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At two I built worlds with lines of rocks
plowed roadways through mud with my fingers.
At four I used soft ocher stones to draw patterns on sidewalks.
Iceplant offered juicy needles for rubbing secret messages
on walls which sun soon evaporated.
Given a easel, poster paints and a brush
at six I painted two large carrots crossed,
repeating them smaller in each corner.
At seven I crawled into a gigantic redwood hollowed out by fire.
Guided by the little people I scibed black tree soot
in circles around my eyes and neck.
Lying beside Old Mill Creek I crafted boats of yellow leaves,
climbed aboard and washed down thrilling courses of moss
to disappear around the bend.
Armed with colored pencils at ten I drew Onion Woman
leaping across my page in pointed slippers, scowling,
tree people and river spirits soon followed.
At twelve I secretly sketched naked men and women
on lined notebook paper, hid them under clothes
in the closet. My mother never mentioned them.
By fifteen the art room was my only refuge,
my pictures the last remaining thread to me.
I painted Eve in the garden reaching on tiptoe
to pick the apple, her bottom round and brown,
the serpent waiting in leaves above.
Dreams Will Wait
I forget the Dream Maker
never stops dreaming me.
Busy thinking I'm doing it myself,
I miss most of life.
The great street sweeper of everyday mind
erases all that doesn't belong in its tidy city.
Small self turns off the volume
of messages meant for my ear,
censors all programs of importance.
Mental noise drowns out familiar cries
from the rest of experience.
Clues seep under closed doors,
floodwaters leave maps on walls.
After my death my dreams will wait stored
in cardboard boxes, yellowed labels peeling.
Will my children know enough to understand
all I could not receive, but wish for them?
Ancient Game of Chance
Dreams wear all the passengers on the bus.
Fools, benefactors, murderers,
goddesses, painters, victims,
poets, gardeners, healers,
house cleaners, kings, ecstatics,
dead fathers, judges, lovers,
clothe their shifting forms in knowing.
Eagles, deer, wild horses, ants, mountains,
deserts, storms, fire in forgotten basements,
willow branches reflecting,
war zones running with blood,
cloak their meanings with my nights.
Dreams smell of old Chinese boxes' secret drawers,
childhood attics, forbidden memories,
dust motes dancing silent afternoons,
gas stations, engine grease, dirty rags, of dishwashing,
strawberries picked hot in June, airplane air,
tears at my mother's funeral,
salt tides and rocks with sea anemones,
of sticky kisses in a teenage Buick.
Dreams voice new directions.
Clean up that mess.
Give away dull clothes.
Pick up your sketchbook, talk and laugh with friends.
Look, the surf swells huge. Dive in now.
Stop denying what means most.
Water those trees you planted.
Don't park in front of the temple door.
Dreams eat unawareness,
gnaw windows to lucidity,
dissolve barriers to entering many tiered paintings.
They feast on spiralling shells woven by moonlight and tides.
Held in living waters of the Dream Maker,
a seed in the sea afloat
I crack open into green corn sprouts.
Dreams make a living driving me to the mountain.
Their headlights become sprinklers
watering flowering almond trees.
They accomplish their job
sweeping floors, scrubbing toilets,
I can recognize where I'm going,
share ceremonial prayers,
take the quickest path,
be a great old resort where people learn,
see beauty in hills, lakes, trees,
perform a series of dazzling leaps,
gypsy-like, toward the ceiling.
Dreams dream that the actor hands me sweet dates.
Eating, I begin to fly.
They know dead habits have been burnt,
waste carried away by black smoke.
I wind red beads around a young girl's brow,
inhale blue bloom of hyacinth
smelling of sex and warm wine.
A Thousand Bees Gleam
Walking home on the dirt road in hot September,
going up a hill, it hits me:
I'm moving in the painting I've been making for 30 years.
Every step, every moment, strokes forming
this river fed valley, dusty pinons,
worn dwellings, friendships,
a red tailed hawk riding updrafts.
Each breath, each grief, each surrender
adds highlights and shadings to green fields of canvas apples
weighted with harvest.
Sun overhead casts blue shadow
surrounded by yellow gravel.
Climbing, I focus on pebbles
rushing through my dark shape on the ground.
They speed by like my days,
Thunderclouds arch bright edges casting rays,
on brushworked depths of sky.
Hue on brilliant hue, I've birthed this art
with colors of blood,
children's growing and departing,
each golden seedpod falling.
A Reddened Willow Bough
silken and older than stone
whispers a sound my mind can't hear:
water wearing cliffs to sand,
ferns unwinding green.
sha, forces me to lower my head, sink
black and starred, softer
than weight, now slow,
undulates every strand.
Sliding down warm tunnels of bone I shrink
in narrow bends,
swell through wide turns,
at peace in not knowing
of upholding an identity card.
No talisman can break my wind-swept fall,
with less and less left
I'm pulled faster
to the downward maw.
A sleek voice, silvered and finned with rising moons
guides my descent, fluctuates
a cadence hollowed and immensed in my ears
before the word for taste emerged, a dream spun
when plants and creatures
were still complete
before the atom was split cracking wholeness into one gaping wound.
sighed the salmon of a thousand eyes.
Roaring catapults me down
yanked by a rope until a dense
barrier breaks my fall.
A wedge of will, I shoot
blindly through the impenetrable wall, fall back
only to leap again.
Each assault is garlanded with buzzing bees, the pitch
that shatters glass. The voices change me
into flying eyes, red fire.
Nothing but wheeling views, I shake,
a water drop hanging
from a reddened willow bough.
Sudden quiet causes the tear to fall, to mingle,
rain into rain, seeping, feeding roots.
Her Rhythm Slower than Sight
When she tells stories that weave layer over layer
into tunnels longer than time,
her obsidian eyes glint,
wise as the stars patterned on her back
This morning the string
holding sun immobile since the solstice
allowing light to flood the valley.
Snow-covered mountains hunch,
pressed down by storm.
Wind tosses ravens, hides and reveals red hills.
Limb tips glow neon
against black clouds.
At the dance-ground the ancient turtle stirs,
flat, brown, cracked by drought,
her shell thick
to support men's pounding feet.
She keeps her appointed rounds,
thudding one armored step after another,
her rhythm slower than sight,
too dense for birds with their fast ears.
It Takes So Long to Notice
Pinons, you were here all along, taken for granted.
I didn't realize how much you gave me, clothing the hills with green.
Resting in your summer shade, feeling your rough bark, I watched lines of ants
crawl to the sweetness of your sap.
In fall I shook your cones onto a sheet. How good the house
smelled with roasting nuts.
Because so many of you grew on the land
you were not special.
On winter solstice my family offered prayers, asked far your life,
chopped you down to be our Christmas tree.
You were always here while I raised my kids,
spread paint on canvas to speak the words I couldn't find.
You stood as usual when my children moved from home,
when they returned with their own young.
It takes so long to notice.
Now I have only your stark trunks sucked dry by beetles.
My eyes couldn't believe it when drought drained
your needles, when rust gnawed
your branches one after another, until most were tinder.
Silent the hills, littered with your skeletons.
Now I have only the trees I remember,
how it was when we were together.
How old I feel to have out-lived you.
The Flash Flood
Cloud voices hum in bones, warning,
the sky will burst,
gashing warm brown earth, running,
running for the hollows held by stones.
Every gully rushes red, pouring, pouring
down the mountain, tossing branches,
throwing boulders on the road,
racing for the shore. Rising in a swollen roar,
a tide of muck uproots banyan trees,
marches uncontrolled. The primal element
gouges rivers, inundating fields.
Red Cardinals cling to undergrowth,
wet feathers shaking, calls drowned out.
Torrents wrench fronds from palms,
crush septic systems, up-end trucks like toys,
hurl rubbish down volcanic slopes.
The clouds scream orgiastic joy as tons of water
thunder, rushing, rushing to join sea.
A five foot tidal wave
charges down the garden stream,
snapping our bridge, roaring, roaring,
casts it out to sea.
Cloud voices laugh.
The Green Turtle
To you I seem lifeless on the sand,
flippers flat, black eyes sunken.
I am not dead, nor have I outlived
my span on earth. I come from an earlier age,
with days like red birds, before
your people brought harm.
It is good to rest in warmth,
beak closed, to let sun dry
my shell, heal scratches from rocks.
Tonight full moon will call
our mothers to lay round white eggs.
Not here where you would
steal our young, would kill us and eat us,
would make combs
and trinkets from our shells.
Birthing in hidden coves, we must
rely on beaches with little sand,
to be safe from you.
Once, your people knew how to talk
our language, how to pray with us in voices
that merged like tides, how to sing
reflections and ride currents.
We taught you the ways of the sea,
how to offer her gifts. You learned
to swim in her blue body,
to mingle your waters with hers so
fish could keep shining. We showed you
her rhythms. We carried your dreamers
to the stars we bear on our backs.
You were not harmful then, but free
as the mangoes you gathered.
You honored us by carving
our images on black stones.
You have forgotten to listen, to be slow.
Go away. Leave us alone,
immobile in the sun.
New paper stretched on drying racks by the fire
smells like wet pine needles
when I smooth out bumps and wrinkles.
My cup filled with tea reflects
rain outside the window.
The storm has raged for days,
turned the stones shiny, cold.
A coyote summons the clouds
breathing on the mountain. The wind
howls back though whipping ponderosas.
Sun flashes a brief arrow,
signalling the downpour to retreat.
Awakening, my cheeks feel the touch
given to me by a branch
of flowering apricot
while I made paper in a dream.
When I pack the dried sheets of paper
into an ancient wooden box
they bear lines and strokes brushed
by wind whirling leaves into mud.
These marks are brown, the color of earth,
the same as my arm.
I remember the fragrance of blossoms,
red centers surrounded by white.
It Dwells Inside Bones
Now that I've gnawed emptiness
down to the last bitter root,
my skeleton drinks rain from the wind,
harbors a flame which cannot be blown out,
a rose suitable for melting in the sun.
My prayer has not ended, but goes free,
lighting every stone.
I know there is a time
stilt as the hollow between breaths,
a time my hands can open
with utter care.
It dwells inside bones.