Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Only the Questions Matter

—Poems and Photos  by Joyce Odam, Sacramento, CA


Again I steal
words stolen by another—
recreate,   rewrite,   re-say.

Who will know,
or challenge

this poem—
in all
its incarnations . . . . ?



At night the golden bird brings the stolen apples
back to the palace tree and fastens them brightly
there in the moonlight.
       I don’t know why she does this; she is so
patient and tireless, and her slow wings lift so
beautifully against the softly shining sky as I
watch her from my window.
      Why does she not tangle in the branches,
I wonder; and why does she not fall broken under
the weight of such a task.
      And I know that in the morning the sad-
dened tree will have been redeemed of its theft—
and no one—not even I—will have to pay for the
King’s old grief and unredemptive anger.


Seven Katautas
Of what use sorrow?
     When Joy steals the poet for
     Joy, the poet writes nothing.

What thoughts control love?
     The mind of the map unfolds . . .
     so many places to go.

What do locks protect?
     Secrets hide.  Windows gossip.
     The police can find nothing.

What is jealousy?
     Flip a coin and it never
     comes down . . . some love-thief steals it.

For what does love grieve?
     Two ornery geese . . . life-mates . . .
     now one is dead.  The dog sleeps. 

What does time recall?
     Fog rolls in . . . land disappears . . .
     cry of something lost cuts through.

Why,   and why,   and why?
     The absolutes do not yield . . .
     only the questions matter.


After “Lovers in the Used World” by Gillian Conoley

In the used world of love, I stole you back—
edges and edges ago. Call it memory. Call it wish.
Call it whatever you call it. It is none of these.

When I stole you back, it was on my terms,
sorted out and wept over. I was your thief
with wonderful intentions—far-sighted and pure.

It would work this time:
we were so new, so fiery and brief,
so full of arrogant passion. Lilacs envied us.

Oh, we were summer,    summer,    summer.
The air was ocean-breath and gull-cry—
the longness of days,   of nights.

We danced under stars caught in a glass globe
and fastened to the star-swirled ceiling.
Love, I lost you—

Oh, first love,
I lost you—and all my later regrettings
followed me through other loves and other tides.



How may we go—slow
as mules—soft as sorrow,
singing our night songs
to each other?

How long must we travel
when the way is grief—
and I, your thief of happiness,
you, praising your emptiness?
I saw a flash of bird so rare . . .
and you disbelieved me. 
Here is its song.
I have learned it for you.


After Night Bird by Wonsook Kim Linton, 1990

Small dream bird, I hold you through the prison of sleep
while an old black brooding hawk watches from night’s
dark tree and hunches itself over the release of waking,
which has its own landscape of terrors.

How will I save you when my hand is offering you flight
away from this dream; why do you tarry in patient trust
like a careless omen of yourself?

Are you the signature of life? Symbols surround us—
surreal and dense—merging to a collage of mystery. We
share this brief connection: I give you my fear so you can
translate it into flight—yet you stay with me.

(first pub. in
Parting Gifts, 2003)

 Steal Me

After Richard Diebenkorn, 1959

Used to cut darkness—that abstract; a shiny study
of line—the shape of them (if plural they are).

How bright their fierceness:
weapon, if guilty—tool, if necessary,

left open to suggest their usefulness
or intention—

if they have intent
(other than placement for thought to observe).

How deliberately open they lie upon the table:
subject for art; how cunningly they become

more than themselves, sharpening even more
on the light which examines them.

Some woman has used them in innocence
which art has stolen for an object

to obscure—give different meaning to
(if meaning has worth).

A swivel pin
keeps them intact—

one handle bigger than the other: one for finger,
one for thumb (left open to interpretation).

 Yours Alone


Tangle one . . .   tangle two . . .
twirling with a tangle-scarf,

sisters in a tangle-dance,
tangling sisters, look askance,

Jester in the bushes lurks,
Jester with a fawning smirk.

Hidden Jester, creeping near.
Jester has a meaning here,

You are innocent of grief,
smiling Jester is a thief.

Dance away now, dance away,
lest he snatch your swirling scarf.

He will take it, not for play
but to take your heart . . .


Today’s LittleNip:



Looked for love.
Found you.
Boo hoo.


Surely today,
surely today . . .


softly she murmurs her disapproval
in a voice made of purr

letting be known in a feline way
what displeases her


we each get a century
we each get a year
we each get a moment
to be here

—Joyce Odam

(first pub. in
No Name Letter for Poets, 1993)


Our thanks to Joyce Odam as she steals our hearts with her thieving poems and photos, speaking as she is about our Seed of the Week: The Thief. Our new Seed of the Week is a wide one: Summer. Send your poems, photos & artwork about this (or any other) subject to kathykieth@hotmail.com. No deadline on SOWs, though, and for a peek at our past ones, click on “Calliope’s Closet”, the link at the top of this column, for plenty of others to choose from.

Tonight, head up to El Dorado Hills for the Poetry Off-the-Shelves poetry read-around, 5pm at the library on Silva Valley Parkway. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about this and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.

For more about Gillian Conoley, go to www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/gillian-conoley/. For more about the katauta form, go to www.shadowpoetry.com/resources/wip/katauta.html/.


(Celebrate poetry!)

Photos in this column can be enlarged by clicking on them once,
then click on the X in the top right corner to come back
to Medusa.