Monday, August 31, 2015

Itsy-Bitsey & Johnny Cash

—Photos of the Salt-and-Pepper Shaker Display
at the 2015 California State Fair
by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove, CA

Some hairpins,
I think.
A mummified
Of wedding cake.
Three bowling balls.
One shoe.
Size eleven,
Possibly. Right.
A brogue, probably.
A notebook,
Something about
A water engine.
And one
All needed soon,
We know.
To be claimed
Soon, too,
We hope.

—Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA

You came in with a thought-disrupting startle,
stunning as if on point of chin a fist.
A friend says a Scottish word, the delightful tartle,
conjures that wordlessness that draws down mist
around the friend you wish to introduce,
but whose holy name, one sodden moment, escapes.
Oh, tartle is also the true name for the bruise
that darkens my eyes then spreads from nose to nape

when you rise before me wholly backlit by heaven,
my shadow dear, my not-my woman young
as can be whose silhouette relights ancient stars;
whose laugh sets me to st-stammering uneven
stabs at wit, my tongue alone laced with scars.
My bumblebee abdomen torn, yet it’s not yet stung.


The fireworks, no, the bombs in my chest went off,
noise-rippling, sheet-metal ripping here to there,
ecstatic catenas bursting with pungent grief,
all erect standing condemned due to disrepair.
In her familiar office you stood, back
turned: yet you, no mistake. Fears, joys confirmed
by the spirals of pulsating blood I’d seemed to lack,
red throbs through fledgling veins still scarcely formed.

Never can I decide: you’re small, you’re tall—
tall, I declared forever, seeing you
true shoulders, voyager legs très militaire.
At last you faced me. Suddenly being you,
inside your skin I traced sine-wave surges and falls:
I pierced lush clouds, I gulped the much thinner air.


—Tom Goff

I used your absence as excuse,
I put you together from many women;
from her your shoes, from her your hair,
if hers was dark enough brown to compare.
From this one your delicate pale skin,
from that one your dearest insidious sin.
Ghosting you whole when you’d dissolved
into that vacancy of revolve
the world…well, why this translucent ruse?
I put you together from many young women,
all of them fathers’ beloved daughters,
their summer legs glistening waters, otters.
Yet all these well-put-together women
are less in sum than unfinished you
(subtract from your sum the w,
carry the mystery word, and who
might you be if not my dark omen?)…

Arnold Bax, 1939
—Tom Goff

Farewell to the vast symphonic hoard, to all
the played, the unplayed, soon to be consigned
to my trunk at the White Horse Inn…to outlast my fall?
Will it now be poetry, music cast out of mind?
Farewell beforehand, small-fingered Harriet
of the sweet soft flawlessly white shape
and ivory trill, us long since caught in the net
of sun-pierced tide along Cornish coast and cape.
Farewell soon, my hearty whimsical happy Mary;
farewell to Ukraine; and Scotland; English friends;
to my lost-behind-mists green Celtic veldts of faery,
and to long-prized Willie Yeats, who this instant ends,
the ink still beading the note-heads on this fresh score
of farewell to a life of vision in love and lore.


—Tom Goff

Abbey, the white-black cat, with soft ears rounded
seemed always to train them, aim them as do cattle
their auricular satellite dishes to the prattle
of grass, and where the rich alfalfa lies mounded.

Her nonpareil pounce, a leap for the sofa arm;
to your mimic mews, a retort in mild sweet Cat,
nestling alongside you. Rarely her tail would bat;
at most, a Celtic burr of a purr: no harm,

no claws outed in anger I ever saw.
Abbey, you loved to browse as the bovines do,
but on softest certainty: never an empty bowl.

Wrenching, I found, to feel your small breath go,
to fondle you, kidneys shut down, through the last pink draw
of injection, one final world-to-no-world slow roll.

A lion in Zimbabwe killed a safari guide
   It was right near the park where a lion named Cecil was illegally killed by an American who wanted him as a trophy
   The safari guide was leading a group of tourists to see a pride of lions
   How were these lions supposed to know they were not being hunted down by humans as well
   and that these humans only wanted to only shoot pictures instead of guns at them?
   Let this be a lesson to just let lions be and leave them alone,
   and do not harass lions to make money off of them for the tourist industry 

—Michelle Kunert


A neighbor’s outdoor calico cat is always happy to see me come by
“Hello Itsy-Bitsey” I say and she comes to me to get petted
This cat enjoys the attention she gets from me
Yet this cat hardly knows me, unlike my mom’s indoor calico cat Hurley
Hurley once used to be more sociable
Now lately she runs off and hides under the sofa or heads under a bed
I don’t know what got into Hurley’s head
I never hurt Hurley in her life
I’ve also fed her good cat food and given her catnip
I’ve also offered to play with her with a teaser wand
but she doesn’t care to return any affection anymore
It appears she’s going to get grumpier in her “old age"

—Michelle Kunert


The Folsom Arts Association and City Council plan to build a 40-foot statue of Johnny Cash in a park next to a bike trail named after him
     They also are planning seven other “tribute" sculptures with it
     including a 7-foot guitar pick, a 17-foot high steel "Rusty Cage", and a portrayal of "Grey Stone     Chapel" in granite blocks
    While they are not using public tax dollars
     for the estimated 8 million the project needs to raise for the cost
     the real Man in Black would want contributions given instead for art, writing and music projects    for Folsom’s prison inmates
     as well as for other rehabilitation and employment programs
     which could also include causes such as banning employment application boxes that say “Have    you been convicted of a crime?"
     Maybe Merle Haggard who was “rescued” from Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash could explain this better than me

—Michelle Kunert

Today's LongerNip:

—Caschwa, Sacramento

Cock the gun
Kick the can
Down the road
Take aim

Trucker lane
Geared for gain
Sugar cane
Covered from rain

Hi ho the merryo
Dang busted radio
Lots of recordings
Fresh from the studio

Someone passing
On the right
Might be a uniform
Looking for a fight

Fuel gauge low
Prices too high
Just can’t beat yesterday’s
Hot apple pie

Take the wheel, Joe
I need a nap
Visor don’t work
Borrow my cap

Here come the ladies
Wanting things nice
Gleaming with gold
And glittering ice

Stay in the kitchen
Fix me some grub
Bring that hot water
To put in the tub

Back on the highway
More road to go
More road to go
More road to go


—Medusa, thanking today's fine contributors, and suggesting that you head down to 25th & R Sts. in Sacramento tonight for Sac. Poetry Center's "Raise the Roof" open mic reading at 7:30pm, celebrating all the repairs that have gone on down there recently!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Good Worm

—Robert Graves (1895-1985)

Under this loop of honeysuckle,
A creeping, coloured caterpillar,
I gnaw the fresh green hawthorn spray,
I nibble it leaf by leaf away.

Down beneath grow dandelions,
Daisies, old-man’s-looking-glasses;
Rooks flap croaking across the lane.
I eat and swallow and eat again.

Here come raindrops helter-skelter;
I munch and nibble unregarding:
Hawthorn leaves are juicy and firm.
I’ll mind my business: I’m a good worm.

When I’m old, tired, melancholy,
I’ll build a leaf-green mausoleum
Close by, here on this lovely spray,
And die and dream the ages away.

Some say worms win resurrection,
With white wings beating flitter-flutter,
But wings or a sound sleep, why should I care?
Either way I’ll miss my share.

Under this loop of honeysuckle,
A hungry, hairy caterpillar,
I crawl on my high and swinging seat,
And eat, eat, eat—as one ought to eat.

(first pub. in 1918)



Saturday, August 29, 2015

Breathing Roses

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


I can’t lose the tears.
I’ve reckoned the earth.
I have lived in a tower.
I seem to remember everyone
Else’s days better than my own.

“Why deceive yourself?
Near and far are the same.”
I have broken my teeth against
The stars, thinking they were seeds.

I have flags that describe longing.
They sometimes blind me with
Their insistence.  I feel your
Hands moving over my back.

Sometimes I realize
I don’t begin to understand.
Then I feel the fires still burning inside
Every season and listen to them again
In the heart.  Objects begin
To abandon me.  A mathematics
Cradled by desire fills my
Mouth with its precious fruit.

I am these others, these unredeemed.
I am everything that proves untrue,
Correcting the fragrances of the garden,
Calling to the beautiful moths
Who caress the night like this.

Everything is heaven.  No one will
Read this and believe it.
I hear their footsteps rushing
To my door.  I am half awake.
I wait upon a secret shore.
I can breathe roses.

 She Looked Up


What?  That her face was made of paper?
That my lips swam with measured
Movements to that face, that her memory
Would catch fire from joys and sorrows

And her white face would
Go up in flame as if blessing
Each shadow with an evening,
A nightingale, an inscription
Made of smoke and more shadows?

And it would return, whole once
Again, still paper and full
Of a new blood.  She was everlasting.
Constantly being reborn and dying.

We loved her like we loved libraries,
Skylights, mirrors with their
Multiplications of everything but
Music and love.  She was singular
To all of us.  We called for
Blessings, but her face was made of paper.

We could never quite understand
An enigma caught beyond language,
In anguish, suddenly, embracing fire
As her only constant lover.

 Bitter Melon


I bring the rope down to my shoes,
Past the room where the young
Man is watching cars on television
Go faster and faster.
They are decorated
With very bright colors.

The sound is off.
Through the window,
In the apartment
Across from yours,
There is a girl talking
On an old-fashioned telephone.

The guy down the hall
Steps outside his door
To light a cigarette,
Then ducks back
Into his room.
He wears red shoes.
A baby is crying.

There is still smoke
In the air as you pass.

If they knew about this
Empire of rope they wouldn’t
Have let you into the building.

The suicides are lining up
At the end of the hall.
Some can’t wait and jump
Anyway.  They make a sound
Like a large ball of yarn
As they strike the fire
Escape four floors below.

When you finally decide to look
At your watch it isn’t any
Time at all, just a wooden painted
Bird flying high above the lake.



She said, “It’s raining.”

You looked up from the paragraph
Where they were walking back from
The lake and the evening was being described.

“That should cool things down,”
You say, because all the other
Words had already been occupied
And these sounded like they had just
Been ironed and might have
Somewhat of a jump on them.

The cat reminds her that it is
Dinner time.  The sun wipes
Across the fence just outside
The window.
  “It sounds nice,” she says.
She sounds like a beautiful flute.
“We can go walking in the rain
After dinner.“  She slips her
Shoes off.

“Remind me to ask Nelson
Who was killed in that thing
At the market today,”
One of you says.

She fills the large pan with water
From the faucet.  It sounds like
A drum against the rain.

“If it’s still raining after dinner
It will be perfect.”

The cat jumps up to sit
On the window sill.
It watches the water
Run down the glass
Like crazy mice.

 Plastic Insects


I still can sit on the edge of the bed.
The night is full in my nostrils
And then the silence begins
To come apart.

The crickets have their bit
About Summer, and the moon
Is so bright we all retreat
To our houses and look at it
Through the windows.

There is a waltz on the lips.
Night pushes against our skin.
I cannot begin to weigh the tears.
I look at my hands, remember that I
Had a job to take care of all these things.

I manage to walk toward
What once was such a perfect
Silence.  Someone tries to sell
Me a car, tells me to lie down.
“Everything will be perfect,” they say.


Today’s LittleNip:


People are staring
At their phones
Like they were consecrating
The host to become
The body of Christ.
Their phone screens glow.


—Medusa, with thanks to D.R. Wagner for this morning's ambrosial breakfast!

Mike's Yard

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Glow of Grace and Age

—Poems by Donal Mahoney, St. Louis, MO
—Photos by Katy Brown, Davis, CA


The Downy is the smallest flicker
but his arrival is uninvited and
disturbs the hummingbirds
circling in fury
while he with bravado
takes over the red feeder
dangling from the arbor.

The hummers at times
dive close to the Downy,
then retreat and watch him
swig what they need to sip,
their babies circling
slowly behind them.

The Downy stays on,
takes swigs between laughs
at the unarmed squadron,
dipping his beak
where it doesn’t belong,
another Putin in
a different Ukraine.



Father had a law
when it came to leaves
gathering on our lawn in fall.
On a Saturday each fall,
almost as predictable
as the swallows coming
back to Capistrano,
neighbors would pour
out of their bungalows
and rake with good cheer,
chat and drink cider.
On those Saturdays Father
would remind Mother again
of the law he proclaimed years ago.
He would remind her the leaves
on our lawn were not our leaves.
He would remind her that we
had no trees and never would.
He would say neighbors with trees
should come get their leaves.
By dusk the leaves on our lawn
would begin to blow over on
the clean lawns of neighbors
canopied with sycamore and oak.
Mother would have another year
to memorize Father’s Law.



Autumn arrives
and the local high school
has a good football team.
They take the field every afternoon
and practice to a chorus of grunts.
The team has always won championships.
The track team can’t use the field
so they run laps silently in single file
around the neighborhood and dash
past the old man in the wheelchair.
Sixty years ago he set a state record
running the mile for the same school.
The runners have no idea who he is.
They don’t look at him now when
he salutes like a champion.



José and Esmeralda are old.
Their music isn’t salsa anymore.

It's the chant they hear at church
on Sunday morning.

Back home José watches Esmeralda
roll her nylons down.

The fires of youth flicker
in the glow of grace and age.


The Second Commandment
is pretty specific: Thou shalt not take
the Name of the Lord Thy God in vain.
It’s one of the few commandments
I seldom break but the other night
I was reading Seamus Heaney
and was torn by the beauty
ringing in my ears and “Jesus Christ!”
slipped out of my mouth but I
don’t think I said His Name in vain.
I spoke in high praise of a poet who
has left behind a body of work that
leaves me gasping for a respirator.

But the Second Commandment
is pretty specific so I plan to ask
Father Kelly if my "Jesus Christ!”
while reading Seamus Heaney
was a mortal sin, and if he says yes,
I’ll be careful reading Heaney again
because if I find better poems
and "Jesus Christ!" slips out again
I might have a heart attack and die
pajama-clad in my old recliner.
I could wake up ablaze in Hell.
I'll have to be careful reading
Seamus Heaney again.



Why not go over and see Aunt Maude.
She was told yesterday she’s dying
of cancer, and drop in her afghan

lap a big box of pecan fudge
made by monks in Kentucky,
silent monks who make

fudge and fruitcake and pray
all day and rise again
all hours of the night

and pray some more, and then
drop in her lap as well a box
of her other passion,

a jigsaw puzzle, not 
500 pieces, the kind she buys
at Walmart, but a lollapalooza

of a thousand pieces and help her
laugh today and live tomorrow
because your aunt won’t die

if she has fudge to eat
and a puzzle to bring to life
on her dining room table.


Feeding feral cats at dawn
is easier when the cats are calm.
This can happen when the
mix of cats remains the same
but a new cat can create
commotion for a sleepy man.

But feeding cats is easier
for a man with grown children
who have moved around the nation
and communicate by Skype 
and bicker as they did when
the four of them were
a year apart in school.

Today the problem isn’t
who’s the better athlete or
gets the highest grades
or will become a millionaire.
Today the problem is the one
terminal with cancer.



We’re not the Trumps
my wife and I
but we have enough
and can’t complain
except when I shop
every month for groceries,
essentials we call them,

and spend $300 or more.
It’s in the carts near mine
that I see why others
who don’t have enough
and will never have enough
might classify much of what
I buy as unnecessary.

Not having enough resides
between appetite and need
as defined by one’s wallet.
Our need is not great and
our appetite not ravenous.
The kids are grown

and have lives of their own.
They too have enough
but enough is different
for them than for us
and different as well
for the poor who shop
in the aisles that I do.

Shopping for food
confirms that the poor
will always be with us,
but rising prices confirm
the poor will get poorer
unless something changes.

In the checkout lane
I muse about changes
that might work as the hover
of an election makes me listen
for prophets with solutions
but no prophet emerges for me
with more than a nostrum.

But the older I get
and the more carts I inspect
the more convinced I become
something must change
because in the carts are the lives
of more and more people,
old and young, for whom
promises and food stamps
aren’t the answer.
Every month I see
more and more why
poor lives matter.


This megastore is a paradise of food.
It’s open all night, its parking lot lit
like a stadium in Texas on a football
Friday night but now at midnight
the lot is almost free of cars but
shopping carts are everywhere
like sheep waiting for a shepherd

who arrives at dawn, a young man
in a store jacket and store cap,
white shirt, store logo on his tie.
His badge says “Darius 3 Years."
He begins to gather his carts
in a long train to push them,
as the caboose, back to the store.
His energy surpasses any clerk
I’ve seen work inside at any hour.

Soon more customers arrive
and more carts are rolling around
and Cart Boy, as Darius is called
by coworkers, doesn't stop
going after them until a staffer
taps him on the arm for lunch.

One day I see the manager
in the lot watching Darius
with admiration and I ask him
why he doesn’t train him for
stocking shelves or cutting meat.
The manager offers a wan smile
and gives me another lesson in life.
“Darius,” he says, “is Special Needs.”


Today’s LittleNip(s):


Bluejay pounds a black
sunflower seed against a branch.
Tiny beaks to fill.

          * * *


Beneath a full moon
this silent symphony
fireflies in the night


—Medusa, with thanks to today's fine contributors!


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Reading Whitman in the Woods

—Poems by B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA
—Photos by Denise Flanagan, Newton, MA


You are reality
on Summer Street
energized by the sunshine
discovering a young poet
now walking up
the Fine Arts museum steps
by sleepless French windows
nearby visiting René Magritte
by the reading room
opening up to his "Empire of Light"
through sleepless windows
watching a grackles’ nest
glow by white marble stones
resting on wellspring shadows
of daffodils, aspens and asphodels
cupped and coupled by wrens
passing under night lanterns
by the flickering tall grass
now mustering a seized vision
covered by early Fall's leaves
a red bird wings and feathers
burning from the sun
into a now-blinded shade
on the Common's park bench
examining Dickinson's words
by the waters’ glen and glade
watching at the Fenway pond
of bright red turtles and ducks
by lily groves, dunes and trees
on moistening lukewarm waters
as robins rest on Greek statues
calcined in folklore's insolent myths
of painted arrows and bull's eyes
piercing our lost memories
to wish for open hands
in a Moses fishing rod
praying for halibut
salmon, mackerel and cod
over the Atlantic ocean
as a caterpillar rides
on my right shoulder
a wise woman walks
motioning with an Asian parasol
to keep her from the heat
watching her borderline smile
passes by us with weary feet
as the poet not wishing
for any public disclosure
in his private posture
whirls on a branched hammock
as if God's sorrowful mystery
of his secret phrase of words
hides him in a fissure of rock
near a chorus of songbirds
and graying pigeons
finding strawberries
on unmade river beds
reading Whitman in the woods
along the sailboats at Bay
he carries the berries in a basket
to his neighborhood
stretched out
for a long August day.



Shadows of a spider
outside my window
up to the ceiling
by the rising pane
feeling like an outsider
just passing through
my doors
like a driven exile
or any stranger
no one ignores
as tiny drops of rain
float on an early hour
revealing doubled images
by my stopwatch
catching a bit of sun
arranging my hours
at the string of my day
in a morning prayer
without a rope of delay
watching a bocce player
throw the ball
along the troubled highway
concealed by wall flowers
he murmurs by the bridge
filled with muddy traffic
he retrieves the ball
near the fallen leaves
now turning brown
in a low ridge garden
near a mote of hope
without panic or guess
of pardon to survive
then retrieves the ball
in the upland glen
as I'm the only witness
writing it all down
as in Psalm 45
a ready writer
with a lively pen.


Those Sixties days
of Warhol's night out
in the Factory
when genius is annoyed
and rent is due
your life is spent
so why argue
about cost or salary
lost love is free
as a founder's pop art
when everyone is a superstar
or a bounder
playing on their art's fantasy
from your insomnia's
enamored world
why get hammered
for your cursed insight
on flirting drama queen
tabloid film
or unrehearsed musical words
until we hear by chance
from crowded laughter
sudden shots on a jammed gun
as an ambulance pulls over
to take Andy away
after boasting Valerie Solanas
wounds the art critic
Mario Amaya in the hallway,
why selfishly try to hurt
you, Warhol
a talented religiously-oriented
Polish soul who needs to be nursed
will sweat it out and perspire,
what days of the Sixties
by the unemployed you hire
until in your own Freudian slips
you are cursed by its death toll
like so many Sixties politicos,
how we admired your tapestry
when art's roll call's inspire
you to become bolder
by the boastful camera lens
as your shoulder now bends
who can sleep
as art takes a qualitative leap
and we all make amends.



By the paper birches
of my back yard
on my winter vacation
everything is first light
in this hinterland
away from the shadow
of a cliff stone bird
who catches a Siamese cat
on a jetty of my sleep
I'm driven by a sled
in the linear snow
the sun rises in Moscow
by the tidal pull
of my ink-dream bed
from a first collection
near the shed
holding my own papers
of bone-sinking words
far from home
in the bluest eye, it seems
of my Idaho recollection.


Beacon Hill
was not so quiet
in the icy November
as Robert Lowell
passed show dogs
near a hydrant
on Joy Street
under a lantern's twilight
by red brick cornices
of my college days,

If only I could call back
to you from life's mystery
a professor would day "Yes"
to a writ of congealed voices
translate you as a novice
from the thick darkness
as a poet-confessor in history,

Perhaps the evergreen trees
have dropped their acorns
to remind us
of a chorus of song birds
still wounding
my perpetual adolescence
as a marathon passes by
angled by a scholar's eye
hearing water music
over the Charles River
my memory of this hour
never parched or drowned
over the mythic bridge
where sailboats load
to deliver passengers
to the emerging underground.



Still trudging through
Long Beach's bubbles
my friend is all smudged
keeping underwater
with snorkel practices
yet now reaching out in songs
for Bernadette
from the mud of daydreams
by warm sunny blankets
of outdoor accidents
his sports bandage treatments
under thunder rainy squalls
yet this laughing acquaintance
survives it all
by his taking cover
from a liberal household
filled with a private arbiter
of his business of family secrets
in perpetual parental storms
as a metamorphosis
of one's own geography
comics, history and statistics
leaning on intermittent devices
with his own pale ices
some brief hours of scrutiny
of our own tiny disbelief
spelled out in a lesson plan
for this young man bicycled
up from a far country
from heat waves
on a thousand bridges
and sandy roads
in this dawn by the sea
our feet in blue water
presenting me
as a friendly apprentice
in our art class
his painting of a torso
shaded by chiaroscuro
unraveling a young spirit
in a poet set to sail.


Finding out
how perishable verse
escaped all the pallor
of speechless brainwashing
from parental storms
you make mirrored gestures
and temperamental faces to hide
from a troubled look
with a cyclone of words
and your double-up Muse
you escape Paris
for a Morocco book
without injury from any roulette
leaving no imagination
or shame from Verlaine's bullet
and the optional joker
of a lost game
in exile and detention
of a lyrical correspondence
to insure your name
with myth, identity or nation
a smile not gone wrong
Rimbaud, you are free
and risen by fourteen stations
outside with a prison song.



With painted crates
filled with a carriage
of cloud and loganberries
with Igor and Galina
all ready to board
up to the riverside
and carry over to crystal lake
and take a swim
by unmade river beds
with us hardly awake
taking red wine and vodka
in three cups
by dishes of caviar
and Danish cheese
over these cathedral-gray hills
with my still life palette
pulsing with nature aside
over this warm landscape
with a sure understanding
in an art of hours
near the musk of a storm
gathering by bird feathers
we will quiver like lilacs
as in Stockholm, Scandinavia
by warm garden wall flowers
hemmed in by perfection
thinking twice
if we are in Eden's paradise
by a river so close to home
sometimes asking
to extend every divine moment
out of all nature's schools
in late summer's creativity
as you sponge and sail
out by cool waters
in your orange kayak
putting on a thin snorkel mask
to swim in fresh waters below
questioning are we really here
already near the peaceful edge
of the shore by river beds
at our nature's zen garden
at peace in perfect weather,
a poet relaxes
on an Australian outback chair
near Newton's back benches
with chocolate almond bon bons
our French snacks and fare
as Galina in a lovely soprano
Russian voice suddenly opens up
with an early aria
from Glinka's opera
Ruslan and Ludmilla
based on Pushkin's poetry
which we all read
over an Indian beaded blanket
making us all proud,
nearby a tent we are
in a forty winks’ sleep
on white sheets
near Zeus's and Athena's statue
in her hands are divinities
beneath a stone wing goddess
Nike carries a palm branch
and staff to the marathon runners
as a wondrous messenger of victory
here on an August noon
we believe in a metamorphosis
hearing squalls of thunder
by the cliff,
writing on papyrus papers
from blinding writing notes
for my new play's dialogue
hearing a chorus of wrens
in a brief sun-shower rain
by this unorganized marathon
yet scarcely keeping
my eyes open later in the day
near the newly fallen acorns
by white oak trees
at the small ditchwater’s glen
shooting the breeze
in riffs of a smooth jazz tune
reading Emerson, Thoreau
and Whitman along Walden pond
taking photos with my light camera
as a dog watcher of two
out of school:
a mini Doberman Pinscher
named Ruby and Daphne
a blond golden Retriever
run to their reflective pools.


Not too early
in Soho
to play a Bach solo
in a familiar pattern
on my viola and cello
of a string player
ready for his recital
aired on all the open rivers
off the isle of Manhattan
always delayed
by a telephone call
from squalls of a snowstorm
with their covert faint flakes
by a cold piece of sky
with a memory always sent
by a secret mail delivery path
holding a warm love letter
as my sudden wrath
is quickly waned away
at newly painted hallways
on the last day for rent
by a business telephone call
from my uncle or aunt
or my avant garde bon vivant
from the subway's underground
saying goodbye for a better today
yet alarmed by the school bell
near the park bench
where I write my music
yet suddenly falling silent
under the warm French lamp
knowing this I.O.U. fool
also needs a stamp
forsaking a panic attack
or a primal scream
when you awake
for a trial of your back
or from a personal attack
wishing feel better or safe
as any partisan to smile
by interpreting Joseph's dream
as any Egyptian exile.


Today’s LittleNip:


Touring the Prado
remembering the lines
of El Greco
in your paintings
"The Old Guitarist"
of Picasso
came to my memory
the symbolist visionary
in the midst of myth
of the blinded beggar
drifts by me
a great space
on the horizontal wall
touched by the light
in a blue cubism.


—Medusa, with thanks to B.Z. Niditch and Denise Flanagan for this morning's fine fare!

 B.Z. has breakfast on The Other Coast


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What Are You Running From?

—Poems and Photos by James Diaz, N. Salem, NY


What you are running from?
The way certain people held you
when you were young
and could not request otherwise,
the way the land tilted
because too much had been done to it
or not enough,
the way—

I call the owl a silly uncertainty
not every natural winged animal
is waiting for you to be its strange poet
some are gathering words for themselves
you are not among them,
it seems.

Farther than this,
how a grown woman
can miss a mother
who never loved her
in the ways she needed to be loved,
who withheld milk,
and other lesser gifts.


At first,
against the small thing
leaning in towards
the window, at first—
then a scattering where bird form

now, I am enemy of my own enemy
heated compass
across the honey form
foam (foaming)
and our earth-bound burdens
all lifted

by and from somewhere
distorted drawing hearts
clinging to a source (a sore spot)
a folk tale (tell)
in fallen timber
goes under color, and stays
thirty-seven winters
and counting.


For an instant
because no matter
they will give themselves away
each minute you will hear them
it’s not what you think
all things
a cool drink of water
even up
the air fringes—
tell me,
do you wish to know the landscape?
And that place
being in you
a real property,
feeling our past
sink with all of its weight into the earth
in the rush
dark mottling of horses
the stubby rail sings its credo
we are
we were
eyes quasi maternal
no listen
time stresses
the globular boundary line
of open mouth,
I watch it float.


you protocol me anywhere
I have a body
it is
eye-hole sluggish
as it marks the day
the reason for—
so many things,
us watching,
put the hands to your lap
the elaborate
traffic slamming.
Do you remember
I laid on your carpet
we listened in there
at the frontier,
the impossibility
of staying back,
of filling up our exhausted
the civil stillness
like a hoof mark upstream
the bony place—
it can exist,
to let you know
I felt this way
porous torsion,
the turn any life
can take


See this I
and scratch the streets’
and if I listen
to the nail biting
on the muddy slope
give me your hand
no never
this errancy
water marks
what holds the instance
even further
one wishes
noticing the root prints
suddenly it’s best not to know
no gaze
precarious touching
a tint of the waywardness
her life history
a series
of 'where are they'?
Sleeping saints,
her wagon wheel undersides almost black
thinking of the still reachable
northern lights
I insist
one cannot keep all of their secrets.
There are some parts of me
that still belong to her.
We go in,
that is enough,
and something like joy returns.


She becomes fainter
white rabbit
the bar bleeds
like an image of light
you import
this locating particle
my porch returns
its dullness
building blue on a wing
from the air
this resting point
only sometimes it is lost on me—
how people grow backbones,
wisdom elms.
So listen to the body for a while
how it shakes with importance,
all of its goods beneath clothes—
anecdotal loveliness.
The in-between of the freeway,
too tired to speak of
or even know what you are writing anymore.



Even in our endless selves
given words, then given
no words,
in a moment
we must account for ourselves.

I am that one.
I have been informed
that this is a life.

Yet to know, to feel
like the knotted edges of a piece
of wood that won't smooth over—
we are (all of us) worldly things,
life on the surface,
the odd edge (that jutting ground),
the immanence of love that must measure
us each in our distance
to one another.

Like conjoined bodies of water,
things must meet.

To the things in myself
I carry,
and have not, and still
have not—
until what is missing is no longer the main point.

I give it to the life at large.


Our thanks for today’s fine poems and pix to James Diaz, who lives in Upstate New York. He began writing poetry at the age of thirteen, at first as a survival mechanism, which eventually became a calling. He believes that poetry is one of the most profound of the healing arts available to men and women, and he is constantly floored by its ability to close old wounds and open new possibilities, both for those who write it and for those who read it. His stories and poems have appeared in Cheap Pop Lit, Ditch, Pismire, Collective Exile, Epigraph, My Favorite Bullet, Calliope and The Idiom. You can follow him on Twitter @diaz_james. Welcome to the Kitchen, James, and don't be a stranger!


Today’s LittleNip:

—James Diaz

Tell yourself
how every island
lives with its own house
already sold
and how nothing grows
just because there is soil
and water available
to it.




James Diaz

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How Wide the Sky

—Poems and Photos by Joyce Odam, Sacramento


What we sell here is always what you need.
Amulets and calendars; out-dated stones;
jars of rain that still separate into drops.

We have the spool of thread you lost when you
forgot how to sew—in just those colors needed
for the coloring book you never opened.

We have more : pretty little boxes to hold rings,
a perfect leaf that you passed up when you
were looking through a window to find

your old reflection looking back
through you. Shall I go on?
We have the key for your travel. The map.

The other side of the door. We have
the book you read and lost, the one
with the pages full of truth and photographs.

We have the perfect penmanship of your youth,
a tube of healing for your hands. We always greet you
with recognition—are sad when you must go.

Goodbye. We know you must be off. We have
postcards for this. We have a cat that sleeps
on a chair and dreams prophetic dreams.

The dreams are for sale. The little bell
on the door is made of sunshine.
It tinkles every time someone comes or leaves.


After “My Mother’s Country”—Barbara Weir, 2011
If she would make a tapestry, it would be of a snow-
shoveled beach from some still frozen place of an old
road taken. It would have far-off brown hills and valleys,
despite the displacement of snow. She would give it no
towns or nearby elevations. It would have one long
piece of white yarn threading over it like a meandering
road on an outdated map.
                          Tapestries live on dusty walls—hers
would wear thick layers of cigarette smoke, its fading
detail would represent little whorls of places she might
have been. The old roads would run crookedly all over
the map—indicating displacement—despite the mysterious
snow—or the melting cloud layerings covering the flat
dazed land with no perspective.

After “Year’s End”—Ted Kooser 

Go where you must
—it never changes.
We wait in our sameness.
No mirrors correct us.


It is still dreary here. 
Accept it. We like it that way
—have nothing to change, or want
to do over. We are not travelers.

You will come back to the same old roses
holding the fence up, but we are painting
the screen door first because of rust
—mauve like the sunset.

When the year turns, we will turn,
with a sigh of relief to give it blessing
as if we had made some determination
—you, of course not here to tell of it.



Who watches me with the
strange indifference of flowers

in the guarded woods
of my imagination

where I go in search
of strange flowers

seen in flower books—
the many eyes and faces

of such flowers
in their dissimilarity—

at home in
their dark shadow places

where they thrive and compel
my curiosity, where

should I dare to pick one
I would be forever guilty.


This is a poem of explanations.  Easy to know.
Nothing to forgive.  Nothing profound for you
to ponder.  Nothing obscure so you have to think.

This is a poem,    this is a poem,    unlovely . . .
it travels time to its own distance, which is here.
Now let us consider the page—upon which

these words—upon which these meanings,
do not mean, and do not say. I have lied to you,
true—but you deserve the lie—you who are so

deserving.  Whenever you greet me in sorrow,
sorrow is what you get in return.    I am fair.
I mirror you, you with your vain look.

I am here without you.
I am writing a poem for you, which you will
correct and correct.  I am your flaw.

Now I am at a riverbank.  It is winter.
Swans drift up, hungry perhaps, or curious.
A gray wind ripples the day and

the swans move away, discouraged.
I regret myself, my small arriving
to so lovely a place.  I know I must walk back,

but first I must walk out to the end
of that small pier and stand on the texture
of that solid water.  I have juxtaposed

backwards—you do not yet exist for me,
still I talk to you about this moment,
which is captured like an impression of

a wet leaf in a book.  You insist
on bringing me back—I leave it all suddenly:
the dear white swans with their glossy eyes,

forgetting me and the page that is struggling,
that you insist on being part of.
I cannot please you.  I will please myself.



where am I missing the boat?
even though I don’t know
where boats are going
I keep missing them
arriving at docks to see
the small speck in the distance…
the wisp of smoke…

others return
to tell me of their travels
secret with joy
intense with detail
I nod impatiently and sneak away
to my schedules and wardrobe
that I keep packing and repacking
until it fits small

each day is shrunken
with my anticipation
my off-sense of timing
that I keep perfecting
each day is waging
its size against me

Sweet Envy
smiles from her poster
and I, her collector,
study her closely
to memorize where she has been
for I would go there

(first pub. in Calliope, 1989)


We are traveling fast to your destination, which we share.
You won’t tell me where that is, though I have bought the
tickets. When we pass the dangerous scenery, you make
me close my eyes, then you describe the horrors in a teasing
voice. We settle in for a long journey.  t is your secret.

Mostly, you brood out the window for long periods; you
silence every question: “Feel the rhythm,” you tell me,
“Sleep.” And when I sleep, you waken me. “Look! Out
there!” you say, and point to what you see. But it is too
dark, and I don’t know where we are. You are a strange
child, and I become afraid of my age, because we are in
different places in ourselves.

When we slow down for departure, you brighten and rise
quickly, and I look out at the gray, thin morning, which is
full of unusual weather. The long, ramshackle station is a
blur of signs that could name this place, but though we are
to depart here, we are going too fast.



—as bleak as any distance, wide as a sound,
or even a silence—whatever crosses
the space between near and far;

a place with no road—only its distance,
maybe a small shack for the sake of desolation.
Who might live here? 

Maybe no one:
an empty house for your mind to occupy,
a house with no trees—

not even that much relief for the sweeping eye.
Distance is familiar; something wants it,
something you know is ready to take you,

or leave you.
How wide the sky, thinning out its blue,
as if it were running out of blue.

The clouds have trouble forming
with so much width to use.
What brings you here,

reluctant to continue, or remain?
A distant speck appears
and is coming toward you. What will you do?

Our thanks to Joyce Odam for her riffs on our last Seed of the Week: Journeys. Joyce writes: Robin and I were driving home some time back (last November) and we got carried away with the fast-changing look of the lighting in the traffic, the swift change of colors in the sky and in the headlights of the cars and the swift-moving moon. I searched for those pictures yesterday and found them and this is what I send for the 'travel' prompt. Robin Odam is Joyce's daughter, also a fine photographer and poet whom you may remember from the Kitchen.

Our new Seed of the Week is Lost and Found. Send your poetic, photographic or artistic thoughts on this (or any other subject) to No deadline on SOWs. Check out the Calliope's Closet link at the top of this column for all our Seeds of the Week over the years—they are considerable and good kickstarters for a rainy day.


Today’s LittleNip:

I never feel lonely if I’ve got a book—they’re like old friends. Even if you’re not reading them over and over again, you know they are there. And they’re part of your history. They sort of tell a story about your journey through life.

—Emilia Fox



Monday, August 24, 2015

The Taste of Painted Dreams

—Photo by Cynthia Linville, Sacramento

—Loch Henson, Diamond Springs, CA

First step: find your expired passport.
In order to make a getaway, you’re
going to need a way to get back into
your home country.

Second step: suspect a destination,
perhaps a short list of a few.

Third step: wrangle up your documents
and make an appointment for your
new passport.

Fourth step: shower and make pretty.
You’re going to need a new photo.
(And what color IS your hair anyway?)

Fifth step: save up every penny you can
scrounge or scavenge.

                (Wait, was step two first?)

At some point, you’re going to slip
yourself a file in a cake and get out
from behind door number one: normalcy.


—Loch Henson

Is it a relief or do you
get anxious when you
realize that you are
far from home?

What feels far to me
may not even begin to
seem like a day’s journey
to you.  My passport
hasn’t seen the amount of
exercise that yours has recently.

Trips to ethnic restaurants serve
as my big adventures right now
(and some trips are more adventurous
than others!).

It’s not the exterior landscapes
that I roam.   Learning the mind
from the inside, peering into
hidden corners…these journeys
uncover stained glass mosaics of
thought and feeling, monuments
from times passed, and other
features not often suitably captured
by the post-card of a poem.

 Trek and Ripples
—Photo by Taylor Graham, Placerville, CA

—Claire J. Baker, Pinole, CA

soul missing
cream color
likes to cuddle
sorry no photo
won't bite
please call

we found soul
inhaling roses
in the park
no leash
meet at park pond
2 p.m.
not seeking reward

Your neighbors.


—Claire J. Baker

I lie in a lakeside meadow,
slowly turn the aquamarine,
cold, heavy in my hand.

Yet under Shelley's clouds
a poet wrote
" when grass breaks

has it not added to the meadow."
Grief relaxes in shade
of an ancient oak.

I yield to memories of
my part played in mother's
bright dark life.

Her stone, warm, lighter
on my finger, mirrors
lavender lupine, stems of grass.

(Anybody know what kind of flower this is?)
—Photo by Taylor Graham

slain scholar of antiquities at Palmyra
—Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA

The old magnificent man who tended the gods,
the columns and antiquities of Palmyra,
killed brutally by vandals who desire an
afterlife tacky with blood. What are the odds
you ignorant black-robed young, my dark hearts, mistake
your assumed arrogance for purity?
Toppling the works and lives of centuries,
putting the torch to all you so much as dislike,
the minglement of many god-beliefs,
engagements of life—but do you not see it? Look
deeper into the mirror’s silver leaf,
stones of your exploded stone. Gods enter again.
Who else put delusions buzzing in your young brains?

For you, old gentle Lion of Al-lāt,
nestling the limestone gazelle entrusted to you,
reflect on the words of a young poet, and quite true:
she wrote how the last of twilight is a dawn
obliterating, not yielding to, the night,
leaving silver remembrance long since light
seemed abandoned forever black upon the lawn.
So the gods for whose service you at last
fell forever, know how the lovely long stain
silvers forever over the good one slain.


—Tom Goff

Perspective, in a poem by Robert Graves,
is only a set of tricks played on our eyes:
we know all tables really turn vees; the wise
highways aim narrower, they recede in shaves

like curls of cheese grated far off over hills.
Does what we remember taper differently?
I lost sight of you under our shared table.
Where’d your legs go, did they get littler? How free

you’d rather they ran dwindling the hall convergence.
You’re a steel ball Shoot-the-Moon twin rods make flow    
or roll—to a score? To a vanishing point? Just once,
I high-fived you; your small hand flinched an ounce

—a flick of romantic startle?—one gust and oh.
What touch was it that shrank you down the hallways?
You see your fine points as pinpricks. I read emergence.
Be an opening fan. Fan open the Infinite Always.

 Cosumnes River
—Photo by Taylor Graham

The wolf family in the woods of Shasta County
   may not be lonely for long
   According to the California Wolf Center,
   wolves seem to be returning to California
   even after nearly a century of being hunted to extinction
   Wolves appear to be wandering in from Oregon and surrounding states
   who also should be thanked for saving the wolf
   While the lion has been revered by Western civilization
   the wolf is like the symbol of God to the Native American
   Americans tried to wipe out the wolves, much like the indigenous peoples,
   because they wanted to ranch cattle on the plains instead of having wolves
   Those “fairy tales” of the “Big Bad Wolf” were wrong
   when it was bad peoples' tyrants who wanted to see the wolf gone

 —Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

 Wire and Grass
—Photo by Taylor Graham

—Taylor Graham

You never know what’s on the other side of a

steep hill or a sharp curve. —driver’s manual

You sit beside the road wondering

what’s just out of sight. Imagination scatters

like birds from the bushes

never to trust what just sits. Wings!

The nag of small birds flittering, singing

the side that’s off your map. Here be dragons.

Beyond that hill, the next curve.

You’ve questioned travelers who came

through the mud, heat, rain with their tales

of the journey. Rivers and sloughs

of boats. Landscapes in storm.

A small island, a plate of artichokes.

The taste of painted dreams. How

could they tell you what’s on the other side

unless you go?

—Taylor Graham

1. Purchase

in the hardware store i found a blacktop tip

for a walking staff,

and a clip for my puppy just waking

from his garage of dream—

an itinerant poet arrested for rant

brandishing his caffeine noir as ravens
sin a wander-mug

as midnight’s fulcrum—

we travel toward wednesday

& my dog sleight-of-leap

runs away with her ball round as sunlight

& slimy w/ woof

2. Trek Weather

Thunder pucker inside our walls,

this wellspring wind-shear, a change

in atmospheric pressure, your

jeans & my left slipper

have traveled down the hall as i
of their own accord—

dishwash dancer, see how he twirls

with the margarine tub,

this new puppy inside our

walls—this midnight slumber siren,

it’s only his squeaky toy

his solitary comfort in the lonesome

of puppy-crate beside our

bed, at last he’s going to sleep

inside our walls.

3. Rigging Today

He sleeps quiet through the dark assembling stars from dream—stars like milk of first light. And when he wakes the morning is a white globe, a ball rolled against the wall between himself and horizon, and he must fetch it. And if it rolls under piles of yesterday he must sniff it out, and fetch it—his viaticum, provisions for his journey. We know him for the shining globe, a glow about his head and in his eyes. The glow is possibility, that sleeps in words of yes, that believes in voices and the open road, universe in his glove, the passing of this morning into this very day before the coming of another night with its dreams of voyaging to stars, their universal secrets.

—Taylor Graham

It was hot. But here we were on a sandbar
by the river beckoning with its pool
shallow enough for puppy-swim, and cool
in August. I tossed a stick. My pup—
who does laps in my mop-bucket—chose
wading with one paw still on shore.
He barely glanced as my stick made ripples.
I tossed a bigger stick, he quibbled.
I peeled off boots and socks, waded in
calling Trek! What if I wrenched my ankle
on river-rock? Would he dash in to save
me? He swam two strokes to prove he could,
then paddled back to land. I sat down
in water cool as upcountry treks
with other dogs—dead now, but brave
in memory, while Trek chased an orange
butterfly along the shoreline, making
ripples that almost reached me.

—Taylor Graham

My dog sniffs a tire-swing hanging

from an old oak tree—did the little girl launch

off from there? Up the road, into the brush.

Looking for elves, her mother says.

The mother’s frantic with grown-up worries.

How could she lose track of her child?

Shades lead children astray, light on water

of a pond, sun on leaves at the border of woods,

granite glitter at the edge of cliff. Maybe

the girl is looking for her mother 

who surely is lost. I wish I could remember— 

might I find myself where the elves hang out?



—Taylor Graham

Stones below the surface,

bones of the mountain and bones

of who walked here before.

This August morning sun’s angle

lowers as a month

pauses at the door. Dead grasses

stand embered behind

chainlink as if remembered

through gold mesh or dream. Silk

of spider on the screen.

Puppy chases flies across linoleum

as if summer’s wings

can’t rise above a kitchen floor.

My puppy digs

for stones below the surface,

sniffs for bones,

whoever walked this way

Our thanks to this tasty group of contributors for our morning fare in the Kitchen. Tom Goff writes,
I read this morning about the ISIS slaying of the antiquities scholar who was head curator at Palmyra. What a barbarous world, it seems to me, and how long we as a nation slept thinking it  otherwise...not that we are at all without guilt in what goes on.

But I turned from that news to a poem Edith Wharton wrote when only sixteen years old, to which my poem makes reference. Her "Impromptu" contains the lines:

I love the silver dawn of night
That melts the dark away;
The ecstasy of pallid light
That bathes the ended day...

Thanks, Tom!


Today’s LittleNip(s):

—Cynthia Linville, Sacramento

Turn your back or
Turn the other cheek

Turn a hair or
Turn up the heat

Turn back time or
Turn again

Turn to salt or
Turn to sin

       * * *

—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove, CA

A voyage
Would do
Him some
Realized it’s
All the same



Trekker on the Wire
—Photo by Taylor Graham