by Jack Spicer
What are you thinking about?
I am thinking of an early summer.
I am thinking of wet hills in the rain
Pouring water. Shedding it
Down empty acres of oak and manzanita
Down to the old green brush tangled in the sun,
Greasewood, sage, and spring mustard.
Or the hot wind coming down from Santa Ana
Driving the hills crazy,
A fast wind with a bit of dust in it
Bruising everything and making the seed sweet.
Or down in the city where the peach trees
Are awkward as young horses,
And there are kites caught on the wires
Up above the street lamps,
And the storm drains are all choked with dead branches.
What are you thinking?
I think that I would like to write a poem that is slow as a summer
As slow getting started
As 4th of July somewhere around the middle of the second stanza
After a lot of unusual rain
California seems long in the summer.
I would like to write a poem as long as California
And as slow as a summer.
Do you get me, Doctor? It would have to be as slow
As the very tip of summer.
As slow as the summer seems
On a hot day drinking beer outside Riverside
Or standing in the middle of a white-hot road
Between Bakersfield and Hell
Waiting for Santa Claus.
What are you thinking now?
I’m thinking that she is very much like California.
When she is still her dress is like a roadmap. Highways
Traveling up and down her skin
Long empty highways
With the moon chasing jackrabbits across them
On hot summer nights.
I am thinking that her body could be California
And I a rich Eastern tourist
Lost somewhere between Hell and Texas
Looking at a map of a long, wet, dancing California
That I have never seen.
Send me some penny picture-postcards, lady,
One of each breast photographed looking
Like curious national monuments,
One of your body sweeping like a three-lane highway
Twenty-seven miles from a night’s lodging
In the world’s oldest hotel.
What are you thinking?
I am thinking of how many times this poem
Will be repeated. How many summers
Will torture California
Until the damned maps burn
Until the mad cartographer
Falls to the ground and possesses
The sweet thick earth from which he has been hiding.
What are you thinking now?
I am thinking that a poem could go on forever.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
by Jack Spicer
Friday, May 22, 2009
by Gary Gildner
8,000 feet above the level sea,
my two-year-old daughter enters the steamy shallows, and sings
I'm naked! I'm naked! And clings to herself
as if the pink body under her slender arms might slip away.
I do not want her to slip away, not ever,
but I know one day she will. I know
one day she will put on her snow boots
and take up the trail in earnest—and I will call out
I am happy for her, very happy, but sad too,
and hope I will see her again. From the pool's moony wash
she brings me her cupped hands. Rock tea, Papa, you like some?
I cup her hands in my own, and drink. It is delicious, I say,
more delicious than air itself, than life, may I have another?
And perhaps you will have one too? Perhaps, thank you,
In this way, gently over rock tea,
we celebrate how far we have traveled together
by B. H. Fairchild
Flashlight in hand, I stand just inside the door
in my starched white shirt, red jacket nailed shut
by six gold buttons, and a plastic black bowtie,
a sort of smaller movie screen reflecting back
the larger one. Is that really you? says Mrs. Pierce,
my Latin teacher, as I lead her to her seat
between the Neiderlands, our neighbors, and Mickey Breen,
who owns the liquor store. Walking back, I see
their faces bright and childlike in the mirrored glare
of a tragic winter New York sky. I know them all,
these small-town worried faces, these natives of the known,
the real, a highway and brown fields, and New York
is a foreign land—the waterfront, unions, priests,
the tugboat's moan—exotic as Siam or Casablanca.
I have seen this movie seven times, memorized the lines:
Edie, raised by nuns, pleading—praying, really—
Isn't everyone a part of everybody else?
and Terry, angry, stunned with guilt, Quit worrying
about the truth. Worry about yourself, while I,
in this one-movie Kansas town where everyone
is a part of everybody else, am waiting darkly
for a self to worry over, a name, a place,
New York, on 52nd Street between the Five Spot
and Jimmy Ryan's where bebop and blue neon lights
would fill my room and I would wear a porkpie hat
and play tenor saxophone like Lester Young, but now,
however, I am lost, and Edie, too, and Charlie,
Father Barry, Pop, even Terry because he worried
more about the truth than he did about himself,
and I scan the little mounds of bodies now lost even
to themselves as the movie rushes to its end,
car lights winging down an alley, quick shadows
fluttering across this East River of familiar faces
like storm clouds cluttering a wheat field or geese
in autumn plowing through the sun, that honking,
that moan of a boat in fog. I walk outside
to cop a smoke, I could have been a contender,
I could have been somebody instead of who I am,
and look across the street at the Army-Navy store
where we would try on gas masks, and Elmer Fox
would let us hold the Purple Hearts, but it's over now,
and they are leaving, Goodnight, Mr. Neiderland,
Goodnight, Mrs. Neiderland, Goodnight, Mick, Goodnight,
Mrs. Pierce, as she, a woman who has lived alone
for forty years and for two of those has suffered through
my botched translations from the Latin tongue, smiles,
Nosce te ipsum, and I have no idea what she means.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Spruce Street, Berkeley
it is right that flowers
bloom purple and feel like cats,
that people are leaves drifting
downhill in morning fog.
Everyone came outside to see
the moon setting like a perfect
orange mouth tipped up to heaven.
Now the cars sleep against curbs.
If I write a letter,
how will I make it long enough?
There is a place to stand
where you can see so many lights
you forget you are one of them.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
by Jim Harrison
Because of the late, cold wet spring the fruit of greenness is sud-
denly upon us so that in Montana you can throw yourself down just
about anywhere on a green grassy bed, snooze on the riverbank and
wake to a yellow-rumped warbler flittering close to your head then
sipping a little standing water from a moose track. Of course pitch-
ing yourself downward you first look for hidden rocks. Nothing in
nature is exactly suited to us. Meanwhile everywhere cows are nap-
ping from overeating, and their frolicsome calves don't remember
anything except this bounty. And tonight the calves will stare at the
full moon glistening off the mountain snow, both snow and moon
white as their mother's milk. This year the moisture has made the
peonies outside my studio so heavy with their beauty that they
droop to the ground and I think of my early love, Emily Brontë. The
cruelty of our different ages kept us apart. I tie and prop up the peo-
nies to prolong their lives, just as I would have nursed Emily so she
could see another spring
Monday, May 11, 2009
The Oldest Living Thing in L.A.
by Larry Levis
Trying to cross the street. It was late, the street
Was brightly lit, the opossum would take
A few steps forward, then back away from the breath
Of moving traffic. People coming out of the bars
Would approach, as if to help it somehow.
It would lift its black lips & show them
The reddened gums, the long rows of incisors,
Teeth that went all the way back beyond
The flames of Troy & Carthage, beyond sheep
Grazing rock-strewn hills, fragments of ruins
In the grass at San Vitale. It would back away
Delicately & smoothly, stepping carefully
As it always had. It could mangle someone's hand
In twenty seconds. Mangle it for good. It could
Sever it completely from the wrist in forty.
There was nothing to be done for it. Someone
Or other probably called the LAPD, who then
Called Animal Control, who woke a driver, who
Then dressed in mailed gloves, the kind of thing
Small knights once wore into battle, who gathered
Together his pole with a noose on the end,
A light steel net to snare it with, someone who hoped
The thing would have vanished by the time he got there.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
To My Mother
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.
So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,
prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,
and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it
already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,
where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signaling you through the flames]
I am signaling you through the flames.
The North Pole is not where it used to be.
Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.
Nemesis is knocking at the door.
What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?
The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.
If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.
You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words....
Friday, May 8, 2009
What Have I Learned
by Gary Snyder
the proper use for several tools?
between hard pleasant tasks
To sit silent, drink wine,
and think my own kind
of dry crusty thoughts.
—the first Calochortus flowers
and in all the land,
I point them out:
the yellow petals, the golden hairs,
Seeing in silence:
never the same twice,
but when you get it right,
you pass it on.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
On a Perfect Day
by Jane Gentry
... I eat an artichoke in front
of the Charles Street Laundromat
and watch the clouds bloom
into white flowers out of
the building across the way.
The bright air moves on my face
like the touch of someone who loves me.
Far overhead a dart-shaped plane softens
through membranes of vacancy. A ship,
riding the bright glissade of the Hudson, slips
past the end of the street. Colette's vagabond
says the sun belongs to the lizard
that warms in its light. I own these moments
when my skin like a drumhead stretches on the frame
of my bones, then swells, a bellows filled
with sacred breath seared by this flame,
Monday, May 4, 2009
by John Updike
The celebrated windows flamed with light
directly pouring north across the Seine;
we rustled into place. Then violins
vaunting Vivaldi's strident strength, then Brahms,
seemed to suck with their passionate sweetness,
bit by bit, the vigor from the red,
the blazing blue, so that the listening eye
saw suddenly the thick black lines, in shapes
of shield and cross and strut and brace, that held
the holy glowing fantasy together.
The music surged; the glow became a milk,
a whisper to the eye, a glimmer ebbed
until our beating hearts, our violins
were cased in thin but solid sheets of lead.
I am followed, and from my first step out the door
to the careful slipping of the loop of twine over the hook's tang
made to understand – as he darts within inches of my eyes –
that this hummingbird, while he may not despise me,
finds my human dawdling not simply unacceptable but offensive,
a lumbering no less appalling than the moonscape of my face
and its billion plumbable pores. Even the vast tidal wash
of my infernal, slow-witted breathing disgusts him. Therefore he loops
so swiftly around me I can hardly blink, and when I tell him he is
beautiful, he hears only the two ton roar of a woolly mammoth
as it thrashes in a bog, at the edges of which, this time of year,
the red, sweet flowers he loves most of all still thrive.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
In Blackwater Woods
by Mary Oliver
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
by Lucille Clifton
who would believe them winged
who would believe they could be
beautiful who would believe
they could fall so in love with mortals
that they would attach themselves
as scars attach and ride the skin
sometimes we hear them in our dreams
rattling their skulls clicking
their bony fingers
they have heard me beseeching
as i whispered into my own
cupped hands enough not me again
but who can distinguish
one human voice
amid such choruses
Friday, May 1, 2009
For more images from the contest, click here.