Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Living On Salt And Stone \ Straight Bay

Nancy: Under the sod, a record of time and lives past.  Broken bits and even unbroken bottles.  How soon will I be reaching for the liniment, picking the last sprig of tansy?

Living On Salt And Stone

Everywhere I dig,
I find the tools of my predecessors,
harness bits, broken plates.
I suspect that I should listen to these things;
I suspect that men do not lose their tools
while they still hope.  Women do not plant
and leave willingly.  But I am here;
and you have come, and we have plowed, again,
and it seems we will try where they failed,
living on salt and stone,
on love and salt and stone.

Alan: After I joined Nancy at Straight Bay in 1980, my father wrote to say that it sounded like a “good place for poets to meditate upon metaphors.”  I wrote this in response.

Straight Bay

There are no metaphors here.
Only a land and a sea
growing into and out of each other
with the tides and slow breathing
of isostasy.

There are no poems here.
Only the woods and the fields
growing into and out of each other
with the flux of farms, families, fires,
relative yields.

There are no poets here.
Only she and I
growing into and out of each other
in a flow of days listening to earth,
talking to sky.

“Living On Salt And Stone” first appeared in Living On Salt And Stone (Stone Man Press, 1984).  “Straight Bay” first appeared (with the title, “Here”) in Slow Dancer magazine.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Milestone \ Lost In The Scatter Of Light

Nancy: Society has gained so much now that the signposts shown to children no longer point girls down one path, boys down another.  At least I hope not.


Little skinny bones girl
sitting there crying on her
birthday,  her Mama just
told her she was gonna
grow up and be a woman
and it settled on her all at once
how life might not be a big
tree stretching up, some branchy
old catalpa or tall oak, but
a long walk counting months,
holding her breath and counting –
and that was the same summer that
the boys took the raft she'd worked
on down to the creek and paddled
it as far as the waterfall
and she heard them talking about it

Alan: Time speaks a foreign language.  I’m left guessing at its meaning in a rough translation.  

Lost In The Scatter Of Light

Time does not pass, it sinks.
Not like traffic passing on the busy street
that runs past the houses of our selves.
Not like the slow-moving freight train
with its endless, intriguing box cars,
mysterious gondolas of days,
passing as we wait, impatient, at the crossing.

Time sinks. We feel it
in the treetops of childhood, easy chairs of old age.
Even when we ignore it we feel it,
busy as we are, as we make ourselves to be.
We sense it sinking away out of sight
like light beams sinking below the surface
of the sea.

Just as a child, staring over the side of a small boat into calm water
watches, fascinated and a little afraid
of the beckoning scatter, we feel ourselves
too, drawn downward
into the dark.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I Never Did Cry \ Marked

Nancy: The deserts of the Southwest have seen so many deaths – even the map warned “Jornada del Muerto” on the contour lines of the land.  It was a place too dry for raindrops or tears. 

I Never Did Cry

I never did cry
there was a window
comings and goings
how do you feel
pain is private
why do the clouds hang on the mountains
leaving the basin dry
they’re waiting
screams are currency here
too many faces
is there anyone to call
dammit I can’t get a vein
the window is
and the lightning flashes over the mountains
they told me
one day
I never did cry
but it rained, once
outside the window
you could watch the drops
disappear in the dust

Alan: Dystopia enters slowly, through innumerable tiny cracks and fissures, until finally – looking back, looking ahead – too late, we notice.


Marked from birth – leaf
foot, petal toes
pressed, printed,
tucked away –
if I wandered too soon
from life, my mother
would have at least
this to weep on.

One day we lined up
in class the nice
stranger dressed in blue
blue hat & shiny badge
inked our thumbs.  So if
we went off in the car
of another nice
stranger there would be
this of us left.

Another time I noticed
half-domes bulging
like Sputniks
from the ceilings of the
five-and-ten-cent store
chameleon-eyes watching,
tracking.  I was never
alone again.

Now they are everywhere,
slim swiveling boxes
recording; more – tiny –
hidden in walls, trees,
lights, eyewear, clothing,
under skin.

For a time barcodes
inventoried us like fruit
or dry goods.  QR codes
scanned to our personal
sites & histories.  Clumsy.

Gait, face, demeanor,
voice, iris, and finally
thoughts make everything
public or if not public
known to some.

Once it was enough
to be free or at least
uncaring.  It was that way
in post-war Honolulu
mid-50s Coronado
suburbs made for kids
on bikes, cul-de-sacs
and cut-throughs.

Now I know
how my sister died
and of the sadness
surrounding us.

Now I am secure
and can menace no one.
Now it is better.
They say, watching
and listening over me,
now it is better.

“Marked” is from a work in progress, Annals Of The Nearer Soon (preliminary title).

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Just The Word Peas \ The Mummichogs

Nancy: When the women gathered to work on the fruits and vegetables to be canned, I often found a place to sit and a way to be part of it.  There wasn’t a lot of money to spend in the ‘30s, but it was the most social time I can remember.

Just The Word Peas

four generations
my mama my granny my mama's
cousin my granny's aunt
and me
sitting in the shade
shelling peas

shelling peas
our hands busy their voices
rising and falling murmur
question and answer
until someone noticed
and everyone noticed

me.   someone said
"little pitchers have big ears"
and for a minute or two
there was only the dozy drowse
of summer
the soft rustle of peas

that summer afternoon
four women
and me
sitting in the shade
living in my memory
five women shelling peas

Alan: Often, walking our lane where it crosses the edge of the marsh, we’ll see a flash and scatter in the brackish pools left behind by the receding tide.  These are mummichogs, tough little fish that thrive at the margins where salinity, oxygen and temperature swing wildly.

The Mummichogs

The mummichogs came up in the small streams.
In the small streams and tide pools
they lingered when the tide went down,
expert hangers-on,
not minding the fresh or the salt.

When the tide went down, they held on
and when the tide returned, they returned
to the sea again for a time
to feed in the salt grasses.

When the tide came up in the streams –
came up farther than before
on the new moons and fulls –
the mummichogs also came up farther

into the pasture
into the woods

and held on.

The tide came up
and the storms pushed it up
and it came up around the knoll where the house once stood
bearing the mummichogs
to a higher home.

The storms came more often now
and they came up farther,
over the knoll and swirling around the backland beyond
and up around the cliffs
the plucked rock faces
from the last glacier

and the very heights of the land

and the mummichogs came up and found
new streams
new pools
new places to feed and breed and hang on.

Where there had been pasture, and woodland, and a house
and cliffs

the mummichogs found new homes

there, after the people and the other land things had gone.

“The Mummichogs” is from a work in progress, Annals Of The Nearer Soon (preliminary title).