Saturday, March 31, 2012

Of Violet and Unicorns

Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cypress
—Painting by Gentile Bellini, 1500

—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

The angels fall asleep.
All cities fade into indistinct
Shapes crowded into each of
Our moments, paths toward
Dreaming and half-dreaming,

Floundering in yesterdays
Still trying to make real sense,
Any sense of darkness.

Touching snow, building an algebra
From the caresses of the wind.

Every second becomes poetic
Because that is the essence of every
Moment. A rush of sunlight at evening
Still trying to find a way into the darkness.

This gold was gold once.
This night was once night.
Parts of morning are heaped up
Next to where the earth
Keeps marbles, rains, these very
Dreams and other shadows we
Spend our lives giving
Names to, thinking we may
Understand them like a song
A bird might sing at evening.

Poor Bellini, always
Painting so quickly just
To stay alive. Looking out the
Windows of the Scuola
In Venice, bouncing light
Off mirrors into the center
Of the room so to praise,
So to keep out of the cruel
Weather of the Venetian night.

The oars pull our small boat
Through the undesirable
To the indecipherable, blending
Time and space use as a voice
For Dante and Shakespeare.

We drift out to sea
Not even noticing the violet
Of the air, the unicorn, the
Perfection of our fleeting weapons.


—D.R. Wagner

                (for E.R. Baxter III)

It was as if smooth hands
had memories and fingertips
were voices for the wind.
Nothing like this had ever occurred
before. There were legends perhaps,
but no tossing of the ocean ever
moved this way, no simple secret
of the northern lights ever burned
and perished, caused rooms to form
and fall away, question with the eyes
and force such clustering of spirits.

So, as dreams are forged from
the face of the dreamer, as books
were passed hand to hand, words
exchanged in low whispers against
distant bawling of hounds, these
secrets were floated before us
pointing now and again to place after
place where one and another of them
,breath of a winter's day, passed
before us as life dreamed. Sweet
fire, consuming night with perfumed

Crossing and recrossing these sands
the camels throw their soft eyes
toward the sides of their heads
and listen to the strange music
these hooded messengers sing.
The drivers mumble tunelessly
and think flutes and silver coins
tumbling into a red cup.


—D.R. Wagner

But I’m walking in the labyrinth
And the labyrinth begins to wander
Away from me. I have heard
About an ancient moon from Chaldea
That can decipher the climates
Of the heart and yet refuses
To do so until only the legend of its existence
Remains and even this is confined in a room
So silent it is said to exist only in a mirror.

I will go there and you may go with me
If you would like to see the
Kingdoms conquered, to learn to
Regret that the infinite can exist
In simple stories and uncountable
Rivers that flow through everything
We give meaning to every day
We forget or do not wish to name.

And there you may want to ask this same
Kind of question. Here is a personal souvenir.
It is a footprint toward the center.
I no longer recall where
I acquired it and since I am going
Out to sea again, I have no use for it
At all. Perhaps you will make something
Truly memorable of this day without
Getting lost in it. It is not so easy to do.


—D.R. Wagner

The great night is coming.
It has been untied from the deep woods.

The skies had unlocked
The colors of the sunset
Only a short time before.

Now the purples and mute grays were hauling
The darkness into the streets and alleys,
Into the rooms of the quiet houses.

Lamps were lit and we
Watched it slide over
Everything, leaving only
Little openings for the stars
To find their way through the cloth.

The great night made ready
The place for the moon.

The night has many voices
But the moon has no tongue.
It is mute yet it speaks
The perfect language of the heart,

Its milky charms able
To touch the possessions
Of the night without
Upsetting the darkness.

Coachmen hurry by toward
Unknown destinations, all
Part of her train.

We were witness here. We were
Witness only and we knew our role.
We would walk these streets
Bound by the stillness,
Charmed by the distant
Barking of dogs and startled
Outbursts of unseen birds,
Choirs of frogs and blue
Blotter paper steps of
Frogs and toads. They became
Our sole music until the dawning
The morning makes upon
All things. All things begin to open
The streets with wandering
Cats and the flutter of bats

Returned to their personal
Darks, never too far away
From these dreams fields,
Pushing us back into the
Walls of buildings, shadows
Once again waiting for
The great ceremony
The great night
Would once again make. We
Lose our voices and depart.


—D.R. Wagner

The purple children of the shadows
Open the field without explanation.
They cannot recall an earth built of hands
Or recognize these flickering plains as if
They were the ends of sentences
Recently spoken.

They are lost here as we are lost,
Circles of smoke, empathic
In their paths through
The studios of perturbing angels
Charged with regulating
The transgressions of fools
So as to keep the very
Dome of the heavens
From cracking altogether
And begin an endless multiplication
Of voids that eventually must be
Coupled to a regular breathing
In and out, a regular pattern
Of visions never quite understood,

Always rushing to put clothes on,
Making sure it will know what to say
If confronted by even greater shadows,
Say the ones who still roam
The cool passages of earth,
Never willing to do anything but claim
Victory if they can keep a body from
Sleeping, can keep it trapped in a mysterious
Flow of music that seems to bind itself
To a profound loneliness,
Able to ride in the same boat

Death uses to ply the edges
Of the night where these shadows
Assail an impenetrable jungle
Made of colors desperate
To complete themselves,
Eager to escape muted conversations,
Full of half-truths and confabulations
Purporting meaning but actually only

A scuttling of claws
Across the ocean floor,
Rushing away from the light,
Denying any knowledge of any shore,
Never recognizing rest as possible
Until that breathing finally stops
And we sink once again
Beneath creation's doors.


—D.R. Wagner

The culprit has a name
And endears himself to us
As does a flame in the
Challenge we call night,

Offers itself to us,
Swears to keep us safe,
Not to drop us from a height,
Guard our way with light,
That we may find a place
Where memories might infect us,
Place their hand upon our face,
Deprive all of us from grace.

I remain hidden in the reeds
Driven by these shouts I
Have come to recognize
As things I need
To find my way through
To morning and madly
Ill-arrange tempting seeds
That say “Yes, this all happened.
All of it is true.
You can see just how
It happened, yes all of it
Is true, true, true.

But I will no more
Believe this. I will
Abandon my dear self
To find the real truth.

I will hold your face
Before me, call your
Name aloud so please
Do not ignore me.
I know these dreams
Will come, will return
Without neither a rhyme
Nor reason
And I will know that this is real
For I will feel it in the deep
Heart’s core.
Yeats evenings full of linnets' wings
And further on, the dark
Gifts of age that
Time forces us to carry,
Tells us that we cannot tarry,
Hurry please, it’s time.
Be merry into the
Darkest cut of dark
Waving to us from the shore.

“I bid you well, good sir
And ask you not to follow
Anywhere close or far behind me
For they must not find me.
And for that small grace I’ll greet you, hold
My hand out long to greet you,
Say both loudly and most warmly,
Come in come in, there is no cause
To be afraid. Here is your place,
Your hearth, your tempered blade,
All the memories you’ve made.
You may take them to your grave.

There, they may never fade,
No matter what we’ve said or done.
They have been true always
And we, the foolish ones,
Who did not think this...that life itself,
It would be done, as we are found
Not at all alive
But dead upon the floor."


Thanks to D.R. Wagner for today's poetic breakfast, and thanks to those of you who've been wishing me Godspeed through this flu. There were also some comments about my rant yesterday re: poets trying to edit their work after they've sent it. I especially like Charles Mariano's MediumNip; see below. 

Today's MediumNip:

crippled snakes
—charles mariano, sacramento  

tho billowing pants
atop highest towers hail
seas of rolling blue skies,
yonder, beyond
and out there,
marshmellows, elephants, daffodils three

no wait, scratch that,
misspelled marshmallow
and the line-break for
daffodils should follow,
or go before

by the way,
delete daffodils
change to tulips
has a nice ring

o’er fields of steadfast cotton
blessed sunlight, glorious light
grappling desperately

no wait, eliminate that stanza
wrong metaphor
and besides,
has a slight odor

the rain in Spain
falls mainly on the Jane
rises are red,
are red, are red…

dang it!!



 Saint of Flies
—Photo enhancement by D.R. Wagner

Friday, March 30, 2012

Consideration of the Next Step

—Photo by Janet Pantoja

—Janet Pantoja, Woodinville, WA

Upwards go the stairs.
     They lead to some other sight.
          What adventure might be there?
                Perhaps just nature’s delight,
                     Or an untoward experience, who knows?
                          Do I dare? Do I dare take those . . .
                               Take the ascending flight
                                    On a whim?
                                          I’ll take them.
                                                I’ll take the stairs—
                                                     To where?


—Trina Drotar, Sacramento

Stone steps mark where homes once stood
before an entire town was flooded. In summer,
when the rains have been plenty some months
earlier, swimmers and boaters and jet skiers
swim and boat and ski above a town they
know nothing about. In certain years, hikers
and historians and even the stray boater
can walk into the lake that covers the island
to gaze upon the remnants of a town where
people cooked breakfast, ate dinner together,
laughed and cried, where children ran and
played and went to school, where in 1955,
the town ceased to exist except during drought
years when the voices of the residents can
be heard through the quiet.


—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Under a leaden sky, my dog leads me
through the oak woods—
a place to lose ourselves, or save us,

where leafless trees hang on among
new survey stakes. I follow
past a marshy fringe, a broken bridge;

cellar cemented in soil. Rough-hewn
steps, and a ghost-chimney
of brick. Nothing more. The steps go

nowhere. Only periwinkle's witness-
blue—touch of color on a gray
day, to prove someone meant to live

here. Clouds open, blue-patched sky.
My dog runs ahead, among
oak trees hanging on, rooted to soil.


—Michael Cluff, Corona, CA

The play left unended in Act III
the charity work during summer
in either Zimbabwe or Tanzania
the call to the friend in the Pacific Northwest
who I have not contacted since
nine weeks after 911.
The pursuit of an ESL certificate
to finally finish a sociology class
taught by a good friend
but boring
yet well-dressed professor,
the ending of the hurting relationship
to let the closeted parts
completely and unashamedly


                 Aurora Dawn Beauchamp
—Michael Cluff

The Lurie place
at the end of the block
had sideyard steps
never allowed to be used
although she was an immaculate sort
to a degree beyond the quality of nth
and still kept each and every one
dirt, stain and microbe-free.

Long hours of labor
had allowed the slate stone insets
the talent to mock and shame the sun
even on the most blemishless skied June.
And the enraged drops of September gullywashers
could never scrub the inner stains of its guilt away.

She travelled the thirteen steps up the graveyard hill
to his mausoleum all the rest of her living days
and always cleaned them too
milky white
on her way back home
to raised back porch of the house.


Thanks to today's contributors, and thanks to Trina Drotar for pointing out that I called Julia Connor "Julia O'Connor" in yesterday's post. Silly me.

Which brings me to a new Medusa rule: from now on, the first version of a poem that you send in will be the version which gets published. Some of you have gotten into a pattern of sending one (or more!) revisions—"oh, this one is much better". Rest assured that if your first version contains a simple typo, I'll probably catch it (the O'Connor thing notwithstanding). I wouldn't even mind getting a simple note from you saying "please take the third 'a' out of 'aardvark' on the fourth line". But I don't ken to having a second or even third "revised" version arrive, and then having to go word by word to see what the (usually very minor) change is. I realize that, by tolerating such behavior, I'm not doing you any favors, since such nonsense is never acceptable in publishing in general. So New Rule: First time's the one.

Besides, there are no deadlines on SOWs or any other Medusa postings. Take your time; be sure. Curb your impulse to hit the "send" button. We'll be here.


Today's LittleNip: 

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

—Scott Adams



—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Daughters of the Swan

Leda and the Swan
—Painting by Gustave Moreau

—William Butler Yeats

His chosen comrades thought at school
He must grow a famous man;
He thought the same and lived by rule,
All his twenties crammed with toil;
'What then?' sang Plato's ghost, 'what then?'

Everything he wrote was read,
After certain years he won
Sufficient money for his need,
Friends that have been friends indeed;
'What then?' sang Plato's ghost, 'what then?'

All his happier dreams came true—
A small old house, wife, daughter, son,
Grounds where plum and cabbage grew,
Poets and Wits about him drew;
'What then?' sang Plato's ghost, 'what then?'

'The work is done,' grown old he thought,
'According to my boyish plan;
Let the fools rage, I swerved in nought,
Something to perfection brought;'
But louder sang that ghost, 'What then?'


—William Butler Yeats

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story's finished, what's the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day's vanity, the night's remorse.


—William Butler Yeats

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.

                                  Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?


—William Butler Yeats


I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;
A kind old nun in a white hood replies;
The children learn to cipher and to sing,
To study reading-books and history,
To cut and sew, be neat in everything
In the best modern way—the children's eyes
In momentary wonder stare upon
A sixty-year-old smiling public man.


I dream of a Ledaean body, bent
Above a sinking fire, a tale that she
Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event
That changed some childish day to tragedy—
Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent
Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,
Or else, to alter Plato's parable,
In the yolk and white of the one shell.


And thinking of that fit of grief or rage
I look upon one child or t'other there
And wonder if she stood so at that age—
For even daughters of the swan can share
Something of every paddler's heritage—
And had that colour upon cheek or hair,
And thereupon my heart is driven wild:
She stands before me as a living child.


Today we have something completely different—Yeats and Leda. There are plenty of references out there, but you can start with

The first Crossroads Reading Series with Victoria Dalkey and Julia Connor is now available online at


Today's LittleNip: 

—William Butler Yeats

God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone;

From all that makes a wise old man
That can be praised of all;
O what am I that I should not seem
For the song's sake a fool?

I pray—for fashion's word is out
And prayer comes round again—
That I may seem, though I die old,
A foolish, passionate man.



Wednesday, March 28, 2012

There Were Daffodils

Old Abandoned Stairs
—Photo by Robin Gale Odam

—Robin Gale Odam, Sacramento

I have been considering this next page.
I have been hearing a rustling of dry leaves.
I have been measuring time with soft breathing.

My daughter is getting married.
They took engagement photos on a rise of
old concrete stairs in an abandoned lot.
He is handsome. She is delicate.
There were daffodils.


—Tom Goff, Carmichael

Oh silent, silent, silent, silent, silent.
Page in my mind, no, my entire book,
best book of my heart, if you should ever
learn someday how much I adore you,
I foresee you will reject, utterly repudiate me.
For is what my kindness if not ulterior?
But what am I to do but love you
by helping you—help you I will, then go
drown my mental tempest,
my distraught sex and senses,
in transparent anguish, in clean silence.

My chapter of you makes up one mute page.
In a novel of Rome, a future emperor urges
his friend to write in milk on the whitest
of parchment. Fire will caramelize
the inscription, bring it back burnt and burning
with dangers we carelessly term words.
When sweet you and sour everyone else
overlook my supposed tomb inscription,

what will it say of our darling reluctance?
Will it not speak of me—or of you equally—

Here lies one whose name was writ in milk
across the one parchment the fire left unkissed?


—Tom Goff

My lady, you see me and smile:
a double rainbow, downside up,
a heady cup
of love, all lip.

Infuse my drink with a mere sip,
and my lips curve and loft to kiss.
But here’s the thing; when we both smile,
our duple pair of lips turns one,

we two on this side of one kiss.
So, in our bliss,
our lips brush only light, or air:
our blended mouths yearn out toward—where?

To kiss together stars and moons,
kiss far, far planets, new Neptunes?

Our never-touching lips
melding, melting on a dare
—we, teaching the angry sun
a newer, far more perfect flare!


—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Time is a page with nothing on it—
Excalibur rusting at the bottom of the lake
whose surface giggles under sunrise
and stars; a herd of goats browsing the swale.
Tall grasses sway, then stop as all things
do. A band of men in kilts goes by, piped as
if to war—or is it men in armor or fatigues,
who will or will not return. Time is a page
so often written, overwritten; a voice
across the water that riffles and erases
words. Time turns a blank page.


—Taylor Graham

Forest Sanitarium?—I mistook the words
in translation, forgetting the magic
of wooded mountain and thin air to work

their changes, sleight of time and syntax.
I thought you were lost inside walls,
caught by the lungs, breath over-frosting

vision. Ice-fog on glass. Nurses came
and went on soundless feet. Time
passed with click-ticking of pulses,

non-retractable nails on linoleum.
Time is a page with nothing on it. Only
numbers. Deficits, remainders.

Charts, red lines on graphs climbing
and falling with ambiguous
interpretation, commentary, diagnosis.

But from the woods, animals were
watching, eyes soft with healing. Sky
rises higher than a fever burns.

When you woke to daylight,
it was already tomorrow.


—Caschwa, Sacramento

Toddlers stray off sidewalks
Where treasures vast unfold
Combo pizzas, combo locks
Mysteries of sex untold

Backpack full of metaphors
Denied the light of day
Yack yack that cannot open doors
To jobs that really pay

No epitomes of epiphanies
Nor nebulae of knowledge
Tested at class and parties
A struggle all through college

Numerous nuclear submarines
A host of bald spots too early
Odd smelling peculiar tangerines
But all are safe for us, surely

Now it is time to pick a plot
To mark a life that’s ended
Toddlers return to the very same spot
To find bugs they once befriended


Medusa has had her snakes in a tangle the last few days with a monstrous flu bug; so much so that I just didn't have the focus required to come up with a Seed of the Week yesterday. But today, while I am by no means healed, I have been inspired by Robin Odam's photo of the abandoned steps. Where did they lead to at one time? Was it a happy home, or was it destroyed by its own pain? Where do such steps lead to in our own lives; what are some of the "steps" you've abandoned over time? Anyway, write about these poor, abandoned steps and send your thoughts to

And my mail bag is bulging:

•••Cynthia Linville writes: The Spring '12 Issue of Convergence is online at  Look for work by Abbie Amadio, Anne Babson, Eleanor Leonne Bennett, Myles Boisen, Katy Brown, Holly Day, J de Salvo, Teresita Garcia, Carl James Grindley, Patricia Hickerson, Keith Moul, J. Alan Nelson, Allyson Seconds. In addition, Editors' Choice pages and photos throughout the website are updated monthly or bimonthly, so stop by often. Kara Synhorst is Cynthia's featured poet this month. Go to

•••Trina Drotar writes: 1. I have a piece that was accepted into the Tower at Beatnik show. The photo title is "Ceiling Lights in the Tower Lobby". There is an opening reception (plus pub crawl for those interested) this coming Friday on the 30th. (I'll be at the reception but not at the pub crawl.) For info, go to!/events/339272839452656

2. My nonfiction story, "Little Orange," will be published in an anthology titled The Dog with the Old Soul this fall.

3. The Crossroads Reading Series has a Facebook page at!/pages/Crossroads-Reading-Series-at-CCAS/307059609360186

•••Todd Cirrillo writes: The following is a Six Ft. Swells update front the news desk. 2012 appears to be gearing up for a big year for our little press and we would like to invite everyone to the party. Please take a moment and help us help you by going to our sites below and subscribing to our website to receive updates, our blogs, poems, notifications of events and party invites. It's easy and free, just put your email in. Also, if you have Facebook, please go to our page and "like" us. You will also receive update from the SFS crew. Do both if possible. Please join our support group as our little ship sets sail. Big announcements soon to come: and


Today's LittleNip: 


Some may say that
Playing solitaire is
A good example of
No pain, no gain

Then how come
After all those games
It hasn’t kept
My weight down?

(Silly is the chisel that shapes a cold, hard block of profound.)



—Photo by Joyce Odam, Sacramento
(Mother of Robin Gale)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Time As a Page With Nothing On It

Figuerine (The Thinker)
—Photo by Joyce Odam

—Joyce Odam, Sacramento

This page of pity
is for your great loss,

is for your sad song,
is for your mute cry.

I have unrolled it for you
as if it were a scroll,

as if ink could ever
wear such woe

and not bleed there
indelibly. Oh,

who are you to come to me
with such great sorrow

and spread its shadow over me
like a wing of heaviness.

My shoulders ache
with sympathy.


—Joyce Odam

I borrow
this lip and this chair
for my speech and comfort,

for my white space of effort
which is a new page
of possibility.

I borrow this old arrow
to be my direction
and my luggage of light.

They will get me there.
All you who wait
on side roads and benches,

I will not rest till you find me,
greedy as a stare.
Oh, failing eyes,

go by me.
It’s all right.
I borrow patience for forgiveness.


—Joyce Odam

We are solitude. We are public with mercy. We will
never tell lies unless you ask for truth. We are full

of ourselves. You better believe us. We are every-
thing to everything—born perfect—fading from

our own memory. Believe us when we tell you what
we know. We have secrets. Never probe. You may

love us when we’re young, desirable as innocence,
easy as traps. We save words for spells. For intona-

tions. For comfort. When we are old and you are
bewildered by us, we will let you go. Or stay. Be

careful how you use the word love. We will exam-
ine it like a street too wide to cross,

in a slow-motion dream with no end to any story.


—Joyce Odam

The cat has been stroked and has
left my lap to the
lamplight in the dark morning.

Hum of early traffic begins . . .
no . . .     only an airplane drone,
gone now.

My pencil scrapes the page with a
strange sound—whisper of language
a pen does not know.

A thin whine in some far background
says,    Here . . .    Now . . .
in my ear only.

Shall I rise to the dark morning
and put all this away
, unfinished?

Now that morning
no longer belongs to me,
I am distracted.

But the words still compel me
with their illegible scribble.
Time is going,  and they accuse me.

Where is the comfort-cat now
 . . . that silent shadow of
casual existence . . .?

Spirit in the Window
—Photo by Joyce Odam


—Joyce Odam

January 2nd is missing, or did you
lose—too soon—all your resolve?

Are you secret, or out of volition?
I kept faith with your resolution,

but you have become private—
choosing not to let me in on your

calendar of days as you spend
them. And I, who was ready to

accompany you, am left stranded
in a glitch of my life—my thumb

extended—on a long empty road.
It is dusk. And cold. And I didn’t

bring a page to fill—or a pencil
to fill it with—let alone a thought.

And I wonder if tomorrow you
might yet drive by and rescue me,

or if ever I should believe in anyone
again who voices their persuasive

intentions. I expected the full
365 days—not—this soon—gaps.

(first pub. in Sakana, 2005)


—Joyce Odam

I wish I had words on this page.
Thought vanishes as I think it.

Time is culprit and suspect.
I wish I had words.


—Joyce Odam

I like the way the cover is torn
against imagination,
a sort of artifice of design—

a deliberate tear to look real,
a corner of thought,
or afterthought,

to touch in chagrin
and frown with disapproval:
Books are to be respected,

on one side of the argument, &
Books well-read, well-used,
from another point of view.

So why this
pretend tear—drawn there—
or photographed from a real tear

in simulation. Hard to know.
Somehow, though, I’m glad
the tear is not real—and only faux.


—Joyce Odam

We talk of light the way we talk of dark.
We mention gray twilights for compromise.
But, really, it is only light and dark.

Our voices set against each other—shrill
and distant—our gestures rising in a dance,
intense with choreography.

Night flounders down
with clumsiness.
We fold into its tangled garments and sleep.


I wake briefly to see someone searching
among us for whatever she has lost. She
picks up page after crumpled page and reads.

She nudges each of us with a question.
But that is not it. She picks up a child from
the center of us and carries it away with her.


The window is full of birds. One of the birds
thinks up a song of pure senseless joy
and begins singing.


Today's LittleNip: 

—Joyce Odam

This is the sky of winter—this slow and heavy
gray, with its weight of ghostly birds that sift
into each other’s cries—and lose their way.

(first pub. in Caught Against the Years
SpiralChap from Rattlesnake Press, 2005)



 Shy Behind Flowers
—Photo by Joyce Odam

Monday, March 26, 2012

Waking Up

Worst Seat in the Majors
—Photo by Caschwa

—Caschwa, Sacramento

Feng was abducted from his homeland in China
And taken to a ship bound for America.
Before boarding, he and others like him
Were made to stand at the shore with water
Lapping at their bare, field-worn ankles.

A frightened Feng, feeling something solid
Brush against his foot, reached down
And pulled up a small bottle with a
Cork stopper almost falling out. Then
They were hustled up the boarding ramp.

Soon Feng and his fellows would be
Slumped in the cargo hold of the ship,
A textbook captive audience for their host
Who promised their hard work would be
Rewarded with big paychecks in America.

A little thirsty and furiously curious,
Feng pulled the cork on the small bottle
And up popped a one-armed genie who
Promised to grant Feng two wishes,
Anything in the world!

Addicted to the allure of those big paychecks
In America, Feng thought in terms of
Improving his ability to perform, and his
Father’s advice to breathe deeply, so he
Announced: I wish to move to the upper deck.

Suddenly, Feng was transported out of
The cargo hold of the ship all the way to
The upper decks of Yankee Stadium…
To the absolutely, notoriously worst ever
Seat in any baseball stadium.

Astutely aware that he could not fully
Appreciate America’s favorite pastime
From this aerie, Feng used his second,
Last wish to formulate higher aspirations:
I wish to move to the box seats.

Instantaneously Feng was flung out of
The upper decks of Yankee Stadium to
Crouch in the darkened corner of a
Cricket-ridden crate in the cargo hold
Of a ship bound for America.



George Oppen’s parents
Gave away their Heimer
To Dingle, who didn’t have
A McLuhan about what
Unalterable formal effects
That may have on his
Personality and style

In return, Dingle proved
Several times over both that
Ignorance is bliss and
‘Tis better to give than to receive
Particularly when one is passing
Along information that
Has not been fact-checked.


—Taylor Graham, Placerville

This morning on the painted
asphalt centerline
lay a ringtail dead in its silk fur,
the light all poured

out of it. I watched a pickup
truck turn onto the high-
way, leaving tread-marks across,
dragging it farther

back to dark. In a hurry
it plunged into the black asphalt-
flow toward town—
a place not going anywhere,

just waiting there at the end
of our words.
The ringtail's dead
and will not be disturbed.


—Taylor Graham

We shut our computers down—
robotic minds
turning us on their virtual wheels—

and walked out, instead,
into a gray world. Overcast sky
pressing on the ruins
of old barren oaks; barbwire lying
rusty in disheveled coils.

Skeleton-dead limbs of ceanothus….
But look! They're waking
up; this-very-morning bridal white
with bloom. New grass
pushes through deadfall litter.

Green frills of soapweed.
Buckeye's leafing out. On a fence-
post, a bird-box—
roofless from winter storms—
holds last-year's filthy, fledged nest
and three fresh twigs:
Can a wren-pair make of an old gray
box an agenda, a home?


—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

I made a picture with my breath.
What colored it is filled
With death. There was a war
We had to leave, we had to
Store our things away until
Another, brighter day,
And burned the house,
And burned the barn
And hid deep in the wood from harm.

Anyway, when we finally returned
We had already heard the adagios
Where the clouds are able
To get lost. Morning was
Pure frost on all the panes
And we couldn’t see if
This was indeed the place we lost.

It either was the same or gone
Completely. We swept up
The campfire and tried to
Find the foundations of
The house, but they too were
Lost as lost as was our
Morning long ago, standing in the snow
Watching the places go up in flame.

Mother crying softly, the horses
Stomping the ground, breathing
White air and threatening
To tell the story to our dreams

Every Winter night since then.
And so they have until
Today, when once again
Here upon the heath
We have come together underneath
The oak still charred
From the decades of the
War and we have no place
Here any more. It all has
Passed into local lore
That talks of ghosts who
Lived there long ago.

I made a picture with my breath.
“Those islands far away are mine.”


—D.R. Wagner

They were showing us asleep,
Whispering in the doorway
And I could hear them
But kept my eyes closed against them.
When this was all for me.

The high turrets.

Time became distracted
Took its animals and hid
Near a small clearing in the forest.

His hands were tall keys.

His dark animals began to light
Candles around his feet.
They made whining sounds hoping
Lone dreams would see them,
Luring them closer
Milking their fluid colors
With the mouths.

“And then there were trees,
And then there weren’t.”

The rain began. This would
Be the very last time
We would see time this way.

It was always something with time.
It meddled with everything.
Before we knew it, afternoon
Had become completely lost.

We could hear the animals
Fighting over food in the forest.


Thanks to today's poets and photogs! About his poems, D.R. Wagner says: I'm working on a series based on a 1908 book called The Book of The Little Past. It is a book of poetry for children by Josephine Preston Peabody. The poetry isn't very good but the title captivated me and I decided to go back into the book and find elements in the poems to appropriate in my own work. Here are two of the pieces from that series. The book is online and is illustrated with some charming work by Elizabeth Shippen Green. You can find the book at

Congrats to California's new Poet Laureate: Juan Felipe Herrera. For more about him, go to

And friends of Ekphrasis Co-Editor Carol Frith will be distressed to learn that she fell on Friday morning and fractured her pelvis. She is currently in South Sacramento's Eskaton facility for rehabilitation.


Today's LittleNip: 

—Michael Cluff, Corona, CA

The white page of silence
beckons and taunts
for words into thoughts
that pirouette and gavotte
but the stain of ire, ink, and ambition
gets into the path
of what the spirit and soul
can express without wrath.



Salt Point
—Photo by Cynthia Linville

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Little Hole in the Eye

—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

—George Oppen



The question is: how does one hold an apple
Who likes apples

And how does one handle
Filth? The question is

How does one hold something
In the mind which he intends

To grasp and how does the salesman
Hold a bauble he intends

To sell? The question is
When will there not be a hundred

Poets who mistake that gesture
For a style.



The little hole in the eye
Williams called it, the little hole

Has exposed us naked
To the world

And will not close.

Blankly the world
Looks in

And we compose

And the sense

Of home
And there are those

In it so violent
And so alone

They cannot rest.



Sing like a bird at the open
Sky, but no bird
Is a man—

Like the grip
Of the Roman hand
On his shoulder, the certainties

Of place
And of time

Held him, I think
With the pain and the casual horror
Of the iron and may have left
No hope of doubt

Whereas we have won doubt
From the iron itself

And hope in death. So that
If a man lived forever he would outlive
Hope. I imagine open sky

Over Gethsemane,
Surely it was this sky.



Impossible to doubt the word: it can be seen
And because it is irrevocable

It cannot be understood, and I believe that fact is lethal

And man may find his catastrophe,
His Millennium of obsession.

air moving,
a stone on a stone,
something balanced momentarily, in time might the lion

Lie down in the forest, less fierce
And solitary

Than the world, the walls
Of whose future may stand forever.



I, says the buzzard,


Has evolved
Too long

If ‘life is a search
For advantage.’

‘At whose behest

Does the mind think?’ Art
Also is not good

For us
Unless like the fool

In his folly

It may rescue us
As only the true

Might rescue us, gathered
In the smallest corners

Of man’s triumph. Parve puer . . . ‘Begin,

O small boy,
To be born;

On whom his parents have not smiled

No god thinks worthy of his table,
No goddess of her bed’



 Canoes and Lace
—Photo by Katy Brown

Saturday, March 24, 2012

At The End of These Words

—Photo Enhancement by D.R. Wagner

—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

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

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

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

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


—D.R. Wagner

I rode its liquid bore
From the darkest part of ocean
Up through the river’s core
Where water, rushing, turned
to black and I turned to the shore.

But there was no thing to greet me,
Not a living soul to meet me
As I struggled to escape the flow
As I struggled hard and sore.

These tides they push into the heart.
They rip its banks and rend its cloth.
They doff the spirit from its loom.
They cast it down into the gloom.
They take the stuff that drives the froth
And pound it to a seething broth
Then pull back to sea again, a cross
Of currents, fast and toss it out to sea.

And Katy says she hears its call
And Taylor says the night does fall
To cover all and hold in thrall
The spirit of us caught upon the squall
That pulls us to both waterfall and wild sprawl,
Pulls us back into the sea again with the smallest
Gifts of words, then ebbs and turns to drag
Us back again, again, to drag us back again.


             (for Alvaro Mutis)
—D.R. Wagner

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Rock in the Ocean
—Photo by D.R. Wagner

—D.R. Wagner

The long fires are coming down
With no songs before them.

They seek rooms in the heart
Where the doors are small,
Where the transparency disappears,
Where the weeping can be heard
Even before a parade of trains begin
Their haunted night music.

Nothing can disturb the dead.
All these changes are within
Our skulls, which is why these
Wars have such giant heads. Deceit
Is worn close against the skin.
You will hardly know it is coming.

What do you believe in anyway?
Do you feel the silk in these words?
I will draw them over your wounds
To try to stop the light from pouring
Out of you as if they were that song
Before the fire, as if they had ripped
These holes in your body, not the wars
At all, as if it were not
Your heart’s doors closing.

A puppy comes toward us, to see
If we want to play with it.


—D.R. Wagner

After walking and walking I found
Myself on the edge of a great forest.
For awhile I watched the meadow.
Many small animals played there.
But I wearied and found myself
Asleep in the shade of the giant trees.

I have come far from my home.
I hid in a drive-in movie theater
In the night and let the great
Screen leaning against the sky
Be my light while the sound came
from hundreds of speakers. But I,
I became afraid when the screen darkened
And the sound ceased to cover the
Desert and I called my uncle,
Telling him I had run away because
I did not want to be a man,
That my father was dead,
That my brothers and sisters would
Expect me to become the father now,
That I was only a boy and that this
Was a terrible thing. He put me
In his car and took me across
The miles of desert I had walked.

When I awoke the forest too was just
Waking up. I seemed to melt into
The trees, knowing all their ways,
Remembering all their seasons,
Looking at them staring at the
Great rains and the lightning and
The fires that swept through here
Yet they had survived. They dressed
Me in leaves and I stayed with
Them for many years.

One day my brothers and sisters came
To the forest and saw me dressed
As a tree, living in the great forest.
“Come home,” they said “You can no
Longer stay here. We are grown and
We have missed you for so long.”

I loosened all my leaves and shook
Them free, I thanked the forest and followed
My kin back to our home.
I never feared again.


—D.R. Wagner

We agreed we would tell them
Nothing. This would be the only
Way we could make this work.

The highest communications tower came down first.
The others followed, almost a dance.
We could see the jungle try to hold
Them up. Little purple flowers
Floated down in clouds. They
Looked like swarms of souls.

We will never be comforted.
Love would weep. Next came the thrones,
Crashing to the ground. Small animals
Running from them into the wound in the trees.

Something truly wonderful built a star
From snow and fire and horses made of water.

“Follow me,” a most beautiful wing
Announced. We were ready to go.
Someone began crying. The light began
To tear apart. We stepped
Between the explosions, our faith flashing.


Today's LittleNip: 

God knows I've done enough crap in my life to grow a few flowers.

—Dustin Hoffman



Jade Plant
—Photo by D.R. Wagner

Friday, March 23, 2012

Twisted Tales of Testicular Torsion

Pont du Gard, Nîmes, France
—Photo by Ann Privateer


work next door
to their elders
their neighbors
where tourists snack
on 100,000-year-old
cave drawings.

While waiting
for the crêpes
at Café de Montmartre,
they read the messages
that cover the walls
and ceiling.

Marking modern darkness,
they mingle, single or paired.

—Ann Privateer, Davis

 Medieval House, Paris
—Photo by Ann Privateer


—Michael Cluff, Corona, CA

An argument by the Swiss is always
full of holes while Limburger's is always
one that smells to high heaven
some find Bleu's a bit too sharp
for their practiced palettes
and goat's just a tad bit hard to swallow
when they really cogitate about it.
Monterey Jack sounds mellow
and really isn't.
Cheddar is just de trop
forever and unforgiving
in its false sense
of processed homogenized self.
but at the end of the process
is Gouda

standing alone

more than all the rest

could ever would hope to be.


—Michael Cluff

In the elevator at the library,
rusty-red handprints raped
the sliding door
their size and source too hard
to decipher
when your own body calls
you to more urgent functions,
the eyes fall downward
to the floor
where the tile is too new,
too lucid, too white
for acceptance.


—Michael Cluff

Krystyna and Angelica
daily defeat the white page
of silence surrounding
the neighborhood of I Street
just where the concrete caves in
by writing homilies
on the parsnip-colored slabs
that separate speedway from urban unslightliness.

The messages are rustic and common,
attack those who oppress,
all that do not coincide in thought
with what these girls have seen
and been tauntingly taught
outside in this enclave
where the trains
carrying dead freight
go ever faster than over by A Street
where the Delarobbias are deigned
from above to live.


—Caschwa, Sacramento

(Seems ridiculous, but some legal documents, where every item on every page must be accounted for, occasionally have a blank page which is so marked. Then it doesn’t seem so ridiculous as I glanced back over the pages of my life and found a few intentionally blank ones there also.)

Blank Page #1
In my early bachelor years when I was like a bear cub or tiger cub, not yet ready to court or to kill, but pawing through the motions as if rehearsing for the part, my hiking buddy and I went on backpacking excursions in several of the National Parks. On one such hike, we trudged up a steep winding trail to finally reach a mountaintop view of the lush valley below. It was enchanting, it was romantic, but we were two guys who didn’t kiss other guys or hold hands. We just kept a respectable distance, and verbally agreed this would be a great place to enjoy the company of the opposite sex. Then we hiked back down to reality, to eventually find and marry our sweetheart gals.

Blank Page #2
In those same bachelor years I became Platonic friends with one of my many apartment neighbors, a well-educated, well-connected, curvaceous young female. One day we went to a jazz lounge out on a pier in Malibu featuring a baby grand piano on an immaculate white carpet, with a crisp bay window view of the breaking waves underneath. We enjoyed the scenery, the drinks, the music, the conversation, and then went home like a couple of factory workers punching the time clock at quitting time. No sparks, no magic…a blank white page in a book of dreams.



Tension fills the air
As we wait for the
First sunrise of
The first day
Of spring

A sprouting leaf
Begs for sunlight
And some heat
To fulfill its

Rejoice, reload, recoil
Let the new season
Ready for action
Break out of the

Forces of compression write
Their own rule book
As they compete
Down to the

Testicular torsion is
Twisted tales
That take it
Totally too


—Tom Goff, Carmichael

My tutoring partner Renee
explains for a student the schwa,
that irritant upside-down e:
Renee pegs that sound as “a blah
syllable,” since the one way
to say it is grunting an uh,
as when we grope for, uh, whatevuh
it is we were meaning to say,
and, uh, stop in our tracks with a bluh
rarely coming far short of a duh.
Bluhs and duhs never rise to the height
of what we connote by “Pronounce.”
So if we can’t get rid of the schwa,
that one dud in our depot of sounds,
why must we continue the fight?
Merely shrug with an “uh” of surrenduh,
and rename it the Blah (or the Bluh?)…


Today's LittleNip:

along the road
—Robert Browning Hamilton

i walked a mile with Pleasure;
she chattered all the way,
but left me none the wiser
for all she had to say

i walked a mile with Sorrow
and ne'er a word said she;
but oh, the things i learned
from her
when Sorrow walked with me

(with thanks to Charles Mariano of Sacramento)



The latest issue of the online environmental poetry journal, Canary, is out: go to

 Photo by Ann Privateer

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Casting Our Nets

—Enhanced Photo by D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

—B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA

of dividing worlds
into the murder
of silence
when words
do not swear in
our language
to warrant
on the life of a poet
who strikes nature
to defend us
for imagination
by courting love,
exhibiting art,
mindfull of night music
prophecy and psalms
feigning death,
when chaos threatens
our enlightenment
we lean back
to cast the net
as fishers
from the aboriginal sea.


—B.Z. Niditch

Some earth has fallen
along the snow banks
by grackles' flecked wings,
waters move on pine combs
from grassy tall blades,
and nature's step child
draws out the combs
for her once pinned hair
against the calls of wind
out of sight
by a rented bicycle
of her lanky twin brother
whose voice just broke
on an apple core
and sings a French tune
with a sad discourse
of a past life
hearing feral cats
capturing bread
left for small birds
on the dusty footpaths
of a white glazed road
as each flake slumbers
on the common ground
memory doubles
on frozen second natures
leaving midwinter branches
blinded from
a dispersed storm,
two encircled shadows
skip through the woods
breathless with amazement.


—B.Z. Niditch

Distilled rain drops
along the pulse
of the pedaling river
feeling self-conscious
of being a year older
than the stray lab
hiding in the grassy banks
on the Cambridge side
of last winter's numbness
who reappears
for broken bits of bread
by purling grey waters
my leafy eyes
close frosty silences
from trembling chills
of a vacant earth
with streams of birdsong
on thousand-year evergreen.


—B.Z. Niditch

the sandlots
will open
near clubhouses
and all records
with new papers
written down
and numbers on uniforms
like blades of gold
sewn on for posterity
and the youngest
with granny and dad
will make their way
toward stadiums
consumed with joy
as the American pastime
after spring training
arrives on the scene
in search for competition
and sport.


—B.Z. Niditch

You carried me
and your sax
down five flights
of a fire escape
in a tenement
when I was a child
took me to hear
Ella Fitzgerald
and Armstrong
in the Village
up town
to a jam session
contending with a kid
with a heart murmur
through snowy streets
hearing beautiful
foreign tongues
and people reading
newspaper print
from right to left
causing us to stop
the music
at the Savoy
you rattle my first song
with me at the piano.


—B.Z. Niditch

In the redolent
snow kisses
the relief muted
at a posthumous season
incognito you carry
your sax
by a surprising storm
and drang
stiffened by fishers
of buried ice
your carmelized socks
fallen in liquid silence
by your wet shadow
consumed by sunshine
over the long steppes
traced by a red scarfed
poet glazed
by falling birds
on an absent sky


Thanks to Chef Extraordinaire and SnakePal B.Z. Niditch for today's poems, casting his net all the way from Massachusetts, and to our own D.R. Wagner for the pix, cast all the way from Elk Grove. Read more about B.Z. at And of course D.R. is always readable at

Word on the street is that tickets to the Philip Levine reading at American River College (7pm, June 2, $25) are selling out fast. To get yours, go to Levine is, as you know, U.S. Poet Laureate; read more about him at His reading at ARC will be as the Keynote Speaker for ARC's SummerWords, their creative writing event that runs from May 31-June 3. For info about that, go to and click on May 31 on the calendar.


Today's LittleNip: C.S. Lewis put it, there is no such thing as an ordinary person. Each person you sit next to on the bus is capable of extraordinary horrors and extraordinary heroism.

—Davis Brooks, New York Times [for the complete article, go to]



Sushi Plates
—Photo by D.R. Wagner