Friday, April 18, 2014

Day 17: Freestone

For today's prompt, we had to write about the word "hope" as a topic, but we also had to use as many of another list of words randomly throughout the poem.  As the month goes on, I have drifted back to writing about the history of Sonoma County.  Today's poem is about Freestone, the town I live closest too and a place that's been transformed dramatically just in the time that I've known it, but even more so from it's earliest history when three men named James built a sawmill there.  Here is my draft:

Hope is a town quarried from easily
worked sandstone.  First, a general store
selling button candy, and dry goods
then a black-aired salon that gathered
like a compass, and then the architect
built the two-story hotel.  This is before
the train drew a silver line between product
and the deliveries made possible by
the Sausalito Ferry.
                                 Years before
when the chorus of frogs still sang from
Salmon Creek, three men named James were
gifted the land by General Vallejo
and they built a sawmill on the creek's stony jaw. 

It's a story that often ends in flame:
three men drunk on land, red-faced, chest to chest
over the names written on the deed to the mill
Instead of fire, one of the James saws the mill
in two, splitting the new wood right down the middle. 

But, even hope, like a field of sleepy-headed snapdragons,
can be grown from this, and keep coming back Spring after Spring after Spring.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day 16: Valley of the Moon

For today's poem, we were to write off of the word, pilose (which means covered in downy hair). For me, this was a tough prompt.  But, here is what I came up with.

Valley of the Moon

At eye level, the field is pilose, dew-
dappled grass rich with the scent of wet earth.
And the soil here hums electric--since
1920 Sonoma County has been
top ten in agricultural production.
So much available land on which to 
plant crops of hops, grapes, prunes and apples.
Already the apple trees stand their hills
clad in green gowns and vineyards hold back
in the maze of their arms. At night, the air
is fresh and alive with all that desire--
A fox screams her needs into salted air
night after night as we beckon sleep to
bring us back to the time before life throbbed and thrived.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day 15: After The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil (1100s)

I had to take a few days off from my poem-a-daying, due to life's unexpected surprises.  But, I'm back and certain I can make up for lost time.  For today's poem, we were to write about an artwork. For some reason, this piece from the 1100s depicting heaven caught my eye. It's featured at the Getty right now and is from an old scroll.  Here is my draft about the painting above:
The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil
Of course in heaven are a hundred birds
Each eave of the onion-domed home hosting
colorful families of air-boned hope:
red-throated, or whirling turquoise feathers
they coo and twill and prance their shock orange
claws on snarly gargoyles stone cold eyes.
And of course this place is a dappled thing:
made of new grass green and summer sky blue
points of light, gather like a cloud of witness
and swarm above our minds. We stand on
carpets woven from wild roses and
violets, sedated by the breath of
hyacinths.  Watching the light strike crystal
chandeliers and swallow us in rainbows.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Day 10: Grateful for Future, Whatever it May Contain

I am officially a day off.  But, for a good reason!  Last night, I got to read from Gold Passage and The Flying Trolley (and my manuscripts "500 Days" and "There's Ghosts in this Machine of Air") at Copperfield's Books.  What a pleasure to get to read to so many dear friends at a book store that I love!  It was truly a great event.  But, today, I am determined to catch up (instead of work on my taxes, or grade papers, which may or may not be a wise decision!)  The prompt I was supposed to write off of for April 10 was "ungrateful about my future".  But, since, after last night, it was impossible not to be grateful, I ended up writing about that instead. Here is my draft:

Grateful for Future, Whatever it May Contain

Hard to predict the future when you wake
to a fogged field at dawn echoing bird
song. Hard not to spend your day trying to
follow a straight line: long roads divided
by broken lines, contrails that dissipate
from the sky, a blue, shimmering pool still
unparceled by lane lines. A clock you doubt
the accuracy of.  But, the future
is funny, isn’t it?  You have no choice
but to watch it slowly emerge from fog
like a lone muscular buck.  Quivering,
unpredictable and surrounded by
the feathered hope of song.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


Today, we were to write about the word pluvial which means of or relating to rain.  As a Californian, rain is something I think a lot about.  How we either have too much of it or not enough and how the rainfall is always on our minds.  Here's my draft for today. 

Growing up, when we doubted time, we dialed
P-O-P-C-O-R-N, heard the cool fact delivered in
a soothing accurate voice.  Important
in a place like this: built on faults, rainy
season that is always feast or famine.
What pluvial dreams will bloom from a mind
that sleeps beneath the staccato tap of rain-
drops on a tin roof.  Who feels the thirst of
the parched golden hills and the nervous willows
whisper even from under fog’s cover.
Once, this river swelled far beyond its banks
you can find those muddy rings marked surge.
Others, you could walk across the water.
You can find those muddy rings marked as now.
And still the river aches and winds toward
the salty mouth of sea with certainty.
No matter how much rain.  The waves will crash
into what the river’s got to give up
and that’s time’s secret.  Dial.  Hang-up.  Dial. 
It will always pass.
It will always continue to count.

Day 8: Broken

For today's prompt, I had to use the word broke or broken and write a violent poem.  I'm not sure I got to violence, but there are ghosts! Here's my draft:

Day 8: Broken
The hills are scattered with rotgut. Houses
or barns left for winds picking – paint sun-bleached
and peeling.  Windows shot or shattered, broke
like history.  A garden gone feral
in the front yard; generations upon
generations of kale and fennel knuckling
out of the weed infested ground.
My friend says when she dies she’ll come back as
a ghost and haunt us all. I don’t doubt it.
Funny how a life is looking back, how
it grows long as an afternoon shadow
how it doesn’t blink out but lingers on—
like a bleached house on a hill half covered
in blackberry bushes where memory
however broken or faded grows on.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Day 7: Self Portrait at Lake Tahoe

Day 7: Self Portrait at Lake Tahoe

Some days, ordinary some days crowned
by snow-capped jags – mountainous teeth.
Some days legs like reconstructed fossils,
joints where jeweled hummingbird wing-beats fan pain.
Relief can be as cool and deep as a lake.
Dive under the surface and pain dissolves
like fine sugar. Swim far enough under
and the body, however sparked, will numb.

Revising a Poem for There's Ghosts in This Machine of Air

“When I die, if I go to a place where there are apples, I’ll know it won’t be heaven.”

After the tractor cooled and dust settled
come into house gone cold, stoke fire’s coals,
peel and slice the windfalls thin, brown sugar
a lemon plucked yesterday from the bough.
Roll dough cold. Cover. Bake an hour.  Gather
the children.  Coax. Read words or written.  Stir
pot hot on iron stove.  Wash the earth from
crooked carrots and beets.  Slice thin into
caste-iron skillet.  Stir with yesterday’s
slaughtered chicken.  Wash the young faces.  Scold
the ones who know better.  Divvy chores: set,
serve eat, clear, wash, scour, hot steam boiled. Lay
the children down. Look for quiet enough.
Sit beside the glowing coals, song pouring
back into the fire what’s burned out.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Day 6: Sea Monkeys Have an Expiration Date

Okay, so I can't take credit for this title.  It's the prompt from my poem-a-day group.  Today's poem continues my trend of having animals in each of the poems I write.  This one features coyotes.  Hope you enjoy!

Sea Monkeys Have an Expiration Date

Last night, slice of moon startled the window.
Mercy of cool air, cleaved in two, and darkness
pressing from behind like a false promise.
These days we don’t sleep well.  Coyotes braid their
staccato screams together into air.
You’d think the air would saturate: reach a
point when no more sounds could compound into
its dark ear.  But, lying here, half asleep,
the sounds trifle, layer up, a swarm of crickets
in its glass belly, then the moans of far off cars,
the wrinkle of a tarp left out to gather wind,
the clink of a metal clasp against a metal pole,
and then the coyotes, so many it seems,
the hills been overrun.  We have become
tenants to their nightly follies.  A mere
audience of bodies, laid out on the cool sheets
waiting for breath of air; waiting for the shock
of the moon to remind of our place in this world.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Day 5: We Don't Believe, We Only Fear

For today's prompt I wrote off of the quotation, "We don't believe, we only fear." I've been at baseball games all day, but in before the first one, I took a walk in the Laguna, a reclaimed marsh next to the baseball field. Here's a poem about the walk:

We Don't Believe.  We Only Fear.

This morning, as I walked the marsh, the air
was alive with birdsong. Brier paths still muddied
by last nights rain tunneled around the large pools
that teemed with life. Seems impossible that
these were once cesspools for the sewer plant.

Two young naturalists look up into a blue sky
"What do you see?" I ask. "Not much yet." They with shy smiles.

After that, I walk the whole marsh as if I were a cartographer spelling home
Or I take you back.
When I reach the end I find the same two naturalists this time holding a four foot garter snake that coils peacefully around the man's bare arm. And I am surprised not to startle.

Fear is like that; when you least expect it
all of the restoration you've done
cleaning up what's come before
pays off and suddenly there is only
the echoing calls of birds, warm strobes of light
and the quiet naturalist waving to you
holding a four foot snake
as you continue on your way.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Day 4: Voyeur

Today, I had to write a poem that included the word "brooding".  So, since I seem to be on an animal kick, I wrote about a group of cows I saw this morning on my drive to work.  My favorite part about poem-a-daying is the way your poetic mind is always open, always searching for an image or an idea.  It makes the whole filter through a poetic lens so that even the cows begin to look poetic!

Since dawn split the sky, the cows have been brooding hillside.
Their black and white bodies leaning comfortably
into the knee-high grass, their gazes fixed on
the line of dusty road soon to erupt in movement—
as the battered red truck full of hay comes toward them.
When the hay spills their muscles ripple with
tangible joy. A few going so far
as to kick their thick hind legs into air. 
Then the road bends into another green hill.
This one bare, still dark.  Somewhere between dawn
and joy not yet arrived to those looking for it.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Day 3: A Message to Myself So I Remember Who I Am

For today's poem, I returned back to a series I'm writing about an imaginary woman who lived on the property I live on now, but back in the late 1800s.  I started the series two years ago as I was writing poems about the history of the town where I grew up.

A Message to Myself So I Remember Who I Am
Wagnon Road, 1898

Removed from the troubles of everyday
life—the mind opens like a sky stirred by
sea wind.  Memories blow in, thin and pale,
then bloom up into cinematic stained
sails like ghosts.  What message does each carry?

These days they only cloud.  I imagine
the jagged crown of dark trees on the far
ridge can hold them back.  As if mercy were
fair.  But it’s likely only tiredness
that inks my mind clear of the hope’s fireflies.
Some days, like a phantom limb I can still
feel to itch, I can feel his soft lips on
mine, his strong arm around my waist.  And all
the dead days since his death are heaved off,
thin clouds that they are, and driven back to sea.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Day 2 - Here I Am Holding

It is the second day of poem-a-daying.  Sometimes, the second day is the hardest!  Today, I was inspired by my drive to work.  How the wet fields glistened with new rain and how one sheep stayed in my mind all day.  Hope you National Poetry Month is off to a wonderful start!
Here I am Holding

Skimming the green, velveteen hills on my drive
to work I see a large muddy sheep own
a low lying field.  She is completely
alone.  Rain has left this place softened and pooled
and she carries the weight of it in the folds
of her unshorn wool.  Sky spindled above.
Split between decisions: one end darkened
as the wet earth, the other lit behind
in syrupy golden light. No one knows
what lies ahead. 
The sharp bend in the road
seems dangerous and small in the dim light.
Tomorrow, the same road under a different sky.
The sheep shorn.  The field dried.  A universe
lost and found in a single morning.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Kick Poetry Month Off With a Blog Tour! And a Poem-a-Day!

Welcome to the Blog Tour!
Below, I'll all answer a few questions about my writing process: what I'm working on, how my work differs from others who write in my genre, why I write what I do and how my writing process works. Thanks to my friend Athena Kildegaard who invited me to take part.  You can visit Athena's blog to see her Blog Tour post from last week and work backwards to the writers who came before her.  But, going forwards, after you read my post, you might want to visit the posts of my two dear friends: the amazing fiction writer (and fellow Napa Valley Writers' Conference staff member), Lakin Kahn (Rhymes with Bacon) and the amazing poet and one of my oldest friends, Nicole Callihan (  Lakin lives in Sonoma County and Nicole lives in Brooklyn, New York. I'll post more about them (and links to their blogs) below.

Here are my answers to the Blog Tour questions:

What am I working on?
Right now, I’m working on three things.
The first is a series of poems and verse novel on a small town in Western Pennsylvania called, Pithole.  Pithole was an oil boom town that legend says only survived 500 Days.  My chapbook of poems about Pithole is making the contest rounds now and the full collection (with the poems and verse novel) will begin circulating this summer.  Until then, here is a poem from the collection of poems:

What Wears Out or Up After Time

Out of the valley mist that low hollow hangs.
Out of the moan of thick river ice pull gone locked.
Come melt.  Come rainbow sheen, glistening.
Come wool of clouds opening up.

Out of the forest thins.  Down hemlock,
split pine.  Up the derrick still sap-sticky.
Up the open-bellied stores and hotels.
Up the fa├žade and the see-through-the-cracks.
Come the war-tired boys still blind of love,
still hungry, still pistol armed.

Out of thirst and holes and mud comes oil.
Red velvet curtains gone muddy, creek gone muddy loud,
comes screams of hairless horses, their burning bodies spelling into night.
Out of the locked up girls who open their legs because of fists.

Come something red as cardinals.  Out of bread lines and dead letters
and lost children come thick pipes and steel laid down to out.
Come spit in your face.  Come hot breath. 
Come the fold in, the knock down, the every man for himself,
the bury it, the get out, the fire that burns to the ground.

Come the ashes sifting down.   Come the years.
The heavy dirt that don’t rise ‘til you dig in. 
Come the buried river, still moving.
Come the ghosts of those girls, thick hair blossoming—
Come the words still whispered from their lips.
The second project I’m working on (tentatively titled, “There’s a Ghost in this Machine of Air”)  is a book about the history of Sebastopol (the small town where I am from).  The book is also a combination of historical poems and a lyric sequence that tells the story of a young mother who ends up widowed on her newly planted apple orchard near Freestone, CA in the late 1800s.  Many poems from this collection have been published already and I hope to start circulating the collection early this summer.  Here is a link to a poem from the book: Geography as Seen From Tall Ships” which was recently published The Cider Press Review.

Finally, I just started a new project which I am tentatively calling “The Book of Jack London”.   The work is a series of poems written about often confusing and contested biography of Jack London.  This book is in its infancy (only a dozen poems are so); however, this April, I plan on returning to this project during my yearly poem-a-day ritual. Here is a poem from this series:

Make Them Float in Your Mouth

On the cruise of the Snark, Jack London, and his wife Charmian sailed to Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa and the Solomon Islands and ended on the Island of Guadacanal, where ill health forced Jack to sail commercially to Sydney, Australia for treatment of a skin problem feared to be Leprosy.

If you want a story, you have to look for it.  You have to begin
with the idea of seven years.  You have to imagine a boat.

You have to build it from paper and ideas.  You have to sail
your leaky boat into the hissing lava as it enters the sea.

You have to reach your first destination and ride
a 75 pound surfboard until you fail all day.  You have to watch

the plantation workers cleave the sweet fruit with machete again and again.
Until the story you’ve told yourself begins to stutter and spit.

You have to go to Molokai on the 4th of July and see for yourself
the small girl who, missing a nose or an arm and covered with sores,
wears sequined clothes and joyfully dances. You have to sail on
past empty pockets and bank accounts.

You have to watch your itinerary dissolve in the water
next to the Australian yacht converted for black birding.
You have to see the machete lines carved into the teak door.
You have to lose all of your water and then be blessed with a storm.
You have to endure sores the size of baseballs that seep and cling to your calves
and thighs. You have to go up river into the luscious green tangle

of what is unknown until the flowers emerge: red, hibiscus-like
large enough to contain the whole sunset syrupy sky.

You have to find that island.  Make it float in your mouth. 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I think what makes my work different from other poets who are writing today is my relationship to history.  (Although, there are plenty of amazing poets who are writing about this topic).  I’ve always felt like history is something we are meant to dig into and unearth and where absolute truth is something that is almost impossible to find.  This discrepancy inspires me to write. 

Why do I write what I do?
Because I have to.  Because when I visit a place, or I hear a story, I can’t stop thinking about it until I’ve dug into it and found the stories that were hiding beneath the surface.

How does my writing process work?

I write a poem a week (thanks to a wonderful group of poets I have a virtual, no-stress workshop with), and I attend my writing group once or twice a month.  Also, twice a year (April and November) I write a poem-a-day with a fabulous group of writers.  I am completely deadline driven and these deadlines (however, self-imposed) keeping me writing even when life as a working mom keeps me from my writing.  Speaking of poem-a-daying, today is April first and therefore, I've written my poem for today. 

[If it hadn't been for the bones, we'd not believed in the ghost]
at Jack London State Park

If you say something long enough it'll
slur in your mind--stitch back the seams of time:
Blue eyes lit like swollen sea gone slack,
dulled misty grey as the shroud that that inches
down Sonoma Mountain.  Flit in the woods--
a glint, honey lit strobe caught between trees.
The rattle and clang, the reconstruct like a museum diorama.
Step across flimsy steel-jawed gates.
Queue the raspy jazzed voice of a 1920s record
playing on the dented gramophone
Jack and Charmian London lugged through the South Seas.
Place the manuscript boxes just beyond reach
and leave them empty enough to make fingers itch.
Outside, in the needle hushed woods,
let the girl walk until silence swabs her clean.
Only then do you let the memories out--
black shining birds that rise from the trees
and scream like notes from a Steinway Piano
winging it toward the open jarred mouth of sky.
Check out What's Next!
I hope you enjoyed this segment of the Blog Tour!  And don't forget to continue onwards to the next two writers Lakin Khan and Nicole Callihan who will be posting on their Blogs next week! 
Lakin Khan is an instructor in English at Napa Valley College and Fiction Director of the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. She earned an MFA from Antioch Los Angeles and is finishing Master’s in English at Sonoma State University. Her fiction, poems and essays have appeared in zaum, the anthology Zebulon Nights, and Tiny Lights, A Journal of Personal Essay.  In the works is a collection of nature essays titled “The Bestiary of Sonoma State,” as well as a novel set on the Mendocino Coast. At times she writes an idiosyncratic blog, Rhymes with Bacon.
Nicole Callihan writes poems, stories and essays. Her work has appeared in Washington Square, Salt Hill, L Magazine and The North American Review and was named Notable Reading for Best American Non-Required Reading. Her books include Henry River Mill Village (2012) which documents the rise and fall of a tiny mill village turned ghost town and SuperLoop, a book of poems published by Sock Monkey Press in early 2014. Find her on the web at And follow her on twitter @NicoleLooped.