Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Into the Hybrid at Luther Burbank's Garden

I'm working at Napa Valley Writers' Conference this week, which means in between helping to run this incredible conference I get to sit down and hear poets like Brenda Hillman, Kazim Ali, Camille Dungy and Brian Teare blow my mind with craft talks about various topics.  This draft of a poem happened while listening to Brenda Hillman discuss the various types of courage it takes to engage in the poetic space.  It's a meditation on Luther Burbank's Garden in Santa Rosa and the way we hold history to a specific line, even though it is all subjective. 

Into the Hybrid at Luther Burbank's Garden

Mounds of earth like open graves
grammared by stones, guarded by toothy daisies.

The medicinal garden, the sensory garden
the garden of starts and failures contained.

To question history is to watch the chaos of its particles
glisten into discernible patterns in the air.

We loosen embedded stones with our toes
amongst tree that grow into each other.

We ask--where is he buried?
Light caught in the fingers of lost cedar.

We ask--where are the unattested species recorded?Indecipherable writing in notebooks
sketches of leaves, a seed big as a child's fist.

Please do not record insidePlease do not disturb  outside: the war of air.

What's pushing up--
ache of earth against this litany of breeding air:
mind to mouth to mind to mouth.

This breeding between what was, what will be,
and what will be left to believe.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Prayers for Arborglyphs

For this week's prompt we were supposed to write a prayer for something.  I've been grading creative nonfiction essays all day and one image has been revisiting me -- the image of an arboglyph: an old aspen tree that's been carved into over and over for decades we see each time our family hikes from the valley to the high camp at Squaw Valley.  My students have been writing incredible essays and all day I've had to hold myself back from writing. So the tree stuck in my mind.  It stuck there as I drove the boys to the dentist, or as I drove by myself in the car listening to a man on the radio talk about his journey raising his autistic son.  And when I finally sat down I knew why that was speaking to me and my family about: it was the long journey we've just traveled.  The metaphorical wilderness we've found our way out of.  Here is my draft. 

Prayer for Arboglyphs

“the Basque sheepherder humanizes an otherwise unrelentingly pristine natural environment. Thus, whether wandering through an aspen grove or contemplating a stone monument he enjoys a certain illusion of not being alone. Rather, despite his solitude a man can commune with the ghosts of past generations and enjoy some small sense of purpose as he leaves his own mark as a legacy for future herders.”
— William A. Douglass, Basque Sheepherders of the American West (63)
The trail rises from the valley—vein to
sky—sometimes granite bedded, sometimes hushed
 by pine needles.  When we walk it, we walk
for hours. We try to remember each
turn, each nook.  Try to find the unmarked way. 
Blue skies bury us in expectations.

The creek that threads us up waxes and wanes
between full bellied summer and the ice
 of holding its breath.  There are days when we
walk through the pygmy pines, wind whispering
like the waves of a lost sea.  We giggle
like dryads.  Other days the jagged maw
of granite islands swallow us whole
until we can no longer find each other, our way.
Echoes that bend our voices apart.

We aren’t the first to want to annotate
this passage of wilderness no matter how
steep it has become.  Half way up, black scar
of Arboglyph screams from the curved belly
of an aspen tree that we aren’t first, or alone.
God bless the tree that remembers the wound written into the wound.

So that when we return to the level
valley floor we hold that carved wilderness
in us—static whisper of aspen leaves,
the course we found, the hope like a hawks scream
that pierced us until we carried on.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Dear Sebastopol -

I've been working on finishing a new manuscript called, "There's a Ghost in This Machine of Air" which focuses on the history of Sebastopol.  For our assignment this week, we were asked to revise a poem and change the "you" who is being addressed.  I did revise this poem, but when I tried to shift the "you" away from Sebastopol, I lost the heart of what I was trying to do.  So, I switched it back.  (The mural pictured here is the actual WPA era mural that is still in our post office and that I refer to in the poem.) Here is my revised poem.

Dear Sebastopol –

Hard  not to get dizzy, here, under tides of scent—how they grade and terrace the air:

salt thick tang of wet earth fat with limestone against sweet rot of wind falls.

Pine sap town built on stolen ground.  Wagon rutted streets.  Hills once lush

with redwood and oak, cleared to the root for embroidery of orchards.

Century-wide berths of scrub oaks smoldering in the Laguna.

A train that carried its screaming weight down main street.

But the WPA mural on the post office wall still frames:

the hard won promise of rows of apple trees flanked by white chicken coops.

Once your accepted story swallowed me under its bell glass sky.

Now, I wake slowly. Learn to waver in the air above what history we've learned

sense what’s pushing up underneath.

Monday, June 23, 2014

School of the Dead

For this week's prompt, we were to write a faux translation.  I stated with Vallejo and somehow ended with Helene Cixous Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. This is one of those haunting books, we have the privilege to read just a few times in our lives.  I first read Cixous when I was on the precipice of becoming a writer.  Or of listening to myself enough to realize I wasn't going to be anything but a writer.  Reading her again today, is both haunting and luxurious.  Here is my attempt at faux translating Cixous:

School of the Dead

A passage way between two jagged shores 
Dark water is dark because it holds more
There are two ways to clamber 
downward:  plunge deep in
to earth or forgive your air to the sea.  
They say truth is down below with the dead 
– weighed down by what we've let ourselves forget.
We are a storm of living particles –
fireflies that aim to light dead static
of air.  So when the ash falls it is
deafening. To be human, you must first
lose your world.
  The way the sea will wash 

you out of stance and breath. The unknown waits. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lunch at the Luther Burbank Garden, Santa Rosa

For this week's prompt we were to write a poem about our surroundings at lunch.  I spent my lunch hour on a tour at Luther Burbank's home in Santa Rosa.  Here's the draft I pieced together.

Lunch at the Luther Burbank Garden, Santa Rosa

History seems bricked in—but the soil
remains rich between the cracks, where the big-
toothed grins of Shasta daisies can spring forth.
If something doesn't suit you than graft it
to something else.
Sometimes, a potato
seedpod small as a fingernail can sprout
ten futures thick with eyes; the largest sold
for passage on a train to another
life where the fields pulsed. Where onion skin-thin
paper journals were used to trace the shape
of each creations potential, weighing
risk against what could bloom against all odds.
When you leave, you must empty your pockets.
Let the wind unwind the lost paths to home.

Monday, June 09, 2014

A longish poem on the Laguna de Santa Rosa

Over the past few weeks, I've been working on a long poem about the Laguna de Santa Rosa, a natural area near the town of Sebastopol where I live and grew up.  It's a complicated place for those of us who grew up here, because though it was once a natural treasure a vast wetland and series of lakes that was filled with wildlife, during the 1970s it was a raw sewage treatment center.  Now, thankfully, the Laguna is being restored (thanks to the hard work of the Laguna Foundation).  These sections are the first few sonnets in a series of sonnets I'm writing about the Laguna.

Laguna de Santa Rosa

We walk the cracked, Chamomile-bedded paths
stitching times passage:  willing a wide field
transform back into its original form.
Song birds chatter.  Bees fatten. A red-snake
T-bones the trail like a godamned saint.
What water flows is deep; hard to see through.
And what’s beyond that, anyway?  A blocked
waterway surrounded by the roar of
small-town little league games.  To believe in
wilderness is to suspend your belief.
Let it float on whatever pontoons were
thrown down on this dark matter.  Let the thick
trunked oaks drag their knuckles in the water.
And try to spell a path to the past.

History 1

The largest of the lakes were made into
resorts. There are photographs of young
women with parasols, sitting erect
in boats afloat on the large lakes; wooden
docks where bodies hang and thread arms against
a weightless dark.  All was for the taking.
Until 1895 there was great
bounty and no limits. Any man could
pull a hundred fish from the Laguna’s
chain of lakes.  San Francisco was hungry
for fresh game.  A bushel of mallard ducks
brought a gold nugget. For those who stayed to
farm, lakes on their land became land reclaimed:
drained for the rich soil that waited underneath.

The Body
 Left arm reaching into Copeland, Washoe
and Blucher Creeks. 
Left arm reaching into
Santa Rosa, Hinebaugh and Five Creeks.
A mouth that breathes into Mark West Springs Creek.
A backbone made of the
and Sonoma Mountains. A 14-mile,
sinuous body that holds together
an ecosystem.  Spread out between four
cites where the setiment left over
from history is still being removed.

History Lesson 2

The land was first the lands. Then, the Pomo,
the Miwok and the Wappo lived on it.
Then, triblets of the Konohomtara,
the Kataictemi and the Biakomtara.
For 10,000 years, the Laguna was
unchanged.  Then, the first Mexican land grant
occurred in 1853.  The time
when we took ownership of the land.  Then,
the oak forests, the cool dappled shadows
that seemed to breathe light into dark were gone.
Land cleared. Lakes drained. Trees burned for charcoal.

History Lesson 3
We awoke to the shout of wake up
It had rained continuously for three
days.  The newscaster’s thick mustache barely
rose as he warned: floodplane, 100-year
flood, prepare for the worst at high tide.
When we walked to the window we could see
the backyard had been transformed.  The chicken
coop roof an island in a fast flowing
river.  Then, the adult hand on shoulder
leading us across a wet, muddy floor
toward the gaping frown of the front door where
water licked hungrily at the front step.
Just over the threshold a small silver
boat stuttered on the frothing brown water. 

Monday, May 05, 2014

At the Edge of the Uncanny Valley

Today,  I'm just happy to be back writing.  I'm a little off prompt, but I don't care.  Just happy to be writing again.  The title for this is completely unrelated, but the idea of it struck me. Here is my draft:
At the Edge of the Uncanny Valley

Elements that rise to meet the river’s edge:
knot of tule marsh, sponge of ground

black and red winged shock of blackbird taking flight
knotted oaks with arms so long they scrape the ground

and hills soaked in an ocean of grass whose sway
who sway you say will save me.

Sea birds whose screams sear through us
like plates scraped against each other.  

Violence  near enough that it might rise up
molten and unexpected.  Still the cars park

Hands clasp plastic baggies full of stale bread
Sea birds circling, greedy, fat with the knowledge

there will always come more—That somehow
wherever we stand, we stand by the sea
and all that we know to do is to feed it.