Thursday, January 31, 2019

Listening for the Oracle

—Poems and Photos by Taylor Graham, Placerville, CA


The artist [Kim Abeles] enlisted female inmate firefighters….
                               —LA Magazine

Make a valise to pack up her life, to move on.
Make it a segment of pine log—count the rings
like years. Split it open, to show two opposing
rectangles holding dioramas of forest: one green
and thriving; the opposite, blackened snags
under mahogany sky after the inferno.

Her life as tree. Graceful pine sapling
full of expectations, of hope—then, a mistake
thoughtless as a cigarette in dry tinder;
a wrong choice; dead end; burn scars. Now,
in this camp with other women who made
bad choices—does this determine their lives?

The valise holds living forest and burned land-
scape. Incorporated in this space, tools 
crafted by hand, and experience of hard labor:
axe, shovel for fighting wildland fire. She
and her friends—women she lives with—
inmates learning to save a forest. Themselves.


after reading “Someone else’s war” by Mackenzie Myers, Mountain Democrat

Her kids run ahead as she walks them to school, another day of classes. Her husband—the kids’ father—is stuck across the border, can’t come home. Kids safe in school, she’s off to work. She does what she must in this land of the free where she was born; he wasn’t. It’s very complicated, a realm of shifting parameters; a legal maze of walls and more walls leading to dead ends. Today she’ll work two jobs, care for her kids before and after; tomorrow the same.

this winter morning
her breakfast table is sun
smile, peaches, love


A darkling cloud passed over. The deputy shuffled papers on the hood of his 4WD as if to neaten the situation, find the significant detail to create a scenario to explain why he’d called us here, to a turnout by the Wench Creek bridge. A fisherman had found some clothes. We followed deputy and our dogs up-creek over fallen logs, through thickets. A mile, two miles? in a clearing, a pile of pink—complete outfit, skivvies to scarf and high heel shoes. So far from any road. Our dogs sniffed around, wandered at random. No scent trail, no direction. Dead end. Back at the bridge the deputy shuffled his papers. Did that pile of clothes mean a missing person, foul play?

cloud passes over
forest in dogwood blossom
creek flows wordless down


We didn’t plan in advance, just headed up the scenic highway—traffic unnerving over the Spur—then pulled off at a sandy dead-end, beyond sight of pavement; parked the truck. Sun-chilly no-glove day. No trail. We started climbing, young dog Cody in the lead; and old Taco, veteran of so many searches, toddling along behind, pausing to sniff how things had changed since last time. Timberline. Easy wind adagio through scattered lodgepole and a few lightning-rod junipers that looked almost as ancient as the landscape. This old juniper, fractured—split down the middle—still alive. I climbed inside, implanted myself in juniper; looked out over the world, listened for the oracle. 

loud thin air breathing—
old dog circles, tests the breeze,
finds me lost in tree.


Our new kitten stretches long and black
by a sunny windowpane dreaming,
maybe, of mice in the dark of pantry. Then
in a blink he’s paw-dancing
the kitchen counter, Master of Latches,
prowler of the mysteries
of cupboards and boxes. On occasion
he graces your lap, purring
against your wrist, then rising,
holding his tail aloft like a lantern unlit,
turning so you can admire
his behind. He has no decency.
From the arm of your chair he’s teasing
the dog to frantic chase—around the living
room, over your lap.
We adopted him to catch rodents.
Since he came, our house is desolate
of mice. The mouse-cartographer must
have marked on the mouse-map
Here Be Cat.


He lays trails for our dogs through deserted
schoolyards, running into dead-ends—an alcove
that looked like a corridor, a locked gate
that used to be open passageway.
Then he has to double-back, wondering
if the dogs will figure it out, if they’ll trace
each hairpin back-track, his impromptu
labyrinth; or if they’ll cut directly to the fresher
scent. Oh, the intricate calculations
programmed into a dog’s brain. I follow Loki,
watching as she factors each turn. “How
did you find me so fast?” he wants to know.


Today’s LittleNip:

—Taylor Graham

January chill,
this morning light’s aslant
so many people
in black coats huddled in sun—
those crows on a leafless tree


Thanks to Taylor Graham for jumping onboard our recent Seeds of the Week, Dead Ends, the Haibun, and of course her new kitten, Latches, who has been quite the inspiration to her. For more about the Haibun form, go to

I have been remiss in announcing the MoSt Poetry Festival this year, and thanks to Stockton's Joseph Nolan for alerting me. It will take place this Saturday, Feb. 2, from 9:30am-4pm at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Oakdale Rd. in Modesto. For more info and reg., see Indigo Moor will be the special guest.

And of course Thursday night meanss the long-running Poetry Unplugged at Luna's Cafe, with featured readers and open mic, 1414 16th St., Sacramento. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about these and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.

—Medusa (Celebrate Poetry!)

Beware, O ye Rodents! Here Be Cat!
—Photo by Taylor Graham

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