Monday, December 29, 2014

Revision: The Nature of the Place

For this week's prompt we were to again go back to a poem we wrote this past year and revise it.  I chose to go back to one of my Laguna poems that was still driving me crazy.  And thanks to the feedback from my writing group I trimmed and trimmed and came up with this.  Hopefully, what I trimmed away was right!  This poem is about the egret specifically and how the Audubon society was actually formed just to save this one bird that was being decimated by the plume trade.  But, the poem is also about how even though (thanks to their hard work in the 1920s) the egrets are back and thriving in the Laguna, we still are stewards to their destruction.  That the damaged we've caused to their habitat will last forever and though the Laguna may now look better there is still damage lurking underneath.  Here is my newest attempt at a draft!

The Nature of the 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
punctuate the space between raw, golden field,
and the open question of sky
because somehow, the Great Egret, the Snowy Egret
and the Cattle Egret have survived.

Once the Laguna pulsed, the heart of the plume trade.
Desperate hunters climbed high into scrub oaks and willows
to raid the egrets’ giant stick nests
for aigrettes, white waterfalls of long, thin feathers
used to adorn fashionable hats
because an ounce of feathers was worth
double the price of gold.
Soon, spotting an egret became so rare
sightings were printed in the local paper.

Until the Audubon society was formed
to rescue these ghost birds from extinction.
to slow the pulse of the plume trades
and slowly the egrets numbers began to rise.

But, the nature of the place –
the lack of steelhead and salmon
swimming in the deep, green lagoons,
the felled oaks and cleared willows,
the waters gone thick with sediment –
tell the story of its inhabitants
not just of the birds, but of us.
We are stewards to the destruction we’ve caused forever.

So when you walk the smooth paths of the Laguna today
and sight the white arrow of an egret piercing
the camouflage among what is water, earth, and sky
remember the hunt that still pushes from the ground up,
and how beauty must survive.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dear Heart -

For this week's poem we were to revise a poem we wrote off of a prompt this last year that we wanted to go back to.  The one I chose was the toughest for me to write.  Not, sure it is even past a draft here. This isn't a topic I often write about, but it is one we should all be talking about more: what it is like to raise a child who isn't "normal" and how society, and our doctors deal with parents and children who are going through the terribly scary period of pre-diagnosis.

Dear Heart –


Big lug of muscle.  How you drag me down! Don’t you know I come from the sort of town that’s named after a standoff? Where a man stood three, aching leg days waiting outside the general store for another man who hid inside? Where everything is too fogged in to see clearly.  Where the ocean is too cold to swim?

I don’t live in a cul-de-sac, heart.  I live on a barn on a hill where I can see for miles into the cathedral of sky.  Where rain percusses against the tin roof. Where the creek gathers and gathers until there is a storm.  Where the trees ache and murmur in the winds. Where the morning sparrows punctuated the sky’s blue dome with ellipses that come from the sea. What does it mean to carry something to this place that is so un-nameable? 

But these days I have thick fingers and heavy, slippery feet.


Each doctor who has met with my son picks an edge of the tapestry to pullout and name without seeing the whole.

What we are given are small golden threads gathered and rewoven into unrecognizable shapes.
There is a part of me that wants to mitigate the conflict.       
That part of me is you, heart.

There is a part of me that steps up to the man standing knee deep in the mud outside of the general store just to whisper in his ear, you don’t want to be remembered for this.

There is the part of me who is the man waiting for fate to walk in and throw him against the dry goods, to have his face pressed into the dirt floor until he screams.        
Heart, that floor is so close, I can smell it.

And then there is my son.  My beautiful, suffering son.


On the radio program the parents of children with named mental disorders told their stories to the interviewer as if they were in confession.  They were honest.  They were on the other side of a dark journey looking back.

There was the young child’s palpable rage how it breathed and feathered the air.  Or, how the child ran and ran until he could find a tree that contain the enormous perch of his fear.

There were the holes punched into plaster walls.
There were the volley of shouts and screams that seemed to echo out from another deeper well of a body.

There were the locked doors, then, the removal of locks.

There were the people brought in to teach safety and discipline to parents who hadn't slept soundly in years.
There was the locking away of knives and scissors and baseball bats (just in case).
There was the teaching of body holds.
There were the words: police intervention.
There was the moment I looked into their stories and saw my own.


But what do we do heart without a diagnosis? What if we or the doctors or the schools step back only to see the blur of a face, the energy of a being that is different from what we know to name? 

But, I know him through the fog, heart.  I know his heart once beat inside of me and no matter how long I must stand, I will stand outside the door waiting for him to step out.


So I step back heart. I step back and back and try to see the whole portrait for what it is.  I turn off the radio.  I dig up the god-damned history of my town and try to understand more than what we've left to speak for itself and I try to write it all down.

Because a story is never simple, heart, is it?  Not one that is stitched in my own blood.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Home is an Uncanny Valley

For this week's poem, we experimented with writing about nature through digital devices/terminology.  I have a fond place in my heart for writing poetry with a variety of computer code languages mashed up in it.  So, in this draft, I tried that again.  Not sure if it make sense to anyone besides myself!  But, here is my effort:
Home is an Uncanny Valley

if          the rain continues
then     we may lose our escape down the gravel throated drive.
we are hungry for the rain

if          the rain edits the earth of the fields,
if          the rain rewrites the soapstone creek bed
if          the ditches we dug into the earth just yesterday overflow
if          we no longer recognize the sky

then     the path back to ourselves could be blurred by the many rainstorms before

LIST#     1987, 1992, 2005
PRINT#          Each flood, spilling into the next like a series of connected lakes.

the child looking out the rain freckled window could be ourselves
we are hungry for the rain
we are hungry for the truth

The reservoirs are low exposing what we’d forgotten: old logs, rusted cars, a body or two.

If         we flood again
than     we could forget the hunger
than     we could forget what’s underneath, exposed.

If         home is an uncanny valley       AND
we walk toward it, see that it is too much like ourselves to believe

Then the fields, the creek beds, the gravel throated drive
will scream muddy loud

the child looking out the rain freckled window could be ourselves
we are hungry for the rain
we are hungry for the truth

Let home = null/washed new/a place built upon a place

Let memory fade like a fog

Let the child at the window be my child, not myself

Let the water find its path back

Let the rain spell truth on the tin roof above our sleeping heads.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Sonnet After Lines Written by Jack London

The Oak tree underneath which Jack London wrote.

Sonnet Written After Lines from Jack London

Appearances are ghosts. Life is a ghost
land -- Take, for instance the towering oak
that splays its blackened arteries toward sky,
unaware that already a pair of
buzzards perch and clot the spiral of
tributaries that wind and unwind toward
whatever blue has arrived.  How like our
own aging bodies it stands passenger
of air and time but blind as a prophet,
blind as Tiresias, we step into
this wooden shell and we rise. Shake off
that tingling rot the fog brought in
because life lies in order to live and
we'll never know how many dark birds brood
and shadow this ghost land, this life.

Monday, December 01, 2014

An Elegy of Sky for Paula

For this week's poem we were to write a poem of release.  Since today is my recently lost friend Paula's birthday, I couldn't help but write a poem for her today especially when I saw how incredible the sky was tonight.  Here is a poem that remembers her through the landscape she loved.

An Elegy of Sky
for Paula

These winter days we are told to repair
ourselves; to stuff whatever it takes
into the cracks that open up from us:
sand, feathers, hot, melted gold. Or, to live
with that space even as it is still opening
and let whatever force--light or dark--shine in.

Yours was such a simple ceremony:
thin line dug into rocky sand, handful
of red flowers scattered like joy or sorrow,
then the ashes: what clouds, what rises,
what will meet the decision (that cold shock) of sea.

The sky opened up today and revealed
through furrows of cathedral clouds
a thick, bright shaft of light pouring from
the unknown above down to the valley floor.
As I drove down into it, what opened up in me were questions.

Can we fill the cracks that open in us?
Or, do we let them breath the air and sea?

Monday, November 24, 2014

After Visiting Jack London’s Grave on the Day of his Death, November 22, 2014

For this week's prompt, we were to write off of Mary Oliver's poem "August".  I had the incredible experience this past weekend of getting to read one of my poems at Jack London's grave at a ceremony remembering his death.  It was an incredibly moving experience.  This poem is written in response to that experience and Mary Oliver's poem.  It's only a draft, but it is a step toward my new project: writing a book of poetry about Jack London. 

After Visiting Jack London’s Grave on the Day of his Death, November 22, 2014
There are gates, once redwood strong, we have left to rot as evidence of our departure and return.

There is the way the wind roars in the trees like a ravenous sea when we speak, shipwrecked from the dead.
There is the weight of the urn Charmian carried the day of his funeral.  How it became heavier with silence every step she took closer to the wagon. 
There is the first stone barn lost to our eyes that is folding back into itself.
There is what remains inside.  What remains unclaimed in darkness: a lost wagon, perhaps?  The rotting hull of the Snark?
There are the voices of strangers we sew together in order to find the story we can’t feel with our hands in this dark.
There is the seam where what we know welds smoothly into what we feel.  A new, steel gate that will not rot.
There are the phone numbers to the dead written on a cedar plank wall in a closet now empty of a phone. 
There is the desire that opens up like a mountain view that was lost to nearly a century of brush.
There is what opens up when we finally see into it:

A valley of murmurous air.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Draft of There's a Ghost of This Machine of Air is complete!

Last weekend, for some reason a pocket of time opened up and I finished my draft of my next book, There's a Ghost in this Machine of Air.  The manuscript is most likely not as done as I think it is, but the fact that it is written and organized in a manner I think is working right now is a huge reason to celebrate (in my opinion).  This does mean that I won't be writing more poems about the Laguna de Santa Rosa (for the time being!)  Moving on from a project of that magnitude is always difficult for me.  Since I am a poet who is project driven, being project-less, or not focused on completing a project makes it hard for me to write.  Here is my attempt to move on this week.  We were asked to write a poem where we talk about why we are dissatisfied with what we've got.  Here's my attempt at a draft:


Thankful for the gates we pass under:

braided galaxies of swallows

netted against grey combed skies.

This time of year earth’s desire—

lace of steam that rises to meet

dawn’s chorus is nothing to be netted.

What shadows have escaped our watch in the night?

The last remaining green grasses bent by dew.

Light warming, slowly; letting that weight go.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Polaroid Cape May, 1996

For this week's poem, we wrote a poem in remembrance of a great poet.  Here is my small tribute to Galway Kinnell.

Polaroid Cape May, 1996

Soft continuous clicks
spill from a manual
typewriter against walls
thin and delicate as shells;

early morning sea air
still thick with fog
covers and uncovers
the pilings with
the iron breath of sea

like the memory of a poem
carefully carved out
so that every experience after
washes against it

and comes back changed.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Laguna Continued - Finding Ballard Lake

For this week's prompt, we were to write off of this amazing poem "Troubled Asset Relief" by Robert Ostrum which offered us a fractured question and response model to dive into.  I am still in the process if completing my Laguna poems, so my questions and answers (or attempts at answers) circled around a lost lake from the Laguna that was previously called Grays Lake or Ballard Lake depending on the time period.  Here is my attempt at a draft for this week:

Finding Ballard Lake
What you said was we ruined the water
not we rewrote the land with dynamite
and the pulsing, yellow jaws of backhoes.

When I said rev up your mind, what I asked
was for you to contain a lake--call it
Gray's or Ballard.  Let it spill forth

over half a mile.  Let it straddle
a hundred yards of earth.  Cover its banks
with exclamations of ash and oak and willow.

Dig it deep enough that catfish and bass
linger in the shadows.  Then let doubt
fill you like a balloon.  Go belly up.

Try to recall the blue bloom of sky seen
from this angle.  Dark, cold water pressing
no holding you up; warm sun on your face.
Know that to know is to dive deep into
the sediment of what isn't possible to find.

Wait at the closest train station: Mt. Olivet
for someone who has a memory made from
spun-sugar clouds whose footsteps can stitch

back the lost route of Mark West Creek
whose sediment was used to fill in the lake,
the acres of low spots on the ranch.

So that when they ask you who ruined this place
you can answer with a tongue made of peach peels
and a mouth full of sewage.  With eyes backlit
with dynamite and the smooth shine of dirt.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Laguna Continued - The Linguist Staff

This week we went ekphrastic, meaning we wrote poems off of art objects.  The piece of art that struck me was a staff from Ghana called Linguist Staff and Top Representing an Elephant  because it struck me as such a metaphor for how we should proceed forward talking about history and understanding the present, always with our hand touching the ears that remember the past, that are listening to what we are saying. 

The Linguist Staff
is covered in ears. Not real ears, but carved,
extruding, so each grip reminds fingers
that the ears exist.  No need to pour these
ears onto a table to illustrate
a point.  Instead, through touch, the linguist speaks
through the ears. When he holds the golden staff
and speaks he knows the ears are listening. 
This is a way to proceed on the rutted path
of history.  If we keep our fingers
locked tightly on those golden ears perhaps
we won’t forget that the past listens, and
expects us to circle back and look under
what we think we know even if the path
is overgrown, impassable, or lost. .

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Laguna: The Lesson of Mud and Potatoes

This week, I had trouble writing from the prompt we were given.  It was a great prompt: to write off of Kim Addonizio's poem "What Women Want". But, difficult can be good, because it can make you split something open that you've been stuck in your ways about.  I find when I'm writing a narrative-based project like the one I am currently working on, the Laguna de Santa Rosa, I need to be shaken up.  I need to have someone pull the rug out from beneath me.  Not sure, if I found my legs afterward yet, but here's my draft of a poem for this week.  It's still on the Laguna, but it goes in a bit of a different direction.

The Lesson of Mud and Potatoes

History comes in many forms — some of it, apparently, edible.”
 –Gaye LaBaron

What a citizen wants is to peel back
the skin of history that shields a place
the single story that survives record.
Time offers its own flood—washes out roads
of thought no matter how deep the ruts run.

To ask what it was like to be a passenger
on Bill Tibbet’s bone-jarring stage coach ride
from the docks of the Petaluma River
to the potato mines of Bodega
where nutty-flavored red-skinned potatoes
thrived in the salty, mineral soil
until blight wiped out the crop; until we

forgot to tend the road between then and
now.  When landmarks like Spud Point
loom mysterious instead of marking
the story they once told: a barge too full
of potatoes that sunk at the spot.

How to still imagine each stop the stage
took in 1860 after winter rains
left roads nearly impassable
mud to our knees, wheels stuck in ruts but the
Laguna swollen and fertile, offering
a passage across in the steam engine
ship Georgina or later the Pride of the Laguna.

What questions should a citizen ask to dredge this out?
So we can dig up a few forgotten tubers of those lost potatoes,
so that we can find that tin-rusted hull of a ship,
to carry us back to a place that speaks
in more than one voice, that we continually
rewrite and remember.


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.

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.

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. 

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.