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.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Mean Mommy

After a few weeks off getting the semester started, I've finally drafted a poem (YAHOO!)

Mean Mommy

You wake to the liquid dark. You wake to
the new container of your elastic
body.  You wake to cold sweats, small femurs,
and wrist bones fossilized into your flesh.
You wake to shadows breathing in corners
of what could come what could enter and take
away what you love.       Days slur drunkenly
by --fat with syrup and homemade pancakes
(FROM SCRATCH!).  Days made of: diapers and wipes and
mismatched brittle laundry.         There are days when
you look head on at your face in the mirror.
When you can see through your elastic skin
into what’s underneath: geometry
of bones and at its center a hearth of rage.
You wake to the dark empty before dawn. 
You wake to the slit of night light.  You wake
into the new routine of meal to meal. 
The bend down and pick up the wrapper on
the floor, check the laundry on the way out.
Some mornings you wake before the others.
You open the door into the yawn of
dawn into the deafening chorus of
sea birds and raptors and blue jays into
the air that is fresh and possible with
fog and you feel the perimeter
of your own body return to you.

But footsteps THUD! into closer  into
the open belly of the house. And night
slurs into the noise of day. The stuffing
of bodies into clothes and the packing
of (NUTRITIOUS!) lunches.          These days when you
look head on at your face in the mirror
and see beyond the bone cage, the raging
belly hearth to the bedrock beneath:
 a mountain lake gone slack and cool.   
A lake that burns with its origin of ice.

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.