from Pomegranate, by Debra Spencer

 

The Discovery of Sex

 

He and I try to be discreet standing in the dark 

hallway by the front door. He gets his hands 

up inside the front of my shirt and I put mine 

down inside the back of his jeans. We are crazy 

for skin, each other’s skin, warm silky skin.  

Our tongues are in each other’s mouths, 

where they belong, home at last. At first 

 

we hope my mother won’t see us, but later we don’t care, 

we forget her. Suddenly she makes a noise 

like a game show alarm and says Hey! Stop that!

and we put our hands out where she can see them.  

Our mouths stay pressed together, though, and 

when she isn’t looking anymore our hands go 

back inside each other’s clothes. We could 

 

go where no one can see us, but we are 

good kids, from good families, trying to have 

as much discreet sex as possible with my mother and father 

four feet away watching strangers kiss on TV, 

my mother and father who once did as we are doing, 

something we can’t imagine because we know 

 

that before we put our mouths together, before 

the back seat of his parents’ car where our skins 

finally become one—before us, these things 

were unknown! Our parents look on in disbelief 

as we pioneer delights they thought only they knew 

before those delights gave them us.

 

Years later, still we try to be discreet, standing in  

the kitchen now where we think she can’t see us. I 

slip my hands down inside the back of his jeans 

and he gets his up under the front of my shirt.  

We open our mouths to kiss and suddenly Hey! Hey! 

says our daughter glaring from the kitchen doorway.  

Get a room! she says, as we put our hands 

out where she can see them. 

 

 

Moment of Inertia

 

It’s what makes the pancake hold still

while you slip the spatula under it

so fast it doesn’t move, my father said

standing by the stove.

 

All motion stopped when he died.

With his last breath the earth

lurched to a halt and hung still on its axis,

the atoms in the air

coming to rest within their molecules,

and in that moment

something slid beneath me

so fast I couldn’t move.

 

 

At the Arraignment

 

The courtroom walls are bare and the prisoner wears 

a plastic bracelet, like in a hospital. Jesus stands beside him.  

The bailiff hands the prisoner a clipboard and he puts his 

thumbprint on the sheet of white paper. The judge asks,

 

What is your monthly income? A hundred dollars.  

How do you support yourself? As a carpenter, odd jobs.  

Where are you living? My friend’s garage.  

What sort of vehicle do you drive?  I take the bus.  

How do you plead? Not guilty. The judge sets bail 

and a date for the prisoner’s trial, calls for the interpreter 

so he may speak to the next two prisoners.  

In a good month I eat, the third one tells him.  

In a bad month I break the law.

 

The judge sighs. The prisoners 

are led back to jail with a clink of chains.  

Jesus goes with them. More prisoners 

are brought before the judge.

 

Jesus returns and leans against the wall near us, 

gazing around the courtroom. The interpreter reads a book.  

The bailiff, weighed down by his gun, stands 

with arms folded, alert and watchful.  

We are only spectators, careful to speak 

in low voices. We are so many. If we make a sound, 

the bailiff turns toward us, looking stern.

 

The judge sets bail and dates for other trials, 

bringing his gavel down like a little axe.   

 

Jesus turns to us. If you won’t help them, he says, 

then do this for me. Dress in silks and jewels, 

and then go naked. Be stoic, and then be prodigal.  

Lead exemplary lives, then go down into prison 

and be bound in chains. Which of us has never broken a law?  

I died for you—a desperate extravagance, even for me.    

If you can’t be merciful, at least be bold.  

 

The judge gets up to leave.  

The stern bailiff cries, All rise.

 

from Gleams When Wet, by Debra Spencer

 

The Kraken

 

Before you reach the deep  ocean where it lives

it reaches you, in the shadowy 

seaweed tangled around your legs when  

someone’s big brother swimming underwater 

grabs your foot and pulls you down.

Later it crawls up on land to lurk

beneath your bed and in the back of the closet 

with clothes you’ve outgrown. It’s

 

the popular handsome boy who turns

slimy and grows extra arms once you sit

alone with him in a car at night.  As you 

take the important test, it’s the teacher

who sways below the surface of the brain

shaking his head, pointing with his 

long thick middle finger at the mistake

you’ve just made. It’s 

 

your mother, whose comforting embrace

holds you down when you most need to rise.

It is your lifelong ambition that finally comes true

and that you now know was not yours at all

but the one you thought you ought to have,

the dream of your perfect self. When at last

 

you see the kraken in its deep home

it is just as you imagined—huge, many-armed,

much stronger than you, more determined,

more vicious, smutty, bad-smelling, bloody-minded 

than you could ever be. It has a ferocious appetite.

It never smiles. It never lets go.

 

 

Oprah Endorses the Ocean                      

 

Gazing steadily into the camera, she speaks from the heart. “The waves,” she says, “are cleansing. The sand is a comfort. And then, the sky!” Oprah advocates excursions to the beach. She devotes a series of shows to discussions of which beach is best.  Coney Island? Malibu? West Palm? All week, expert panels engage in debate, with Oprah’s studio audience chiming in. Slowly, the middle of the country empties, as Americans abandon the heartland for the coasts. Department stores report a shortage of bathing suits.

 

Oprah and her crew embark on visits to major aquariums. America learns to recognize the lantern fish, the deadly sea wasp, and a series of eerie jellies. Oprah visits an artist who turns sand into glass. Oprah tells her audience, “You see me through lenses that used to be sand.” This makes her feel even more deeply connected to the ocean.  

 

In California, a hundred thousand people arrive at Castle Beach with ice chests, barbecues, sand chairs, giant umbrellas, charcoal briquettes, hot dogs, and sunscreen. Panicked officials call in the National Guard. From East Cliff Drive, news cameras from major networks pan the overflowing trash cans.  

 

Broadcasting now from her mansion in Montecito, Oprah concludes her endorsement of the ocean. She loves its repetition, its unpredictability, its viciousness, its sublime caress. “The sea is a precious resource,” she tells her viewers. “It is the key to life on this planet.” She says that visiting the ocean is fundamental to the health of all human beings. “The beach will heal us,” she tells us. “It’s a good place to be alone.”

 

 

The Nina

 

When his bulky flagship

the Santa Maria 

ran aground on Hispaniola, Columbus 

 

boarded this much smaller ship, and on it

sailed home from the New World.

When we walk the replica’s

 

rolling deck, we marvel 

at the captain’s hole,

a room seven feet cubed

 

from which Columbus ruled

the Nina and the sea.

It’s not unlike our house,

 

where a nook 

is as good as a ballroom, 

where out the window

 

the sky stretches wide

and from it 

sweeps a breeze that fills

 

the sails of the mind.

All we need

is what fits without crowding, 

 

what packs meaning into matter,

what drops into the drawer

like a long-lost sock.

from Rosie King’s Time and Peonies

 

In Spring 

 

I’m out with the wheelbarrow mixing mulch.

A mockingbird trills in the pine.

Then, from higher, a buzz, and through patches of blue 

as the fog burns off, a small plane pulls a banner, 

red letters I can’t read—

but I do see, over the fence,

a man in a sky-blue shirt walking his dog to the beach.

He says he missed it, will keep an eye out.

Four barrows of mulch around the blueberry bushes,

I’m pulling off gloves and he’s back, beaming. “I saw it!

It says, I LOVE YOU, MARTHA. 

Are you Martha?”

 

 

Again

 

I’m on my knees among the crisp brown crunch 

then stand   in time to see  

two boys   slim teens in shorts   white t-shirts

faces glowing   conversing quietly

bounce of a tennis ball fading as they pass

and I’m filled again 

with a crush of old sweetness 

at how giving a moment can be   as it vanishes 

the roughened grey branches of the pear

small knobby fingers flung out at every tip 

fresh clutch of weeds at my chest

 

 On Starlight

 

My foot’s in the stirrup

leg up and over, a pat to her neck

dark filly born on my birthday

mine since I was eight and now she’s back

taking the lead around the orchard

apples red and yellow heavy on the trees

through the woods thick with birch and pine

breathing with me so steadily

I know she knows where we’re going

a path we’ve never taken

 

from Sweetwater, Saltwater by Rosie King

 

 

Midsummer Homecoming

 for my mother

 

It was the summer of the landing on the moon.

I remember my weariness arriving after dark,

the balmy air blowing over the bay,

the cottage with the sloping roof

and how we climbed the stairs,

and how you had prepared my room—

fresh sheets, the windows open wide—

where all night long the lapping of the waves

came in and the wind billowed the curtains,

pink gauze in the moonlight.

Promising, promising.

       Melons at breakfast,

honeyrock and honeydew, and then the gathering 

of shells, the long sun-baths.

                                           Time is going fast,

you’d tell me (you who’d picked the rose

for the bud-vase), was it late afternoon?

One boy playing tennis

had black curly hair and I

was still so hungry

for the boy running up from the field saying Rosie, Rosie,

summers before

and no words could tell you

all that drew me home,

or how I wanted time to be

turned back, so I could still be floating,

the way the moon was,

waiting to be touched.

 

 

After Breaking the Butter Dish

 

Now I can never give it to a daughter.

I sit down in the middle of the living room floor 

and remember my grandmother, and her mother,

homemade bread and rolls and butter

and how many tables with that dish on it,

and imagine saying handed down from your great-great-grandmother.

 

How early it was, Valentine’s Day, and raining.

It felt like a morning for soaking some beans,

pouring them into the strainer,

no place to put the empty jar

and then my arm just barely brushing.

O crystal dome with the bird on top—smashed.

 

I know what you want to tell me. Are you

the smallest bird in the poem I was writing

Valentine’s Day three years ago coming home?

Are you the egg-bird on the postcard?

Are you the robin

the girl is looking up to

in the old picture?

 

Well, now nobody else can break you,

my cousin won’t be nervous around you.

I get my glasses, go back to the kitchen,

sweep it all up. I save the bird,

and smash a little of the glass around the bottom

so it can sit without falling over.

I am almost too old to have a daughter.

 

Midwinter

 

I pause in the dark

on the stairs to my house.

Above me, shadowy on the railing,

three owls—all heartbeat and breathing.

They’ve come in winter, 

in drought.

 

There will be no child.

 

I stretch out my hand 

in the way of the falconer,

my left hand and wrist, 

arm from the heart.

Their quick claws.

Their beaks click.

I hear in their ruffle of feathers, 

 

Let your arm lift 

like a wing.

 

Poems from Fossil Honey by Charles Atkinson 

Puer Aeternus

 

Adrift at a midsummer revel, its bonfire and 

cheer, full moon clearing the chaparral ridge, 

you're aware how often they've come 

out of the dark in their promise and need, 

like headlights winding up the valley—nothing, 

bright flare at a curve, then nothing.  

                                         

You were devoted to hearth and union—

ancient role, to anneal you as a man.  

Still, when they breathed, Oh, you—

the balsam of fresh hair close enough 

to taste the neck's salt-sweet beneath—

a drowsing boy turned toward the heat.

 

Now, here, again: light steps nearing 

in shadow, a quiet deepened by crickets 

thrilling in the field—quiet so taut 

that a touch, light on the arm, rings you 

up and down, a chime, and you’re invited 

by one who’s said yes without words

to cast with fate, a beckoning zodiac

in a dream that wants you never to wake—

adored forever, love without limits at last.

 

 

Haircut

The Child is father of the Man . . .

—Wordsworth, “Intimations of Immortality”

 

i.

He’s wintered alone since she died. Now in May

I see how alone: right off he wants to cut my hair—

the thing he did best. I'm wary, but can’t refuse.

 

An old sheet, pinned at the neck, same

     kitchen stool in the sun. I’m wrapped 

          and silent and twelve years old again

               and know what I want—long on the top—

                    but he’ll cut it fast and short, no talk, 

                         dark clumps dropping into my lap and

      I’ll wear a cap till it grows back out.

He’ll stand over me forever, sunglasses aglint, 

those gun-metal scissors clicking at my neck.

 

Instead he runs the comb through my tangles 

lightly, like a woman finding her way.

The scissors creep by my ears, shy cricket;

a coolness finds my temples. He works

gingerly, one side at a time, to the last careful 

clips above my eyes, steps back and sighs.

What d’you think—have I lost the touch?

A breeze on my nape. How do you tell a father

he’s lost one touch and found another?  

 

ii.

Y’ know, I could use one too . . . . 

It’s true: now that she's gone, he's grizzled.

I shake out the sheet, give him the stool

and part his fine strands with the comb.

Not much off the top—It’s all I’ve got . . . .

I know that voice. But it’s warm in the sun;

with the steady snips, his eyelids droop, his chin—

he’s gone. Now and then he starts—and settles.

There. I stand back and keep the scissors going,

not to wake him; a dove is brooding in the maple.

 

The stiff brush on his neck brings him to.

Then to wash it at the sink, the way she’d do.

Under the stream his neck’s so thin!

His bald pate gleams. Dry the water pooled 

in his ears, wrap him in a turban and he's off 

to comb it the way he likes—over the bare spot.

I’m sweeping up—his long white wisps,

my wiry salt-and-pepper—when he comes back,

shy grin I've never seen: Like a new man!  

 

Reading the River

In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds

—Wallace Stevens

 

i.

Buried her years ago, so you're not listening

when the sound recurs; you're walking upriver 

against the mind's chatter. 

                                                Whatever you did

was not good enough. Still, she took you here

as a child: pay attention, her quiet finger said—

the world has a pulse, a breath. 

                                                 Ahead, a marmot's 

squeak, the serious baritone of water dropping 

on stone, and that faint familiar sound: muffled 

stirring—insistent whisper you ought to know.

 

ii.

Easier to name the pines—jeffrey, lodgepole—

than to follow it back and in. Easier to give 

the place a human story:  

                                            how brief green is, 

how listless the river will be in October, 

the cottonwoods stripped, how soon cold 

will take it by the throat, snow smother it.

 

Kingfisher scolds upstream, yellow butterflies

stagger down—no, these personify.  They hunt

and migrate. That sound hurts the temples.

 

iii.

Further up toward the mutter of water falling 

you know it:  her whisk caressing a bowl

at dawn—the mother you spent so long blaming. 

 

A flycatcher whistles, merganser riffles

the eddy—things she loved, all of them saying 

Let it rest, let it be.  

                             You couldn't, till you said 

the harsh things. Now you have words, no one 

to give them to. Overhead, water bends off a ledge, 

stutters in a granite cistern and on downstream.

 

iv.

A hundred, two hundred feet up, firs & cedars 

barely sigh. A splinter beats in your palm,

a spiderweb across the face. Mosquitoes 

skirl at the ears.  

                             Downriver, your grown sons 

compose their complaints, their honest hurts 

to charge you with. You can almost hear

the stones grating.

                                 Upstream, her whisk 

still whirrs in the back-purling water—this, 

this. Why does it make you so happy?

 
 

Poems from This Deep In, by Charles Atkinson

 

Flight

Something amiss, the landing gear, 

divert to Dulles, longer runway,

seasoned firefight crews, down there 

now-bare woods, it’s dusk, black 

lace of plowed county roads, 

houselights dusting hilltops, precious 

partner gripping a hand, these decent 

people almost in reach of those who 

wait below, we bank into the landing  

pattern: there are the trucks, fireflies

pulsing beside the runway while we

lumber in through shreds of fog, 

ease down toward tarmac—the sigh 

engines make backing off—and 

this surprise: how few regrets . . .  

rear wheels touch, the nose comes down, 

no drift, no shriek of metal on 

pavement, cartwheel, sweet jet fuel or 

fireball, no, we ease to a stop as  

red lights throb beyond the windows, 

warm glow on the luggage bins, and 

in the quiet, sobs, giggles, 

low chatter—bubbles rising. 

Everything we turn to dear— 

as if we’ll live this way. 

 

Psalms for Hail and Ash

 

i. 

August cumulus, undersides jaundiced,  

seething, now the sheet-metal roof 

hammered like coal dumped down a chute, 

the cabin a steel drum pounded by Thor, 

the firs frosted in minutes, meadow 

spotless, only high stubble  

poking through. 

                       So throw the door open, 

shorts and T-shirt, breath in puffs, 

field already sloughing its cloak,   

a river of crystals down to the creek  

where sky pales, a blinding sun, 

air still sharp—scoop and fling these 

balls of milky marbles, handfuls of 

winter, a dream with aching palms. 

 

ii.

Watch an alder leaf let go, 

yellow dory that won’t capsize,

then a gust that shreds the tree-top, 

citron scarf of leaves, threshes 

the spruce, rains dry needles aglitter—

wind that carries the knowledge of fire, 

its need to lick whatever it touches 

down to cinder. 

                Stow the lament—

years without rain, smoky months, 

songbirds gone, the cough that lingers.  

What we’ve unleashed has found us. How 

to make amends—and harbor wonder . . . 

Ice comes; heat follows; ice leaves, returns—

with us, without us. Praise hail. And ash. 

Sonogram

for the coming grandchild

 

Phantom-child, serene floater, mostly head, you’re dozing,

chin to chest, arms folded, bird legs stiff. Fingerprints, 

tear-ducts, toenails; already your eyes sense light. 

 

 You can hear your mother’s croon and booming heart. 

But please—slow down! Your lungs are furled, you have no 

head-hair, calluses, bravado, deceit: you’re still not ready. 

 

We’ve done our best. We’ve been distracted—flood, fire, 

war—the lethal carnival. We haven’t fed those who came 

before you, covered them with coats or roofs. Haven’t healed 

 

the ones we trampled. Warned by ministers and scribes, 

we’ve sprayed the land, tainted water, killed for peace.

Wanting you so much, we soothed capricious gods. 

 

We haven’t yet fashioned a world for you—but wait. Swim

in limbo while we make this temporary place—a newly 

whitewashed room at least, a narrow crib, thin quilts.

 

Be patient: we’ll show we care with the gift of this world—

that someday you’ll be stricken, too, by a new soul forging

its ardent way toward your own calamitous, dazzled life. 

 

From Simon Hunt’s Lesser Magi

 

Divorced

 

Alone at last he sits and counts his things:

three rooms, a gun, this silence, clothes, a shelf

for books and music; next to them the rings

and, carved from pine, a box he made himself.

He'd meant it as a gift but kept it when

he left—divorce pre-empted birthday. Now

it stores his keys and watch, his change and pen,

the pad he'd write on if he remembered how.

He's drafted letters documenting scorn,

but cannot now take aim. His hand just falls.

He lists the children named but never born

and writes her name, starts, stops, can't think, then scrawls:

"We ended things too slowly but so soon.

I miss you as the sun might miss the moon."

 

Like A Bridge

Before I knew I loved you, and
some months before you felt you had
to say you did not love me back,
I grabbed your hand and pulled you past

distracted bouncers, down to where
the VIPs got folding chairs. 
We heard a song or two before
they kicked us out and back upstairs.

Still hand in hand, we gazed upon
the man who sang your favorite one, 
a song already old by then:
the ’83 reunion.

And how much older it seems now
as I at fifty sing along
with Art on my car radio.
I’ve got my hands at ten and two, 

but even so I can’t forget
the way your right felt in my left
and how he sounded on the night—
the sidekick to the one-thought-great.

He stole the show with that one song.
I’ll google you when I get home.
I hope you’re well and not alone.
I hope you’ve got your radio on.

 

 

Aria 

 

We drank a quart of smuggled wine the day

we ditched the opera. Fuck that noise! we cried,

a toast to sucker-classmates trapped inside

some fieldtrip ("gifted" only) matinee.

Another time you plucked me from my bike

a tick before the schoolbus crushed its frame.

You've paid death back this time, I guess. "His name—

I'm sure it was, but Michael... not just Mike,"

my mother said. "They thought at first he'd live.

A truck..." I had to put my kids to bed.

Now, linked to news, I pour some hometown red.

Your death's online. I wonder what you'd give—

my glass raised to the diva of way-back-when—

to hear her now, or to have heard her then.

 

Three Poems from Barbara Bloom’s On the Water Meridian

 

 

Omeline

 

Give me back the smell of Omeline

as I’d open up the burlap sack 

and scoop my hands into its sticky sweetness,

my horse stamping impatiently from his stall. 

 

Give me back those afternoons,

stretching out between school and dinner,

when I’d climb up on my horse’s back

and we’d go deep into the oak and redwood forests

on the old roads, cantering wherever we could,

and I’d forget where I ended and he started,

and we’d just move through time.

 

Sometimes I’d take lumps of molasses

from the sweet grainy mix, and suck on them,

before I’d spit them out,

amazed that something that smelled so much like cookies baking

could taste so bitter—then I’d watch my horse

nose deep in his grain, snorting with pleasure,

swishing away a fly or two with his black tail.

 

How gladly I would walk back down that trail

to the stable, the full bags of grain, my horse, 

and being ten years old, 

not knowing how much I could ever want this back.

 

 

On the Water Meridian

 

He said he treated

the deepest meridian—water—

and tried to explain

the way energy moves through the body,

but I just fell into a sleep

more than sleep,

and, now, driving home along these familiar roads,

I am startled to notice,

as if for the first time,

how the roses lean against the fences,

too heavy to hold themselves up.

 

All day, their roots have pulled up water,

their leaves made food from sun,

and the petals unleashed their scent

into the bright air.

 

Passing by in my car,

I feel the pull

toward all this green.  My hands

on the steering wheel

look odd to me,

as if, like Daphne, I were changing form,

turning to tree or bush,

and my feet have a restless feeling,

like something was happening far below them:

the summoning of water

to the deep taproots.

 

 

The Singer

 

In that busy café

with the clatter of dishes,

people talking, and bursts of laughter,

there you were,

playing those songs

some of them centuries old—

“The Wild Colonial Boy,”

“Lakes of Pontchartrain,”  “Spanish Is a Loving Tongue”--

and, watching you,

I saw that these were the text

you had lived by:

one spark

could light your heart—

and I sipped my coffee

and talked to my friends,

but really, I was listening

to your voice

telling me how things might be,

and though I thought I knew better,

I was listening for my life.