Autumn Lights Festival

They appeared
as guests do
from a stone pathway–
a Moth Princess,
flaming calla lilies,
electric fireflies,
sea glass lamps
in the dark light
of the garden–
and when
we finally left,
it seemed as though
the whole world
lit by one branch
could never go out.

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I’m on vacation from Chicago and visiting my girlfriend in Louisiana. Kathy and I met in college where we played on the same basketball team. This is my first time visiting the south. The plan is to drive to New Orleans the next day for the Jazz Fest. “Hey, Bev. Can you head down to Walmart and pick up a case of water? It’ll be steamy all the way down.”

“I know all about hot. Don’t forget I’m from Chicago.”

“Wrong. That’s the Windy City. Not this kind of hot.”

Kathy is busy in the kitchen cooking up a pan of brownies and wipes her forehead with the back of her hand. Several beads of sweat drizzle down the side of her nose. She tells me to watch the speed limit because it’s easy to get a ticket. “I’ve already got way too many,” she says. “Traffic school’s expecting me to show up for the next hundred years.”

“Best place? Walmart?”

“Where else?” she says. “All roads lead to Walmart.” She laughs. Kathy is trying her best to educate me about the south, at least her south. Every time I open my mouth, I feel like I’m giving every guy an invitation to hate me, a Yankee.

“Not every white person is a redneck,” she says.

“Consider Duck Dynasty.”

“Shit.  That’s just bunch of media hype. You can consider whatever you want.”

She gives me the keys to her car, a baby blue Mustang. The key ring is attached to a brass crawdad. “Okay. See you in a bit.”

I pull out of the driveway of her small cottage at the end of a cul-de-sac. She’s learning to fly drones over soybean fields to help regulate crop irrigation. Both of us are in our mid-twenties and single. I used to have a boyfriend back in Chicago, but that’s been over since the beginning of summer. So I start driving toward the main drag. I’m used to highways that are straight shots. You get on, cruise at a certain speed, and get off. Not like Hwy 165 where the speed limit keeps switching up as SUVs and gargantuan 18-wheelers speed past stuffed with skinny poles of pine trees that hang off the back of their flatbeds. The speed limit changes from 65 to 55 near the turn-off to Frenchmen’s Bend, a housing development and health club. From there, it remains constant past a wave of fields growing soy, corn, and rye, past the entrance to Black Bayou, a wildlife preserve and also the gateway to a small Sears store that sells parts. Here the speed changes once again to 50 miles per hour as Hwy. 165 passes North Monroe’s commercial strip, home to storage units, gas stations, pizza and chicken nugget outlets. Out of my rear view mirror, I spot a police car lurking in the median.

I mind my p’s and q’s and drive slowly. It’s not so much the change in the speed limit or even the bumps along Hwy.165 that annoy: it’s the road bullies. They hug my bumper, especially small trucks whose headlights tunnel through the back of my neck.

My choice is to stay in the “slow” lane where drivers are talking on cell phones. Or I can play the same asshole game, slow down and wave my bumper in a driver’s face until he gives up. Anyway you look at it, it’s a contentious ride. But today after I merged into the right lane to let some wild child pass, the same guy pulls back behind me.  I merge right. He follows. The cat and mouse goes on for about two miles and I’m getting worried.  So I pull into the nearest gas station. The guy drives by like he’s an extra from Thelma and Louise and waves. I don’t want to know what he’s selling. Instead, I go inside for a cup of coffee. Through the window, I watch him park. I’m in trouble now. I thought making this run to the market would be no big thing.

“Pardon, M’am.” He’s wearing a t-shirt with one of those god-awful Smiley faces, a serial killer with a grin. I’m holding tight to my coffee, ready to fling it in his face. “Ever consider selling that ’65 Mustang?”

He’s around six feet with pointy cowboy boots, straw sandy hair, about my age. “You know we could’ve had an accident.  Do you always force people off the road when you like a car?”

People are lined up to pay for stuff at the counter: sodas, aspirin, cigarettes. He answers with one of those bashful Gomer Pyle aw-shucks. “Sorry, M’am. I got carried away. I don’t see many of those on the road. I’ve been hunting for a car like that.”

I wonder if it’s been with a six-gauge. “We could’ve had an accident,” I say.

“Sorry.” He shifts back and forth in his boots. “But do you mind if I have a look at her?”

“Actually yes, and it’s not my car.”

He’s wounded. “Just a quick look?” he asks again.

Why not? How could that hurt? “Go ahead,” I acquiesce. “Knock yourself out.”

He bobs up and down and looks inside the Mustang, admires the leather and whistles low and loud. The car was Kathy’s brother’s, but he’s in the Middle East right now. He’s finished looking at the car, stroking its chrome. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

“I guess you can tell by my accent.”

“No,” he smiles. “I can tell by the way you drive.”

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Elephants of Style

Waltz into my room wearing purple robes,
skull caps decorated with gold tassels
coins from countries that sell dark sun glasses.
I ask them to sit down and eat something—
I am trying to be a thoughtful host,
offer green pears, bananas, guacamole.

All must be green, even the bananas.
That’s because they’re such elephants of style
strutting pearls, ostrich and peacock feathers.
I’ve folded napkins into triangles,
piped in cool water from a garden hose.
Their feet are a stampede of slate columns.
No one wants to be the first to repose.
They think that would be sheepish.


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Yew Nork by Dale Jensen

Yew Nork 
by Dale Jensen
Publisher: Sugartown Publishing
Date: May 2014
Pages: 65
ISBN: 978-0-9913870-3-8

Reading Yew Nork made me feel like I was huddled beneath the streetlamps of Paris gathered with Surrealist poets, André Breton and Benjamin Péret smoking Galloises. Except this was possibly New York’s Gotham City and Dale Jensen was my guide. The poet took me on a trip through different physical and emotional landscapes as he stands on the precipice of his old age.

In the opening poem, “Armweary Traveler,” Jensen observes:

the statue of liberty is much less impressive if people wear hats in front of you / those eyes that remember everything that happened…and so, the poet chooses to visit New York City where the pulse runs like / it did when I was young.

Jensen visits old neighborhoods, different deaths, laundromats, Greenwich Village, searches for the Gotham Book store in Manhattan, observes kids playing catch and makes a trek to the beach. He writes a paean to “Freud’s Cigar,” the man who opened the dream door to the unconscious for many creative artists, including the Surrealists. Jensen writes: everything’s a fire hydrant sometimes…so which leg to lift now.

Several of his poems like “Aunted,” play with our ability to hear different syntactical structures:

thes amet time

ha da visi on:

ah aunted

thi ckness

an dat rapdo or

hi ding 

Acknowledging his debt to the Surrealists of the twentieth century, his love poem For Judy is reminiscent of Breton’s Freedom of Love. Jensen writes: i hold your moon in my hands / like an archaeopteryx… 

Jensen is no stranger to poetry that defies that usual narrative voice which predominates today’s American poetry landscape. Author of six books and three chapbooks he has been involved in the poetry community of the Bay Area for several decades, helping to give new and developing poets a voice at reading series throughout San Francisco and the East Bay, but always at the edge of experimentation and being true to his own path. Yew Nork is Jensen’s coming out party as a full-fledged American Surrealist poet who can still find wonder everywhere around him.

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All along the Saw Mill River Parkway,
a season turns inward to meet its operation,
pumpkins spawn lattes, muffins,
globes of yellow mums line driveways,
a Revolutionary War hamlet stolen in the 1600’s
for a cache of blankets and wampum,
once filled with baggage and artillery wagons,
cars commute to and from New York City,
a black mustache drawn at the Hudson’s mouth
to catch in-bound traffic from free-falling.

Maples wrap branches around my rib cage,
a trap of orange and gold leaves filter translucent light,
and like an unsuspecting moth, I’m sucked in,
walk along Croton Reservoir without a map,
later drive my sister to her doctor’s appointment,
a drunken doll, one leg stutters on the kitchen floor,
the other from a knee replacement;
she’s the oldest and now titanium,
goes to physical therapy
where aluminum walkers spell doors open.

Today our middle sister has placed her husband in a nursing home
fighting the battle of guilt and loyalty, for years
in paralysis until she flattened her ant hill with sparrows.
This morning Patsy did my hair, her twenty year-old son
somewhere in the Middle East, which is to say I’m drifting down,
waiting in line to pay for a 300-capsule jar
of fish oil at the CVS register.
A man ahead of me can’t find his debit card.
People Mag says a certain movie star can’t wait to become a mom.
Milkweed pods along the roadway spew silk seeds.

Links to My Work

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

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 5.57.19 AMA giant’s missus walks in the fields,
steals hay bales to use for curlers,
wraps her wiry locks around each one
stuck with a branch for a bobby pin,
blows them dry by squeezing a hot wind.

Of course she does this really late
combs out her hair with a garden rake,
throws her curlers down a laundry bin,
when Mr. Giant knocks and stomps in,
and the house shudders with their big date.

Links to My Work

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

IMG_0794When I turn on the morning news
or listen to the radio in my car,
I pray not to hear the black blot
of another beheading or rape,
hundreds executed in mass graves,
survivors squirming beneath the dead.
I pray not to see the face
of a nine year-old boy balancing
an automatic weapon around his neck.
I pray for the news to be good.
I pray. I don’t know what else to do.

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Heart Broken

no daily warbles bringing
each other up-to-date, take-offs
and landings, welcome homes and toes curled
around each other in bed, retreat
inside my nest, gather up frayed feathers
like a scarf for a long winter I wanted to forget.

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Postcard from Sanibel

A shell seeker who bends down from the waist,
nipples bid the wind good day,
Calico Scallops and Lion’s Paws fill my plastic bag,
pass other collectors, ask if they’ve had luck
or can share tips for finding good ones,
conches and twisted whelks,
shells roofed in barnacles,
blushing brides who long ago
tossed their bouquets into the ocean.

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Ile de Plaisir

Without parents, there’s no charge at the turnstile,
young bodies handed off to brokers or herded into camps.
Run-aways find a woman dressed in her skirt
of serpents and a necklace of skulls.
She sings you are my children.
They kiss stones and grow hard.

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