Poetry 99: Adults
Laced with poison oak,
pines lie like pick-up sticks
round the new cabin.
come one weekend with
a rusty two-man saw.
Much later in his life,
while in an act of love,
the younger will recall
the sweaty push and pull,
a pungent ooze of pitch,
the both of them panting.
David Bell lives and helps with the upkeep on a ranch near Orland, and it would appear that his natural surroundings offer plenty of inspiration for his poetry, both with his winning entry here and with his honorable-mention selection that follows. Bell is no stranger to writing, having worked in arts publishing in New York City and as an art critic for various art journals while living in Santa Fe, N.M. These days, he writes poetry as it comes to him—“I did years of deadlines, and nobody is waiting for the poetry anyway.”
Phone Call from Rehab
The sky was numb, grey
as a dial tone.
My husband, in rehab
again, had just called.
“I don’t belong here,”
he boasted, “everyone’s a loser.”
I relayed the message to my parents,
and the same look from my father
I got as an eight-year-old
on my first hunt. I was standing
over the goose I had just wounded.
My father said, “You have to do it.
It’ll end the suffering.”
Tears fell on its downy feathers,
coarse and soft in my hands.
I held its neck, warm and supple,
Something inside snapped loose.
Lisa Anina Berman
Lisa Anina Berman is teaching academic writing at Chico State University while she works on finishing up her master’s thesis on the subject of, appropriately enough, poetry. The project is called “Salty Wild,” and features writing influenced by the environment and her own personal history, from childhood to her transition into adult life. Once finished, Berman hopes to teach at a community college.
Three dear blackgrey hairs
cling to an unwashed, folded
an ashes sandwich tucked
into a ziploc medicine bag closed vicious tight against
Is he in its creases?
Opened, spread, will sweat Barbasol bike leather
It lies hidden, not forgotten,
in the inky part of the bedroom closet
once brightened by a yellow plastic rain suit
that squeaked and swished when he walked.
Outside, a cleaner white pillowcase
lies centered atop a vast bed desert,
subject only to blonde.
During her years working as a planner for PG&E, Elizabeth Nelms didn’t have much time to write. Now retired, she’s taking a writing class at Butte College with English teacher Molly Emmons, who suggested Nelms submit this poem—her first published work—which was actually taken from a writing exercise for a short story Nelms is working on.
You didn’t come
to the river,
the heron feeding near me
in the lilied shallows
how it rose and
blazed an arc
up twilight’s thickened green
to settle on the curtain
of the far bank
laced of oak and fox grape
where a trace of light
stayed to ignite
a second point of white
you couldn’t see,
The white grass flows
over field, stretches slow
the sky’s ankles
like a cat
gently and softly
up from down
where beasts crawl and
Claws a sun-
My arms shake from exhaustion, too limp
for prolonged hugs, or heavy coffee cups
to clutter my afternoon.
No to humid air.
Boxes of “food” color cupboards
in molten, banal rainbows
pulling migraines from the center of my skull.
smell of green shag and old newsprint
give my senses no place to rest.
I crave the edge of town where hot pavement hits cool green,
waiting on paychecks
scouring base boards and lino
thinking of China or
someone else’s retirement plan.
clipping repressed coupons
rearranging them into sentences
trying to make you just understand the word
We built the fence
the daily detritus
just small enough to hold it all in.
You added your peels
I added my clippings
We tended it
it melded into
rich black anticipation
we never took the fence down
never worked in the possibilities
to make fertile ground.
We Lost Everything
What we lost had everything
to do with the inevitable ocean,
consuming stars, the ancient art of creating
the simplest day from the immediate heaven.
A perfect day, we said, would be a day
assembled of straw we gleaned in morning leisure.
We were caught by a seasonal eventuality,
and Ursa rises there as if duty bound,
as if the answer to misery were in a constellation.
At the edge of things there, we found
that things pile up on the ground
and that some time we will wade in things,
wade in an ocean made of soft earth.
this heavy head hangs-
a neck so long and pale,
just caricature of my natural beauty.
I hear the blue haired ladies say I’m leggy…
marveling at my blushing leaves, deeper each day.
that creeping pink is my death mask,
but my barcode reads, ‘succulent’.
I had a name, a family: crassula.
I open my stomata, an old habit,
Tomorrow I will stretch further.
until my roots dry hard and crumbling around vermiculite.
This life, of an echeveria.
The last succulent in stock, dying elegantly at the check out in walmart.
you’re a slip of a
girl in muslin dress, a
dancer posing arabesque
the smooth delicateness
of an egret’s neck
your mood capricious
prone to wax and wane
your smile a bow
straight aimed at the breast
of the men you’ve bidden
to fall besot by
the wink of one eye
yet you have not got
even half a heart, your
double tongue’s sharp
as a scimitar’s blade
to divide brother stars
for conquering, but
quickly comes the
tempest wind, to cast
you adrift, a sailboat in
so you may never
Coo Coo Cachoo Love
Tap into pale ale and slurp up the foam,
Guzzle Sierra Nevada brew love.
Neil amid diamonds of sweet Caroline,
Hot August nights humming song sung blue love.
Mysterious ghost girl down by the pond,
Deathly liaisons turn of the screw love.
Tell me you love me in 59 words,
Peruse fictional News and Review love.
Bonded together in tight-fisted bliss,
Never release me with super glue love.
Cream velvet petals of flowers in bloom,
Nostrils flaring with Pepé Le Pew love.
John, Paul, George and Ringo down on all fours,
Sharon has found her coo coo cachoo love.
He was three years, three months and eleven days.
I got on the bus, picked up my M16 and put him in a closet,
After three tours, years of VA, mountains of paperwork,
I became aware
six years after he skinned his knee, four years after took his hundredth swimming class, three years after he stopped calling me mommy, seven years after he stopped using sippy cups, five years after he stopped believing in the Tooth Fairy, eight years after I stopped being young and five years since dying was an option I liked.
“Thank you for your service.”
Waiting for Bordeaux
Waiting for Bordeaux
Sweet garnet swirl in the glass
Beckett sipping slow
The Gallery Wall
I contemplate my dream
on the gallery wall,
conceptualized in print.
I’m the wraith between the rock
and the wave, and the white hand
of God is reluctant
to restrain the incoming tide.
Lisa Anina Berman
to fall again
my mind wept constellations,
my lips turned lunar,
and my heart plunged
like first rain
a foreign burden
of a second start:
I relive it
Della me you I remember
the Playboy magazine
no worse Hustler
of things we’d never seen
could never see from our angle
but there that summer
in the ditch down the road
from your house
just past the cemetery
overgrown and neglected
we could see it all
Roof Jack keys unlock the moonlight
As she sings her sorrow to a bowl of stale cornflakes
The porch feels limited by its new dimensions
Resentment for the tree builds
Unaware she cries on and on into the night