Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Laguna Continued - The 100 Year Flood, 1986

This week, we were to write about an uncertain memory.  I chose to write about the way we often remember natural disasters.  I was twelve in 1986 and the flood that swept the Russian River, almost completely submerging the town of Guerneville, and flooding many parts of Sonoma County (including the street where I lived).  My Uncle and Aunt and cousins lived and had a shop in downtown Guerneville.  So, for me, this natural disaster looms as one of the biggest and closest of my life.  But, this was a disaster that happened before news media was reactive and everywhere. So, those who weren't here then, have a hard time understanding the brevity of it.  For them, the history of Sonoma County (as Gaye LeBaron puts it in the quotation below) begins the day they arrived. Part of my Laguna poem sequence is based on helping foster that remembering.

The 100 Year Flood, 1986

“But people are like that about natural disasters.  Everyone believes that the history on any place began the day they arrived.”  --Gaye LeBaron

Memory is as uncertain as islands
that rise in a flood—you don’t know what lurks
underneath. A silver boat can split this
seam of water: even gone muddy, gone
untold for so long. Disasters rise and stay
like high water marks in the unconscious
and each day after is checked against it.
What do we have to fear?  The worst already
happened, couldn’t happen again.

But the river, like a muscular animal,
overtakes the banks, chews up asphalt, rises
more to fill stores and homes.  Until
the whole Russian River Valley is filled
with her muddy, pulsing body
regardless of what history you remember.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Laguna continued - The Nature of a Place

For this week's poem, we were supposed to try and write a New Yorker poem.  We listened to the Poetry Podcasts and the buttery, smooth voice of Paul Muldoon introducing and speaking with such great poets as Sharon Olds and Phillip Levine.  I tried, but, I didn't write much of a New Yorker poem. Instead, I went back to the Laguna series and wrote about egrets.  I was inspired by the stories I'd read about the inception of the Audubon Society and how their first work was to save the egrets in the early 1900s.  I hope you enjoy this draft. I think the Laguna series is close to being done.  Just two or three more poem-sections to complete the cycle (I think!).

The Nature of a Place

"The nature of the place—whether high or low, moist or dry, whether sloping north or south, or bearing tall trees or low shrubs—generally gives hint as to its inhabitants."  --John James Audubon

Today, on the Laguna, one can still
see the shock of a white, plumed body mark
the space between a raw, golden field, and
the open question of sky because
somehow, the Great Egret, the Snowy Egret
and the Cattle Egret all survived their beauty. 

By late the eighteen hundreds the Laguna was
the heart of the Bay Area plume trade.
During breeding season when egrets grew
aigrettes, a waterfall of long thin feathers
cascading off their backs, hunters would raid
the giant stick nests built high in the air
in the eaves of oaks and willows to get
$32 –double the price of gold--
for an ounce of feathers used on women’s
fashionable hats.  Spotting an egret
became more and more rare until a man
who had spent his life watching birds, nest, and
eat and rise to flight, who had sat all day,
knee deep in brackish mud, and drawn what he
saw so vividly that it came to life,
was honored with the Audubon society
which was formed to eradicate plume hunting.

By the 1920s the egrets had
begun to return. But, the nature of
the place – the lack of steelhead and salmon
that swim in the deep, unseen waters, the felled
oaks and cleared willows, the waters gone thick
with sediment – tell the story of its
inhabitants.  When you walk smooth paths
of the Laguna today and sight the
white arrow of an egret remember
the quiet, unforeseen hunt that continues
and still threatens his beauty today.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Laguna, Part 8 - The Impaired

Here is the latest installment on my Laguna poem: section 8.It is still very much a draft, but thought I would post it anyway to keep myself going.


14-mile wetland, this 254-square mile watershed that’s spread between four cities where history’s left over sediments are still being removed. By 1990, 92% of the Laguna’s riparian forest was gone.

Left arm reaching into Copeland, Washoe and Blucher Creeks. Right arm reaching into Santa Rosa, Hinebaugh and Five Creeks.A mouth that breathes into Mark West Springs Creek.A backbone made of the Mayacamas and Sonoma Mountains. 

In summer months, the Laguna wastes into a silver
ribbon of water threaded between hills.
In winter months she spills and swells back into what she once was: a series of lakes that lead to the sea. 

Considered a national treasure. Listed as impaired
under the federal Clean Water Act for sediment, nitrogen, temperature, phosphorus, mercury and dissolved oxygen.

Which system is miraculous?   The plentiful before or the rescue of what’s left after?  

When you walk the smooth, grated paths that now rib the Laguna, hear a thousand oak leaves rustling in the light wind. and remember the miraculous ghost of what was once there.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Laguna Part 3 - A Double Sonnet on The Llano de Santa Rosa

Here is another draft of a section from Laguna de Santa Rosa.  This one, a double-American sonnet focuses on the first land grant to Joaquin Carillo (son of Maria Carrillo and brother-in-law of General Vallejo) called Llano de Santa Rosa Rancho.  The map pictured here is from Calispehere - an amazing resource for historic photographs and documents.  This is a survey map of the Llano de Santa Rosa Rancho (which did run out near what is now Llano road). 

Llano de Santa Rosa Rancho, 1843

Joaquin Carrillo was granted three
leagues of forested delta or llano
thanks to his brother-in-law, General
Vallejo. Soon, acres of oak forests
that seemed to breathe light into dark were gone.
Land cleared. Lakes drained. Crops replaced sedge with corn,
wheat, and barley. Trees were burned for charcoal.
An adobe home was built near Analy township.
But even as the trees thinned the plain still
teemed with large game: great herds of elk forged lakes,
mountain lions paced their territories
and grizzly bears roamed at will.  One day when
Joaquin rode across the eastern edge
of his rancho, one such bear followed him.

His horse, wild with fear, stumbled into
one of the many sink holes that had opened
up from the changed land and it was in that
dark hole that the three tangled into a story.
From which a bear would emerge unharmed.
From which the man and his horse would follow
what dark commerce was executed to
obtain this outcome is unknowable.

When settlers arrived after the Gold Rush,
Carillo began to sell off pieces
of his land.  Farmlets of 100 or
so acres of hops or cattle.  Trading
post went up. Whatever was in the way –
water, or animal, decimated.

Laguna de Santa Rosa, Part 2 - Tending the Sedge

Well, I don't think I'll rest until this poem is done.  For those of you who are following this blog, this is the second section of my poem, Laguna de Santa Rosa (it directly follows my last post "Prelude").  I'll keep posting these small segments as I finish them. Then, I'll post the finished poem sequence once it is completed.

 Tending the Sedge

The land was first the lands. Then, the Pomo,
the Miwok and the Wappo lived on it.
The triblets of the Konohomtara,
the Kataictemi and the Biakomtara
settled on different sections of the wide
Laguna for over 10,000 years. 
Little changed except the roots and stalks of
the course sedge plants that grew half-submerged in
the water.  The Pomo basket weavers
cultivated the sedge fields, passed prayers
for straight stalks and supple roots from mouth to
ear. Prayed and sang, untangled and threaded.
The basket is in the roots, that’s where it begins.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Canvas - A Prelude - The beginning of the Laguna de Santa Rosa poem

I guess you could say I am obsessed with finishing this poem about the Laguna de Santa Rosa.  But, it is slow work.  This week we were to write a poem called "Canvas" in response to a stunning poem by francine j. harris called "Canvas".  Here is the re-written opening section of my poem, tentatively called "Canvas - A Prelude".

Canvas - A Prelude
Begin by  walking the cracked, chamomile- paths.  Let the path stretch across a wide stubbed field. 
Fill the air with the sounds of birds.  Fill the air with fat bees and the machine hum of insects.
Post appropriate markers that mark miles and decades but not the truth..

Try to contain the fissures of time in each quick step. When you walk under the lone oak that still, like the last visible star, constellates the field, smell smoke.  See the ghosts of the hundreds of other thick oak trunks that once crowded this space.  Hear their lost leaves rattling in the wind.

When you reach the man-made lake made to replace the natural lake, walk the perimeter.  The cattails that cage the floating bodies of seven white pelicans who have stopped here to rest on route back to the sea.

Look out across the drought dry field and imagine an chain of hundreds of lakes linking their way back to the sea.  Drain them for the good soil underneath. Fill them with soot.  Fill them again with feces and urine.  Cover what’s left of them in brambles. Get tangled in the sticky blood of berry juice.

And when you near the last of the water, the floating pontoon bridge, and the sounds of children playing baseball on the chalked diamond, let a red-snake T-bone the trail.

Let it open in you a wound that at it’s center is a mouth.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Laguna poem - Revised and Expanded

In honor of my friend Paula Koneazny, I'm continuing work on a long poem I am writing about The Laguna de Santa Rosa which she had greatly helped me on.  There is still much work to be done on the poem, but here is the draft of a new section I've written to add to it today:

Marine Mammals of the Northwestern Coast of North America, 1874

The whaling captain Charles Scammon left
the ragged, rocky cliffs of Maine's coast for
San Francisco in 1849.  He led many whaling expeditions
But what those large bodies lent instead of
flesh and oil was a path to a luminously blue,
Baja Lagoon where the whales stilled their bodies
to give birth.  The first day he arrived
at the open-mouthed bay his heart shifted:
a locked wooden chest left open and bare.
He learned to observe for a different
purpose: not to hunt, but to know
what the dark bodies could spell into him.
When he left that unpredictable sea to write
it all down he settled with his son on the edge
of the Laguna where the sea still speaks
in susurrations of muted fog.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Emily Dickinson Mash-up

For today's exercise we were to write like the first poet who influenced us.  Quite humbling, to say the least! My first poet-love was Emily Dickinson. I started reading her in 7th grade.  Here is my attempt at a draft:

Emily Dickinson Mash-up

That leaden hour when morning fog will block
the automatic warmth of a robotic sun. 

A wire caught – nosed and laced through
air’s translucent ribbons – writhes and snakes

until the dawn is stuck to brood in  
the zero hour.  Too much for the swallows

tired throats to attest.  A golden pressure
that winks against the barrier of glass.
What keeps me in, waiting –
for the lift, the dry field,
day purged of fertility of night.