Just Like Fruitvale Bridge Park

Fruitvale Bridge Park

Fruitvale Bridge Park

1.
Fruitvale Bridge Park
where fresh water mixes
with ocean tides,
storm drains
from Oakland
empty into its mouth
wide open
rents are industrial
and zoned cheap,
homeless
hold out for fish
away from tent cities,
the favelas
that crowd source
highway exits,
Fruitvale
where a Monarch butterfly
sucks the life
from a milkweed
and lacy anise leans
on a cyclone,
gets off on it.
Now riding past me–
a man who balances
aluminum cans,
plastic bags
on the handlebars
of a bicycle.

2.
I prefer intertidal zones,
brackish places,
salt marshes of sweet and sour,
fresh and salt,
a sandwich of charoset and horseradish,
honey and the taste of root knowledge.

Fringes of the city where I grew up
amid warehouses and plate glass studios,
auto body shops smelling of motor oil
promising to fix a vehicle in 24 hours.
Dark, dirty ceilings
with batmobile things

and equipment only men
in overalls knew how to handle.
I fell in love with the blue collar
of cities—What it took
to make things happen,
the behind-the-scenes

for stars to come out,
the coffee breaks,
roach coaches,
deliveries and pickups,
and all the gravelly curses
that made a day go by

inside fans of corrugated
aluminum siding
wrapped around a city block
cooling its heels
against the whine
of heavy metal,

almost like the Fruitvale mudflats,
places that stink of low tide,
spangles of window glass
on sidewalks
bequeathed by minor gods
of the neighborhood

on their way to the courthouse
at the outreach edges
where rules
are bent, broken, and ignored,
for this is an out-of-the-way
in-between place

that doesn’t attract much attention
unless there’s a hip bar or club,
or a politician stumping for votes,
people who go about the business
of eating, sleeping, breathing
and making their own peace.

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Wellfleet at Olga’s

Wellfleet Harbor

Wellfleet Harbor

floating on my back
murmurs from the shore
a lifeguard’s whistle
boogie boards

water color red
a cloud of seaweed
hisses of bubbles
dissolve my feet

scissors to locksmith
time tumbles away
Einstein wears sunblock
count the waves

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The First Flying Woman

IMG_1278The old woman who lived in the bottom apartment called me. Her name was Basuma. Freckles covered her hands and arms and made her look like a ripe banana.

She pointed to a tree in our backyard. “Look! The momma bird is feeding the baby bird,” she said. “Daddy’s watching for cats. When he sees a cat scrunch itself up into a waiting rock beneath the tree with its mouth open and its tail ticking,” she continued, “he flies to the branch and warns his family to fly far away.”

I thought about that. “But how does a bird learn how to fly?”

She pulled out a brown and white feather from her grey hair and began to fan herself. “By watching the momma bird.” Sweat was beading off her forehead.

“But how did she learn to fly?” I asked.

“Sheesh, child, it’s too warm. Let’s go to the basement. I’ll tell you there.”

We climbed the winding wooden stairs to her small room. Basuma sat in a rocker. I sat on a blue rug and leaned my head against her bed. “Go on,” I patted her leg to begin.

“Once there was a girl named Liana,” began Basuma.

“Liana!” I said. “That’s my name!”

She nodded. “She was nobody’s child and everybody’s child. Liana was an orphan who had been brought to the village as an infant. All the families in the village helped to raise her. She grew up learning something from everyone.

“One family taught her how to listen. She could hear ants digging inside their homes. Another family taught Liana how to sing. “If you know how to sing,” they told her,” you can move rocks from your heart.” Liana sang a beautiful sad song.

“Why are your eyes sliding off your face?” asked a sparrow who had made a trek down the bark of the tree to talk with her.

“I receive gifts from all the families in the village,” said Liana. “But I have nothing to give.”

The sparrow scratched her head. As small as she was, she knew many things. “I’ll give you a feather. Then you will have a gift. Use it as you will.” With a tug from her beak, the little sparrow plucked a feather from her wing. “Here,” she said, and flew away.

Liana lived near a river that overlooked a thick stand of tall pine trees with Malley and her little brother Joosh. Liana was the oldest. Malley and Joosh’s parents were away collecting summer berries, but knew the other families would take care of them.

“The next morning Liana opened her eyes and saw that the moon had not yet disappeared. She held the feather inside her palm. It was speckled brown and white. Who would want a small feather that was no bigger than her nose? She tucked it inside a gold locket that she wore around her neck, the only thing she’d brought when she’d first come to the village.

“What’s wrong?” asked Malley, who stirred inside her bed of soft fresh leaves. “Why are you up so early?”

“Now little Joosh always slept next to the fire to stay warm. He never wanted to miss anything. He was in such a hurry, he accidentally tossed the edge of his leaf bark blanket into the fire, which began to blaze.

“Oh, Joosh, you’re so dumb,” said Malley. The boy stuck out his tongue.

The girls were scared. They tried to put out the fire. They had nothing except a rusted can to carry water from the river. Joosh kept filling up the can. But why did Malley try to smother the fire with a deerskin? And why did Liana throw rocks, which only created sparks that flew everywhere in the dry weather? The pine trees caught fire.

Liana remembered the sparrow’s feather. She took it out and rubbed it on her chest. Her back grew thick with feathers. The wind parted her dark hair down the middle of her neck, which spread over her arms into two wings. Liana moved so quietly through the air, she didn’t even disturb the wind. She grabbed the two children and flew to the other side of the river where she placed them safely on the ground. The Bird Woman flew away. From high in the air, she saw how everything was connected to everything, how the rivers flowed into the oceans, how the mountains sloped into the valleys.

“She called to Malley and Joosh good-bye. Her voice turned into a beautiful song.”

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Hummingbirds

    Istanbul doorMother of Pearl door, Istanbul

Nails cut red sea scallops into her thumb
Held back from digging deeper.
What was the point?
He’d shut his Facebook door
Disenfranchised her from sending
Text messages
Seven years of speaking
Every day
Slammed shut silence.
Read Pablo Neruda’s Lost Poems
Listened to hummingbirds
Chitter outside on her patio
Beak-sipping from red plastic flowers,
A sugar sweetness but no nectar,
Wondering
as she retracted her finger
If the hummingbirds knew
If they could tell the difference.

Two Places: Cross the Bay Bridge to Oakland, California and walk the bayous of Louisiana
Price(USD): $15.00

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Bird Land

It’s hard to be a bird
Do what you were born to do
Knowing no one’s
Gonna come back
Flying through the trees
To feed you your grub
Like in the olden days
When all you wanted
Was to open that big beak of yours,
A hundred times opened and closed,
A shameless thing.

Now no more sounds of here I come,
Your mama, way too tired
With a flutter of signifying wings
To keep up the good work,
Knew you had it in you, your time,
Your turn to ride the air current,
That first dizzying plummet
Above the vent of a Fish Tackle Store,
Dunes whipped by wind
Into sand storms, purple rafts of seaweed,
The sun caught and spangled.

Bonus!

Rio Vista
Golden hills of summer
as I drive over drawbridges
named for vice mayors and state senators
who cared enough to sit on committees,
the Sacramento River a blue ribbon
pinned to the land that’s green with crops
I don’t recognize, windmills and cows
move in the distance, power lines drape
their cabled arms pointing
toward Rio Vista where I watch
people fish, a woman wearing
a green halter and pink shorts
nods something
to the man standing next to her.

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Zoe Keating Comic Book

I saw you wearing a NYPD T-shirt subscribed to your graveyard of ex-lovers buried behind the house near the burn pile incinerated from memory a lead-in to a song coming face-to-face with Spiderman a ruffled feather duster of clouds above San Francisco Civic Center where everyone plays a thumb piano of cellphones

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A Congress of Poets

Walk down the hill
from the Historic Mayfair Hotel,
the room is clean and the water hot,
costs less than other places,
forget about getting breakfast at the Convention Center,
at least I can buy enough coffee to open up both eyes,
but everything is closed on a Saturday morning. And this is LA.
Descend into a sunken shopping mall, a cavernous place
where the Chow Down, H&R, and Gold’s Gym
rim the edge of a plaza. Only one door opens,
security guards in blue jackets, women with yoga mats,
shoppers who know
there’s a Starbucks counter
hidden like a jewel inside a Target.

Near the pick-up area, bras stare
in B cups where I wait for my order,
drink coffee surrounded by a forest
of brick, cement, and glass trees
glitter from the king’s castle,
wonder what I must do
to return to my home.

Buildings have always defined my horizon,
not mountains, a skyline.
But I’m not sure where I belong anymore,
a belt of cars encircle the city,
don’t know if it’s my age or if I can’t stand the traffic,
or like B.B. King said, the thrill is gone
spectacles of billboards climb 60 feet high
for Harry Potter, Toyota, Coca Cola.

Travel back to the hotel after another evening of readings
men play soccer on the lawn of Lafayette Park,
wait for a bus in front of the Dollar Store
across the street from where the evangelist
speaks over a microphone in Spanish and English.
If I listen, I can hear crickets.

Links to My Work

Poetry Flash Review

Two Places: Cross the Bay Bridge to Oakland, California and walk the bayous of Louisiana
Price(USD): $15.00

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To Get a Dog, or Not

Down the stairs of my condominium and across Campus Drive I walk along Leona Canyon Open Space Preserve. In April and May, I canter past an expanse of wild radish and California golden poppies. Below there’s a culvert and a pond lined in cattails and home to a family of mallards whose ducklings hide behind the rushes. I continue down a slope alongside a stream flowing out toward Mills College and eventually to the bay.

It’s a three-mile walk, first an easy flat jog, then up a fairly steep hill that leads to the buildings of Merritt College. I hike along a stretch of California buckeye trees that erupt during the spring months into white candelabra that torch the entire canyon, bay oak and laurel trees cascade along the hillside, trunks undulating like dancers who reach out to partners as robins and song sparrows flit from branch to branch, sunlight filtering through branches in a soft shimmer.

I mark my journey up the length of the canyon by three benches. The first overlooks a growth of purple periwinkles that weave themselves into groundcover. A large oak grows on the other side of the bank and spans the creek and provides a constant expanse of shade. After my husband died, I used to talk to this oak, which reached out its branches and enclosed me within its protective shade.

Walking steadily, I come to a second bench, navigating past brambles of California blackberry whose white flowers in the early summer turn into ripening fruit, stands of white poison hemlock marked by dots along their stem to distinguish them from white umbrella-like flowers of cow parsnip. This part of the canyon is shaded by bay laurel and harbors large colonies of sword ferns and stinging nettles that remind me of The Wild Swans, a tale by Hans Christian Anderson about a young girl who gathered nettles from graveyards to help her brothers regain their human form. I sat here on many occasions holding hands with a lover until he left.

The third bench is nearly at the top of the hill, memorialized to the Jalquin people, one of the Ohlone tribes that used to call this area home. I am surrounded by yellow monkey flowers, French broom, and purple thistle. But the trail has become more congested, overrun, especially at certain times of the day.

These days it seems like I might be the only one who walks Leona Canyon Preserve without a dog. When I first moved here about twelve years ago, the trail almost felt like my own private secret, a stream that runs past groves of bay, buckeye, coast live oak, and madrone trees, an area abloom in the spring with wild radish and cow parsnip with white umbrella like stalks of flowers. In my first years at the canyon, I’d get excited if a saw a young garter snake swish past, or a hare dive into the brush. Sometimes I’d even see a red fox. Once I thought I spotted a mountain lion on the crest of the hill. But the area has been discovered, one of the few places in Oakland of its kind where dog walkers are allowed to herd their charges off-leash in a three-mile walk from the bottom of Leona Canyon to Merritt College. Dogs joyously bound up the trail, glad to be free in a space where the air is freshly oxygenated by trees and running water. It is rare that I see a hare anymore,.Even the snakes have disappeared. Of course, the trail is still beautiful, especially since the winter rain has filled the empty stream again after these last difficult drought years. But Leona Canyon Preserve has changed and so have I.

Sometimes I consider getting a small companion to accompany me on the trail and would allow me to exchange notes with other walkers about dog husbandry.

I have yet to take this step and check off my reasons. None make sense. First of all, I live in an 1120 square foot condo without a yard and don’t feel that it’s fair to coop up a pooch within this space. Also I’ve put in new rugs and I think about their wear and tear. But then there’s the fact that I live by myself and I’m gone for long stretches during the week and I don’t think it’s fair to leave an animal, especially when we’d be in the first phase of getting-to-know you. Still, as an apartment dweller who never grew up with dogs—more like parakeets, goldfish, and cats—I do wonder what that relationship would be like, having a dog rest at my feet while I read a book, type on the computer, listen to music, and of course, walk up Leona Canyon. But the real reason I resist visiting pet shelters, if I am to be honest with myself, is a fear that I may only have a dog for companionship, and as I sit at the third bench, I contemplate if I shall ever discover love again, if when, how soon.

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What an Abortion

I’m glad you’re not working. I mean, that you could drive. Been up all night thinking about this morning. Coming here today. Taken me weeks to decide. Weeks. Couldn’t do it by myself. Probably taken a cab. Mom called early from East Coast. Wanted to know what I’d decided. Asked what Bob thought. What do you think I told her? You know how I feel about the whole thing. I told her it wasn’t any of his business. I mean, we’re separated, for God’s sake. Bob’s got a divorce lawyer ready to file. He doesn’t know about this. None of it. So what’s the fucking point of even asking him? Of course, I didn’t tell mom that. She always throws a fit whenever I curse. Doesn’t matter that I’m over thirty. But you and me driving to the clinic today. None of it was supposed to happen. Bob was going to get a good job with the city and I was going to get a teaching credential. Remember how happy he was after he graduated? Instead, he’s a short order cook at some café on the strip drinking himself to sleep every night. Every week bottles stacked high in the recycling bin. Starts smacking me around. And now it’s my fault. Everything’s my fault. Why’s that, Cynthia? My fault because I married him? I hate crying in front of you. I know you have your own problems. Don’t think that I don’t. But I can’t have this baby now. I’m moving out of the house next week, after the procedure. D’you understand? Better slow down. There’s a cop over there. This kid’s gonna have to wait. And the clinic. It’s supposed to be the only one in the state that hasn’t been picketed by those right-to-lifers waving pictures of dead babies. So gross. I swear if I ever saw anything like that, I’d vomit. Right on the spot. Anyway, I’ve been feeling queasy. They say that’s normal. My breasts have grown. If I weren’t getting a divorce, this might be fun. For the first time in my life, I’m a size B. I don’t know what I saying. Those stupid people. Their preachers collecting thousands of dollars on TV every Sunday morning, and adoption agencies selling babies on the market. That’s right. I heard about that one. Babies for sale. Really. One of these days. But not now. Not now, little kid, d’you hear me in there? Not when there’s so much shouting and screaming and black eyes. That kind of stuff rubs off. Not the way to grow a life. Not inside me. It’s not right. I want to be the kind of mother who glows. Why are you stopping, Cynthia? The clinic’s on the other side of the highway. Why are we stopping here at the Denny’s? This is where Bob works, for God’s sake. This is where Bob works!

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Cubicle Life, the End

I’ve sworn off cubicle life
sitting in front of a screen.
Many emails mean
I have to stay up late
studying spreadsheets
of a growing predicament,
my destiny to telecommute,
weekend from home.

I’ve sworn off cubicle life
in a windowless room
tracing a mouse across
the horizon of my desktop,
menu bars bloom instant messages,
the person on the other side of the aisle
reports to a manager who wants to fire me.

Freedom!
No more idiot project managers!
No more conference calls!
No more M&Ms washed down with
cups of coffee to keep going!
At home,  I ditch the T.V. Ha, ha, ha.
It can no longer monitor me.

 

 

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