
watching the shadows of snow

fall in silence.  And "HE" the
reason for the songs of joy.

I believe in the spirit of


—Medusa, with thanks to today's contributors; every poem, every visual, every email you send me is a welcome gift! Here's wishing you and the rest of the world a joyous, peaceful holiday season full of love and most comfortable, silvery rivers of words. 

If you're ready to move ahead, our new Seed of the Week is New Beginnings—something to think about today, however you celebrate this holiday.

 —Photo by D.R. Wagner

Monday, December 24, 2012

And All Those Stars

Carolers in Fair Oaks
—Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—Patricia Wellingham-Jones, Tehama 

We leave the house, meet up with friends,
head through snowy streets
to the stone church across town.
Eyes dancing, Skip takes his chance,
shoulders my baby sister into a snowdrift.
He hauls her out, hero of the moment,
bestows her first kiss.
Eyes dazed, she’s worthless
for the rest of the night.
We cluster with other kids
and grownups, take our song sheets,
trail giggling as we set off
on our trek. We stop at houses
with welcoming looks and sing
our little hearts out, warbling carols
into the cold dark spotted with snowflakes.
Eyes smiling, sometimes wincing,
householders pass out cookies.
We make our circuit till legs turn blue
and the venture stops being fun.
Our pals pass on the service
inside the stone church, trudge back
across town to our house where Mother,
eyes checking us out, is deep
in her own Christmas party.
Dropping everything, she settles us all
in the kitchen with cocoa and cake.


—Patricia Wellingham-Jones  
On this night frost shivers beneath the stars,
the planet tilts a small breath closer to warmth.
The seam between worlds eases apart for a few hours
and souls from other places, other times, slip through.
People spanning the ages gather at their sacred sites.
Magic rides the heavens on such a night.

(first pub. in East Valley Times and Re-Verse, 2012)

Merry Christmas
—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Tonight he sits in the dark of the year
remembering things past—on a green hill
statue of an angel holding a sphere
blue-moonlit—presence almost living still,
someone he loved, now gone. A starry chill
of former pleasures—all those shooting lights
of hope, and faithfulness—the memories spill
like Christmas cups; unopened, wrapped delights.
And all those stars like angels falling from the heights.


—Taylor Graham

              We had a date with Christmas
on the far side of a mountain.
                          VW van full of gifts
and cheer—one pump-organ
humming to itself old grandmother hymns,
two marble-top tables bearing imprint
of childish verse; three German Shepherds;
just-in-case camping gear.
              Almost to the summit
the engine simply quit
without a tow-truck near. So we camped
on the sand for Christmas Eve;
picked up sticks of desert scrub; incense
of sage rising from our little fire.
                         High-desert nights are cold
as onyx, higher; dizzy with stars; wind-
harps and dancing angel-scarves
in every color of the Northern Lights.
             Our dogs kept us warm
as shepherds’ sheep, as we crossed
the invisible line to Christmas:
                         bells not meant to be
heard out loud;
             and all those stars.


Today's LittleNip:

The best gifts are quiet
never point to themselves
they just let their grace
stamina become wider
when accepted
kindly and wholly—
motives do not shift
the abacus either left up
or down right
it just goes naturally
to where it will.

—Michael Cluff, Corona, CA



—Photo by Katy Brown

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Best Gift!

M1, Crab Nebula
—Photo by Hubble Space Telescope

—Pablo Neruda

And it was at that age . . . poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, not silence,
but from a street it called me,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among raging fires
or returning alone,
there it was, without a face,
and it touched me.

I didn't know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind.
Something knocked in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first, faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing;
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
the darkness perforated,
with arrows, fire, and flowers,
the overpowering night, the universe.

And I, tiny being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss.
I wheeled with the stars.
My heart broke loose with the wind.

(trans. from the Spanish by Alastair Reid)



Saturday, December 22, 2012

Speaking as Tigers

—Photo by D.R. Wagner

—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

Now the Winter hauls its fierce
Force, in inhalations
Up to the front of the line.

We wait to see it as a thing
That wants to touch the earth,
As the season tries to avoid all
Metaphors and begins
Insisting that it knows everything
And will not cooperate in any of the planned
Choirs intended to mark the short
Days.  It immediately collides with water,
Freezes the toes off of someone named
In a newspaper, who lost their shoes
While in the white eye of the mountains.

“Mine!” says the Winter, surprising itself
With its cry bordering on a tumbling
Toward a cliff edge or a mountain,
Barely able to hold itself in
Long enough to display its immeasurable
Power, and it resorts to snow.

Eventually snow hides everything in
Its white being, ripping the trees
Down, covered with ice, automobiles
Sliding all over the road like trombones
Not understanding the score.  It seems
To be living but it is not.
Finally it flickers in children’s fairy books
With white body, white hair, white
Arms and legs, turns almost blue
Under the moon and refuses to describe
Anything but bare trees and animal tracks.


—D.R. Wagner

Oh beautiful it is in hand.
Oh more beautiful is the sky.
Her eyes shine toward these tall heavens.

Do you see the forest in the snow
And watch the evening star fall?
Did you sing the little songs
That wait for Winter to be remembered?

Oh beautiful it is in hand.
And all the world whispers
Such love around it.


Huddled under the trees
The light fractures the leaves.
We wear shadows that camouflages
Our bodies.

Please don’t speak.

One time I came down all the way
From Portland just to climb a flight
Of stairs that once had been a
Sentence or two in a story in an old book.

It was great doing that.
It was like walking up a waterfall.
There wasn’t anything at the top
Of the stairs, but it looked like
There could have been at one time.

I imagined it was a nice little clapboard
Place and that two girls had lived
There with their parents.  Their
Father had told them to never
Go near those stairs, but one
Day they just walked out of doors
And trotted right down those same stairs.

There were a lot of stairs.  It took
A long, long time to get to the bottom.
When they got to the bottom they looked
Up.  Their house looked like a doll house.
It was that far away.

This isn’t the story I read about
The stairs.  In that story there had
Been fish and a case of mistaken identity.

—Photo by D.R. Wagner

—D.R. Wagner

When the great ship rose from the water
It was transparent and was crowded
With the dead, strangely animated
Now by the tons of water moving
Through the vessel.  Yet still it lifted.

It must have been the moon.
One could see into the great
Engine rooms, the magnificent
Ballroom, the huge dining commons.
All the public areas of the ship
Filled with the skeletons and
Washes of bones as it fled toward
The stars.  The water spewed
From the ship.  At times it appeared
To be a grotesque fountain rising
From the water.  First the bow,
Aimed at about 45 degrees.

We were so close, we could see
Loose skulls and acres of tumbling
Bones swirling through the great
Transparent ship.

We watched for hours.  The moon
Ghosting its light through the vessel
As it rose through the air,
Higher and higher it seemed.
Water poured from it as if it
Would never end.

But it did.  Just before it
Disappeared into the sky
There was a flash and the spectacle
Was gone.  No one would believe us.
We have remained silent all these years.
Now we have become old and can tell you,
For sights like this are no longer
Thought of as impossible or strange.

The moon rusts in a smoke-
Filled sky daring us to find
Believers.  Rolling among the clouds.
Lifting the tides higher than our imaginations
Could ever carry us.

—D.R. Wagner

We cannot ever bring back the dragons.
That was the agreement back when we
Came to the high camps.  Even if
We were without hope we had vowed
Not to say their names aloud.

Their gift for this was a new language.  It took so
Little time to gain its usage.  We were amazed
To be speaking it in groups within a fortnight.
It had a quality of song about it.

I am going to allow the language
But it will speak as tigers, terrible
As the dawn might be or the night's
Great majesty, for the words have power;

They power all and you may dance or you
May fall, swirling on a pause that
May be a comma or nothing at all.
The eyebrow of the beast may twitch
And we will run from the forest
To the shore and I may
Never know you or I may know
You all.  There is no sound upon
The page
As we see the tiger in its glade,

But its eye will see you,
Smell the warmth of meat of which
You are made and find you almost
To Charon’s boat, now blue,
Now only a shade.

The burrs of understanding
Every language in the world,
Their curious cadences we use
To ride.  The horses come from heaven
To do our bidding as we beg
To become the night that we might
See and feel the language fill our sight.

I am going to allow the language to
Dwell here for its famous moment.
A purity we are amazed to have privy to
Even as we open our mouths.


Today's LittleNip:

—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Morning TV news: the end of the world.
Fiscal cliff. Upside-down
mountain. Silence for the victims.

I walked out the door. Frozen
grass crunched underfoot. Red glow
to the east, rising with a dying season's

yellow edge of solstice. Sky
lightened to dawn, the first of winter.
Days will be getting longer.


—Medusa, with thanks to D.R. Wagner and Taylor Graham for today's Kitchen fare. Yesterday we celebrated the Winter Solstice with photos of the sunset; today we celebrate the world not coming to an end with photos of the sunrise. Here's hoping that we can celebrate our continued lease on life on this planet with renewed excitement, love and focus!

—Photo by Taylor Graham

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Year's Midnight

Sunset in Colorado
—Photo by Roger Langton, Louisville, CO

—John Donne

TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,

Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
    The sun is spent, and now his flasks
    Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
             The world's whole sap is sunk;

The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,

Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,

Dead and interr'd; yet all these seem to laugh,

Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be

At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
    For I am every dead thing,
    In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
             For his art did express

A quintessence even from nothingness,

From dull privations, and lean emptiness;

He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot

Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,

Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
     I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
     Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
             Have we two wept, and so

Drown'd the whole world, us two; oft did we grow,

To be two chaoses, when we did show

Care to aught else; and often absences

Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—

Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
    Were I a man, that I were one
     I needs must know; I should prefer,
             If I were any beast,

Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,

And love; all, all some properties invest.

If I an ordinary nothing were,

As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.

You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
      At this time to the Goat is run
      To fetch new lust, and give it you,
             Enjoy your summer all,

Since she enjoys her long night's festival.

Let me prepare towards her, and let me call

This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this

Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

 Sunset in California
—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

—B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA

With a banker's valise
of debits and credits
he lets nothing slide

With his city bureaucratic
luggage made of leather
he looks down at you

With four degrees in hand
at his latest graduation
his chest swells

With his station master's
you hold your ticket up

With a mop in hand
he overpowers his brother
out of work.


—B.Z. Niditch

Approaching sundown
your friend paints
her fingernails green
after her last affair
with a stud
and Hollywood understudy,
the buzz downtown
expects her suffocating
break-ups to go on
like all the others,
to last a headache full
of a week's drama
queen memories
on walls of rumors
to capture her lovers
reeling in words
like diphthongs
of departures.


—B.Z. Niditch

A runaway teenager
with a pale gaze
from the lake's sunrise
hides blank pages
of his little black book
of addresses
in his jeans
back pocket
checking out
an infinite recital
of phone numbers
in a visage of words
now reflecting on
a deliberation of trees
as thunder rolls by
on newborn shadows
transfigured by
his father's
and mother's nature.


       for Newtown
—Tom Goff, Carmichael

I say Eden was abandoned the day
gunpowder sparked in Heaven and spread,
serpent-spread, here below. The day
our Parents left: what we never hear of
is the unholy racket, sanctimonious noise:
stacked grails, gold gold and white gold,
shot off the garden fence rails, Michael
at practice. We only thought, from
Milton on down, the sword of fire capped
with silencer. With wandering steps and slow
on through Eden and out, till the spray
of celestial hell, or the sight of the muzzle flash,
stanched their weeping: then they dove
& sped crawling through thorns for safety,
mimicking one living thing they’d fatally met
but never given a name.


Our poets and photographers come from all over heck-and-gone today (including John Donne, who comes to us from the 17th century!); thanks to them for gathering in the Kitchen to warm up on this chilly Solstice! For more Winter Solstice poetry, see

Rachel Hansen of The Book Collector writes: HUGE SALE at The Book Collector this weekend! This Friday, Saturday and Sunday (December 21st to 23rd) almost all our books will be 50% OFF! Only the second time in almost 18 years that we've offered such a deep discount. This is NOT a going out of business sale, just a chance to save on great reads. It will be raining but the bookstore will be warm and dry and the mall will be crowded and depressing. Where would you rather be? The Book Collector [Home of the Snake] is located at 1008 24th Street, on 24th Street between J and K Streets in Midtown Sacramento. I will be there most of the weekend if you want to stop by for a hug—I could use a few. Please tell your friends!


Today's LittleNip:

—Michael Cluff, Corona

Christmas Day is almost here
but first let us hope
the 21st does not go
strange and queer
and the sun swallows up the planet
with a fireball or hot plasma flow
or even a stray asteroid called Janet
but being alone I could not cope
with even the lightest axis trope.


—Medusa who, in her controlled folly, assumes the world will not end today...

Night Speeding In
—Photo by D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Days Ahead

—Photo by Richard Hansen, Sacramento

—Patricia Wellingham-Jones, Tehama

Stetson at his feet, replaced

by jaunty crimson Santa cap,

buzzard feather black in the band,

the old cowboy clangs his bell

in front of the bank.

Arm pumping up and down

he beams through gaps in his teeth,

points at the red kettle.

He wishes customers a happy holiday.

Over the brass tones of the bell

his rich baritone voice rises,

sings the first lines

of "Joy to the World."

Exiting the bank a rancher

trim in new jeans and leather vest

supplies the words in bass

when the Salvation Army man

sputters la la la.

Spattered with sawdust and manure

a ranch hand squeals his pickup

to a stop, jumps out, adds

his wavering tenor to the mix.

Inside three tellers roll eyes

and smile, slide their sopranos

with Christmas dollars

across the counter.

(first pub. in InDaily News, Adelaide, Australia 2012)


—Patricia Wellinham-Jones      

Three thin young men amble
along the road in front of the house,
black t-shirts expose tattoos,
each arm blue with cold.
They eye the two women leaving the door
for a holiday walk, bundled
in coats and scarves, hats and gloves.

The young men watch, lips turn up at corners
under eyes chilly, assessing.
The women return their stares,
skin twitching. One says hello,
the men say hello back. One of the three says,
“Can you give me a dollar?”
A white-haired woman says no,
she left her money at home. The other
shudders at information too late realized.

They walk a few steps ahead of the men
on the far side of the road, go straight,
turn and look back at the corner.
The men crouch there, killing time,
waiting to see the women round the bend.
Heeding the urges in their guts
the women retrace their steps.

They watch from windows safe behind locks
for the men to go.
Unwilling to leave the house empty,
ruing the walk they didn’t take,
they feel boxed in by their fears,
by the look in men’s eyes.


—Patricia Wellingham-Jones

She bolted from the house,
from turkey gravy she was stirring,
from guests with wine glasses
tilted to their lips,
from her new step-daughter’s family.

In the slight protection of the eaves
she opened her mouth, released
into rain the wail that had built
through an endless round of hosting.
Bent from the waist, she roared out sobs
she’d swallowed all day.

Heedless of her hairdo
she stepped away from shelter
into storm, tipped her head back,
let rain wash down her cheeks
with tears.

Returning through a distant door
she splashed cold water on red, swollen eyes,
dragged a comb through flattened hair,
freshened makeup. Pinning a smile
on still-trembling lips, she rejoined the group

apologizing to nobody,
including her husband
of a few months,
for missing the one
no longer there.

(first pub. in Voices on the Land, Rattlesnake Press, 2004)

—Photo by Richard Hansen

PARIS 1848                               
—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Now she stirs
starter in the crock,
it bubbles
with a life
caught out of thin air—a spoor
that works in the dark,

ready to
combine with milled wheat;
punched down and
punched again,
but alive, set aside, and
left alone to rise

like a man's
wishes for his life—
all those men
on the streets
shouting vive la liberté
and droit au travail—

right to work,
rise above themselves.
A whole new
day ahead
for breaking tyrants, and for
the breaking of bread.


—Ann Wehrman, Sacramento

    In the forest, when I was growing up, sun-warmed breeze blew through my needles and bent my branches.  White trillium, mountain violets, and purple beds of heather danced before rain; flowers nestled around me, tickling me with thick, green leaves.  Deer and squirrels played, mountain jays and ravens skimmed past me in the air, and slimy banana slugs crept by, along with ants and fat worms that plowed the earth under my branches.
    I drank summer rain, fresh water, and air.  The rich black earth nourished me.  I listened to whispered songs and learned the secrets of the mountain from the ancient sequoias towering over me.  When at night glowing stars danced and spun throughout the black heavens, I swayed with them and felt the wind in my branches, crooning her songs of deep joy. 
    Seasons passed, and I matured; grew plump and full, my branches a deep, luxurious green.  Then one cold winter day, a large, raucous, harshly reflective object entered my clearing, and two beings climbed out from inside it. 
    “Here’s a real beauty, Bob!”
    “Don’t look like nothin’ but another damn tree to me—another tree, another dollar, that’s what I always say,” replied the other.  Their power saw bit into my trunk, its tearing roar deafened my screams, and I fell to the frozen grass.
    In the back of their vehicle, I jostled, torn trunk dripping sap, my mind growing weaker as my sap dried.  Finally, we reached this place, with its strange lights, crowds of people, and so many trees, some with no breath at all left to tell their stories. 
    I gasped this last, my branches leaning on the young blue spruce on my left.  Originally inquisitive, she fell silent halfway through my tale.
    “Hey, plug in that sign!  Nobody’ll stop if they can’t see we’re open for business!”


Our thanks to today's poets, and to Richard Hansen for the photos. It's good to hear from Patricia Wellingham-Jones again, a long-time SnakePal (her Voices on the Land was the third-ever Rattlechap we published), who has brought us some Poems of the Season for our daily stew. Ann Wehrman checks in as well with a seasonal short, and Taylor Graham is fiddling with the Shadorma, a fun and easy form you should try (they say it's addictive, like Christmas fudge!). Don't forget to send us your Poem(s) of the Season, and photos too. And—hey—artwork! Put pen/brush/whatever to paper/parchment/canvas and have at it!


Today's LittleNip:

—Taylor Graham

O! first left-
over cup of joe!
better than
nothing, while
the French roast brews. So much left-
over stuff to do



—Photo by Richard Hansen