Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Mother Tree at the Luther Burbank Experimental Farm

This week, our assignment was to revise an existing poem.  I am working on editing my manuscript "There's Ghosts in this Machine of Air" and so I edited this poem.  It was originally called "Luther Burbank Experimental Farm" but I added in The Mother Tree.  The Experimental Gardens are a real place in Sebastopol that was for many years left untended.  But, in it's day, Luther Burbank would get visitors from all over the world.  This poem thinks about how something once so vital to the community has become almost forgotten over time.

The Mother Tree at the Luther Burbank Experimental Farm

In the late 1800s, Luther Burbank declared Sonoma County “nature’s chosen spot”
and sold the rights to the first Idaho potato to fund his journey out.

At his Experimental Farm, he solved problems—how to grow cactus without thorns;
how to grow apples year round.  He checked the pockets of every visitor
for fear one of his prized seeds might be carried away on something other than wind.

These days, there are less visitors.  But, Shasta daisies still greet with big toothy grins
as visitors walk the path past Burbank’s hybrid plants. Toward the back,
near Pleasant Hill Cemetery the mother tree looms full and large,
always bearing fruit, always bearing another graft or possibility.

Under brace, her branches are so full, they seem threatened even in a light rain.
Arms extending over the fence, as if guarding what is left
as if beckoning the ghosts back from the earth,
back from the fog as it burns off.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Sum of All Wonder

Today's prompt led us to think of all of the associations that surround a word. 

from Jane Hirshfield's Nine Gates
"every good poem begins in language awake to its own connections--language that hears itself and what is around it, looks back at those who look into its gaze and knows perhaps even more than we do about who and what we are" (3).
Here is my draft:

The Sum of All Wonder
Old words contain an archive of themselves;
A shoebox sized diorama: with a paper
sea that covers strong currents,  and a few
rotting hulls of lost ships.  Where a white-washed
house sits banished on a hillside in the distance.
It’s basement packed with soggy cardboard
and the spidery veins of mildews’ secrets.
And somewhere, in the foreground,  is a crooked
pine straggling on a rock cliff, but is pulled back
from sorrow’s lean by a steady arm of wind.
And underneath, all of this: the paper sea,
the white-washed house, the terrible leaning pine,
tiny ladders reach down from the risk of edge
to connect what is now, to what has been left behind. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

the word edge has wings made of 'e' (revised)

This week, our assignment was to write a poem where we used the circumstances created by weather conditions as our inspiration.  Here, in California, we've had a different winter than most of the country.  Instead of being worn down by one of the coldest winters in years, we've been in an awful drought.  Guiltily enjoying bright blue skies and moderate temperatures as our water tables get lower and lower.  This poem is about Spring after a drought ridden winter in California.  I also recently had to write a bio for Brenda Hillman (she teaching at Napa Valley Writers' Conference this summer) and came across a poem from her new collection Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, called "After a Very Long Difficult Day".  I loved the poem so much that I had to steal a line (the title is a line stolen from Hillman's poem).  Here is my sonnet/draft:

the word edge has wings made of 'e'
If the bare-boned, old barn, hums against
the green ridge watching valley fields smudge, then
blaze with the yellow flames of mustard flowers. 
If time holds back, a fallible cell wall.  If the stone walls that border crumble.

Then, the cool secret of aquifers must
be swollen as deep as we imagine.

Then, the insatiable grasses are made
of lace and the geese that open the skies
with the careful scalpels of their long necks
must be seaming this wound toward spring.

You ask for boundaries but, instead
the sun sits in a mantle of minutes.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Ghost Wife

This is a draft of a poem I wrote on the plane ride home from AWP.  It's based on story my friend Susan told me and an assignment to play with rhyme schemes. 

Ghost Wife
She says – tell it to unravel me – years
caught like dust mites sparkling in air.
How, long ago, a willow of a girl
stood watch from a pile of rubble
her town decimated before her
as if her history had been folded down.
How her husband, who parked his blue Chevy
at the edge of town walked slowly in
past blackened eyes of shattered windows,
uprooted arcs of snapped trees, before
the houses and schools blurred unrecognizably.
Until he found her and their bodies wove
together like an epicenter.  Years built
upon years and on it they built a paper house
lit at its center by the dull red glow of a Tiffany
lamp they’d scavenged from a lost house.
She says – tell it to pull me together --
How, long ago, a willow of a girl
lay buried beneath a pile of rubble
her town decimated around her
her  husband walking from the edge of town
toward the epicenter of his grief.