Sunday, October 10, 2021

Drought Stares Back

Drought is a broken clay cup,
unglazed orange clay, with all the names of hunger written around the rim.

Drought is a rusted-out old bucket
that smells of rotten metal and death.

Drought is the handmaid of Famine and the herald of Fire.

Drought is a mob of windup metal woodpeckers
that hammer the trees and bleed the weaker ones to death.

Drought is a mouthful of brown stumps
chewing through a tangle of bleached grass and dead ivy.

Someone left a cracked porcelain sink on the sidewalk.
Drought is the holes that stare from the basin.

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Gospel According to Crow

Crow is shimmer-black, shade-black, shoeshine-black, oil-slick poison black

Crow is piano-black, black piano keys-black, black like the hands of Thelonious or Miles’ lips; purple-black, bruise-black, blues-black, jazz-black

Crow is coffee-black, Jim Crow-black, coal-fired locomotive-black, burning tire smoke-black, new moon-black, 4 AM-black

Crow is boot-black, silk top hat-black, black goat drumhead-black; Crow is mojo bone cat-black, Congo-black

Crow is black as the midnight dew.

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Wishing on the Equinox

Equinox. Clear sky. And a full moon setting
over the West Hills against a ribbon of orange.
Dew drenches the sidewalks.

I wish for eyes as clear as the sky
I wish for a heart as full as the moon
I wish to be as generous as dew,
as perfectly balanced as the equinox.

As the smoke gives way to rain
As the year descends toward darkness
I put my trust in the bones of the earth.

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

A Short Glossary of Common Poetic Forms

Villanelle: a poem marches forward between narrow walls
Pantoum: one step forward, one step back, closed loop, analemma
Ghazal: pinwheel of lines that radiate from the radif
Sonnet: slightly self-satisfied in your studied asymmetry
Terzanelle: two steps forward, one step back, end where you start
Haiku: blink and it’s over
Rondeau: two half-poems tied together with a tricky half-hitch
Triolet: compact as a trifold umbrella
Sestina: no diamond, but cubic zirconia, this six-faced gem

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Slowly, the Rain Comes

September. How long this drought has been.
Now the sky is greyer every morning,
overcast lingers closer to noon.
On the dead grass, dew is falling
but still we have not seen rain.

I’ve never seen this city look less green,
half the trees scorched and already turning.
No red in the maples, they just went brown,
the heat wave killed my last rhododendron.
Never thought I’d be here praying for rain.

Feel it out there beyond the Coast Range,
feel it gathering on the Pacific Ocean?
Feel the clouds rise on the jet stream
hover beyond the invisible horizon:
giant hulls freighted with a cargo of rain.

We’ve come to this; had to unlearn
the favorite curse of every Oregonian
struggling through wet winter’s pain.
God, forgive me for ever complaining
bless us, bless us, kiss us with rain.

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Twin Shadows

Twin shadows reach for twenty years of time:
twin shadows that a world watched collapse.
Twin shadows that remind us of a crime.

We saw the bodies fall, the fires climb.
We saw the skyline change, saw in the gap
twin shadows reaching forward into time.

We searched the sky for answers, for a line
of vapor traced against the clouds. We gasped
at shadows that reminded us of crime.

The cooling rubble offered up no signs
of life. We stumbled in the aftermath.
Twin shadows reached across the changing time.

We were defiant. Terrified. Resigned.
We drew new boundaries across our maps.
Who were the shadows we blamed for the crime?

Twin shadows shaped a generation’s minds
to war and retribution. How we grasped
at shadows reaching forward into time
at shadows that reminded us of crime.

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Blues for Wildfire Season

Woke up this morning with sun on the curtain
Went to the corner to get me a Coke
My heart is so heavy, my head is uncertain
Down in the valley, the sky’s full of smoke.

I turn to the west for a breath of marine air
I turn to the south with a prayer for rain
I turn to the north in the hope of some clean air
I beg that the east wind will spare us from pain.

Drought is a killer, a strangler, a choker
The leaves on the trees are the color of rust
The atmosphere smells like the breath of a smoker
The roses have withered and crumbled to dust.

Oh, spare us from fire, from smoke and disaster
Spare us the brass-knuckled fist of the sun
Bring back the rain and eternal cloud-cover
Spare us from all of the wrong we have done.

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Blues for Courage

Oh, give me blues for courage
Gospel for my soul
But when it comes to lovin’ life, just give me rock and roll!

Give me a rose for sweetness
For meat, give a butcher’s blade
But when the sun sets fire to the sky, then give me a minute’s shade.

Give me some bees for honey
A desert for some sand
But when you see me down in the ditch, won’t you give me a helping hand?

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

RIP, Charlie Watts

Thank you for the music. Thank you for the courage.

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Child of the Sun

In my youth I feared her, fought her.
This was in savanna country. Her hand lay heavy on the earth.
We sweltered at our tasks, sought shade to lie down,
suffered drought, sucked at dry pipes,
walked miles to wells and shrunken rivers.
Failed monsoons meant famine. We prayed:
whole villages knelt and prayed for rain.
When it came, we danced and sang.
Free a while from Mother Sun’s glare, we played in the wet
while our mothers hung sopping laundry in the house.

Portland shocked me. Downtown, fountains everywhere—
Skidmore, Keller, Salmon Street—
Benson bubblers on every block. Extravagance!
I thought of my schoolmates carrying buckets
on their heads. I hated the folk with water-fat flesh
who took this all for granted.
                                              Until winter came.
It rained forever. Mother Sun lies low on the horizon here.
I learned what seasonal affective disorder meant.
I learned water could be held cheap and sunlight dear.
I searched for any patch of sun to bask in Mother’s love.

Forty years have passed. She’s grown savage.
Last year she set half the world on fire and choked
the rest in smoke. This spring she laid a hard hand
on my city: hundreds died. Fires sprang up
with every breath. Some still burn.
She cooked mussels in their shells. She mothers
monster storms to drown what she can’t burn.
With a blow of her shining fist she broke the gates
that hold the North Wind back. Her feet of flame
leave steaming holes in every sheet of ice.

Old habits now come back to me. I cross the street
to walk under trees. Scan every parking lot for a slice of shade.
I’ve remembered how to fear her.
I have to learn to fight her.

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Friday, August 06, 2021

Rain and roses


First measurable rain we've had in months and months.

Not a lot. Enough to bring out the petrichor and dust off the roses.

Enough to put me in the mood for Dead South and slow blues.

What happened to the woman I used to be? Who'd cross the street to find a patch of sun to walk through; who spent every winter dreaming of hot sand in the sun? She's gone, killed by the heat dome, lost in images of continent-sized fires. Who I am now is the girl who grew up where villages prayed for rain and we fought over the shady spots under the big mango tree in the schoolyard. Who I am now is the teenager who was shocked by the extravagant waste of water in the downtown fountains.

Who I am now is all of us in the burning world.
Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Hurricane Harvey's Brag

I’m Hurricane Harvey. I’m the meanest motherfucker ever hit the Texas coast. I’m so bad they took my name off the list, just like the Boston Celtics hung up six when Bill Russell made the Hall of Fame. That’s how bad I am.

My mother was La NiƱa and my father was the Indian Ocean Dipole. I was born in the Antilles and blew up out of Campeche. I’ve been sub-tropical, super-tropical, extra-tropical. Every forty hours I burned down my eyewall and rebuilt it because I’m Hurricane Harvey and I pick supercells out of my teeth.

All you little people better run to high ground when you see me come to town. I stood up over Houston and pissed down for three straight days. By the second day, they had to add a new color to the map: Harvey purple. By the third day, they had to add another new color to the map: Harvey pink.

Yeah, that’s me, Hurricane Harvey, polychrome pisser, double-fisted drownpour! I’m so bad they put my name on the map, just like the conquistadors when you ruin a thing and then claim it’s yours. That’s how bad I am.

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

The Fujiwhara Effect

"When two hurricanes spinning in the same direction pass close enough to each other, they begin an intense dance around their common center. If one hurricane is a lot stronger than the other, the smaller one will orbit it and eventually come crashing into its vortex to be absorbed." - National Weather Service

I swirl a skirt of clouds. You bow.
I’m Anne of Austria, wearing lightning like a strand
of diamond studs. You’re Louis, the jealous king.
You circle behind me to count the gems
but I keep my face to you. Round and round we go
our ballroom, the whole Pacific Ocean.

Squall lines follow us, the whole sky entrained
into a great whirlpool, a spiral, a galaxy.
The Sun King’s court, thronged with courtiers
like lesser stars. Your followers and mine
stare and whisper while we revolve at arm’s length
in decaying orbit; closer and closer until we touch.

Only one will survive that meeting.

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Thoughts on Greek letters

Health authorities have officially discontinued the practice of referring to new diseases or variants of diseases by place of origin. Instead, they will now use Greek letters. This is a good thing.

NOAA has said they will no longer use Greek letters to name hurricanes. If they get to the end of the alphabet, as happened last year, they will start over again from A. This is also a good thing.

Why?

Personification is a powerful human habit, and like most habits, it has upsides and downsides. The downside of the place-of-origin convention for diseases is that the disease becomes assocaited with its place of origin and the people who live there and were its first victims. It's a short step from there to blaming. The hateful slurs about the "China virus" and "kung flu" are still with us, and likely won't go away any time soon.

On the other hand, I saw very clearly that last year's late-season hurricanes with Greek-letter names simply weren't taken as seriously. Some of that was certainly disaster fatigue, as the Year Whose Name is Written on the Walls of Hell ground on and on through plague, wildfire, smoke, and floods. But I also strongly suspect that human-type names make the threat from a named storm seem just that little bit more real.

Anything that makes people take evacutaion warnings and threats more seriously...

Besides, if a Greek-letter-named storm happened to reach the threshold where a storm's name is usually retired - what then? Anyway, I am thinking about this as I'm about to post a couple of hurricane poems.

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Reviewing poetry books

So apparently, it's a lot easier to get poetry book reviews published than it is to get poems or poetry collections published.

This is based on an extensive and scientific sample: to wit, three such reviews that I've written and submitted. All three were accepted and published - and quite quickly. Beginner's luck? I write really killer reviews? Or more likely, there just aren't as many people willing to write book reviews as there are trying to get poetry published?

My sober guess is, it's the last mentioned. So if you like poetry (and if you're reading this blog, that's a pretty good assumption), think about taking up reviewing. Generally the publishers will send you free copies of books to read and review.

Anyway - it's fun, it only has to take as much time as I let it, and it supports the poetry community. So. Here are links to two of the reviews, and also to the books reviewed, both courtesy of Terrapin Books.

Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound, by Yvonne Zipter
review at The Compulsive Reader

The Curator's Notes, by Robin Rosen Chang
review at Mom Egg Review

The third review is one I wrote several years ago, for Mary Cresswell's book Fish Stories, published in an online journal called Zoetic Press. Zoetic Press has moved to a different website and I can't find the review there. I have a query in to them, and will update either with a link, or with the text of the original review.

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Resilience II: Food Crops

For years, there has been concern expressed (in select quarters) about the lack of diversity in our food crops. This may not have been obvious to consumers in any one place, because improvements in transportation and refrigeration meant that eacn person had access to a wider variety of food crops than they would have had any time before - say - the Second World War. But globally, the number of food species and food families has been declinig steadily about as long as we have any good idea of what people ate.

This leads to brittleness in food supply. We've seen some examples: the potato blight in Ireland destroyed the crop, nationwide, because effectively all the potatoes in the country were genetically identical, and so the first blight that happened to be virulent against that genotype wreaked havoc. (It's important to note that the famine that followed the blight was at least partly created by the policies of the occupying government.) The Gros Michel used to be the market-dominant banana variety. It was almost compeltely wiped out by a plant virus and supplanted by the familiar Cavendish. I am not engaging in any argument about which is a "better" banana: the point is that the Cavendish will inevitably be decimated by a virus/fungs/whatever, because it too is a single genotype propagated vegetatively around the world. And in the lag time between the outbreak of the Cavendish-killer and the time that plantations of a new variety or varieties come into production, there will be a world-wide banana shortage. Doea anyone care if Jamba Juice runs out of smoothies? Maybe not - but consider the labor dislocations in banana-growing countries, leading to spreading poverty, political destabilization, and the mvoement of refugees. Also perhaps rapid conversion of intact or second-growth rainforest to new plantations, with the accompaying loss of ecological diversity and impact on climate change.

Myabe we've learned. Lately different varieties of bananas have been appearing in our supermarkets. Our best guess is that marketers are trying our different varieties to see which will be the most popular when - not if - the Cavendish is no longer viable. My hope is that banana marketing moves toward supporting a range of varieties as a normal business model: it makes sense, from their point of view, to spread the risk.

It's a peculiarity of banans taht they can only be propagated vegetatively. Most crops can be grown from seed, but that doesn't make them immune to the fate of the Gros Michel. Many crops now - for example, most of the maize grown in the US - are sterile-hybrid, meaning that the plants on farms are crosses between two varieties that can produce a vigorous offspring, but the offspring is itself sterile - think of it as the plane equivalent of a mule. This means farmers can't save some of their crop and use it to plant next year's fields, because the seeds are sterile. That not only means they have to go back to the store with cash every year, it means that crops can't evolve to fit the soil or weather conditions of an area, and the genetic diversity of these sterile hybrid crops is and remains extremely low.

There are some encouraging signs. Heirloom varieties of many crops have become popular both with home gardeners and with farms that cater to the high-end, slow-food restaurant trade. These are mostly open-pollinated, turning every farm into a small evolution lab. Locally, last year we ate a lot of apricots, but they all seemed to be of the same variety. This year, we've noticed at least four different varieties, all grown here in the Pacific Northwest.


On a slightly different note, have you seen how lately there's coconut in everything? I predicted at least 10 years ago that this would happen. Coconut is one of the few crops whose range is expanding: it thrives in hot weather and poor soils, and doesn't need a lot of water. We're also seeing other tropical crops, like mangoes and pineapples, appearing more often and in more different varieties. I'm expecting the next step to be grain crops that tolerate hot, dry conditions, like sorghum, millet, and perhaps teff. Modern maize requires huge amounts of water and fertilizer, but we may see a resurgence of older varieties native to the desert southwest (open-pollinated, yay!) that don't yield as high, but also don't fail if there's a heat wave. (Or as we call it now, a heat dome.)

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Longest Day of the Year, 2021 Blues

Pulled the blackout curtains to keep out the morning sun
Couldn’t get to sleep all night for the sound of the rain-dance drums
Well, I thought I heard some fireworks and I thought I heard a gun.

Lost my job to the COVID, next thing I knew I was broke
Lost my health insurance and the welfare got revoked
Looked up for God in Heaven but the sky was full of smoke.

Looking for a Juneteenth party, wanna get some cherry pie
Looking down at the sidewalk, hot enough for an egg to fry
Listening to the “Walking Blues,” keep walking until I die.

Books Available
The Day of My First Driving Lesson
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside