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POEM-A-DAY 2003
PAD
April is National Poetry Month and we always celebrated in our stores and online with our POEM A DAY program. Each and every customer in the store got a printed copy of the day's poem and every one on our email list had the poem emailed their way. We shared some of our favorite poems this way from 2000 to when we closed our doors for the last time. All poetry books were 10% OFF for the entire month as well.
Enjoy the poems.
 

— other poems from other years: 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2005 | 2006 | 2009

April 1

JUNK MAIL

Opening his credit report, he found the story
Of a woman he'd lied to twelve years before, and a book
He'd lifted from a flea market, a signed first edition,
And the time he'd watched, through a bathroom keyhole, his sister
Touch herself: the Trinity of Credit Bureaus knew his every sin.
He should have been outraged, he should have done--
What? Called the FBI? Filed a lawsuit? Staged an exorcism?--
Whatever you do to foil omniscience. But he kept on reading,
And it went on forever, he couldn't put it down, it was fascinating.

     T. R. Hummer
     The Atlantic Monthly
     April 2003



April 2

LOAFING

I looked into the room a moment ago,
and this is what I saw--
my chair in its place by the window,
the book turned facedown on the table.
And on the sill, the cigarette
left burning in its ashtray.
Malingerer! my uncle yelled at me
so long ago. He was right.
I've set aside time today,
same as every day,
for doing nothing at all.

     Raymond Carver
     Ultramarine
    
Random House



April 3

FANCY DIVE

The fanciest dive that ever was dove
Was done by Melissa of Coconut Grove.
She bounced on the board and flew into the air
With a twist of her head and twirl of her hair.
She did thirty-four jackknives, backflipped and spun,
Quadruple gainered, and reached for the sun,
And then somersaulted nine times and a quarter--
And looked down and saw that the pool had no water.

THE LITTLE BOY AND THE OLD MAN

Said the little boy, "Sometimes I drop my spoon."
Said the little old man, "I do that too."
The little boy whispered, "I wet my pants."
"I do that too," laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, "I often cry."
The old man nodded, "So do I."
"But worst of all," said the boy, "it seems
Grown-ups don't pay attention to me."
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
"I know what you mean," said the little old man.

both poems are from
     Shel Silverstein
     A Light in the Attic
     Harper & Row



April 4

JORGE THE CHURCH JANITOR FINALLY QUITS

No one asks
where I am from,
I must be
from the country of janitors,
I have always mopped this floor.
Honduras, you are a squatter's camp
outside the city
of their understanding.

No one can speak
my name,
I host the fiesta
of the bathroom,
stirring the toilet
like a punchbowl.
the Spanish music of my name
is lost
when the guests complain
about the toilet paper.

What they say
must be true:
I am smart
but I have a bad attitude.

No one knows
that I quit tonight,
maybe the mop
will push on without me,
sniffing along the floor
like a crazy squid
with stringy gray tentacles.
They will call it Jorge.

     Martin Espada
     For A Living
     University of Illinois Press



April 5

IN TRACKLESS WOODS

In trackless woods, it puzzled me to find
Four great rock maples seemingly aligned,
As if they had been set out in a row
Before some house a century ago,
To edge the property and lend some shade.
I looked to see if ancient wheels ran parallel,
But there were none, so far as I could tell-
There'd been no roadway. Nor could I find the square
Depression of a cellar anywhere,
And so I tramped on further, to survey
Amazing patterns in a hornbeam spray
Or spirals in a pinecone, under trees
Not subject to our stiff geometries.

     Richard Wilbur
     The New Yorker
     March 31, 2003



April 6

EVE

A singular apple I craved, and went from the garden
To seek the wily Ding-an-sich. My tastes were simply
amazed:
The tarnishing glance of a goat, then the long, cool pang
Of doves never done complaining, recalling, requesting,
Begging over the and over never again to be named.

Where was that simple thing? Where was the furry hulk of
peach,
The souring suck of plum? These had been dreams before the
goats'
Quick glance blew ashes down my craw, before the doves'
remorse
Sent me out again to seek simple water, and then again
Further to reach for whatever frantic meat

Swarms closest to hand. Let other men, coming after,
Scratch their heads, be amazed, and then name, if they can,
Neat cases and classes and causes; let them

In untainted numbers postulate some ultimate curve.
These pits, these sockets, the bones of these once awesome
Feathers, have found out their own and should go no

Further than this close fool's outdistancing answer:
Never done recalling, never finished requesting,

Asking again and again another inviolable name.

     Dorothy Zackrission Swift
     Poems 1950-1990



April 7

BILLY

Billy came through the office today.
EVERYONE was wishing they had won a skirt.
We ran our fingers through our hair
and tried to keep our eyes
from running out of control
over his
fine
blue
denim


It was his eyes ( I think)
we liked the most .
Hands...
he could probably do a lot of things with his hands.

It was good he came
to fix the air conditioner.
It's a lot cooler in here now.

     Lyn Ferlo
     For a Living
     edited by Nicholas Coles & Peter Oresick
     University of Illinois Press



April 8

AMERICAN ADHAAN
October, 2001

Watch night spalling to the western edge
of invisible, its cools surrender
to the peach-colored breccia
of sunrise clouds (just water
that has lately collapsed
into form)
How violently natural
my petroliferous town looks
in this faint, blue wash;
the slow, arc'd strokes
of great egret's wings
deny the crude thickness
of this air.
All the particulates
of the shattered world
are a compassion artist's Mecca.
Can you turn them
all at once
when you hear the call to prayer?

     Maria Melendez
     in Art/Life magazine 



April 9

some Haiku

morning sneeze
the guitar in the corner
resonates

     Dee Evetts

without a thought
the neighbor's back yard
turns green

     William J. Higginson

winter maple
stripped of everything
but a blue kite

     Winona Baker

first snow
the neglected yard
now perfect

     Elizabeth St. Jacques

after the flood
the album with old photos
lies under the fence

     Vasile Spinei

shooting the rapids
even the back of his head
looks surprised

     H. F. Noyes
     Haiku: Poetry Ancient & Modern
     edited by Jackie Hardy
     Tuttle Publishing



April 10

CAPITALIST POEM #36

We've got this cheese down here to give away
tens of thousands of pounds of cheese.

We're trying to establish procedures and specifications,
rules to discourage speculation and hoarding,

guidelines to foster the proper use of this
extraordinary resource. What we need is a system.

I mean it. Not one damn piece of cheese
leaves here until we get this figured out.

     Campbell McGrath
     The New American Poets
     edited by Michael Collier
     Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and Middlebury College Press



April 11

THE SPIRIT OF BLUE INK

What, this morning, do I have
As I put out my welcome mat for hope?

Enough millet for six months to keep
My bargain with the finches--I fill,

They eat, and then they fly away.
A yard of Thoreau on the bookshelf,

In case I want a paragraph on sweetgrass,
Floating-heart, or pigweed. Or the dry

Filed guide to the ocean, the sea
Still in print, with punctuation.

A gospel record, Christ in vinyl from
The Fifties, 33 1/3 hallelujahs

Per minute. A school bell across
The street teaches the lessons

Of time, velocity
And hard music. A mirror waiting ...

A morning movie shot during
The previous war, smiles and cigarettes,

Bright songs and cocktails.
And if I'm lucky, I can approach

The spirit of blue ink, the glory
Of the hand that works the difficult

And the dead, that waits out the past,
Attached as it is, not to a wrist,

But the heart. The heart that is
The leaf, that blows its way to you.

     Walter Pavlich
     The Spirit of Blue Ink
     Swan Scythe Press



April 12

THE PANTHER

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

     Rainer Maria Rilke
     The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
     Random House



April 13

I. The Burial of the Dead
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.

     opening lines of "The Waste Land"
     T. S. Eliot
     The Waste Land and Other Writings
     Random House



April 14

I FOUND ORPHEUS LEVITATING

above the hood of an illegally parked red Toyota Corolla
on Mabini Street. He was tired of all that descending
into and ascending from those pretentious
New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly poems.
He asked me to give him new clothes so I dressed him
in an old barong tagalog and some black pants.
Because he wanted new friends in a new land, I introduced
him to Kapitan Kidlat, our local comic book hero.
But after a few whips of that lightning bolt, Orpheus
recognized Kidalt as Zeus in another clever disguise.
So, I took him to Mt. Makiling where Malakas & Maganda
(the mythical first Filipino man and woman) live
in a mansion with an Olympic-size swimming pool.
He said Maganda's aquiline features remind him
of Eurydice and Malakas has the solid torso
of a younger Apollo. He asked me to translate
the word, threesome into Tagalog.
Malakas & Maganda agreed and they stripped
Orpheus of his clothes as they led him
to their giant bamboo bed.
I waited outside in the car all afternoon before he emerged
from the mansion smelling of Sampaguitas and Ylang-Ylang.
He was hungry so we drove to the nearest
Kamayan restaurant where he learned
how to eat rice and pork abobo with his bare hands.
"It's wonderful! This is the way it used to be.
When the industrial revolution happened, all of us on Mt. Olympus
suddenly had forks and knives appear in our hands. We used
them as garden tools at first." Afterwords, he wanted to drink
and go dancing. I paid the hundred-peso cover charge
for both of us at the Hobbit House in Ermita. The first
thing he did in the dark, smoky bar was trip over
one of the dwarf waiters, all the waiters were dwarfs."I'm sorry,
I couldn't see. It feels like as if I had just walked into a Fellini film."
He placed his hands in front of him as if he were pushing
back a glass wall , "No, No, I'm not in a movie,
I'm inside a fucking poem!
I can the see the poet's scrunched-up face on the other side
of the computer screen! " I told Orpheus to shut up
or the bouncers, who where not the same size as the waiters,
would throw us out of the bar. We sat
in a booth across from each other and ordered double
shots of Tanduay Rum. I asked him if he understood
the concept of "the willing suspension of disbelief."
I asked him to look me straight
in the face before he ran out into the street.

     Nick Carbo
     The New American Poets
     Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and Middlebury College Press



April 15

INTRODUCTION TO POETRY

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to water-ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

     Billy Collins
     Sailing Alone Around the Room
     Random House



April 16

THE WALLACE STEVENS METHOD OF SELLING INSURANCE

Wallace Stevens, famous magician and comedian
has come to town to talk about insurance

but nobody wants to buy they want poetry
I don't know from poetry says Wallace Stevens

and he pulls a rabbit out of his shirt
and he tells the one about the travelling salesman

and the farmer's daughter and we laugh so hard
he's such a card this Wallace Stevens that finally
we even buy his insurance

     Norman Stock
     Buying Breakfast for My Kamikaze Pilot
     Gibbs Smith, Publisher



April 17

ONE MOMENT AND THE NEXT IN THE PINE BARRENS

One moment a crow
on the highway's white line
is eating a dead thing,
the next a falling pinecone
leads my eye to a lost wallet.
I tell my wife
I think I'm in a story
the world is making for me.
In it I'm merely a bit player,
a walk-on. I'm saddened
when she doesn't disagree.
The wallet has $80 in it,
a slew of credit cards.
Hungry for praise
more than anything else,
I know I'll return it intact.
One moment a possum or
groundhog or small gray thing
allows itself to be frightened by us,
the next we see a trail
through the woods
marked with white thumbtacks.
Someone has placed them
eye-level on the tree trunks,
and we follow them
to an old wooden bridge
over a brook. My wife says,
We're living in a kind
of story where much is promised
and little happens,
the kind of story a fancy writer
might call "The Conundrums
of the Palpable,"
believing that could save it.
I don't disagree.
One moment mysterious thumbtacks,
next I'm standing on a bridge,
a tourist in the comedy
thoroughly lost with a clear view.

     Stephen Dunn
     Different Hours
    
W. W. Norton



April 18

CRICKET MOUNTAIN

The bridge under our wheels moaned, some said, because it was built in a time of war. Others were more specific-it moaned because of the two men buried in the concrete. Rommel built, the British maintained the asphalt after he was driven away. My father drives across it with the car lights off. The haze from the city is enough to show the way, he explains. Then we stop by a channel that carried sea water to the salt fields. There are no birds, not even the sudden flop of a fish, or the rumble of the city's thousand pariahs that roam the streets and howl through the night. The sound of the crickets crawls like a creature wanting
itself to be known, yet quick to withdraw. My father rests his hand on my shoulder to quiet me. Then soon there is nothing in the world but crickets' shroud. If you close your eyes you can almost see the mass of their history, the infinity of their births and deaths, the design of their invention and the idea of their purpose. Then this heap of intangibles rises like a mountain of silver,
glittering, luminous, doing away with the night ...

Who was I then, and who was my father?

And what was that city that tangled us in its muddy streets?

     Khaled Mattawa
     The New American Poets
     Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and Middlebury College Press



April 19

BODIES OF WATER

     Glimmerings are what the soul's composed of.
     --Seamus Heaney

Yes, but the body is made of water. That's
A fact. It freezes with fear
And boils with rage because it has its states.
It blows off steam. It swells with pride.
It sweats like a pipe,
But it is water.

Genetic pool, swamp of desires, its heart
Melts at a beautiful face;
Turned to a puddle, it stands in the street and admires.
The body runs hot and cold and down
In soaked beds,
Seeking its level.

There have been souls who drowned in pity, drowned
In sorrow. Just last week,
There was a glimmer of something out on the surface,
Then it went under. When divers went in
They found gold teeth
And hundreds of miles of water.

     Greg Williamson
     The New American Poets
      Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and Middelbury College Press



April 20

TAPROOT

Stooping to pull up a weed,
I think of my father
who made of weeding an art.

After work, he'd take a bucket
and his weeder from the toolshed
and clear an area of a yard he knew

would never look manicured,
whose quality would, at best,
be like something homemade.

He'd set the bucket upside down
and sit on it. Plotting a route
he'd shift the bucket, a move

so deft you might think he was just
leaning out to extend his reach.
He knew exactly where and what angle

to drive the weeder down,
north and south of the weed,
without severing the taproot.

When my father worked like this,
making small mounds he'd later
gather up in his bucket,

the dog would sniff at his bare feet
then lie down in the shade his body made.
Grounded there, he was most himself,

his hunger for perfection and control
giving way, finally, to the work itself.
It was easy to love him then.

     Debra Kang Dean
     The New American Poets
     Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and Middlebury College Press



April 21

WALKING ON ICE

My father and I hiked the snowy, dune-fringed
Indiana beach, glazed sand fractured
with our weight into patterns of broken capillaries.

Lake Michigan was subdued by ice a long way out
and we could walk through gardens of
frozen waves, time suspended in spray until spring.

It was easy to imagine then Antarctica's mad mountains,
penguins, polar bears, orca fins rolling by the floes,
clear and green as etched glass paperweights.

We stood at the edge of thick, cold water,
looked across chop and whitecaps to where we knew
Chicago lay, hidden city gray as storm clouds.

Going home, not far from shore, my father plunged,
no warning, just ungodly sound of cracking crust
as what had seemed so solid caved away.

He dropped, heart-high, landed hard on solid floor of white
and I could only watch, a breaker gripped mid-curl by cold,
freezing splash that did not come resounding.

I strained to pull as he climbed out, dusted jagged crystals
from his coat. He was fine, he said, shaken but not hurt.
Just don't tell your mother.

He died three years ago, November. With strength of boy
I was or man, I could not help him from that hole.
Now a different kind of winter has set in.

     Jim Natal
     In the Bee Trees
     Archer Books

THIN ICE

Walking in February
A warm day after a long freeze
On an old logging road
Below Sumas Mountain
Cut a walking stick of alder,
Looked down through clouds
On wet fields of the Nooksack-
And stepped on the ice
Of a frozen pool across the road.
It creaked
The white air under
Sprang away, long cracks
Shot out in the black,
My cleated mountain boots
Slipped on the hard slick
-like thin ice-the sudden
Feel of an old phrase made real-
Instant of frozen leaf,
Icewater, and staff in hand.
"Like walking on thin ice-"
I yelled back to a friend,
It broke and I dropped
Eight inches in

     Gary Snyder
     No Nature
    
Random House



April 22

When he was small, when he would fall,
on sand or carpet he would lie
quite flat and still until he knew
what he would do: get up or cry.

After the battle, flat and still
upon a hillside now he lies-
but there is nothing to decide,
for he can neither cry nor rise.

     Vladimir Nabokov
     Poets of World War II - edited by Harvey Shapiro

THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO

He watches from his upstairs window during the siege:
a serpentine bread line in the street outside
the one bakery that still has flour; sees
the mortar shell erase the line, leaves a hole like hunger,
22 people whose last act on earth is to stand,
shopping bags in hand, and be patient.
The next day, he
dresses for an evening concert, tuxedo and tie, stiff
collar, although the orchestra has long since disbanded.
With cello and bow he descends the stairs, ventures
beyond the pocked walls of his building to the crater,
where he plays a recital of faith, of defiance, as if
nothing can happen to him, not snipers
or bombs or police, the bow sawing the strings
but not cutting them, as if to show death is not a failure,
knowing he can not bring back his neighbors any more
than he can recapture the music, one recital
a day for each of them, as if they sit before him in
numbered seats of deep red velvet.
And after 22 days
he doesn't stop as he planned, continues
to play, a soloist in the debris of other
neighborhood, for other unacquainted dead, concertos
and dirges, sonatas, impromptus, adagios, nocturnes until
the Authorities-ah, the Authorities-deem him more
dangerous than newspaper editors, foreign photo-journalists,
TV crews, even poets. But the cello is broken.

     Jim Natal
     In the Bee Trees
     Archer Books



April 23

ELEGY

The work of burial is never done. First the interruption,
then the interruption, so it's carried on in sleep,
over the argument, floating in the water with the flowers
the shit the shells the debris from the city after the rains
have washed it to the beaches and the sea
has taken it up into itself. The figure with the shovel:
the figure with the shovel: the figure with
the book, the shoulders rising, the dog reading news
on the pavement washed then by rain running off
the asphalt
down into the gully where it goes under the city with
the tunneling

animals , the cunning animals, the readers under
the city

     Saskia Hamilton
     The New Yorker
     April 21 & 28, 2003



April 24

THEY HAD TORN OFF MY FACE AT THE OFFICE

They had torn off my face at the office.
The night I finally noticed
that it was growing back, I decided
to slit my wrists. Nothing ran out;
I was empty. Both of my hands fell off
shortly thereafter. Now at my job
they allow me to type with stumps.
It pleases them to have helped me,
and I gain in speed and confidence.

     Ted Kooser
     For a Living
     University of Illinois Press



April 25

LIFESAVING

You and I are like an old married couple
Since I pulled you from the swimming pool
(The "blueberry pie" you once described it)

In the evening sunshine of Dunsmuir, California.
My parents, that old married couple, stretched just beyond seeing
On the motel lawn chairs. They were wearing
Fresh clothes and smelled of shower soap.

They watched the rotating colored light play
Through the fountain and over the petunias
(Which must have thought it weird,

In their simple mind). The dust was settling
Out of the air from the highway project.
We had been going south all day and tomorrow
We would go south.

And they never found out. Your father
Never found out. Only in my mind
Do I hear your close call.

We dried off, it was a perfect evening,
The motel owner was playing "The Blue Danube" on his piano.
Mt. Shasta changed in the sunset like the petunias.
You looked over at some teenagers kissing in a shadow;

And you said, "So that's what love is."

for Phoebe

     Sandra McPherson
     Patron Happiness
     Ecco Press



April 26

THE STONE HOUSE

two men walk by me
one carries a rope
the other one holds an axe
they say nothing to me they only walk by
but I am curious I follow them
they go to a stone house in my old neighborhood
they walk up a back stairway I follow them
at the top of the stairs they turn and see me
walking up the stairs toward them
he is coming, one of them says
we meet in a small room they tie me up
the axe is not to be used, I am told, only the rope
then what is the axe for, I say, if not to be used on me
it was to get you to follow us, I am told, so we would
have you here
what is to become of me, I say, and there is an odd
confidence in my voice
you will remain as you are, I am told, your life will
not be any different than before
I know, I say, I have always known that, and I have
always been like this, but never here
you are wrong, I am told, this is where you have
always been
in this stone house, the only difference is that we are
here with you now

     Norman Stock
     Buying Breakfast for My Kamikaze Pilot
    
Gibbs Smith, Publisher



April 27

GATHERING AT THE RIVER

I.

In a thicket this morning, river-hung, a feed sack;
in it, a millstone and twelve gray kittens.

I have loved this river all my life. Also the God
who, surely, looked on and did nothing.

II.

My father says God is The Potter
who sets each man, as clay, on a wheel,

and makes of him a vessel, which He then
perfects
in the great fires of tribulation.

If the firing is done well, that man will endure,
and his faith, as the saints before him endured

their stonings, drownings, boiling-in-oil.
Like in the Book of Martyrs which I saw once as a child:

the righteous in white robes who, though demons gnashed at them,
lifted their eyes to heaven and praised God.

God will, in His own time--so says my father-deliver them.
Joy cometh in the morning.

III.

Shall we gather at the river, the old hymn goes, gather
with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.

But the river runs to sea and I am no saint this morning,
something in me drowned as these twelve dead

disciples of the sack, drowned
beyond praising anything.

IV.

Potter, after the wheel and the fire of this life,
You can cast me off on the banks of this river, a half-wrought

vessel, flawed: a busted cup where the dead are hung, a music
You'll hear again when the wind goes, singing, through it.

     Anne Caston
     The New American Poets
     Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and Middlebury College Press



April 28

AT THE RESTAURANT

     Life would be unbearable
     if we made ourselves conscious of it. - Fernado Pessoa

Six people are too many people
and a public place the wrong place
for what you're thinking--

stop this now.

Who do you think you are?
The duck a l'orange is spectacular,
the flan the best in town.

But there among your friends
is the unspoken, as ever,
chatter and gaiety its familiar song.

And there's your chronic emptiness
spiraling upward in search of words
you'll dare not say
without irony.
You should have stayed at home.
It's part of the social contract

to seem to be where your body is,
and you've been elsewhere like this,
for Christ's sake, countless times;

behave, feign.

Certainly you believe a part of decency
is to overlook, to let pass?
Praise the Caesar salad. Praise Susan's

black dress, Paul's promotion and raise.
Inexcusable, the slaughter in this world.
Insufficient, the merely decent man.

     Stephen Dunn
     Different Hours
     W. W. Norton



April 29

THE WOMAN IN THE FILM

Because the film is running backwards,
a fireman carries a woman up his ladder
and places her gently in a burning building.
She curls softly between her bed sheets
just as a slight line of smoke
winds around the room. I feel I should say something
to the projectionist--I begin to think backwards
to my childhood, when I lit matches
and threw them over the fence.
A fireman shows me what might have burned
besides the toolshed. He motions his hand
towards my family, until my mother tells him to stop.
I head to the projectionist's booth.
On screen, the fire's receding
towards the back of the woman's house--
my mind rewinds further until I'm nothing
but a look Father gives Mother over a candle
in some restaurant, and further still,
until my parents haven't met.
The projectionist doesn't hear me knocking.
The audience is laughing. I turn to find the fire's
gone out by itself, and the woman's own child
has just put a match back in the box.

     Lesley Dauer
     The New American Poets
     Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and Middlebury College Press



April 30

PATH THROUGH A FEW THINGS THAT MUST BE SAID FOR PUTAH CREEK, AT THE FOOT OF MONTICELLO DAM

Before we know we are spun
between the dam's spilled staircase
and dismaying face (a Venetian
blind holding back
an ocean)

and a violence
waiting for our trust
too turn its way,
we track down the old yellow canyon
of pipevine swallowtails,

pitch essence and effusions of anise,
and watch pines escalade out
from the flowing pathway:
The creek is governed. Violaceous Brodiaea
kicked high here, last month. Now, fennel

feathers low open places, bluegreen
etherous plumes surrounding
last year's silvery, or stannic, ghosts
of cellulose
like baskets of antique pens

saved for the half sentence of ink
left in each.
Buckeye's maybe-toxic clusters foam,
votive stadiums moot to bees.
Saw-toothed toyon blooms, bees

and variations all over it
It fills in the gaunt rut
of the canyon.
Honeybees, toe-fat, tapshoe-shape,
test the waters and taste. They need

to recover the wet composition
of their bodies--
and species-memory: Like the dry
overland flight of a bee
across Saint

Helen's devastation,
miles between shrubs,
hours between dew,
how low it flew over the ashes
without landings.

These bees go to the slaking ground
in its lapped, liquid, fast honey state.
As they lift away
from human impressions in the sand,
late morning light in the shadows

outlines a water strider's shadow--
the way a longhaired cat
nimbuses, searching a dirt road at dusk,
or a buck's backlit antler velvet
glows as he lowers, foraging

on a lupine hummock in the foredune.
Two skippers contact
and separate--six coal ovals
(as after theatrical lack of sleep, under eyes),
twelve, then six and six--

to the faint chaos of a sequence
of brief bell-like water-sounds,
like one-line piano compositions
by Donald Justice
(or one-line poems

in an inch-high issue
of Dragonfly, 1972).
The water is the churned green
of my birthfather's last cup
of morphine

as I saw it two
days later through his door.
And the current is cold
below its sunburst top-water.
If over this slow-sided, fast-centered creek flying

insects graph a transparent map,
faster still a swallow's life
consists in devouring the backroads,
the dashed ones,
off that map

one route at a time.
Orbit consuming byway.
Flight-paths almost become visible:
pointed-winged parabolas
like a hook

full of thin years of belts
falling to the closet floor.
The swallows move on; the tangle
stays in the eyes.
And as we come out of the canyon,

flow
away and on,
somehow in this time,
in minutes we lost,
someone has abandoned

a stolen Mazda
and ripped parts from it,
not closed the doors
or trunk,
has undone the tires,

left the car
unadorned,
Quaker,
its idling trembles
gone. They pass into me.

I am antique with fear,
recoiling from but mulling
branched lines of the fractured windshield,
headlights and reflectors,
their light beaten

out of them, crumpled.
the scene is not stranger than the way
one visionary schizophrenic ruins
a holy city painting
with jealous ravings

or beloved Jeffers jolts
every sublime
seascape with rage.
I don't know what will take
the car's carcass over,

my terrified incomprehension
over;
I don't know how we end up feeling
better from worse
when the mechanism's gone--

but we leave,
cross the bridge
(and its county line sign)
above the suspended pueblo
of the cliff swallows,

the gates of their adobe
abodes made of creek-water,
grit, and mud of dust
from which fennel fledges herb-winged
and pine ascends, nourished.

Dominion--death has it, beauty has it,
water has it, drought
has it. Within the cells of peace
war is jailed or escapes,
violent with thieves.

And, their barium chloride
fireworks backs
dazzling us even in memory,
the violet-green
swallows fly up, up

to take over the woodpecker holes.

     Sandra McPherson
     Edge Effect
     Wesleyan University Press

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