Here, an olive votive keeps the sunset lit,
the Korean twenty-somethings talk about hyphens,
graduate school and good pot. A group of four at a window
table in Carpinteria discuss the quality of wines in Napa Valley versus Lodi.
Here, in my California, the streets remember the Chicano
poet whose songs still bank off Fresno's beer-soaked gutters
and almond trees in partial blossom. Here, in my California
we fish out long noodles from the pho with such accuracy
you'd know we'd done this before. In Fresno, the bullets
tire of themselves and begin to pray five times a day.
In Fresno, we hope for less of the police state and more of a state of grace.
In my California, you can watch the sun go down
like in your California, on the ledge of the pregnant
twenty-second century, the one with a bounty of peaches and grapes,
red onions and the good salsa, wine and chapchae.
Here, in my California, paperbacks are free,
farmer's markets are twenty-four hours a day and
always packed, the trees and water have no nails in them,
the priests eat well, the homeless eat well.
Here, in my California, everywhere is Chinatown,
everywhere is K-Town, everywhere is Armeniatown,
everywhere a Little Italy. Less confederacy.
No internment in the Valley.
Better history texts for the juniors.
In my California, free sounds and free touch.
Free questions, free answers.
Free songs from parents and poets,
those hopeful bodies of light.
Originally published in ZYZZYVA, Number 83, 2008. Used with permission by the author.
The moths in the orchard squeal
with each pass of the mistral wind.
Yet the reapers and their scythes,
out beyond the pear trees, slay wheat
in sure columns. Christ
must have been made of shocks
of wheat. When they lashed him,
four bundles of fine yellow burst forth
from each welt. And the women,
tarrying as they do now behind the swing
and chuff of the reapers’ blades,
gathered and plaited the stray pieces
of wheat falling from his hips into braids,
long braids that would bind a tattered sail-
cloth over his yellow mouth, yellow feet.
Oh to be bound by one’s own blood
like a burlap sack cinched around the neck
with a leather belt. Father forgive me
for the moths shrieking in the orchard
of my mouth. Forgive the rattle and clatter
of wings inside the blue of my brain.
Even if these iron bars queer a field,
queer a woman standing too close to a reaper’s blade,
a half-moon hung and wholly harsh,
even if this woman, burdened like a spine
carrying a head and a basket of rocks,
forgets the flaw of a well-sharpened tool,
let her not mistake my whimper and warning
for the honk of a goose in heat. Father,
she is not made like our savior,
of straw, of a coarse tender. Nothing will stop
when her blood runs along a furrow.
The sun will not sag with a red scowl.
The field will not refuse water. Father,
I am unsure of what I am—
a fragrant mistral wind or a pile of moths’ heads
at the foot of a pear tree. Father,
give me a scythe. Father, let me decide.
Copyright © 2013 by Roger Reeves. From King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
The women cluster at the cathedral,
hair in careful bouffant helmets,
armored and elegant, poised to herd
I want to do that too, but then tear up I can’t
Stand still. Wind wisps my hair that gently
you brush like stardust from my eyes. Light shifts
and colors sharpen. Across the square the Grand
Hotel sparkles with
upon mirrors in gold-leaf frames: the soaring empty space
of the Symbolic.
Throngs pass in and out of these yawning
doors, the alacritous doormen, the language
of bodies feeling fear, love, pain–desire–
equitably: a gift
we hadn’t asked for or realized we’d received,
an edge of the Negative: not simple
but potent, to refuse absolutes, remain
in process, a healing the (my) emotional
body in order
to keep open
the possible. The huddling women who’d seemed
so done up
are wounded, not not beautiful,
as in the strength with which they clutch one
another, eloquent now their faces have character,
of style we could read but not speak, always our
Originally published in Przekrój. Copyright © 2020 by Cynthia Hogue. Used with the permission of the poet.