Thursday, July 31, 2014

Do You Believe in Angels?

—Photo by Robert Lee Haycock, Antioch

—Donal Mahoney, St. Louis, MO

You meet all kinds of women in pubs,
women far different than women
you meet in church on Sunday
when you're in a pew with your wife

which is why I was surprised to hear
this beautiful woman two stools over
ask me if I believed in angels
before I had ordered a drink.

Well, as a matter of fact, I do,
I said, happy to get the small stuff
out of the way before we got down
to business, whatever that might be.

What kind of angels do you believe in,
she smiled and asked, sipping a Guinness.
Well, I believe in seraphim, cherubim,
principals, thrones, dominations, all

the different choirs of angels
listed in the Bible I studied in school.
What about guardian angels, she asked.
Do you believe you have one?

Indeed I do believe I have one, I said,
although I saw no reason why guardian angels
couldn't be women if angels had genders
which as pure spirits they don't have.

And what does your guardian angel do,
she inquired, getting rather personal.
Well, I said, my guardian angel is busy
from the moment I get up at dawn

till I fall back in the sack at night
because Satan or one of his minions
is always trying to worm his way
into my mind, memory or imagination

trying to get me to do things
forbidden by the Ten Commandments.
For example, whenever I see a beautiful woman,
Satan always says I should introduce myself

and I always ask my guardian angel if I should
and he always asks what my wife would say
and I always ask if I have to tell her
and he always says I should keep walking

while he does what guardian angels do
and knocks Satan horns over hooves
back into Hades, something he does for me
several times a day, especially when

I stop at this train station pub for
root beer on ice when my train is late
and a beautiful woman two stools over
smiles and asks if I believe in angels.


—Donal Mahoney

Harry and Grace had a carousel
of marriage while it lasted.
There were arguments galore
and children by the score
or so the neighbors thought
as they counted kids
running across their lawns
causing divots to fly and
dogs to bark, a canine
tabernacle choir.

Fireworks on the Fourth
were peaceful in comparison.
The kids would light their
crackers in the yard while
Harry and Grace sat
and swirled vodka on ice
in plastic tumblers.

Harry and Grace had arguments
so loud the cops would come
but no one was ever arrested.
Grace would say Harry was wonderful
and Harry would say Grace was too.
But eventually Harry moved out
and Grace got a job doing hair.
Harry sent money for years
and the kids went to college.

Decades later a neighbor saw Harry
at the Mall and they had a nice chat.
Harry said he was happy his kids
got degrees and it was good Grace
had married the farrier and moved
to Wyoming where there were horses.
Not much work for a farrier in Brooklyn.
He had time to break up a marriage.


—Donal Mahoney

Millie on crutches
in the day room
tells Fred on
his walker
to find him.
It's important
says Millie
even if you're old
and can't walk.
Hire someone
to push your
toward him.
If you can't
get out of bed,
hire two people
to wheel
your gurney
toward him.
It's too late
if you hire
ten men to
carry your coffin
toward him.
Now is the time,
and for many
that's a problem.
They have
too little time
to find him.


—Donal Mahoney

Never speak ill of the dead,
his father always said,
and his father was a pastor
who preached from the pulpit.

That's why whenever
he thinks of his third wife,
and he does almost daily,
he never says anything bad.

Instead, he sends himself an email
and records for history yet another
evil deed she managed to execute
during the years they had six kids.

Between kids she drove him nuts.
He never thought she'd die
and never hoped she would
because as he said in an email,

the Devil has his hands full.
Then he saw her death certificate
and, by golly, it was embossed
so it had to be good as gold.

Since he couldn't keep the original
he took it to the office
and made a giant photocopy.
Now he wants the right frame,

black as he claims her heart was.
So far he has sent himself 400 emails
about his bonfire life with her, a brief
prologue to the Hall of Fame injustices

he maintains he suffered simply
because so long ago he said "I do."
He isn't certain what she said. 
Perhaps it was "You're through!"

Goosey, Goosey, Gander, Where Do You Wander?
—Photo by Robert Lee Haycock

—Donal Mahoney

Does he remember?
Jenny, how could he forget?
Thirty years ago you roared
into his office and raged
about your cousin's
decision to marry him.
He had never met you.
Your cousin had told him
you were in town
and suggested he
take you to lunch,
show you Chicago.
She didn't know
you were angry.
You were just Jenny,
her cousin, her playmate
from childhood
down on the farm.
You didn't want her
to marry anyone
and leave you the last
cousin still single,
something odd
in those days
when nobody knew.
You mocked him
and he couldn't respond
with people around.
But, Jenny,
you could have died
that day in his office.
Thirty years later,
he's still a madman
in remission.
No apology will do.


—Donal Mahoney

Anything can set him off.
Been that way for 40 years
since he came back from Nam.

He got spooked at dawn today
by a spider web dripping from a tree
he walked into when his dog

took him for his morning walk.
After lunch he brushed his teeth
and cried about a doctor

who died the other day.
He reads the obits every day
for names of men he served with.

His therapist believes his stress
may be magnified by contact
with Monsanto's Agent Orange.

To win the war, America ladled it
in layers thick all over Vietnam.
He managed to avoid the Cong

but never knew about Monsanto
and the ladling of Agent Orange.
He may have stepped in it at times.

Back home, he's shaky and unsure
but determined now to find the gook
who dropped that spider web.

He'll take his pistol tomorrow morning.
He and the dog will watch the trees.
There's always more than one.


—Donal Mahoney

When rabbis dance an Irish jig
and Trappist monks eat matzoh balls,

cell phone people will realize
rotary dialers aren't always

"on the wrong side of history"
even if this ancient tribe

balks at any kind of change
and grumbles when they spot

men with earrings or
women with tattoos.

"Not that there's anything wrong
with that," Jerry Seinfeld might

have said but rotary dialers have
never been Seinfeld's biggest fans.

Lawrence Welk is still their man.
But rotary dialers do their best

to stay abreast of fashion
if they can't avoid it.

They want to prove they're not
"on the wrong side of history."


Today's LittleNip:

—Donal Mahoney

Elmer's an old stag now
shedding antlers
snorting among the trees

but sometimes Martha
after her shower
is a doe beckoning 

and he becomes giddy
and heads for the salt lick
happy in the breeze



 This Is What I Know
—Photo by Robert Lee Haycock

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Not-So-Distant Fires

—Photo by Taylor Graham

Ceantaurea solstitialis          
—Taylor Graham, Placerville

The leash in my left hand, with my right
I pull upstart Star-thistle from the edge
of bike-path, edge of town. I could never
strip that species from our earth where
under-gods keep pushing it up, a golden
bounty of blossoms; toxic to horses.
Noxious weed, but a treat for my sheep,
who’ve denuded our acres of stars. Beyond
our fences, star-thistle blooms its secret
of seemingly everlasting life, its seed
concealed in a spiny crown. Muted-green,
it veils the distant hills as it advances.
We can’t crack its hold. In my right fist
a bouquet handful of pretty, prickly stars.


—Taylor Graham

She stirs the sponge
to open its catacombs of trapped
air, she punches down
the dough, lets a powder of grain
sift through her fingers,
cement dust into crevices
after collapse, a building pounded
down. She feels the earth
rearranging itself, shifting in sleep
and wonders about
the lands where men tunnel
through bedrock,
a labyrinth seven stories deep as
of mice eating mazes,
battle rats on reconnaissance
undermining, and if
it all collapses underfoot.
This ancestral
starter. The bread will be sour.


—Taylor Graham

The fire jumped the ridge.
Evacuation’s always untimely—
say it with an accent not quite verging
on panic—but it isn’t permanent.
Unless it is.
Grab the really important stuff. Forget
that favorite old vinyl,
Gieseking playing Beethoven;
the almost microscopic petal by petal
perfect sketch your grandmother
made of a forget-me-not.


—Taylor Graham

This once-in-a-decade gathering of friends—
we’d talk of dogs and verse and mountain hikes.
How could we know we’d fill our lungs
with smoke, just to be together? And share
the maps we carry in the twistings of our minds:
this has burned; here, the fire turned away,
and people—with their dogs and cats,
horses in trailers, trunks of whatever photos
they could grab—returned to find their homes
intact, or not. Smoke from not-so-distant
fires. In decades past we had other
things to talk about, and yet the same. Dogs
and verse, horses and mountains, always
a hint of smoke that downdrafts off our high
points or broadcasts silent on the wind.

Star-thistle 2
—Photo by Taylor Graham

—Tom Goff, Carmichael

    A response to Carol Louise Moon’s
    “Trees: a Higher Language”
[see Sunday's post]

Carol Louise, I smile to think
how alike, our impressions, our sensations:
our giddy willingness to drink
up or down all manner of green saturations,
alike overlorded by redwood towers,
their needles near-stars.

You, Nora, and I have all dusted our shoes
in the unquantifiable duffs of giants:
Muir Woods, and the Tamalpais hues,
all shadow and cool, and the hundredfold-pliants,
the bendables, laurels and sorrels, those powers,
and the odd fallen spars,

today these are yours, Carol Louise, and today
we made for such forest, the Armstrong Redwoods
in the Russian River’s back pocket; similar gem-tray
of level green forest floor, yes; but the dead floods,
the ghost creek, the bygone rapids, the dry showers,
all throat-parched sand bar.

But we feel the mandala-sacral sublime
even where no stream runs. Behindhill, river
still drifts, somewhat drought-skimmed, time-
pared, heat-idled. Still here, the giver
of nonpareils for us unembitters, unsours
the black-peeling plant-scars:

In a green fraction, bellies on leaf,
a dual tan-and-shadow female creation,
one doe and a second doe, nestling wheat-sheaf
close, and, its young skin-color more striation
than speckle, a fawn between them embowers,
all peace without mar.

This, too: once we stride echoless under
a thousand two hundred years’ umbrage.
Carefully as we pace, we trail no heel-thunder,
then a dry storm-clap above us, a breakage,
a split-second strew of lead-heavy flowers:
the boughs fell not far.

What a difference, should the branch-trajectory
alter just six or seven hairs.
What a green-deep sword-fern symmetry
in these trees of ours, in those
mandalas of yours.

—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove

She was six-eight, muscular,
Wore longsleeve white
Oxford cloth shirts under bib overalls
In all seasons.
Nobody questioned her,
She was Mitty, and no one ever did.

Second day of grad student orientation
She grinned and said “This is the most
Tight-assed English department
I’ve ever seen.  Let’s go get a drink.”
So we did.

A few years later (Fewer somehow than the rest of us),
She finished her dissertation, possibly about
A play that a Hemingway mistress
Had written, and which had come within
Almost hours of an actual Broadway performance,
But which no one had
Actually ever read or seen.

Somehow it didn’t matter, 
And somehow that was the whole point,
And Mitty, with really nothing then to defend,
Had also, being not just an English major,
But also aware of opportunities in the humanities
Back then,
Designed, threw, and cast the plates,
The bowls, cups and dishes for her own dissertation
Defense.  And brought with her the leftovers
From the five-star restaurant
Where she’d worked weekends
Across town.

No one questioned her at the defense.  But she
Said to me: “Jonezzzzz,” as she pronounced it, 
“Neither of us should get in jobs in heat:
We don’t look good in sweat.”  She was right,
And I probably should have listened.
But last I heard, she was teaching
In Bahrain; I ended up in Sacramento.
But if you get the right aloha shirt,
It really doesn’t matter.



That she lived across the street
From an abandoned golf course.
And given the first
Few years of our relationship
I didn’t notice nor did it seem to matter.
We were people of the dark: she’d
Meet me when my family liquor store
Would close, those weekends
When she’d make the train
Down from Chicago.

We were bookish people,
We thought, those
Nights:  Ferlinghetti, and maybe a trip
Through town, mostly just to
Feel like I had a girl, or to
See my customers, if
They were okay in Baker Park.

They mostly were, and they’d
Offer us hits from their 
Big Colt 45 Malt cans,
MD 20/20 bottles,
But usually we went back
To my place, and talked
Poetry, drank Gallo red
Till dawn.  I’d put her
On the morning train back
To Chicago, and feel sad,
And wonder about that field
Across from her folks’ house,
There in the dark.

—Kevin Jones


Today's LittleNip:

—Caschwa, Sacramento

The pencil wrote a report
With several mistakes in it
But it had no eraser

So the pencil drew a pistol
Which sounded its own report
And erased the author


—Medusa, with thanks to today's contributors, and wishing Katy Brown a happy birthday!

—Photo by Katy Brown

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Nurturing Our Demons

—Poems and Photos by Joyce Odam, Sacramento


You who nurture your demons—
oh, you who nurture—nurture
your demons—what do you

expect from them—as pets—
nurtured from love into fear.
Into love? They are so huge now,

know you so well by now.
They even come to you
unsummoned, to roll about

in that old game of blame and
you explain, but they are

unrelenting— knowing they can
win at this, and you must let them.
They live such dusty lives—

in corners, in mental blockages,
in tiniest of reasons to return
to all your blameless broodings.


yes, before
you fall from your own eyes,
be more truthful
when you smile

do not keep bringing
the same quiet girl among us
in so many different bodies

she does not approve
of mortal laughter
she is too old for your tenderness

look how she holds the pages of our words
in frozen fingers
see how she looks at us
with unpoetic eyes



why can’t I get to you faster
how can I get out of
this slow motion
and reach you

you are living a whole
desperation before my eyes
and it takes me all that time
to begin one futile gesture

I want to be
what is needed of me
but I am so heavily caught
in slow motion


What is that medallion
you are wearing?

     A poison pendant.

What do you keep in it?


Who is the poison for?

     If you don’t
     love me enough,
     for you.

And if I love you as
much as I say I do?

     If you love me that
     much, then the poison
     is for me.



She would return
to who she was,
but he has a love
that fastens around her
in a mental web.

When she laughs now
it is because
it makes jewels of despair
for him to thread.
He loves her jewels.
He stands her naked before him
and drapes her in heavy necklaces
that falsely glitter
then bruises them against her.

She sings so that
dark birds
can fly from her mouth
and weave unhappiness in the air
with their blind flailing.
He loves her birds
that beat to death in the room.
He thinks she is
alive with endless singing.

He wilts her lips
with kisses.
And flowers flavor his tongue.
He holds his mouth against hers
till she
is sick with breathing.
One day she will kiss him
thorny and bitter,
with poisoned roses.


What are drawn to our sills
are unbearable birds
who eat our bread,
are error of leaves
gone astray in flight,
are disattached shadows
of all that passes.

What if they cut the window
with their diamond eyes,
the wine-hungry birds,
the poisonous leaves,
the thirsting forms
that reach for
our newly poured glasses.



A child comes dancing
out of the shadows;
its own darkness
leaving paths
full of fairy tales,
full of good,

and full of evil;
a white sky
breaks into different
and the child
must choose one of them
to die in.


I have marred the page with my pencil,
made a rude mark
and reached for an eraser.

Now there is flaw and rectification.
Now there is penance and smug solution.
How easily we repair our damages:

a pencil mark of carelessness—
a pen
would have been fatal.

But the page leaves a scar,
wears a smudge of reproof.
I put a bookmark there.

The bookmark is a stare. It knows I am guilty,
will not let me get past this point of reading.
How careless I have become.


Yes, it is for you I dream and waken—
the dream scattered into fragment parts,
half-remembered—the dark water of it,
the slippery rocks we struggle on,
the horse in danger;

what does the horse mean:
the eerie terrain of night,
the panic, the strangeness—the mental wall
of those whose mercy we beseech
who struggle near us in their own displacement;

and the edge that is always at the leaning,
the unsafe balance, the night caught
in the complicated landscape of the mind
relinquished to sleep—
the awful things that happen to it.

I awaken just in time again,
refusing to go back
to have to finish the danger—
it is all locked in place:

you still there—
waiting for my reentering,
the night-water sloshing against
the wet rocks—the horse
still dissolving into our inability to rescue it.


Today's LittleNip:


Here we are with all that we deplore—
this low-tide shore. A small impatient boat
creaks in the moonlight, like a metaphor:
Could we steal it? Could we simply float
away from lives that Fate so badly wrote
—change an ending? Could we still resist?
Just sail away—just sail away from this?


Our thanks to Joyce Odam for today's Kitchen cooking around the Seed of the Week: Toxic. Our new SOW is pertinent to the season: Wildfire. Is that a wildfire raging in your heart? Wildfires have their own profile, yes?—out of control, leaping over the lines we draw for them. Send your poems, photos, artwork about wildfire to kathykieth at No deadline on SOWs; let the wildfire of your muse have her way with you whenever she will...


Monday, July 28, 2014

Magic and Tragic

Cottage on the Cape
—Poems by B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA
—Photos by Denise Flanigan


More than poets on earth
or mourning doves surfacing
on the resonate sky
the shore was more pristine
in my childhood
than we ever imagined now
when in our memorable eye
and the metamorphoses
of our crouched bodies
we look back
over the ocean's tide
which once held us
in its secret language
over the wide space
carrying my memory today
by my freshly painted
orange kayak
with my binoculars
on these gigantic wave ways
to travel amid the sound
of fish and bird
yet in the shadows
of summer's toxicity
amid noisome flesh and blood
of uncaring human beings
who leave things behind
these local yokels or tourists
dropping items in the water
like slippery combs
or napkins, bottles disregarded
from fast food lunches
we are determined
to clean up
what wastes our time,
to create lines and words
like the clear sunshine
as light overflows on us
in this season to remember
on a discolored Cape.



A false lover's lane
on any country field
in Toxicity City
can contain
I told a guy at my gig
who asked me
where such love is
around here,
I told him
such love
may be off the beaten track
or in unfriendly wood
where there are ticks
in the midst
of a July heat wave
or by the Cape's shore
on wet blankets
but you can ignore my advice
that we can guess
his neediness
that quickly turns a person
into poison ivy
if he is so aroused,
anyway, he was a daredevil
made his moves
and thought
he met his mate
that night
but the next week
he had cooled off
but she left him
a hundred miles away.



Waking up
to acid rain
over the statues
turned as green
as the tall grass
on the Esplanade,
putting on my suntan lotion
as my Parisian friend arrives
at the subway station
from the Big Apple
with dying red flowers
in her arms
her slouched thin body
hovering on the street
telling of the exhaust fumes
for the last four hours,
we walk slowly
Edith now out of breath
along the beach
she wearing a mask
because of her sensitivity
to allergies from pollution
we speak and kiss
in the French manner
I show her my upturned kayak
strapped to an anchor
in the endless winter,
we do a brief run
along the waterfront
and we play duets
of Debussy
for violin and the piano.


The summer student
with adolescent energy
and muscled acumen
tells me of his sexuality
in his term paper,
and how it changes
with each person
he meets,
in the hot or cool side
of him;
his paper was good
but he was crying
not being understood;
the next school day
he came out
but if he expected me
of all people
to be judgmental,
he was wrong;
on the contrary,
the class
embraced him
and accepted
his paper,
which he read
out loud.


(Birthday, July 28)

John Ashbery's shadow
in Central Park
leaves the lilac trees
in the darkness
of a newly arranged
softball field,
thinking a birthday wish
doesn't make
the film footage real,
or a refreshing orange
may drink in a fragment
of a childhood memory,
distinct from the art
of a Cezanne canvas;
here on a bench
two cops with first aid kits
give lasting attention
to a drug intervention
on the other side
of the absent-minded grass,
near a muggy
swearing-in ceremony
on the loud speaker
for new American citizens,
as a marathon ends
by an ice cream stand
in the arbitrary dusk.



No one wants
to believe me
but Hart Crane
is alive
in every house
where a guy
is told to leave;
I swear I saw you
at two a.m.
on the Brooklyn Bridge,
wearing only a shadow
of yourself
yet blighted
and almost invisible
for lack of direction;
Hart, speak to me
among the Keys,
diving in over the waves
along the Florida shore,
to my guitar's last song.


(July 20, 1945)

The moon still there
after the war's ending
but many ask
where is Paul Valery,
for across the waves
of the Seine you are still
silent because of your mentor
Mallarme's passing
which caused you
to have years of solitude
yet he wrote plays
aphorisms, a study of Da Vinci
yet with his great notebooks
Les Cahiers frozen.
I tried to decipher if they
were at La Sorbonne
that summer abroad
when in my studies
spending hours in the library,
I would have bread and cheese
on the Seine under the moon.


Today's LittleNip:

A poem must be magic and tragic, aesthetic and an anesthetic.

—B.Z. Niditch


—Medusa, with thanks to B.Z. Niditch for today's Kitchen fare, and wishing Taylor Graham a happy birthday!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Higher Language

—Mandalas and Poem by Carol Louise Moon, Sacramento


The sign says, "Muir Woods National Monument". John Muir called these redwoods coated in crimson wool "monuments".  A ribbon of packed-dirt trail runs through this park.  Striped-faced chipmunks, busy in their harvesting of seeds, move as industrious person population.  They speak a translation of redwood… which sounds to my ears as very different.  I do not pretend to know the secrets told between these very large and these diminutives.

Branch to branch the magnificent redwoods impart ancient truths through color, vibration and scent.  Tips of twigs on lacy limbs make small dances: dew collected then let go, bathing and tickling the branches below.

Alligator lizards scurry around and up.  I look up to see a hover-craft hummingbird.  He doesn't care what I call him.  He would call me an oblivious wanderer, see me as slow-moving, not purposed like the banana slug when seeking food.

Swords ferns.  These delicate plants, eons old, are a constant source of oxygen.  I crave their foliage emission; my lungs exchanging smog for medicine, my thoughts for their thoughts.  They reveal to me only green, saving the color orange for higher beings such as trees who know their worth beyond water, light, theology and photosynthesis.

I do not disturb the large-leafed sorrel sacred flower, gentle and wise.  Something must be left at the altar beyond my reach.  This yellow-faced laughing bloom speaks nothing against me, wide-eyed and vulnerable, desiring only the music of redwoods.

Soon the fog rolls in to blanket what it must protect, not just against the heat of summer, but to hinder further encroachment of the grove.  And so, it fades the air in mist and lace.



Saturday, July 26, 2014

I Can Only Give You Gold

—Poems and Photos by D.R. Wagner, Locke


The fog has come down to the river
Tonight.  It has something to say
That must not be shared with any traveller.

“They ran before the quartering gale
Until midnight.”  The fog spoke of the sea
That night and of a ship the river knew too.

“I do not wish to know these things. 
I am a river.  I know how to feel.
I feel your long fingers probing my body.
I meet the sea at my mouth and I lose
The ships to the deeper waters.
I do not know the reefs you speak of.
Tell me of the moon.  I’ve seen her
In the sails and tricking along its masts.”

“There is no moon tonight, my brother.
I am the fog.  I keep the moon and it is
A ghost in my arms.  Recall the way
The mists dance upon you in your Summers.
The glower of these dark cliffs is not
As it seems.  They will try to hold
You within these banks.  It is the ships
That are the story.  It is sea that sends me.”

“You do not know the tides, sweet fog.
The tides are the lutes that truly carry
The tales to me.  You are a blanket
Over all and the wind does not believe
In you.  You run before the sun.”



Though fog into my heart has come to dwell,
I do not care to die, and I look down the flights
Of stairs and drink the water from my cup,
Listen to my own voice and trust this shadow
Is my own.  But I cannot tell.  I cannot tell.
I expect it this very evening and, not seeing
Anyone, plead that it is not far away and that
The one I see and wear is mine.

I play guitar to lose myself only that I may find
Myself again inside the passageways of music
Where time is strict and rules those fires that fit
Themselves around my throat.  I do not care to die.

I call upon the rings of gold and wear them on my hands.
I trust the words of poets and their colors on the lands.
They do not guide but do appear to divine the moments'
Rush, then move to myth and epic as if in them are trust.

And I go to the West Indies as the place where I may wear
The cloak again as golden, as golden as your hair.
For the fog into my heart has come, though the path
I know it well, I do not care to die and so I’ll move myself
To dwell in raiments born of shadow and trust it is
My own as I walk down the stairs away from here
And come to dwell alone.


From that far up the wall
The sun was a kind of joke
That made his hands bleed
When he pulled himself as far
Up as he was able.

These weren’t his eyes.
He could see dragons
As well as the next guy.

What he couldn’t see was out.
He had no idea what that was
But it came with a cache that
Promised a room where no one
Was screaming horrible invectives,
No vision out.

Alcohol traps the clear blue light
The spirit generates to indicate
A position that could possibly
Look out, but doesn’t because
Vision becomes stunted and speaks
Only in clipped sentences. 

This too stopped at that same
Place, where, no matter how hard
One tried to lift oneself, the wall
Was always just that much higher.

Eventually, a vocabulary developed
That knew only a language
Made by mice lost in a huge bed,
Unable to recognize anything
As a feast, forgetting the definition.



Drag me to where the mirrors
Have been deserted.
An elemental landscape
Where a gentleman opens
A door to a port, only reached
By walking through flame or a river
Interrupted by a night where one
Can glimpse the human hand
That moves the players, the paths,
The mountains.

I am so useless to my own world.
I begin to collect nightmares, yellow
Eyes that form wordless questions.
They beg me for libraries but I am
As blind as Milton.  I can only give
You gold, the white light that causes
Deep and perfect shadows of a hand,
Covering the face of the seeker,
Explaining that there is nothing to see here.

Tonight I am much too tired to even reflect
Myself in such a mirror.  Here, you do it.


ah methedrine annie of fourth street
ah annie tonite I’m seeing you again
walking in and out of Donald Byrd’s horn
and over the ease of Red Garland and it
is warm summer of 59 New York and yr speeded
little body zipping all over the apartment
sometimes it was the fire of fixation looking
over across the way at the building they are tearing down
and you watch the big ball fall from its miles high
and KABOOM the piano is still there annie and the
building is falling down.

lost in New York on my second visit to big city
and there was annie annie of hitchhiking madness
running down the street in blue print dress
the sun in both hands and meth meth meth
rattling yr eyes around and kicking yr tongue
loose / dreamed I saw you one time in Toronto
years later bout '64 but it was only some old chick
who wore her hair like you and me mad fool run down
the street zip and up to her saying “Annie, Annie,
it’s me, Al” she kinda turns and looks at me and I see right
away it’s not you at all but just somebody on the gloom street
Bloor in downtown Toronto and I kinda mumble some words
about how I thought you was
else and sneak off thinking.

It was sweet afternoon, someone had put a Garland record
and you, hee hee, were speeded again and listened IN-TENT-LY
just like you sd IN-TENT-LY and I in my drug haze of two, three
days looked up and you were gurgling to some chord so that I
laughed out loud and broke up, sick and blum stung strung out
I laughed and you laughed and came over to where I was lying and
laughed at me and quick kissed my head and went back to the kitchen
to make something, tea or pour milk, and I called “Annie” and went back to
sleep for two whole days only waking to take a piss or cough and go
back to sleep.  When I finally came around you were gone and nobody knew
where or even later in letters said you came back ever.

Annie, methedrine annie in my alley don't come home no more.
Annie, methedrine annie say where you are and laugh and walk across rooms
forever and listen to your funky jazz and make tea.  In some room sometime
I’ll see your quick skip across the yellow floor again and keep it in my
collection with all the other sounds of the universe making its room inside
my brain.  Ah, the floor is yours.

(First published in
The Willie* #2, Spring 1968, Los Angeles
Edited by William Hageman
Published on the run by Manic Press, San Francisco, CA
Printed by Ben Hiatt, Sacramento, CA)


you pin my night
dreams in yr hair
like small stars
that will never
know the taste
of what we call

The shine.  Oh love
how they shine.

Tripping softly
on the colors
in my mind
I find you
soft inside and
our loving
is Osiris in
his rising.

We are alone now
love, they have left
their buildings empty
and we are alone.

You go from me
in candied words
and I shall never
see you come
morning in the sad
buying cabbages
and bitter pears.


There can’t be anything
worse than seeing
those painted-in-
summer chicks
happy stolen
down light streets
and not being
able to do a
damn thing
about it because
I’ve locked myself
in the room to
do something
Somebody told me
there was a war
going on somewhere.
The guns inside
this room are
in my pants.
The girls refuse
to explode.
My door remains

(First published in
The Willie #1, Summer, 1967, Los Angeles
Edited by William Hageman
Published on the run by Manic Press, San Francisco, CA
Printed on Douglas Blazek’s mimeo machine, Sacramento)

Long night road out
from Tulsa and my
bike stops dead
its headlights dying
into the endless white
line and no moon.
the highway eats
my senses  :  from 50 miles
away long diesel sounds
like forgotten buffalo
thunders rumble out
and also die long before
any idea of morning

Pushing my bike into
Milfay all night
gas and eat light
drawing me on for hours ahead,
the 100-year-old attendant
and ugly daughter
fixing my generator
after hamburgers; a Navajo
Van Line truck wheels
in its dusty blue-eyed
Indian pointing in to Texas.

The sun is long in coming.
Hours later the buffalo
diesel finds me
and passes, its stacks
the last fires of
these midnite plains.

(First published in
The Willie #1, Summer, 1967, Los Angeles
Edited by William Hageman
Published on the run by Manic Press, San Francisco, CA
Printed on Douglas Blazek’s mimeo machine, Sacramento)


old lady climbing stairs
in ice winter day here
fell and cracked her head
open, dying on the snow,
thin snow, thinner than her
blood.  her children rushing
from the door and standing
(one of them making a "don’t touch”
movement with his hands)
and her dying there, in the snow
thin snow, thinner than the life
she kept wrapped up inside her
brown coat, thinner than the
misty curtains floating over
her eyes looking at the sky,
not seeing the hand motions
of her children, the thinness
of the day she died, the end
of the year, the great stairs
and slipping, the thin snow.

(First published in The Willie #1, Summer, 1967, Los Angeles
Edited by William Hageman
Published on the run by Manic Press, San Francisco, CA
Printed on Douglas Blazek’s mimeo machine, Sacramento)


Today's LittleNip:


dogs barking in the night.
breaking glass.
rain just loud enough so you notice it.
hillsides overlooking valleys.
cabins in the woods.
brothers and sisters.
the past.
fields that stretch to the horizon.
beach glass.
someone singing to you.
wool socks.
telling your dreams to another.
ice cream.
children laughing.
all kinds of music.
looking at old photographs.
kissing for long periods of time.
long periods of silence.
crickets singing in the night.
holding someone close.
carnival lights.
traveling anywhere just to do it.
playing a musical instrument.
walking in the forest.
fairy tales.
listening to waves at the shoreline.
touching someone intimately.
listening to jazz music.
someone reading to you.

I was wondering about these things.
How you felt.  Yes.
How you feel.


*The Willie was a seminal mimeo magazine that only saw two issues.  The editor was William Hageman, who now lives in Australia.  His press was called Manic Press and he used Douglas Blazek's mimeo machine to print Issue #1 and Ben Hiatt's mimeo machine to publish Issue #2.


Friday, July 25, 2014

What Do You Seek, Poet?

Crest of a Wave
—Painting by Montague Dawson, 1885-1973

—Antonio Machado y Ruiz, 1875-1939

It is a beautiful summer night.
The tall houses leave
their balcony shutters open
to the wide plaza of the old village.
In the large deserted square,
stone benches, burning bush and acacias
trace their black shadows
symmetrically on the white sand.
In its zenith, the moon; in the tower,
the clock's illuminated globe.
I walk through this ancient village,
alone, like a ghost.

(trans. from the Spanish by Willis Barnstone)


—Antonia Machado y Ruiz

     My childhood is memories of a patio in Seville,
and a garden where sunlit lemons are growing yellow;
my youth twenty years on the earth of Castile;
what I lived a few things you'll forgive me for omitting.

     A great seducer I was not, nor the lover of Juliet;
—the oafish way I dress is enough to say that—
but the arrow Cupid planned for me I got,
and I loved whenever women found a home in me.

      A flow of leftist blood moves through my body,
but my poems rise from a calm and deep spring.
There is a man of rule who behaves as he should, but more
than him, I am, in the good sense of the word, good.

     I adore beauty, and following contemporary thought
have cut some old roses from the garden of Ronsard;
but the new lotions and feathers are not for me;
I am not one of the blue jays who sing so well.

     I dislike hollow tenors who warble of love,
and the chorus of crickets singing to the moon.
I fall silent so as to separate voices from echoes,
and I listen among the voices to one voice and only one.

     Am I classic or Romantic? Who knows. I want to leave
my poetry as a fighter leaves his sword, known
for the masculine hand that closed around it,
not for the coded mark of the proud forger.

     I talk always to the man who walks along with me;
—men who talk to themselves hope to talk to God someday—
My soliloquies amount to discussions with this friend,
who taught me the secret of loving human beings.

     In the end, I owe you nothing; you owe me what I've written.
I turn to my work; with what I've earned I pay
for my clothes and hat, the house in which I live,
the food that feeds my body, the bed on which I sleep.

     And when the day arrives for the last leaving of all,
and the ship that never returns to port is ready to go,
you'll find me on board, light, with few belongings,
almost naked like the children of the sea.

(trans. from the Spanish by Robert Bly)

—Antonio Machado y Ruiz


A frail sound of a tunic trailing
across the infertile earth,
and the sonorous weeping
of the old bells.

The dying embers
of the horizon smoke.
White ancestral ghosts
go lighting the stars.

—Open the balcony-window. The hour
of illusion draws near. . . .
The afternoon has gone to sleep
and the bells dream.


Figures in the fields against the sky!
Two slow oxen plow
on a hillside early in autumn,
and between the black heads bent down
under the weight of the yoke,
hangs and sways a basket of reeds,
a child's cradle;
and behind the yoke stride
a man who leans towards the earth
and a woman who, into the open furrows,
throws the seed.
Under a cloud of carmine and flame,
in the liquid green gold of the setting,
their shadows grow monstrous.


Naked is the earth
and the soul howls to the wan horizon
like a hungry she-wolf.

What do you seek,
poet, in the sunset?

Bitter going, for the path
weighs one down, the frozen wind,
and the coming night and the bitterness
of distance. . . . On the white path
the trunks of frustrate trees show black,
on the distant mountain
there is gold and blood. The sun dies. . . .
                                    What do you seek,
poet, in the sunset?


We think to create festivals
of love out of our love,
to burn new incense
on untrodden mountains;
and to keep the secret
of our pale faces,
and why in the bacchanals of life
we carry empty glasses,
while with tinkling echoes and laughing
foams the gold must of the grape. . . .
A hidden bird among the branches
of the solitary park
whistles mockery. . . . We feel
the shadow of a dream in our wine-glass,
and something that is earth in our flesh
feels the dampness of the garden like a caress.

(trans. from the Spanish by John Dos Passos)


Today's LittleNip:

—Antonio Machado y Ruiz

People possess four things
that are no good at sea:
anchor, rudder, oars
and the fear of going down.

(trans. from the Spanish by Robert Bly)



Featured Reader Paul Corman-Roberts
at The Shine last Wednesday, July 23
[For more photos of the reading, see
Michelle's new album on
Medusa's Facebook page.]
—Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Jasmine Fields of Our Lives

Bonnie ZoBell, one of the featured readers 
at Sacramento Voices 
Saturday, July 19
—Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—Claire J. Baker, Pinole

She feels all that joy can offer.
Harsh winds change course when
they meet her breath. Boulders
soften edges for her leaning.

When she opens her eyes
swans on the Great Pond
dip and raise their necks,
drop pearls from their beaks.

She is a small raft of ripples
bearing light and color
through water that is sky,
sky that is water.

Sword-like reeds reflecting
metaphor cutting words from one
who simply vanished. She tastes
only an occasional shadow
peppered with regret.

When she asks the Great Pond
of what does joy consist,
the water whispers back
Any answer is momentary,

Tom Goff at Sacramento Voices
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

—Tom Goff, Carmichael

The last of the mystery harvest has come in.
It isn’t just that the underEarth of the gods
yielded the grains we cram into silos and bins.
Haven’t we stripped the natural husk that shrouds,
guards, nourishes, wards the mealworm from, what begins
nude nearly fetal seed against what are the odds
which direly needs thick dark and a sheath around skin?
What food don’t we hull, peel, shuck-crack, rind-slice, expel
the oil or essence of, process, pulverize?
Once amaranth kept its enigma-veil, its breath
of reed-fog, oarslap. From a dark current might bell
a monotone tune where a soul-heavy ferryboat plies.
A netherworld grain’s ground up in my cereal.
If I eat my own ghost, will it shorten my afterdeath?


—Tom Goff

I think it started about the time
Vector Control began spraying mosquitoes
what, seven, eight-odd years ago? We closed
doors, sealed windows, cut off air conditioning
so as not to lung-suck the odorless up through
the intake. I think it started about
the time you came into the room,
one you’d entered before with your
mystifying smile after things you
had not been getting anywhere near
enough of, maybe nurturing, maybe—what
exactly? And for some reason your eyes

were tearing, nothing histrionic or tragic,
just a subtle welling of salts from your dark
eyes, a wound unable to help
suppurating. And something new
about you entered into my bloodstream
forever after, you with your sweet head-on
gaze and your mouth’s endless kissing
enigmas pressing upon any room’s barely
breathable mosquito sky. Is there a word
for a substance harmless in itself but whose
advent inside a resistant person does
death upon all the vital organs? All I know
is you came upon this place and found me again,
and I ever since have been killing me killing me
killing me heart and stomach
to keep some last unbreakable
silence when we talk.

Eva West at Sacramento Voices
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

Watching my neighbors’ fish while they are on vacation again
The second day I found two guppies dead on the bottom of the tank
Just like had happened last year with one of the goldfish
None before showed any signs of being sick
I guess while swimming along they just both had a sudden heart attack
I shoveled the dead fish out with a net and threw them down the toilet
I’m not like the Mr. Rogers show I once saw
where Mr. Rogers dug a grave and made a tombstone for his dead fish
Still I hate it when any animal dies on me
even if is just a fish

—Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

JoAnn Anglin at Sacramento Voices
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove

“You got any dark clothes?”
She asked.  “I’m a poet; I have
Lots of them.  Some dark and
Gloomy as Poe’s last hours,
Others black as the pit.  Still
More that would, beneath
A waning moon, have a woman
Howling for her demon lover."
"That’s Henley and Coleridge,"
I said, but I don’t think
They’d mind.  Though my
Favorites,” I said, "are leathery
And grim as the Ramones and
Early punk rock: toxic,” I said.
"That’s not what I meant,” she said.


Today's LittleNip:

       (San  Francisco)
—Claire J. Baker

We order jasmine tea.
A kimono-clad server offers:

"Jasmine fields imbue tea leaves
grown beside them." Inhaling
we sip steaming fragrance,
gaze upon water-lily pools,

arched bridges, a red pagoda,
mossy lawns, bonsai trees.
We ponder the huge stone Buddha
who holds in left palm
a lotus blossom—
the large enhancing the small.

We vow to remain open to all
the jasmine fields of our lives,
to cross bridges slowly,
drop pond-pebbles gently,
to mingle with crowds
yet steep our own essence.



Pat Grizzell and featured reader Jane Blue
at Sacramento Voices last Saturday
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


—Poems and Photos by Taylor Graham, Placerville


We watched the clouds build,
waiting. What was left
of snowmelt in the mountains
was sweat on skin. We wrung ourselves
like dishrags. Then
something changed the balance
of atmosphere, recharging
air. Wind and
the whole house lit up.
Electric hot-sticks every window
incandescent with
crescendo. Remember?
Thank goodness for the lightning-
rod. If we lived
to tell, what was the transmission,
what radio, what spirit-

 The Flat


The flat was such hard walking,
soil undermined by critter tunnels and
the occasional rusty can,
the kind you punch holes in the lid
for drinking, and one clear
glass bottle empty, almost buried,
cradled into meadow grass.
Forest on the other side
of creek—a channel slit into the land,
its life-blood. We couldn’t
cross it, we were bound
in loose dry dirt.
But look. Wild strawberry
on the march, webbing itself every-
where underfoot. And skunk
cabbage; gooseberries
in their spiky purses; three kinds
of lupine. Green retaking
the whole wrecked flat. Pick one
berry, prick your finger,
it still runs blood. Tart-sweet inside.



Mysterious encounters
through the wrought-iron lacework
of a courtyard doorway or a garden gate.
A twilight breeze passes through
with its unfamiliar fragrances catching
in forged curlicues and twinings
meant to keep inside and outside not quite
apart: each with its own-life’s
language only partly understood.
But this is no romance.
A front-door grille once reinforced
by glass—all that separates a house-cat,
never allowed into the wild,
from six sheep banished from a world
of carpets.
Inside, our dogs are restless;
a daypack waits on the step. Blink the cat
reaches a black paw through the grate,
touches Sophie on her sheep-nose.
Freckles inches closer. Adri, unshorn lamb,
stands non-committal watching.
The door remains latched
as they’re drawn together by evening-
shadow light of eyes.

 Blink and Sheep


A nagging breeze shifts shadows
on the wall—branches of those trees
that blossomed and then
contracted, folding their leaves
like origami.
The hilltop holds their silhouettes.
Why, for all our nurture,
did they die? We wonder about
toxic soil, that snake
serpentine. The trees say nothing,
bare branches signing
a language we don’t understand.



You come back from putting ground-squirrel
bait in the garden, and hand me a nice zucchini,
just right for stuffing, except for rodent teeth-
marks. You tell me, every cucumber blossom’s
nipped off. Why isn’t the poison working?
I’m baking dog-biscuits. I leave out the garlic;
our vet just informed us garlic, like onion,
is highly toxic to canines. Generations of our
dogs have loved their long lives with garlic.
What shall I do? Who can say what kills us?

Loki up at Ice House

            for Elihu Burritt, 1864

This Cornwall mine hangs on the very sea-cliff,
under-tunneling for a quarter-mile the sea:
beneath fishing grounds and the path of great ships
and whales. You stop to see how things

are done here: miners digging underground
by candlelight, day and night in all seasons.
Conveyed to the surface, the ore is beaten
to a powder. Sieves and strainers, revolving disks

separate the precious tin from iron and copper.
A dozen different processes “manifold
and ingenious” wash it almost as thoroughly
as the sea herself might do. Through pits, pools,

tubs, vats, and troughs, the ore changes color:
pale as ash, then red as dried blood. At last,
sluicing water runs back into the sea, turning
the tide red all around. You sink your hands

into each vat, a blacksmith feeling out
the goodness of metal in its strange new form.
You’re about to thrust your hands into a pan
of pure, fresh water; wash off the industrial

dust. Just in time, the foreman stops
you. “That’s vitriol!” Who knows
what waits in the tubs of Progress?
Be careful what you touch.


Today's LittleNip:

There are few things as toxic as a bad metaphor. You can't think without metaphors.

—Mary Catherine Bateson


—Medusa, thanking Taylor Graham for today's thoughts about toxicity (our Seed of the Week) and other things, and reminding you to check out the "Submit, I Say!" listings in the green column at the right of this for what's going on—including the Voices of Lincoln Contest deadline coming up this Sunday!