I am from Ross Park,

Cooper’s Gulch

Franklin Elementary

and the Myrtle Avenue Feed Store where

every spring

employees handed us third-graders

baby chicks to hold

and we skipped around May Poles

lined up outside our classrooms.

 

Later,

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

and later,

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

designed

to keep me dry?

 

Now, I like to wave,

and say thank you

to the orange vests.

and

 

I like to visit

with my people

in my home

town

on the trails

with my dog.

Love Will Come

 

Young men,

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

Please. 

No more fist.

 

Your avalanche of confidence ...

for what?

To cover your

“I don’t know?”

 

As a man, you

won’t authorize

all that death

if doubt pierces your nose

and hangs out there in front

of your smile.

 

No.

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

and sand

under the sun.

You’d bathe.

You need say nothing.

You are not your fear.

 

Go to the beach,

alone.

Barefoot.

Sit down on the driftwood.

Say thank you.

 

Go to the trees.

Look up.

Listen.

 

Tomorrow,

after you’ve worked

for your bread, your roof,

begin again.

Until winter has you wrapped

in blankets,

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

or shape.

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.

Back straight.

Wrecked shoes.

And then me.

Standing there.

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.

Humming-like 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).

More lovers.

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.

Love, Margot

I Belong

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

laying down

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!

Making art

for anyone.

Everyone!

Like one tiny spot of red

in a Van Gogh landscape,

or on your canvas,

I belong.

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.

Hayden Planetarium

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

whole life

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.

learning compromise,

learning kindness,

wanting the homeless sheltered,

wanting the addicted to recover,

wanting our jobs without loosing

anything.

 

From people to bees,

from the bay to the trees

we want our health.

 

We want our home.

I want my home.

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