Continuing "The Digger Cycle"   Friday, August 06, 2010


I have a longer post than usual this week, following a couple of weeks of shorter posts than usual.

My featured poet again this week is Sexton T. Stearns, with the last half of his 30-poem series, The Digger Cycle. If you didn’t read the first half last week, or even if you did read it last week, I suggest you scroll on down to last week’s post and read, or, reread, the first 15 poems before finishing the last 15 in this week’s post.

It is one story, told in 30 parts from a variety of points of view. All in all, a remarkable achievement, written a poem a day for 30 days as a housemate on Blueline’s Poem a Day forum.

It’s also a longer than usual post because I kept running into things in my library I liked and didn’t want to leave out.

And then, of course, there’s my stuff, mostly okay.

Here’s the list:

Wiselava Szymborska
Among the Multitudes
Photography from September 11
Return Baggage

the liberal godless socialist media will never tell you this, but...

Ishmael Reed
Untitled I
Untitled III
Untitled IV
This Poetry Anthology I’m Reading

mind the pig

Mary Oliver
The Poet With His Face in His Hands
Percy (One)
Percy (Two)
The Old Poets of China

Whoretown at 15

Nikki Giovanni
They Clapped

it’s not about me getting older

Philippe Jaccottet
1956 - October
1958 - December
1959 - February
1969 - August
1961 - March
1962 - April
1963 - June
1963 - November
1966 - March
1967 - March
1967 - November

Sexton T. Stearns
The Digger Cycle (Part 2)

Sandra M. Gilbert
In the Garage of the Retirement Complex

on the cover of Time Magazine

Bonnie Lyons
walking out

poppin’ fresh poems

Joel Nelson
Sundown in the Cow Camp


Leroy V. Quintana
Poem for U-Haul
Those People Who Drink a Lot of Wine
Etymology: Chicano
The Rockets Red Glare

seems the slower i go the aheader i get

For my images this week, I’m going to Photobucket’s color splash thing one more time. I have some pictures, all from San Antonio’s Riverwalk that I want to try it on. Then, that’s it for a while.

Maybe I can find someone else to send me some images, paintings, photos, etc.

I start this week with three poems by Polish poet Wiselawa Szymborska. They are from her book Monologue of a Dog, published by Harcourt in 2006. It is a bilingual book, with the poet’s Polish version and English translation by Clare Cavanaugh and Stanislaw Baranczak on facing pages.

Szymborska, born July 2, 1923 in Prowent, Poland, is a poet, essayist and translator. Awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, her reputation rests on a relatively small body of work: she has not published more than 250 poems to date, most of them translated into many European languages, as well as into Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese.

Only 250 poems! if I could write just 25 poems as good as these I’d happily never write anything again, not even grocery lists.

Among the Multitudes

I am who I am.
A coincidence no less unthinkable
than any other.

I could have had different
ancestors, after all.
I could have fluttered
from another next
or crawled bescaled
from under another tree.

Nature’s wardrobe
holds a fair supply of costumes:
spider, seagull, field mouse.
Each fits perfectly right off
and is dutifully worn
into shreds.

I didn’t get a choice either,
but I can’t complain.
I could have been someone
much less separate.
Someone from an anthill, or buzzing swarm,
an inch of landscape tousled by the wind.
Some much less fortunate
bred for my fur
or Christmas dinner,
something swimming under a square of glass.

A tree rooted to the ground
as the fire draws near.

A grass blade trampled by a stampede
of incomprehensible events.

A shady type whose darkness
dazzled some.

What if I had prompted only fear,
or pity?

If I’d been born
in the wrong tribe,
with all roads closed before me?

Fate has been kind
to me thus far.

I might have been given
the memory of happy moments.
My yen for comparison
might have been taken away.

I might have been myself minus amazement,
that is,
someone completely different.

Photography from September 11

they jumped from the burning floors -
one, two, a few more,
higher, lower.

The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them
above the earth toward the earth.

Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.

There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.

They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.

I can do only two things for them -
describe this flight
and not add a last line.

Return Baggage

The cemetery plot for tiny graves.
We, the long lived, pass by furtively,
like wealthy people passing slums.

Here lie little Zosia, Jacek, Dominik,
prematurely stripped of the sun, the moon,
the clouds, the turning seasons.

They didn’t stash much in their return bags.
Some scraps of sights
that scarcely count as plural.
A fistful of air with a butterfly flitting.
A spoonful of bitter knowledge - the taste of medicine.

Small-scale naughtiness,
granted, so of it fatal.
Gaily chasing the ball across the road.
The happiness of skating on thin ice.

This one here, that one down there, those on the end:
before they grew to reach a doorknob,
break a watch,
smash their first windowpane.

Malgorzata, four years old,
two of them spent staring at the ceiling.

Rafalek: hissed his fifth birthday by a month,
and Zuzia missed Christmas,
when misty breath turned to frost.

And what can you say about one day of life,
a minute, a second:
darkness, a lightbulb’s flash, then darkness again?

Only stony Greek has words for that.

(I had to look up the meaning of the Greek phrase - “In the grand universe, time is a paradox.” - thinking others might be curious as well.)

I hear it all the time, this insistence that there are terrible things happening out there and the fascist/socialist government is keeping the socialist/fascist media from telling us about it.

Part of it is X-Files - “the truth is out there” - hangover and part of it is plain old paranoia and part of it is - a perhaps a more controversial theory - that people are desperate to believe that someone is in charge, even if that someone is lying and keeping secrets.

Anyway, it irritates the hell out of me whenever I hear it, from whomever I hear it. Makes me want to tell people to grow up and quit looking for excuses for their ignorance.

the liberal godless socialist media will never tell you this, but...

the liberal godless socialist media
will never tell you
this, but...

Barack Obama was born in a hospital
and has five toes
on each

Nancy Pelosi
brushes her teeth with

Harry Reed
grew up in a Nevada desert
with sand
in his underpants

Hillary Clinton
was a Presbyterian
in a her youth and while
in the White House
was very close to a number of

many Democrats
are white men who can’t

many other Democrats
are black people in possession of natural
and great recipes for sweet-potato pie

some Democrat women
wear underpants and some
do not - unlike Harry Reed, none
of the Democrat women
who wear underpants have sand
in them

Ted Kenedy was
mortal - unlike Ronald
Reagan who will live forever
in the right-thinking minds of our viewers
who know that we, here at the
Squirrel Network,
report all the news, including
the important secret stuff
the regular,
socialist media
will never let you

My next several poems are by Ishmael Reed, from the book, New and Collected Poems, published in 1989 by Atheneum.

Reed, born in 1938) is a poet, essayist, and novelist, known for his satirical works challenging American political culture, and highlighting political and cultural oppression. He recently retired from teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught for thirty-five years.

His archives are located at the University of Delaware in Newark.

Untitled I

friday in berkeley. the crippled
ship has just returned from
behind the moon. fools wave
flags on destroyers in the pacific
i am worried abt this dog
lying in the street. he wants
to get some sun. the old man
across the street trims his
rosebush while just 4 blocks
away there is a war. people
are being arraigned
hauled away to sr rita
made to lie on the floor
the newspapers will lie
abt all this . abt these
12 year olds throwing
stones at the cops, they
wanted to get some sun
no matter how heavy
traffic was coming down
on them

Untitled III

everybody in columbia
heights speaks french
ever go to a party there?
bore you to tears.

Untitled IV

the difference between
my heart & your
intellect. my un
disciplined way of
things (i failed
the written driver’s
test for example)
& your science, is
the difference between
the earth &
the snow.

the earth wears its
colors well. builds them
loves them & sticks with

the snow needs no one.
it lies there all cold
like. it greases behind
wolftracks & and wingless
dead birds.
it is hardship on the poor

thinking is its downfall

This Poetry Anthology I’m Reading

this poetry anthology
i’m reading reminds me
of washington d.c.
every page some marbled
trash. old adjectives stand
next to flagcovered coffins.
murderers mumbling in
their sleep.

in the rose garden the
madman strolls alone. the
grin on his face just
won’t quit.

Life holds many lessons. Sometimes you just have to look for them.

mind the pig

i like
& competent
animals that they are

i like
bacon better

a lesson
for young men & women
fresh off higher education and in need

the pig...

your smart remarks
to yourself
and comb your hair

for good looks
good taste win out every time

Now I have several poems by Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems, volume Two, published by Beacon Press in 2005.

Oliver was born in Maple Heights, Ohio, a semi-rural suburb of Cleveland, in 1935.. She briefly attended both Ohio State University and Vassar College in the mid-1950s, but did not receive a degree at either college. She was influenced by the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, and as a teenager, lived for a brief while in her home, where she helped Millay's sister organize the papers Millay left behind following her death. During the early 1980s, she taught at Case Western Reserve University. In 1984, her collection of poetry, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In 1986, she moved to Bucknell University where she was Poet In Residence. In 1991, she served as the Margaret Banister Writer in Residence at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. She then moved to Bennington, Vermont, where she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington until 2001. Oliver currently lives in Massachusetts.

The Poet With His Face in His Hands

You want to cry aloud for you
mistakes. But to tell the truth the world
doesn’t need any more of that sound.

So if you’re going to do it and can’t
stop yourself, if your pretty mouth can’t
hold it in, at least go by yourself across

the forty fields and the forty dark inclines
of rocks and water to the place where
the falls are flinging out their white sheets

like crazy, and there is a cave behind all that
jubilation and water-fun and you can
stand there, under it, and roar all you

want and nothing will be disturbed; you can
drip with despair all afternoon and still,
on a green branch, it’s wings just lightly touched

by the passing foil of the water, the thrush,
puffing out its spotted breast, will sing
of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.

Percy (One)

Our new dog, named for the beloved poet,
ate a book which unfortunately we had
    left unguarded.
Fortunately it was the Bhagavad Gita,
of which many copies are available.
Every day now, as Percy grows
into the beauty of his life, we touch
his wild, curly head and say,

“Oh, wisest of little dogs.”

Percy (Two)

I have a little dog who likes to nap with me.
He climbs on my body and puts his face in my neck.
He is sweeter than soap.
He is more wonderful than a diamond necklace,
    which can’t even bark.
I would like to take him to Kashmir and the Ukraine,
    and Jerusalem and Palestine and Iraq and Darfur,
that the sorrowing thousands might see his laughing mouth.
I would like to take him to Washington, right into
    the oval office
where Donald Rumsfeld would crawl out of the president’s
and kneel down on the carpet, and romp like a boy.

For once, for a moment, a rational man.

The Old Poets of China

Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

Sometimes you just remember stuff, you know. No reason for it, but a good thing for a poet trying to come with his poem for the day.

whoretown at 15

is how it was,
how i remember it -

15 years old
the neon streets of whoretown

and beyond the lights, walking the
dark back-streets
where from shadowed

voices called,
the desperate calling

the even more
desperate -
and the cantinas

and young girls
dancing naked, Salomes dancing
under a hot summer sky

and old whores
lined up against the wall
like broken toys at a flea-market -

bargain basement romance
for the broke and the dreamless
to the tick-tock of a harlot’s clock -

cigarettes glowing a strange, neon-orange
in a sulfurous fog of Mexican diesel -
on the streets of whoretown

where sex was
a business,
like a barbershop, like fast food

on an interstate - take a number,
your turn

now serving lucky number 13

Here’s a poem by Nikki Giovanni, from her book My House, published in 1972 by Quill.

Giovanni was born in Tennessee in 1943. She is a Grammy-nominated American poet, activist and author.

She began her advanced education at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, her grandfather's alma mater. She graduated in 1967 with honors, receiving a B.A. in history. Afterwards she went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. She began teaching in 1969 at Livingston College of Rutgers University.

Currently, she is a Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech.

They Clapped

they clapped when we landed
thinking africa was just and extension
of the black world
they smiled as we taxied home to be met
black to black face not understanding africans lack
color prejudice
they rushed to declare
cigarettes, money, allegiance to the mother land
not knowing despite having read fanon and davenport
hearing all of j.h. clarke’s lectures, supporting
nkrumah in ghana and nigeria in the war that there was once
a tribe called afro-americans that populated the whole
of africa

they stopped running when they learned the packages
on the women’s heads were heavy and that babies didn’t
cry and disease is uncomfortable and that villages are fun
only because you knew the feel of good leather on good
they cried when they saw mercedes benz were as common
in lagos as volkswagens are in berlin
the shook their heads when they understood there was no
difference between the french and the english and
and the afro-americans or the tribe next door or the country
across the border
they were exasperated when they heard sly and the family
in francophone africa and they finally smiled when little
who spoke no western tongue said “james brown” with
they brought out their cameras and bought out africa’s
when they finally realized they are strangers all over
and love is only and always abouit the lover not the beloved
they marveled at the beauty of the people and the richness
of the land knowing they could never possess either

they clapped when they took off
for home despite the dead
dream they saw a free future.

    [29 aug 71]

I can deal with my own graceful aging. It’s all these other people going to pieces that disturb me.

it’s not about me getting older

is not about
me getting older...

this is about
the advancing decrepitude

of everyone else,
like Ringo Starr, 70 years old,
not the glamorous one, but

more like the guy
who goes to work every day,
pounds nails or whatever,

a regular type guy
who has a beer on the way home from work
and falls asleep in front of the TV, surprised one day

to find himself rich and famous,
and liking it - and Raquel Welch,
so many steamy dreams

turning to dust
as she approaches 70 later this year -
my grandmas!

i can’t be having
these kinds of dreams
about my grandma -

and Bugs,
who turned 70 last week,
the wiseacre
who took us through wars
and depressions

and polyester
and tuna casserole,
assassinations, Dragnet, Gunsmoke,

and Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should
and a little dab’ll do’ya and riots
and peace demonstrations and Woodstock

and laugh-in and playboy and FDR, HST,IKE,JFK,LBJ,
and the lesser breeds that followed and arty French
films with naked women ooo la la, through all that

and now, retired,
an old coot-bunny in a rocker
on the porch of some Hollywood home

for the used-to-be’s, with Porky,
his best pal, now,
at his side, both at an age

where past grudges
can be set aside in favor of extra portions
of morning oatmeal,

both in their rockers,
both with eyes growing heavy
in the warm California sun

ready for sleep, ready
to drift off together one last time,
and maybe i'll join them

me and them and all the gang,
waiting our time,
ready for Porky’s very last,

th-th-th-th-ats all folks!

Now I have several selections by Philippe Jaccottet from Seedtime, Extracts from the Notebooks 1954-1967. Originally published by Editions Gallimard in 1971, my edition was published by New Direction in 1977. The book’s translators were Andre Lefevere and Michael Hamburger.

Jaccottet, who was born in Switzerland in 1925 is a poet and translator who publishes in French.

After completing his studies in Lausanne, he lived several years in Paris. In 1953, he came to live in the town of Grignan in Provence. He has translated into French Goethe, Hölderlin, Mann, Mandelstam, Góngora, Leopardi, Musil, Rilke, and Ungaretti, as well as Homer's Odyssey.

I have used only short entries from the book for this presentation. This should not lead you to believe that this is a book of such short pieces. In fact, the short pieces are more the exception than the rule.



     The reeds: how their velvety ears burst, allow the slow escape of a stream of seeds, a crop, in the most absolute silence. A woman giving birth; moans of pain, blood. In absolute silence, sweet, irresistibly slow, the plant bursts and scatters itself on the mercy of the wind.



     Just before eight, when the sky is completely overcast, the world is brown only, a table of earth. A lamp lit in the street here, yellow like a sun without rays, there a gilded door opens, a shadow looks, long, at the weather that will come to the garden.


     The mobile, translucid constellations of rain on the windows, they are only veils on the march, seen from afar, curtains closing.
the panting, irregular wind from the south; the wind from the north, mechanical.



     Frozen snow in the morning.
     At night, after a day of uninterrupted snow, a landscape white, brown and black, seldom seen here. That weight on the trees, so light, as if we looked at them through gauze. A joy of childhood over the whole village: old men throw snowballs.



Even in the brightest daylight the day averts its face,
So what can frighten it on make it ashamed?



Heart more dark than the violet
(eye soon closed again by the chasm)
learn to exhale that fragrance
which opens so gently a way
across the impassable.



     Monument to the impossible. the best of yourself given, in total loss, to what will never be obtained.

     Flowers of the peach tree given to the bees of fire.

     No more turning away: go back like a whip to its mark. Looks, words like whips.



In the flowering lime tree
beyond it tumescence
its hum
the sight
of the evening sky
the passage of light

Only that awakens me now
that far off sleep

Nothing but luminous air
and somewhere the fire that sleeps.
Only that now, on this day
the immense world
the house of birds
and the nest of sleep



     Seven in the morning: chestnut trees like a flame in the fog; the green of the grass between the roots of the vine, intense and clear. Difficult to grasp what evokes the strangeness of those trees (where birds still cry). Aggressive car engines. A hunter, bent and skinny, passes quickly, engraved by Callot.



     The little peach tree in the distance, on a spot of light green meadow. Nothing else, an arrow that hollows out our deepest depths.



     Almond trees, from a distance: foam over the landscape against the dark background of ashes, earth.
     Closeup: green, white, yellow, that harmony so short that one hardly has the time to grasp it. Colour of milk.


     Autumn: rain on the flames. Landscape flaming, and cold, Flowers, mist, humidity. If the rain itself would burn...


     A visit to the house of the deceased. A dog under the dead woman’s bed; three unsightly crones by her bedside. One of them gets up from time to tome to sprinkle holy water on that face of wax. In the room you have to walk through pastel-coloured underwear, with little flowers, is lying around on the bed, unmade.

Next, here’s the second half of the poem The Digger Cycle that I started last week. The Cycle is a story told over a series of 30 poems by Sexton T. Stearns, nom de plume of a long time poet and poetry editor who, choosing a freshen his poetic boundaries with a new name, has been posting on Blueline’s “House of 30” for the past couple of months. The Digger Cycle was written over the course of one month, a new poem added to the story every day for 30 days.

The Digger Cycle, Part 2

Ellie: Arrival

Mother says father says baby is arriving
are you my mother? the baby bird asked
the kitten

baby is arriving baby dressed in yellow
little girl not little fellow Daddy laughs
and makes me show him with the doll
baby gentle baby soft downy soft and

baby sleeps in Mommy’s room in
a baby cage at night she cries and Father
moves her to the bed and goes to pee
and baby eats. I hear TV and voices
in the wall that are not me

baby’s name is Elenora just like Mother
but baby’s name is Ellie because Lenny
is a name for boys and no daughter of hers
will get stuck with butts and jokes
and Mother smokes sometimes
and Father gets so mad because the baby
and no windows in this fucking place
and he needs space

and Mommy lets me show her
with the doll my sister safe my sister sweet
and looking twice across the street
and we will have to teach her many things
then Mommy sings the lulling-bye
and sometimes Ellie falls to sleep
and sometimes
Mother turns her head
and cries

Lenny: Days in this Closet with Your Light

When you were very small,
fresh as a dried cotton sheet;
when there were scarcely any
minutes on your clock
you smiled at me,
and I knew—beyond the fringy ken
of numbers; beyond the spokes
of science and of myth—
that you were bright,
a light like fair amber summer,
that you would grow
a language
all your own,
and make it ours
to share.

Now, at five,
you have rewritten
my dog-eared glossary
of days.
For us, there is never enough
of enough: What spots,
what rough you smooth.

How your brother dotes
on you, leaving
his half-eaten breakfast
when he hears you opening
our dresser, picking through
the drawers for your clothes.
He makes a quick hug
with himself
before running down the hallway
to our room
and knocking at the door,
calling ellie ellie ellie
until he sees your face
and topples to his knees
for you to squeeze him
hard hard hard.

Some days
you could be his mother,
reading pictures out of books
in yellow bean bags
by the window,
eating chips and golden raisins
on the porch.
You hand him words
like little snacks
and he echoes

like the echo of a bell

from some near-forgotten Village
where people we may never meet
tend orchards of strange fruit
among themselves.

Robert James: Nuclear Winter

Every day he brings the mail. Black boots on the porch. Finds
my number in the row of rusty black boxes. Drops letters in the
slot with fingergloves. Early morning in the cold. Right here,
somehow, the world begins to eat me.

Stand in line for money, stand in line to pay; stand in line for
breakfast in a bag. Nothing out there loves you, nothing loves
the child, nothing bends down to your level and holds your
hands, there are only arrows pointing where to go. No
explanations worth a dollar’s worth of sense. An empty

gray immense. And you, who have few words in proper
context, with your hands that wander happily from task to
incomprehensible task, that wrap beneath your arms when you
are paralyzed with terror or with tears, where will you roll
out there, trapped inside your plastic ball of disabilities?

I see you with your sister, how you need her, how you run to
her door every morning, your loud feet above the neighbor’s
head, calling her name while she is just waking, folding your
fifteen-year frame to her five-year-old bones, squeezing her
hard in the gangle of your arms. How is he acting? is he
aggressive? has he shown interest in the female or suggestive?

I see how great your needs become, and how all the paths of
pity have led you to the edge of childhood unprepared. I’m
scared. The world walks a wide circle about the handicapped
and homeless, no one mourns the casualty who chases nickels
and dimes on the street. Men suffer defeat.

There are doctors, there are bills, there are psychiatrists and
pills, there is rent to pay and batteries that slow. And we must
go, your Mom and me, a time will come and we will go. And
you will know. You will know by our quiet clothes all in a row,
by our shoes on the bed,

by your footprints alone in the snow.

RJ: Sometimes What You Do

Sometimes RJ you stink
and I only get the dumb green ball
because baby baby baby hates red
big baby RJ never goes to school
and Dada says school but
only like five kids and a playground
inside and your teacher Jenny
Mom says lovely I say sad
with her mooney-moon eyes.

Sometimes RJ you are fun
and make pretend my pony
and play at parties with
your big legs under my table
I say mister digger how
your legs have grown

and I laugh and then
you laugh because
you like to follow
what I ever do.

Sometimes RJ you are dumb
your fingers never know
what they are doing
with my clay
or sticker books
and you color like messy
like so messy
that I always have to help
to keep you
in the lines.

Somedays RJ you are so smart
and you make my jelly sandwich
almost very good
because you know
a jelly sandwich
can make my wrist feel better
when it gets all crinky
from drawing you
a simply gorgeous picture
for your wall.


not even Mommy
knows that.

Ellie: Red and Blue the World

There is so much
where out the door
the world
the wide whole world
there was just me
my black my white
my gray tv
mother is tired
and now
out there
the terrible loud
and red
even with my crazy
blue glasses
blue crazy glasses
and then Ellie
came up the stairs
in a basket
a little yellow basket
big she is
a big girl
who is being five
and is this many fingers
of smart
but too too very small
for wrestle my daddy

if you could see
my little room
with the slanting in
the damned roof
is saying Father
you would know
just where my number cards
will always be
and how I like
each every day
in white and gray
on my tv
and you would see
my bed so always neat

and everybody loves
everybody loves that ellie up
because she doesn’t
mess my room
or make me go
inside inside
of screaming

she helps tuck in
the corners

Lenny and Robert: Show that Over

She lies half covered with sleep,
an arm thrown over her eyes,
exhales and sighs, switches sides,
switches sides.

there have been seizures.
A choking rips
that rips through dark. He
will splay himself
across the moon-burned bed,
rigid, then convulsed, rigid, then
convulsed, dying again
and again
like some kid
in a horrible movie.
Show that over it’s so cool.

Lately, rest eludes her.
She has grown familiar with the structure
of long hours.
How two trains go by
at three o’clock.
How the neighbor
always flushes twice
by four.

He is gazing at television
in the front room,
some tools thrown on the end table
on the paper by his arm.
Putty knife, razor knife,
tape measure locked open
with a yellow nine-inch tongue.
He’s patched
another hole today.
Another job
without a paycheck
to fill his idle hours.

This was not the first hole
in the sheetrock.
Robert James is seventeen.
Sometimes he breaks things.
He is difficult in Group.
Perhaps our program
isn’t quite the one for him.

Sometimes they fly from his hands
like some kid in a movie,

Show that over

show that over.

Ellie and Digger: Garage

rabbity dust
and spidered.
Smelled with
and glisteny oil,
old tools
and lacquer.
Damp under rust
under things,
a trim of light
at the door,
crackled through
the plywood
on the window.
with hands
of giants.
A damp
September calendar.
Another year, a face,
a woman’s face.
Sawdust and straw.

He is seventeen. She
is seven.
They breathe mist
in the dark
in the cold Autumn morning.
She leads him by the hand,
and he shuffles
in a fearful crouch
as if afraid
to hit his head.
has been here before;
she found the key,
the golden key
the Land Lord left
behind the broken flower box
with the dead and nasty
brittleweeds and chuff.

There is such stuff
in here
she wants to see.
A wooden stick,
a metal T,
a jar all filled
with metal rings
and clips.
Digger picks
up wrenches
in the dark.
Makes too much noise.

He makes a spark.

Neighbors: The Fire

someone was yelling

early this morning
there was commotion
down the block

at first it was like someone
pounding glass

that old garage
the yellow duplex,
217, kids in there
I bet it was
kids in there
that kid
with the problems
that cute little sister
of his all that
dried up straw
always up to something,
bike ramps
and kite strings
and all

someone was yelling
it was early
and there was no
time to change

and now of course
comes everyone,
lookie-loos and gapers
and the firemen
pushing back,
pushing back.

I realized
it was that sweet young man
who cannot speak
but likes to sit
with his mother
out by the rose-of-sharon
in the shade

he was yelling
help for ellie

he was yelling
help for ellie
help for ellie


RJ: Hero

Everyone is there.
Ellie tells the story
and again, turning it
and over
like a magic bit of pyrite
in her hands.
How her breath
was full of smoke,
how Digger used
his words.
How very smart
he was
in saving her—
with one sentence—
from the fiery jaws
of her untimely doom.

As if at last on cue,
Lenny emerges smiling
from out the kitchen door,
showing off a big blue cake
spelled in silver frost
and sprinkled sugar.

Everyone applauds.

RJ sits alone
in his duct-taped
bean bag chair
dragging listless french-fries
through the ketchup
on his plate,
worrying the paper crown
on his head.

Robert James: Ghost

He is tired, but will not rest.
He keeps his heart close to his chest.
At night,
we hear him wraith-like
in the hall.

I cannot quite remember him,
this boy become a balsa shim;
he bears no weight,
he has no whim,
all his inner lights
grow dim;
his world becomes a center
with no rim.

There is nothing here
that I can mend,
there are no dents
I can unbend.
No word’s as loud
as silence

when a man
has lost a friend.

Lenny: Things Lost Inside the Fire

What tenderness a man
can hold; what tenderness a child.
From the moment
that our son arrived,
his father grew
a sort of fontanel,
a membrane stretched
across the masculine within.
Through every puzzled moment
of Digger’s early years,
the blueprint of frustrations,
the wrench of diagnoses,
the hammer of the truth
no one should bear,
he stood right there.
Attending to each circumstance
with callus and with care.

Two years and more have gone now
since that chill September morning
yet the smoke still clings
to everything
we are.
Digger is so far away:
For months and months
he roamed these upstairs rooms
like an outline of the shadow
of some half-remembered specter
in the fog.
Robert was beside himself,
trying every favorite trick
inside his hat
to find a word, a smile,
to unearth that wild infectious laugh
that was always our son’s way
of reminding everyone
how human, how
very human he actually was
beneath a frame that never worked,
beneath a life that masked his heart
with a crippled sort of madness,
a silence more abstract than any art.

Now the moods
begin to swing.
We have no hold
on anything.
One day silence,
one day groans,
one day broken glass
and blood;
urgent voices on the phone.
He hits himself,
has accidents,
every nickel of our love
is spent.
Robert wakes at night
and screams;
little rooms
invade his dreams,
thick glass windows,
human cages,
instruction books
with missing pages,
and white-washed walls,
torture rooms
and guarded halls.
He comes erect,
yells no no no.

We fall together crying.
We know our son must go.

No matter how hard it becomes
when the news comes down the wire,
it is only much later that we truly find out
how much has been lost in the fire.

Ellie: Red Flags and Patience

If I put the red flag
on my door
he will stay out.
I am almost ten,
I have homework
and important things
to do.
I don’t always want
his moony face around,
his big fat groans,
his diaper smells,
his giant arms
that always knock
my easel down,
my paints.
Mama says your patience,
Ellie dear.
Mama says you know
he never means to.

Sometimes I call him stupid
in my head.

My best friend Emmy Saybrook
won’t come over anymore,
at least unless I promise
the red flag.
We use to have such fun
with him,
playing Giant-in- the-Forest
and Mister-Save-my-Kitty-
from- the-Tree.

But he scares her now
with all his crazy moans
and rooster sounds,
with his quiet slipper feet
that sometimes sneak right up,
and with all the stuff
he breaks
around the house.
She says he is most dangerous,
that her Mom says
he should be in stitutions.

I say he’s still just Digger,
only louder.
I said maybe it is just
her Mom’s a bitch.

After that,
she hated me forever.
But last week
she came to visit,
and we talked it out

like grown-ups
always do.

Digger: Cotton Candy Blue

At the Carnival
blue best goggles
too bright Daddy
Mom knows too
candy cotton blue
mamas got a brand new
rocka-roller and mamas
got a brand new rocka-roller
play buddy play
3 feranickel

faces lots of faces
whispered retard
I won’t walk under
octopus octopus
earmuffs daddy
I like a potato
buttery salty salty buttered
potato chips
chippity dip
bathrooms have strangers
eye of the reptile cobra

If it rains ok
shoes my feet
jesus didn’t want me
for a sun bean
keep your jesusRobert
bleach white bleach
if the linens in the closet
I can’t find it
she treated me like a child
black bananas black bananas black

cotton candy blue cotton candy blue
I had a dollar I dropped it
I had a picture of elvis the king
things appear and disappear
like bewitched
hard to get them back
when I am so tired
Ellie especially too

RJ: The Man with The Hat From The City

He came pictures
from the school
I am too big for my slanty
my room
gosh such a nice
gosh such a nice place
I can bring elvis too goodbye noises
everywhere goodbye tv goodbye chair
going everywhere
friends for me
a room a little room I like
be neat I like
everything and its place

every Mommy every Daddy comes
my sister’s name is Ellie pumpkin

If you could because you could see
how happy you have made me
how happy you have made me baby
and everyone else
cotton candy blue
nickel in my shoe
two and three skidoo

we will go in the car
u can get there in one day
and very little is one day

except when it is long

Family: The View from Above

he is tightening the bungees
on his tired Escort Wagon
dust and gravel driveway
cool but clear the weather
the duffels up on top
are pulled down tight
he checks the motor oil
tightens down his Eagles cap
rubs the back of his neck

bursting out
from the black stairwell door
a girl of ten or so
blue backpack
toast in her hand
she stops
takes three steps back
and cranes her neck to look up
the stairs behind her


a boy comes out
a young man comes out
creased gray pants
loose dress shirt
a clip-on tie
dark glasses in the sun
dark blue midnight blue
he looks excited
carrying an overnight bag
and a big chocolate chip cookie
that falls

a woman
his mother I assume
is right behind him
she grabs his shoulders from behind
as if to stop him
but only redirects him toward the car
again and again
it seems he must be blind
but even at the door of the car
even as he bends his knees to sit
she seems to have a need
to help him fit

the father hands out snack cakes
books and pillows
he opens a cold Mountain Dew
and settles his bones
behind the wheel
for what looks in his eyes
like the longest drive ever
the young girl rolls down her window
to squint at the morning
the mother sits in
nurses her coffee
and accepts the man’s kiss
on her lips
and gives him one back
and then sighs

the boy cranes his neck
against the glass of his window
and watches the starlings come down
in a wave a wave and a turn
a wave and a turn and a wave

the car runs down the village street
and stops and the corner
and turns the boy waves
and turns back
left behind

the starlings settle down
and pick through all the gravel
for crumbs

Here’s a poem by Sandra M. Gilbert, from her book Kissing the Bread, New and Selected Poems 1969-1999. The book, an American Book Award winner, was published in 2000 by W. W. Norton & Company.

Gilbert, Professor Emerita of English at the University of California, Davis, was born in New York City in 1936. She is a literary critic and poet who has published widely in the fields of feminist literary criticism, feminist theory, and psychoanalytic criticism.

Currently, she lives in Berkeley, California, and in Paris, France.

In the Garage of the Retirement Complex

I’ve never seen so many clean
white cars: the south coast salt
must scour them!
Ranged in rows like incubators,

they shine in the dusk that rises
from the tropical golf course,
a sort of laudanum haze, and I
brood beside the out-of-place red Ford

my husband rented yesterday
while he wheels his mother upstairs
for a pee.

      Another blur of slick

dove-white, and in comes a long low
Cadillac with somebody else’s
husband, somebody else’s hunched up

         And then
the oldest ones arrive, clinging
together out of nothing more
than need - the bald bland geezer

with his mouth ajar, and his
shrunken, smiling, spotted wife,
greeting me, greeting me
indistinct in the twilight,

as the steady chair comes rolling back,
ready for the restaurant,
cradling a dead weight
in a chalk-white pantsuit.

I saw this picture and could only rage at my inability to do something.

About the picture, I should admit, before anyone else brings it up, that I engaged in some poetic conflation.

The girl in the picture is actually 18 years old. Her sin was not going to school but fleeing abusive in-laws. The 15-16 year old girls who commit the sin of going to school are punished with a face-full of acid or burning alive in their school when it is torched.

on the cover of Time Magazine

she’s a pretty girl,
fifteen, no more than sixteen,
with deep brown eyes

and no nose,
cut off by the guardians
of morality -

the cost
to some of becoming
an educated woman in this place

i want us to kill the people
who did this, and more, and
i don’t care how we do it

The next poem, by Bonnie Lyons, is from the anthology of contemporary women poets, Risk, Courage, and Women, published by the University of North Texas Press in 2007.

Lyons is a professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She received her Bachelors Degree from Newcomb College and her MA and PhD from Tulane University.

She previously taught at Newcomb College, Boston University, as a Fulbright Visiting Professor at the Institute for American Studies in Rome, the University of Florence, the University of Haifa, the University of Athens, the University of Tel Aviv, and, as a Fulbright Senior Lecturer at Aristotelian University in Greece and Autonoma Universities in Barcelona.

The poem originally appeared in In Other Words from Grove Press in 2004.

walking out

I know what you think:
weak and disobedient
vulnerable - duped
by the wily serpent.
Think again.

Our life in Eden was an idyl -
no work, no struggle,
an unbroken expanse
of pleasure,
a garden
of perpetual plenty.
We were protected children,
and I was bored.

When the serpent told me
eating the fruit of that tree
would make me wise
I hesitated
like any child
about to walk out
of her parent’s domain.

Had I foreseen
that my first son
would kill his brother -
but who knows the future?

Biting into the sweet fruit
meant entering the world
of time and death
adventure, change, possibility
including the possibility
of murder.

I chose life.
I would again.
Do you wish
you were never born?
Do you wish to be
a child forever?

Then celebrate my wisdom.

Committing oneself to writing a poem a day does, sometimes, lead to moments of desperation.

Like this one.

poppin’ fresh poems


i was told once
that when challenged
to find an idea for a poem

one method
to overcome the block

is to begin listing
words -
an exercise in subconscious

inspiration mining -
and out of one of those words
will pop a poem

just like that poppin’ fresh
dough boy
pops out of a tube

of biscuit dough
like you buy at the supermarket
and - POP - everyone

all of a sudden
makes biscuits just like

it just doesn’t seem to work
for me -

it’s just all nonsense,
i think, no sense to it at all,
none -

even nuns
would sense the futility
of that route

but not me,
prisoner that i am
to unsupportable ideas

and desperation, explaining
a lot of crazy ideas,
like the sense of nun-chucks

up-side my head
when ever i watch Charlie Chan
movies and wonder how

such a canny detective like Chan
ever ended up with such
a dumb-ass number one son,

Chuck was, i think, his name,
running through his dad’s movie
like a third-rate circus clown

looking for his celebrity roast,
never realizing
that all the great comics

are roasting in hell,
their punishment for mocking
the great creator’s

building plans -
dumb old Chuck never realizing
that he’d be much better off

as a no-go-Charlie
when it comes to celebrity roasts
because i’ve seen them

on TV and after Paul Lynde
they were never funny again

hell no, i wouldn’t go -
unlike this poem

which would be
better served if it was just gone
and i just chucked it all

and wrote something
about blue jays

and dandelions
and lions lying down with

with lamb chops

This is a long post this week, so here’s some fun to break it up.

Cowboy poems - I wonder, do other countries and languages have this kind of tradition? I suppose they must, in some form, for there are, or have been, shepherds and herders in every culture and I can’t see the sitting around a campfire and telling stories being much different anywhere.

This poem is by Joel Nelson and it’s from the anthology, New Cowboy Poetry - a Contemporary Gathering.

Nelson is from Alpine, Texas, up in the Big Bend area and works as a camp man on the 06 Ranch, one of the few ranches that still pulls the wagon out for roundups. A Vietnam vet, Nelson describes his poetry as "reflecting the appreciation I have for the modern cowboy and his absolute refusal to turn loose of what was good from the past."

Sundown in the Cow Camp

The hoodie’s washed the dishes
and stacked ‘em in the box;
The old cook and the foreman
Have wound and set their clocks.

That horseshoe game they’re playin’
Hasta shut down in a while,
‘Cause that shadow from the outhouse
Reaches dang near half a mile.

Ol’ Charlie’s got his guitar out;
That Charlie sure can play.
And it’s sundown in the cow camp -
It’s my favorite time o’ day.

We ate at five this mornin’
‘Cept the "Kid" - he skipped his chuck,
He just couldn’t eat for knowin’
That this mornin’ horse would buck.

Now the cook has shut the chuck-box lid
And gave the fire a poke,
Throwed some coals around the coffee pot
And lit his evenin’ smoke.

This expression kinda clues you
That his memories have flown
To other camps at sundown
And the cowboys that he’s known.

The Kid has kept a night horse up;
He’s down there in the pens;
Just plumb forgot about his feed;
He’s nickerin’ fer his friends.

Those calves we worked and turned back out
Have purt’neer mothered up;
Just one left a bawling’.
Think I’ll have one last cup.

You can feel the breeze is shiftin’
Like a cold front’s on the way.
Glad the sun’s been busy warmin’ up
My teepee tent all day.

Some cowboys turn in early -
The cook’s the first to go -
While the night owls hug the coffee pot
Till the fire’s a dull red glow.

You’ll here it all around the fire -
Poems, politics and song,
Solutions for the price of beef,
Where the BLM went wrong.

That strong and silent cowboy type -
The one you read about -
He’s kinda forced to be that way
When the drive’s all scattered out.

But he’ll get downright eloquent
When the evening chuck’s washed down,
And it’s sunset in the cow camp,
With the crew gathered ‘round.

Half asleep here in my bedroll,
I can hear those night owls laugh;
But that old cow’s stopped her bawlin’,
So I guess she’s found her calf.

I saw the movie “Inception” last weekend, which, of course, led me to thinking about dreaming.


i never remember
my dreams

but can usually tell
from how i feel when i get up

if they were good
or bad...

this morning
i’m feeling very down and weary

which means it was probably
one of those

where either the clock doesn’t move

or it moves like the fan blade
on a ‘49 Studebaker

spinning like a dervish
behind that pointy Buck Rogers grill -

that’s the kind of bad dreams
i have

no monsters lurking
or dark doors creaking or endless falling,

none of those, instead,
dreams of desperation and frustration,

bad-things-pending dreams,
something about to happen and i can see it

about to happen
and i can stop it if only i can get there in time

and i race
through a syrupy atmosphere that slows me

down to a crawl,
the clock spins while i move like a fly

in amber - i can’t make it in time
and i know i can’t make it in time,
but the dreams says i must try, must not

give up - that is my aging nightmare...
time getting away, a bad end approaching and

i can’t stop it
no matter how much i try, must always try -

a death dream, not a frightening dream
but an exhausting narrative of inevitability -

not like the nightmares i had at times
when i still worked -

dreams of the opposite of time
racing, instead dreams of time that doesn’t pass

not a dream of disaster pending,
but a dream of voids,

of places of eternal nothing-happening,
dream prisons, where nothing changes

and time is

and there is no escape, a dream
where death

could it be found
would be salvation from a hell of

nothing, nowhere, no hope, no way Jose


on the other hand
some mornings i wake up

feeling great
and i know i must have had a really good dream

good dreams
that haven’t changed much

since i was 12 years old,
often involving

large-bosomed blonds
with a varied and insatiable appetite

for me

My last library poet this week is Leroy V. Quintana.

(And yes, I have many favorites, including many Hispanic and Native American poets, because, there’s an impression I have from reading them that, whenever/wherever/however they learned English, they were not taught or refused to learn the bullshit words that so often crowd around and hide the words of great meaning. Clear and direct writing, that’s what I like.)

Quintana was born in 1944, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. *

He was raised in small northern New Mexico towns such as Raton and Questa. He was drafted in 1967, and, after serving in Vietnam in the 101st Airborne Division, returned to complete his bachelors degree at the University of New Mexico and his masters, in 1972, at New Mexico State University.

He currently teaches at San Diego Mesa College.

These several short pieces are from Quintana’s book, The Great Whirl of Exile,
published by Curbstone Press in 1999.

Poem for U-Haul

The highway was made for a morning like this.
A woman with two sad blackeyes. Never
again, never, never again. Last night
was the last time, the last time, the last.

Those People Who Drink a Lot of Wine

One day Lalo happened by drunker than usual,
and in the middle of a sentence forgot the name
of those people who drink a lot of wine.

No, it wasn’t the Italianos, and no it wasn’t
los Franceses; the name of those people,
he demanded impatiently, who drink a lot of wine!
No, goddamnit, it wasn’t the Greeks!

Who was left? We sat, silent, stunned and intimidated
as fools with their first big paycheck.

Winos!: Winos! he exclaimed suddenly. That was the name
of those people who drink a lot of wine! Then added,
we had to be pretty damned stupid
not to know something as simple as that.

Etymology: Chicano

Filemon says that when the movimiento began,
a talkshow host attempted to clarify
how the word "Chicano" originated.

A woman called in , assuredly said
it had it’s roots in "chicanery."

those people being such liars and thieves,
so dishonest and deceitful.


the talk turned to nicknames the other day
and Filemon said the man who worked next
to him in the and burst into son
all day long was called Caruso,
and the guy who admired his sandwich
and smacked all through the lunch hour,
that was El Sabroso, and the one burned
pretty bad in the smelter, why he
came to be known as El Chicharron.

The Rocket’s Red Glare

The Super Bowl had come to San Diego; the rich
rub elbows with Bob Hope.
We get fireworks.

The woman behind me asks her son
how so many rockets can be set off in succession.

You just hire a bunch of Mexicans to run around
with a lot of matches.

Isn’t it great, she sighs, bombs bursting in air,
to be an American?

One of the benefits of being in your 67th year is that many things don’t seem nearly as urgent as they did when you were in your 27th.

seems the slower i go, the aheader i get

i’ve been taking
slow lessons from the turtle

out in the creek,
and basking lessons as well...

for fifty years
i chased the fast lane -

down the highway

to get to the car

that i needed
to get ahead of -

was my operating mode,

with all the slow-pokes

of the world
who never seemed to

how important i was

and how their dribbling-slow

on smelling roses
hindered my efforts to do

all the important things
and important man

like me
was supposed to be doing,

their never recognizing how their slow-mo life
could turn my carefully-tuned zippy-fast-progress

into a he-who-hesitates-loser
in the world of first and

until one day i realized

that for most of my life i had

to be first
and ended up,

not the early bird
who got the worm, but

the worm
who became the early bird’s

breakfast alfresco - truly an argument
for sleeping in, snug

as a bug
who finds second place perfectly acceptable...

having learned this,

even though it is knowledge
delayed to this later age, i put aside

the fast lane preoccupations of my earlier years
and mind the turtle instead,

taking my time
and basking with the best of my hard-backed

learning, to my surprise,

that the slower i go the
aheader i get -

a lesson of age,
that is, as is so often the case,

completely opposite what we are
taught in our youth

And, again, another week complete. Especially nice stuff this week, i think. Have to start thinking now what I can do for next week.

Until them,everything belongs to the people who created, including my stuff. But you can use my stuff, should you want, just give proper credit to me and to “Here and Now.”

I’m allen itz, owner and producer of “Here and Now” and I’m done for the week. (Except for beginning next week.)


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