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.