Sunday, September 07, 2014

After Lines From Stafford’s “Citizen Here on Earth”

Let me carry a bow
a bow strung with psalms.

Let me carry a quiver
a quiver of shafts of light.

Let me fire arrows at my enemy
arrows tipped with flowers.

Let them return as raindrops.

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Unseen

tick of the clock
don’t look over your shoulder for the
sweep of the hands
though you know it’s there
and it goes on without you

if there really is a clock
and not just
an imagined sound

like the footsteps on the stair
when you were afraid to look
and finally looked—
there was nothing, not even
a shadow sliding down the banister
just a creaky step talking
to itself

like the strange noise in the car
that you couldn’t hear when
the mechanic had the hood open

like th sound of surf miles from any ocean
you heard it in your sleep and woke
clutching at strands of dreamweed
you heard it in your sleep and woke
salt on your pillow
you heard it in your sleep and
sailed away

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Heat Lightning

The night is shattered
by heat lightning, soundless violence.

Forks of brilliance spring from cloud to cloud
while dryness hangs like curtains between.

The night is shattered
waiting for thunder to piece it back together
for darkness to stitch itself whole
for rain to dissolve the bright edges.

The night holds its breath
in jagged sepia.

The night is shattered
by a stroke that doesn’t fall. Shattered
by the fear of a stroke.

Tense restless air
and leaves moving without relief
waiting for thunder.

The shattered night begs for rain
like a heart for tears.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Low Light Villanelle

for the first time in many months
i woke to low light overcast
there is no sun this morning

summer’s bones are grinning
out of the tall dead grass
for the first time in many months

birds shrug their dull fall-plumaged shoulders
shake off dust and look toward the south
there is no sun this morning

and they know it’s almost time
to hit that road, invisible to human eyes
for the first time in many months

through cumulus over the Siskiyous
to wintering grounds by the great bay
there is no sun this morning

i feel the earth turn under my feet
feel the road’s vibration through my soles
for the first time in many months
there is no sun this morning

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Salmon

Tell me why they leap
high against the water’s face, each one
a single silver muscle, clenched like a brandished fist.

They filled the Columbia once
from shore to shore, navigation hazard:
legend said you could walk
dryshod on their backs. Now
we watch at windows on the fish ladder,
celebrate each exhausted climber,
each smolt that makes it safe to sea.

Tell me why they leap
in memory of something they know as home,
or in defiance against gravity, downstream flow
or their own dwindling returns?

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Police, Fire, Ambulance

all at the corner of 15th and Broadway
lights on, no sirens. The guy getting onto the bus
says there’s some lady in the ambulance—
points to a silver car. That’s all I’ll ever know
unless I comb the evening news for mention
that may not even be there. Who was she,
who made the call, what was the cause?

The bus rolls on and leaves the red-and-whites
flashing in the driver’s rear-view. Buses don’t have
back windows. I can’t see the mirror
from where I sit. Whatever happened
is over as far as I’m concerned. Though not for her
or her friends, family, passers-by who saw
whatever they saw.

The driver shakes his head,
peering into the side mirror.
There’s no sound of sirens. We sit
in silent rows of unknowing.

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Friday, August 01, 2014

Kilimanjaro

This sky is full of shifting continents;
lightning bridges, thunder telegraphs
and con-trail crosstalk. Was I ever meant
to live this way? Will I ever laugh
at raisins dying in the sun? Intent
on work; my numbers, figures, lines and graphs
will not protect me from the sentiment
that leaps from ambush, from a photograph:

white glaciers shrinking under tropic skies,
above the heat-miraged savanna. Skull-
faced drought stands in the open doors of full
storehouses, mocking. I make no reply
but private calculus of global loss:
my heart, still hanging from the Southern Cross.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Swallowtail Summer

I captured the most elusive trace of summer
when it came fluttering on black and yellow wings
through the tangled underbrush of sleep. Before
the sweating, waking to the all-night hum
of window fans, before the ripening blackberries
and scorched dead grass, there were swallowtails

whose arabesques of flight wrought tales
of heat, tilting springtime dreams toward summer.
You texted me “It’s spring” on your BlackBerry
but I was done with migration, wings
folded for the season. Unlike a hummingbird
who flies backward as fast as forward,

I would not go back to spring, forward
again. Two shakes of a puppy dog’s tail
and it’ll be fall, rain singing and humming
in the gutters all night. No drop of summer
to waste with my head under my wing:
sleep can wait until this season is buried.

And under the tangled canes, the berries
stayed hard and evil green. Terrible forage,
fit food only for fools and wingnuts.
Unripe proceeding directly to stale—
spring leapfrogging to fall over summer—
clocks running backward with a hum

as menacing as snake-rattles. Inhuman
to watch, this fast season’s self-burial:
dear departed or never-come summer!
I should have waited for you, waited for
spring’s more measured pace, retailing
its delights under slow-spread wings.

I watched the rocking of an empty swing
as everyone left the park. I hummed
sad songs and told lost-hope tales,
searched withered shrubs for the last berries.
The sun’s banners had gone on before
me. Six stanzas outlasted summer.

Buried in Time’s tailbacks
I swing, miss, at curve-ball summer
for all the world like a mere human.

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Summer Comes on Wings

striped black and yellow, fluttering through brush
crooked, prowling the skies over water
bent blue-black and gleaming, shooting under a bridge
glass-clear, shielding round green bodies

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Sestinas up

I have three sestinas in the current issue of Festival Writer. One of them is a syllable sestina that appeared previously in Wag's Revue.

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Friday, July 04, 2014

Tell it to the Swift

Blackbird, blackbird, I’ll tell you the news
at Waterfront Park they’re playing the blues.
Bluebird, bluebird, oh hear my moan
what good is a song when you sing it alone?

Tell it to the swift
Tell it to the swallow
My heart’s full of music but my guts are hollow.
Tell it to the sparrow
Tell it to the swan
The band still be here when the sun is gone.

Meadowlark with your throat of gold
I had me a trumpet but it got sold.
Swan didn’t sing til the day she died
A bluesman lives when he plays the slide.

Tell to the starling
Tell it to the crow
There’s a secret every blues player knows
Tell it to the pigeon
Tell it to the gulls
Easy to be happy when your stomach is full.

When birds are starving they can scratch for crumbs
a hungry child got to suck his thumb.
When a bluebird sings it’s a happy sound
When a bluesman sings it’s a low-down dirty burning heartache that’ll put you in the ground.

Oh, tell it to the swift
Tell it to the swallow
My heart is broke and my gut is hollow.
Tell it to the sparrow
Tell it to the swan
The band’s still here but the sun’s long gone, long gone.


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Monday, June 23, 2014

Mackerel Sky

Morning mackerel sky
threatens change of weather. Clouds,
why speak so softly?

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

After the Confetti Storm

Every day the chi-chi news vendor
unlocked the padlock, rolled up the sheet-metal door,
open for business. The grey-haired man in the executive power suit
leaned on the front of the newsstand:
clink of coins, a magazine in a uni-colored wrapper
was handed past the pyramid of colorful paperbacks.

I asked the vendor once. He shook his head,
“Not for kids. Not for little kids,”
in a sing-song voice. That was before
the boys from down the street pried the back
off the shed one night. Next day
the street was full of bright confetti. The vendor wailed,
gesticulated, then hung his head in shame,
wouldn’t speak to the cops.

I picked up a scrap. One word—two words—
JUICY-JUICY.” You can fill in the pictures.

We never saw the vendor again.

--word salad

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dramatic reading of "Pickman's Supermodel"

A very talented lady from Britain has posted a dramatic reading of "Pickman's Supermodel" to YouTube.

Thank you, MorganScorpion!

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Transport

The tollbooth attendant at the Golden Gate
straightens her CalDot uniform tunic, checks her name badge. She keeps hoping
for Prince Charming in a Ford Cutlass
to drive up and sweep her away—
they’ll drive past Chinatown, past the street where the red lanterns hang
just like outside the house
where she was born. She turns on the radio.
Rachmaninov. “Variations on a Theme by Paganini,”
out of Russia by Italy, not the route
this woman’s mother walked on bleeding freezing feet.

She works by the highway and waits for a ride.
When she gets tired of waiting
she’ll get her own: a horse, a bow,
a lance, a sword. Down through the fan district
on scarlet hooves:
conquering.

--word salad

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Salt

Only a fool would cling to the sweet and curse the salt
embracing Aphrodite, forgetting her birth from salt.

Ocean water will burn your eyes and throat, they say,
but trust me, bitter regrets sting far worse than salt.

Give me storm and afterward rainbow, I accept
tears as a fitting price for the mirth of salt.

What do I care for any caravan of treasure?
Give me one piece of meat, bread and a purse of salt.

Deep-rooted trees reach up and breathe in the air.
God gives what I need: stone, water, earth and salt.

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Nine-Thirteen Landays

A falcon’s wing is the sweetest curve
except for the clean shape of a woman’s scimitar.

The wind from the heights smells of cedar,
the marketplace smells of broken hearts and rusted chain.

You draw the princess out from her fort.
She comes forth surrounded by hawks, hounds, and wild horses.

Young girls run through pomegranate groves
while the manticore gnaws his chains and lashes his tail.

My chariot has wheels of hot stone.
Touch that medlar and I will ride you down in dirt.

Break stones in the desert to find love:
go home fulfilled only by the scorpion’s burning kiss.

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Monday, May 05, 2014

Here/There

I am hereI was there
The bus is late. I wait
in the cloudy drizzle with no umbrellain the baking sunshine with the smell of hot dust
The bus is full
I have to standPeople hang out the doors
There’s a
man with a trash bag full of bottles. He stands in the rear doorwaywoman with a basket of chickens that the driver straps to the roof
We start up with
the electric purr of a hybrid enginea low-octane blue-smoke cough
roll away through
wet streets lined with giant horse chestnut treesdry savannas edged with the boughs of Madagascar flamboyants
green, green foliage and blossoms like
whitescarlet
candles blazing
Someone reads a newspaper, findingSomeone has a transistor radio, hearing
news of war. Everyone holds their breath. The
man with the bottleswoman with the chickens
says, “My son…”


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Saturday, May 03, 2014

If You See Something

Say Something, says the sign.
If you see something suspicious
speak up, alert the proper authorities
if you see something.

Like what I see
every morning in my mirror?
A brown-skinned woman in a headscarf,
a woman of no easily identifiable race? Well, I see her.

And I must tell you that she is suspicious—
deeply suspicious.

You see she does not really believe you when you say that her life will be better if she buys your products,
your skin-care products that promise to lighten away the warm tones she inherits from her parents
or your hair-care products for the hair she keeps covered to show pride in her religion.
She doubts you when you say this is a land of equal opportunity
because she does not think you will say that when she interviews for your job.
She is not sure the proper authorities have her best interests at heart
and she does not trust you when you say the innocent have nothing to fear.

If she is afraid, does that make her guilty?
If she is suspicious, do you blame her?
If you see her, what will you say?

*******

This poem combines elements of an earlier "If you See Something" and also "Nothing to Fear." I think it's matured nicely.

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Wall Stones

North wall of the Armory Building, NW 11th, Portland, Oregon

They stripped the white paint off this building,
bared brick and black basalt. Revealed a wonder:
this wall, each block a different size and shape
cut and placed by master masons. This crazy-quilt wall
could stand forever.

That a life assembled out of random-seeming scraps
could piece together so. That order, strength
could so arise from chaos.
That we could stand upright with not a square corner among us—
could it be so?
Could it be so?

What hand would lay the courses, shape the blocks, spread the mortar
to what world-shaping purpose? Old stones don’t answer
but they listen to your questions patiently.

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Biblioholics Anonymous: update for 2014

Hi, I’m Tiel, and… I’m a biblioholic.

I was raised by biblioholics. Both my parents were avid readers, and they created an enabling environment.

There were books all over the house when I was growing up, so I could get a fix any time I wanted. In fact, my own brother turned me on to books by teaching me to read, at the age of four.

My habit is out of control, I admit that my habit is out of control. I recognize that my habit is out of control, because:

I have spent money on books that should have been saved for food and rent
I read myself to sleep several times a week
I sometimes read as a way of avoiding dealing with social or personal problems
I often read when I’m alone, and
I almost always read until the book is finished.

When we ran out of room for bookcases in our house, I thought I’d gone as low as I could go.

But now there’s Kindle.

And so I’m giving myself into the hands of a higher power, because I recognize that my will power alone is not sufficient. I believe this higher power has a plan for me, and that the plan is:

READ MORE BOOKS

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