I am from Ross Park,
and the Myrtle Avenue Feed Store where
employees handed us third-graders
baby chicks to hold
and we skipped around May Poles
lined up outside our classrooms.
we rode bikes under gray skies
through greenery we ignored
to Hammond, Carson, 20-30, Highland.
Carson had egg hunts and art contests.
20-30 was for softball.
Tennis, Oh, I loved tennis
at Hammond and Highland.
I am from the roller rink
though I never wore a skirt,
or skated backwards.
Saturday matinees at the Eureka
before the State opened,
evenings in the library
after the roller rink shut down,
I skated at the Muni.
Now, I am an old gray hair
in boots and jeans
walking my dog through the trees,
I watch mothers spread out
birthday celebrations on
picnic tables while
uncles play catch
with boys whose
fathers push sisters
on the swings.
The older girls are running
and the toddlers are taking their first steps.
I can’t remember exactly where the
twirly slide circled the old tree.
When I was ten,
I didn’t see the lace necklace
Sequoia Park wears
In her trilliums,
the Iris, Rhode’s.
I didn’t see the trees
we raced through,
the bridges across ravines
we braved on hands and knees.
Now, I know
the trees need us
as much as we need
to look up.
And now, I see
the orange vests every year,
after the first hard rain.
How old are the arteries
running beneath me?
How many years have we
cleaned the drains our ancestors
to keep me dry?
Now, I like to wave,
and say thank you
to the orange vests.
I like to visit
with my people
in my home
on the trails
with my dog.
Love Will Come
If doubt slips into your day,
splay your fingers wide
and let the confusion pour out
as if doubt was your middle name,
washing the earth clean
like rain water your middle name
coming from an open hand.
No more fist
No more fist.
Your avalanche of confidence ...
To cover your
“I don’t know?”
As a man, you
all that death
if doubt pierces your nose
and hangs out there in front
of your smile.
You would ask for help.
You would lay in our arms.
You would cry.
Your tears, a waterfall
hollowing out a clear pool.
warmed by rocks
under the sun.
You need say nothing.
You are not your fear.
Go to the beach,
Sit down on the driftwood.
Say thank you.
Go to the trees.
after you’ve worked
for your bread, your roof,
Until winter has you wrapped
In front of the warm fire
you’ve dared to share
with a guest.
Love will come
if you practice.
Into a Poem
If I had a photograph of her skirt,
satin, bunched like poverty to the knees.
Her cloth bag shouldered like a purse.
White blouse with no apparent seams
Full of untucked and left-over dishevel.
Her eight-year-old eyes glanced at me:
Fifty, a foreign language,
lips stuck to their purse, waist pushing.
Articulate and skilled purchase
at the counter.
I gave in.
Remembered my childhood pretend.
The pressure, pleasure, pain.
The pushing against walls
I could not see or understand.
That flood of P words struck me
as I watched her pay the clerk.
And then me.
Letting the whole thing go somehow,
into a poem at least.
... for all the non-bird watching people
who love bird watchers ...
Bird List for Hal
Whitish bird that flies funny.
Little brown birds.
Medium black (colored) bird.
Red head and chest birds (brown bottoms).
Soaring white pair of lovers looking like kites: sleek and pointed.
S-necked black bird (big).
Like and Egret bird.
Mud-hunting bird (same as flying funny bird).
Streaking by white birds (or jet birds).
S-necked again with an Egret-like partner (white).
Brilliant dark red head and chest humming in quite close bit fat bird.
Bird on third stick to the right
down on second branch between two leaves.
Either a bird or a beer can.
Wish you were here.
Is one leaf
falling away alone
the image of me?
A solitary red or yellow
alighting on water
or tucked into grasses?
Am I never to be the
splash of fall color,
the centerpiece of October,
the highlights in Halloween,
the dressing on the mantle?
Maybe, I am
one brown pine needle
caught in a spider web
six feet above the blanket
of all my relatives
in a winter garden.
I splits the sunrise
in a drop of water.
A shocking thirty seconds of light refracted,
and a spider for the camera.
That could be me!
Like one tiny spot of red
in a Van Gogh landscape,
or on your canvas,
They Grow Up In Our Hands
So you're twelve, thirteen, and right all the time like
no one can ever tell you anything because of all the stripes
in your hat bands and then all the glass shoes.
You are princesses going to the ball in limousines
or riding sidesaddle some of you and some of you are bareback on a black shiny horse and you can ride him
fresh out clean as washed lettuce in the salad.
My eyes are tomatoes watching you.
You are all apples in my tomato eyes.
We are all growing up.
For the first time, I'm thirty-five.
And you are thirteen, almost fourteen.
You're going out on limbs after blossoms
and the branch is going to break sometimes
but it's okay, because some of those blooms
will grow. Right there in your hands!
Fourteen is fresh flowers on a white table cloth.
You pretty much know you're not going to fly off
in a pumpkin but a Lear jet really could land in the alley
if they'd just pave it!
"War is stupid, Mrs. Genger. Why don't they just stop it?"
"I don't know."
"And why can't I do three things at once in class if I want to?"
"I don't know."
And then, the blackboard is erased.
The janitor has swept and mopped.
My bedding plants are in six-packs
waiting on the deck.
"Good Luck. Have a nice summer.
You keep reaching for blossoms."
It's really neat when they grow in our hands.
This is a True Story
One time I got up from cleaning my
wood stove's ashes
and wrote a poem
about a speech I made once
at a Spring Awards Banquet
about a high school
that so heavily appropriated
its Athletic Department
that all the other departments
became so heavily less appropriated.
557 people booed
25 people clapped.
And then I went back to my
wood stove's ashes.
Had my husband been with me,
joined at the hip with our son,
their words firing off over every nuance
of scientific extravaganza,
the Hayden Planetarium might have been more
than another New York city attraction for me
where I saw an old man on his daughters' arm,
and another one, barely standing, alone on his cane.
The 20's. the depression. WWII.
How he got his first driver's license,
or managed his first car.
Did he raise silk worms, drop out of school,
sell insurance, or make a lot of money?
I thought of every conceivable way
I might approach this old man.
Spend some time.
Ask him scientific questions of great value.
But tears were going to roll.
I had to call them back.
Accuse myself of only missing the man in my life
who stood alone on his cane.
Pretend I didn't really feel this old man's
as he stood next to me
watching the big bang.
Pretend I didn't really see it
in the Hayden Planetarium.
This living and dying
we all pass through.
Is There A Perfect Moment?
A poem is a photograph hiding in words.
Not: guess-what's-outside-the-frame kind of hiding,
but hiding in rhythms; in syllables, in sound.
The poem tricks the mind's eye.
Dream or nightmare: whichever tone applied; applies.
Rhyme pleases more than what is said.
So much so that we believe it.
We say yes without thinking it through,
without looking in the margin,
without advocating for the devil.
A photograph is a mood hiding in broad daylight.
Not the sneer and pinched eyes kind of mood,
but moody like a raw angle or a hot red.
A photograph can be the exact truth.
Either beginning or ending. You get to choose.
Shape pleases. We think we know who we are.
We say yes without thinking it through,
without looking outside the frame,
without advocating for the devil.
A mood can be like plaid flannel, or 100% cotton.
It can be low cut or long sleeved.
Sequined or tattooed. Stiletto or boot.
A mood is our wager against embarrassment,
our round of applause, our defense weapon.
At best, mood is a terrycloth bathrobe,
new pajamas, clean sheets.
We are covered in it, always, our mood.
Humble is the best mood. It always pleases. Really.
Humble is that t-shirt under the itch of of wool.
The camisole between you and your chiffon.
It's the girdle (god help us) under spandex.
Bring on the poem. The photograph.
Say yes. We can think it through.
Look in the margin and outside the frame.
We can advocate for the devil.
It's all in the mood.
And humble is the best mood.
A camisole covering your see-through.
Maybe a slip against lust.
Humble might be pretty, might not.
Humble is a deep, deep hue.
Like when the sunlight hits Section Line Lake.
My son's first fish.
Naiads rising by the millions.
Light going all the way to the bottom.
We were on top of a mountain.
We. I was not alone.
And I wrote it in a poem.
I shot it in a camera.
And felt it. The gift
that humble feels.
It is the best feel. Really.
It always pleases.
Eureka, California, 95501
My brothers greased up and swam the bay
back when my dad still made house calls.
I was around seven.
Now, right where my brothers dove in sixty years ago,
I dance on summer Thursdays
With people who are
not loud or quiet, flamboyant or invisible,
upstarts or old.
We are just dancing.
Tattooed or tanned on
Friday summer evenings,
At Saturday Arts Alive, or
Dog days at the park.
Bald, spiked, dyed, or gray,
dreads, plaited, bobbed, or shaved,
4th of July brings us out again
to celebrate all day and into the night
with fireworks after the barbeques
and the visiting.
I walk the trail with my dog,
and this time, I stop to sit.
Weott designed, I read
the few words, the poem.
My smallest measure of white guilt relieved
knowing we returned
the smallest measure of land
to those who came before us.
On ahead, music booms from car radios.
Families of six or ten are circled together
Their lawn chairs in a line
the entire length of Halvorson Park.
I notice the food, the babies, the dads
playing soccer behind pickups or cars,
rusty or new.
Not one family is all white like me.
We love each other’s dogs and smile.
The sun is in my eyes, brilliant on
Humboldt Bay. Shimmering.
Adorni Center’s deck is filled with tables
covered in white linen, cloth napkins.
Forty dollars per, and the whole shebang
goes to the youth program.
Me, hoping the tables will fill.
On down to the dancing crowd,
the fence is gone.
The trail is coming,
At the boardwalk, I search for seals
in water I still kayak, or canoe.
Where in winter I watch boats
stacked high with pots
chugging out to collect the crab
I savor on a seeded baguette
baked next door and
covered with cheese made twenty miles
down the road.
Sometimes I drive down Higgins street.
I do. All by myself.
To see the gingerbread and stained glass.
The siding, the trim, restored in a tri-colored celebration
of architecture in such detail
I am stunned at the beauty.
Eureka is not liberal or conservative,
Neither hard nor soft,
lonely or happy,
lovely or ugly.
We are the stewards
of our future.
wanting the homeless sheltered,
wanting the addicted to recover,
wanting our jobs without loosing
From people to bees,
from the bay to the trees
we want our health.
We want our home.
I want my home.