Night’s Body

George Keithley

If Chico had a poet laureate, it would be George Keithley. His has been the most sustained and varied body of poetic work to come out of our town—ever. From the epic (The Donner Party, a Book-of-the-Month Club selection later developed into an opera) and the biographical (The Starry Messenger, poems about Galileo) to the structurally challenging (The Midnight Train, poems of 10 or fewer lines), he has steadily explored different ways of telling stories in verse. In addition to his high-concept books like The Donner Party, he’s consistently produced volumes of delightful lyric poetry like that found here. Keithley is a sharp observer of nature—human and otherwise—and these lucid, densely musical poems are filled with the kinds of sharp and surprising insights the best poetry delivers. Here’s how “Autumn” begins: “Autumn, old mother, you bless with lighting bolts./ Thunder shudders caprock, rolls down the canyon./ Storm clouds break above the foothills, swelling/ Horseshoe Lake, flooding Butte Creek—/ Out of Mad Woman Meadow a sleek dog trots home,/ burrs knotted in its long ear, its switching tail.” Were there ever six more vivid lines?