Friday, November 29, 2013


Memorial: Pestle in Mortar

Near a series of smooth holes
in the rock, we sat quietly
for hours, not catching
anything. In one hole, a butterfly edged

on the slick surface toward stagnant water.
In another, two butterflies hung frozen,
wings open, the web
barely visible against gray stone.

You died a week later. Twenty years,
and the butterflies are here again.
The stone is cool and smooth,
almost comfortable enough 

to sleep on. In another twenty years
I will wake, the same 
age as you,
the water still flowing

into the deep pool as you gaze
at the leaves of the buckeyes,
the butterflies rising and falling, our bodies
still shadows in the flowing water.



We rubbed stalks of rosin weed and held
our fingers to each other's nostrils,
inhaling deeply. Late summer, the air
opening a small slope in the brain

that flowered with ever-increasing 
abundance, the neural energy shooting out 
vines, panicles, corymbs, spikes, racemes, umbels--
burgeoning, blossoming, dying back 

and supplanted, our breath taken in 
by these creatures and given back 
so tenderly and diffusely--no one yet ever
recording the impact from the breath 

of this flora on people or vice versa. The year 
my grandfather was mustard-gassed in France, 
Native Americans were setting up their last
encampments in these hills. A hundred

and forty years or so after the Spanish 
first wandered here, my dad was shipped out 
to Okinawa where he remained as Friant Dam 
was constructed, altering forever

the flora and fauna on the valley floor, 
the first firebombings causing great fire storms 
that sucked oxygen from the air, incinerating 
those caught in merciless winds. You proposed

a short study of breath before time finally
catches up to these hills. I proposed that, for
a decade or two, we watch the flora growing 
on this small slope where the barbed wire fence 

suddenly ends, before the subdivisions are dropped. 
For the price of a stealth bomber, we would ensure
that numerous experimental subjects are healthy 
and fed well enough to experience fully

the unspeakably lovely flora growing
in their own thoughts while they breath. 
Then we would determine the exact
connection to us of all wild, breathing creatures. 



Thanks to you
I know when I'm close 
to blue curl by its scent
and go down 

on my knees 
before the tough stalk 
with tiny purple steer skulls 
that shine like ribbons--

chanting blue curl,
blue curl, because 
its breath summons a nearly
forgotten feeling, 

one by which 
I might know 
you again
after all this time. 


Baby Blue Eyes and Fiddleneck

I have wanted to leave memorials 
without wasting breath, perhaps 
without any words at all--so many trying
to be forgotten. Instead 

I leave everything at dusk 
finding a clump with shining eyes 
still by the road, certain
that it remains unseen, 

suddenly flapping, 
looping erratically 
and vanishing 
back into the earth. 


Pounding Stone and House Pit

It rose above an ancient trail, 
up a steep slope carpeted by pretty face 
and tidy tips, nearly swallowed 
by monkey flowers choking a spring, 

strong enough to ruffle the fur 
of a coyote next to Holland Creek. Long ago,
near that stream you had found peace, lost 
in the invisible web spun by swallows 

swooping around your head, so, as you wished,
it returned, swirling over a pounding stone,
into a mortar where you had found lizards 
curled around a pestle, the ancient tribes gone

ages ago, your last breath still flowing 
in countless veins 
of lupine, fiddleneck, goldfields,
and squirrels, rabbits, bobcats....

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Pounding Stone at Confluence of Kings River and Big Creek:
Pine Flat Reservoir in Drought Year

I submersed myself
In the reservoir, plunging
Down the denuded slope into
The canyon emptied by drought,
And settled on a pounding stone 
At the confluence,
Where a newt floated
In a mortar next to a pestle,

Newt and Pestle in a Mortar

An ancient trail leading
West toward another abandoned
Village, and east toward the flats
Through a thick, underwater crop
Of cockleburs that flourish
Wherever the reservoir
Has chewed away the woodlands,
A chimney looming alone
With the name Chuck Morris
Chiseled twice before the house
Drowned and floated away.
Forty years ago, my family
Migrated from L.A., all
Of us in a van winding 
Around the reservoir a month
later. We settled on a spot
Near the flats and while
My father fished, I stumbled
On a web and gazed transfixed
At the intricate tapestry until
I glimpsed a bulbous spider.
I fled as if I’d encountered
The frightful weaver
Of our fate, and I found
Upstream the foundation
Of a ranch house, the concrete
Broken up by the roots
Of oak trees that claimed
The former rooms, the rest
Of the house swept away
By floods over the years.

Foundation of House in Floodplain

And there I heard the voice
Of my daimon: “You will
Be back in thirty-five years.”
Thirty-five years later
I returned after several floods
Had torn through the canyon
Sweeping over our favorite
Hole. One year, I teetered, 
Amazed by the force 
Of the flood and sensing
A hush underneath the roar,
A silence rising as the flood
Slowly subsided. By then
Most of the people in that van
Were gone, my father,
Grandparents, and uncle side
By side in Clovis Cemetery,
My brother in another state,
My father, forty years ago,
Always facing the depths--
I could not tell him
Of the voice of my soul
Or how I could feel him
Tuning his soul to the quiet
Rhythms of water as he
Cast his line and waited....
I no longer grasp water
Or miss the webs
Torn by the wind
Or even attempt to cast
A line as I immerse myself
In the quiet, spiders marching out
Of a crack and wobbling
Toward me, a timeless peace
Drenching the floodplain....

Monday, November 25, 2013


Tiger Lilies, Tamarack Creek

His living room the same
For thirty-three years:
Immaculate sofa and carpet,
A cuckoo clock, a decoupage
Of children kissing
(my aunt’s creation)--
I was fourteen again,
Paralyzed on the sofa 
After the funeral, their
Only son, who resembled me,
Crushed in a car accident,
No time in between as I squeezed
Again between my mother 
And brother on the sofa.

Baby Blue Eyes

At the funeral, my uncle, sobbing,
Had grabbed his son’s hand
From the casket and wouldn’t
Let go. I waited, next
In line, suddenly turning away
And bursting through the chapel door,
Tears streaming down my face,
Perhaps the first time I ever cried
For anyone else. I paced outside,
The door suddenly too heavy

Dead Bush Lupine

To push open, until
The funeral director kindly
Opened it with one hand and motioned 
Me inside. Of course I went back inside,
But I don’t remember anything else.
Three decades later,
At Rose Hills, my uncle
Searched a few
Difficult moments for
His wife and son, 
The headstones all flat
On the ground. As I gazed
At L.A. below, I couldn’t
Remember any years passing.
Had I continued pacing, lost
Among the headstones,
For thirty-three years?
Was my uncle crying beside
The graves because his son
Had unexpectedly returned,
But fat now and bald--
Or because I now resembled
My father, who died three
Decades ago? Had he kept
The house the same, hoping
This day would arrive? I
Was always just a few
Hundred miles away.
Suddenly I knew why my uncle
Was crying again:
For thirty-three years,
We couldn’t find
Each other. His tears
Were also for his wife
And his son, yes,
But as he cried, I was, happily,
His nephew and his brother
And his son, no years ever
Having passed, none of us
Ever lost again.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


"Tree of Life" Tiger Lily

The day before my uncle died,
I got lost in a forest and found
A tiger lily that revealed the light
So clearly I was amazed by my luck.

My uncle served as a turret gunner
And when his plane went down in flames
A red film saturated him,
His commander believing

For a moment that Robbins was dead,
But Robbins managed to survive
Crash-landing in a ditch
And refused to go on another mission--

They said you fly or we send you home
With a dishonorable discharge. Somehow
He kept flying and made it home
Honorably, staying rooted sixty years

After the War, growing flowers
Everywhere in his yard, his only child
Killed in a car accident, his wife
Dying after a long bout with

Alzheimer‘s, his family
Consumed in crematory fires
Before he too burned to a clinker.
After being lost a long time

I encountered the tiger lily,
On fire in sunlight, brilliant
In the shade, and I made it home,
Struggling over fallen trees

Through meadows blanketed by larkspur
To find that the flowers of the soul
Can bloom when you invoke
The energies of the Gods, and that

Sometimes the Gods, like intense light,
Burn you up until all that is left
Are the flowers of light
That comprise the soul,

And you find that all shapes,
Even the Gods, are different forms
Of refracted light. Somehow, in vision,
I saw magical symbols

Of the mystical Tree before
I encountered the Tree itself,
But I never knew
What visions my uncle had

Even though for over forty years
I believed that some day I would,
His ashes joining his wife’s
And son’s on a slope at Rose Hills,

And I'd like to believe that before
The end he found a flower
That he had never noticed before
And couldn't believe his luck.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


North Fork, Kings River

Scrambling down a steep slope, I paused to kneel
before an Ithuriel’s spear, a rattlesnake rippling
by my boot before I could even jump, lizards
scampering over dry leaves, the river crashing

through the canyon below. Once I flew over
unstable stones in the river bottom, struggling
to keep up with my brother and his friends--today
I surveyed each inch before taking a step.

I discovered the skeletal steel frame of a washed-out bridge
clinging to a megalithic stone in the middle
of the river, and I remembered--Forty years ago,
our friend excitedly told us about the mangled bridge,

and without another word we had dashed through
the river bottom to find it. That day I had felt clumsy
and weak (the first sign of chronic illness), and I
just couldn’t keep up. I had been ditched before

on a moonless night and in a cave, but never
abandoned in broad daylight. Today I was twelve
again, but I found the bridge and they didn't, and,
unlike them, I continued to wander through a forest

of symbols, the bridge for a moment a ghastly symbol
of the past forty years. Yet I somehow felt the same,
as though I had found a timeless place of the soul.
Our fathers, who had fished side by side that day,

both died a few years later. Forty years ago
in this same river bottom, my daimon, my Holy
Guardian Angel, on several occasions,
had spoken to me of events to come, decades

in the future, but I, nonplussed, had forgotten
the voice until the events finally happened.
The perplexing, unpredictable Angel
is only my soul, whose voice transcends

space and time--mysteriously in this river bottom
and in meditation--so today I closed my eyes,
a rose cross suddenly in my mind's eye, the rose
at first blood-red on splintery wood,

Rosy Cross

then the petals different colors, each petal
symbolizing a path on the Tree of Life,
the cross an unfolded cube of space
and time. I could have been anyone,

these past forty years, and this forest
would still seem the same as it was then,
yet the rose cross bloomed inside me,
and perhaps eternally abides, a symbol

of the soul in timeless grace,
the river bottom forgotten until I opened
my eyes again as a snake slithered
through curling, hand-like leaves.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Decoration Left Behind 

I knocked off, hands 
roughened with plaster. 
Crayons had captured the outline 
of light cast from signs outside, 
tropes of capital penetrating 
the window for hours, as smells 
saturated the sink again, 
the toilet leaked, the systems 
of residuum moaned, each smell 
and sound finally recognizable. 
The coolest guy left 
a butcher knife and gaping 
holes in the bedroom walls. 
His wife had taken everything 
but the mattress, wilting sheets, 
and crayons. The family 
had danced at the window, 
not caring who watched, 
while colors emerged 
in fragments, the names 
quickly filling and emptying.
I've restored the plaster
for other names, clocks, faces, 
the past still stinking 
and groaning in things.
The glass untouched. 
The street a stain 
of violet bile--
the light falling 
on the walls. 
With white hands, I surrender 
to the mattress on the floor. 
Crayons and plaster darken 
on the bewildered carpet. 


Boat Left Behind

They leave what can't be carried 
and more: cushionless 
couches, with wounds 
like mouths from which faint 
odors rise; sad toilet soups; 
and the tiny survivors-- 
ants, cockroaches, thriving 
on the stench, crawling 
through every crevice, 
following the command to pillage 
whatever's left, the shoe dark 
as a theater, the bottles 
translucent spires. Recently 
I've found an old man's handkerchief 
(he now has less weight 
than his book of ancestry); 
a stained sheet (the flag 
of dominion); and a sticky knife 
covered with crumbs. 
I've dismantled a palatial estate 
built with popsicle sticks
and dried chicken bones, 
decorated with bright foil 
from small luxuries, 
and I've trashed a shrine 
with wildflowers, the dried petals 
mingling with bug legs 
on the windowsill. All morning 
I've dumped cast-offs, all morning 
cleaning and emptying, until bare, 
the rooms finally gleam, 
good enough for others. 


Workers come all day 
to fix perverse parts. 
Pipes knock, dripping
flop sweat; stoves 
pop and smoke; carpets rot 
from endless spills and shuffling: 
Nothing is exempt. This kingdom 
commands that its piths
be replaced, the rooms 
at evening 
holding their breath
as I carefully 
lock money 
in the essential 
metal desk.


Filled-in Pool

Last week I discovered a hanging plant
in the pool, the surface ripples 
slightly perturbing the wire hook, 
a sign of something, I suppose.
Copies of keys to every room 
hang on the board above my desk,
which makes me think 
that I should know. One day 
I gave the copy of a key 
to a tenant before I could see
the butcher knife cupped 
in his hand, the blade resting 
along the inside of his arm. 
I waited until a stranger leapt,
screaming and naked, down 
the stairs, before I called
the cops. The same day, checking 
the circuit breakers in back, 
I surprised a tenant's boyfriend 
loading rifles into a van 
and said nothing. The next day, cops
moved in, a detective plopping 
his notepad on my desk before 
phoning in the description 
of a tenant: Fumanchu mustache, 
ponytail, no chin, the perfect 
account of a burglary suspect. 
And last night I called the cops
to deal with a man floating
face down in the pool, the water 
cloudy with blood. 
That was a big help. 


Parking Garage

A year after the new owner 
raised the rent thirty percent, 
a defacto eviction of us all,
I still remember them, 
even though I didn't know them--
the one I sheltered from an abusive
boyfriend, the one I gave a few bucks,
the tenants I evicted, and the ones
who just kept bugging me
to fix one thing or another-- 
the fingerprints on glass, slivers 
in the carpet, holes in the walls 
remaining long after they'd left;
no matter how hard I cleaned, 
something remained--they
were worse than ghosts, more 
timeless than ooze or earth. 
Besides that, I remember 
only the waiting, day after day, 
for another knock, dreaming 
of hidden passageways linking 
rooms I've never seen, where
tenants lead secret lives
too wonderful to brag about,
the eternal appearing in dirty
windows when I wasn't
looking, the veil of exhausted
surfaces lifted--and heaven
filling the rooms with wholeness
while I dozed--waking always
to blank walls--
and I'll never forget
that small sign on the front door 
which showed them 
where to find me.

Friday, November 8, 2013


Crack in the Sidewalk

Everyone is moving. Back rent unpardonable. 
"No one allowed to squat on the lawn. No one 
allowed to run around." A new owner, a new 
manager, and a thirty percent raise in rent.

Shadows feel through the window 
past reflected branches swaying 
before his face in the glass. He
follows tiny blackened stars of blood 

on the concrete, pulling his salvaged 
wagon out to where the valuables wait-- 
a mirror, houseplants, stuffed animals, 
a stray hand--and stares, timeless, at himself, 

the journey already beginning, the dirt 
peeling away from the street 
as if the cells of everything 
were sloughing off into the wind.  

The old woman who had pinned his Nina, Pinta
and Santa Maria to her frig with a strawberry
magnet might steer a shopping cart
out the door, and he could curl up 

below the carriage, dragging the cart 
forward like a turtle, his shell heavier and heavier 
as they trek down the alley. He goes back inside 
and curls, legs up, on his bed, then ferries a Matchbox 

ambulence in a stray sandal to bundles of wash, 
the Canary Islands. Through the window, he sees 
a bus lurching forward, floating into a cross-street 
two lights away, vanishing downtown.... 


Shopping Cart in Vacant Lot

He refuses to clean the bedroom
in the full-length mirror and bats at motes
swimming in an aquarium
of sunlight. Stitches closed
the tunnel between his nose and mouth
and cinched his cleft lip, which had gaped
at the horn of gum blanketed
and rose-tinged by the sloping
pillar of nostril. In a forest
of toys, the mirror world,
a beast bursts from a human
womb, snout whimpering, tail
flailing as it bangs
into the witnessing denizens.
In this nightmare story (overheard
at a picnic) the doctor 
stares at clawmarks
in his chest while the beast
dies from tranquillizers, still
attempting to scurry away.

But when he was born, his body slowly slipped
from the flesh that clothed him, his eyes opening
to the glare in tile and instrument and mirror.
The nurse took prints of feet and thumb
and handed him to his mother,
who wept, hearing the words harelip
and cleft palate, as he lay, clear and firm,
in her arms. 

He slurs that he loses his elbow
just like he loses his lap--
as one loses a world. The neighbors
have moved, emptying their rooms,
taking his little friend with them.
Someone else must screech
and drum the floor with dancing feet.
He stands within the bare walls
and stares at the prospects
of all he loves, the magnolias 
dropping shreds of purple paper,
faces without eyes or ears
or noses shining in hubcaps,
and tongues rising from the asphalt
without justification. 



Phantom jets scrape the roof. Slow
thunder unravels the air
down to the pig-colored walls.
Bubbles bob, thin cities of light, evade
his frenzied hands and slide
through a mirrored window
where images of the courtyard curve
repeatedly upward, one and multiple.
In the corner, a dented cart,
a philodendron jungle, and a mattress
smeared with yellow dust.
He climbs into the cart,
hanging on a pane where bubbles slid
through, the fading circles
unbroken, his palms, fingertips, and nose
pressed to the glass. Bug-littered, 
celestial porchlights switch on.

He wizens a plum with budding teeth
in a clinker of fallen gingko leaves
as he watches them drive away. 
He was told about the invisible,
how it lives like air and squeezes
like smoke, how it resides
in his teeth and falls in his hair,
its hour like breath,
how it grows from earth and fire,
providing each table
with light and with water
as cold as winter rain.