Dispatches from Devereux Slough

- 1952-
Black Phoebe

Highwayman of the air, coal-headed, darting
Plunderer of gnat hordes, lasso with beak –

"Surely, that fellow creature on the wing,"
The phoebe thinks, "should fly like this."

                     And loops
His flight path in a wiry noose, takes wing
Like a cast line and hits the living fly,

Ripping it from the fluid of its life.

Devereux Lagoon

Shiners leap ahead of diving cormorants
And killdeer cry, alarming one another.
In an egret's beak, the catch flashes like shook foil.

How well these field glasses scope out the place—
A kestrel sky, serrations of the Madres,
And sand flats darkened by a rare rain shower.

Such an odd peace, as creatures stalk each other

Dispatch from Devereux Slough
               Fall, 2008
The gulls have no idea.
The distant bark of sea lions gives nothing away.
The white-tailed kite flutters and hunts.
The pelicans perform their sloppy angling.
The ironbark eucalyptus dwells in ignorance and beauty.
And the night herons brood in their heronry like yoga masters, each balanced on a twig.
The world has changed. The news will take some time to get here.

From the Garden Toad

A cri de coeur of mud, a heartfelt groan
Of deep damp, mother rainfall and her sire;

A plea from underground, from drooping shade,
From memories of sunlight and clear water;

Reproach of an old grandparent half-forgotten –

All in that voice, announcing a desire
To have sex under the giant philodendron.

Marine Layer

No one is out tonight, but just in case,
A tubaphone's deep echo, like a seine net,
Sweeps under darkness and pulls darkness in
The way a trellis shadow cages light.

To hear the foghorn is to hear your childhood,
If you were lucky to have lived near ocean,
Moving again into your neighborhood.

Overcast on Ellwood Mesa

Hawks like it. Wings cast no shadow, hovering,

And white crowned sparrows are easier to pick out
Among the foxtails, scurrying like mice.

Under the gray cloud cover, blue birds course
Like running water through the fennel stalks,

And the shrike, color of the sky, keeps watch
From the barbed wire of the startling green golf course.

September Song

Those phosphorescent shoulders of the night surf
Passing beneath the pier,
                     as we looked down,
Were an agitation in the falling water
Of creatures set to glowing,
                     all together,
By sudden apprehension, which we perceived
As incandescent wonder,
                     our eyes feasting,
Our hearts filled by the light of crashing down.

Shorebreak, 3 a.m.

At night the swell and crash, the swell and crash,
As waves rush forward, peak, and then collapse
Gasping and giving up a ghost of spray,
Sounds from a distance like a low-voiced hush.

Awake, alone, at the right hour to hear it,
That hush, for all the sleeplessness behind it,
Can lead one, walking wounded, back to sleep.


Waking at nightfall like the other monsters,
The vampire and the moonstruck wolfman, arson
Is hardly required to set your body burning,

Thirsting for dryness, dry brush, stucco houses.

Flame wind, ember wind, wind of moonlit smoke,
Rolling a fog of ash downhill to sea,

The sun's down is the harsh fur of your burning.


The egret is more patient than any watcher
And lances its incision when its stillness
Has made one look away.
                     Its anesthetic
Is stillness, and it numbs the water's skin.

The pelican takes a hatchet to the water,
The egret plies a scalpel.
                        They extract fish,
But one by smash and gulp, and one by stillness.

The Crystal Ship
       Sands Beach, Goleta

The famous rock star thought up his famous rock song
While gazing out at the oil derrick offshore.

Lit up at night it might look, to stoned eyes,
Like a faceted galleon perfect for a song.

Tonight, as sunset gives off its green flash,
The derrick has that look.
                     And so does the oil barge
Docked to it, dead black, filling up with cargo.

To a Dead Sea Lion at Sands Beach

You had returned from dry land back to water,
Preferring it, and welcomed the new limbs,
Webbed to conceal your toe and finger bones.

You rolled along the surf, all memory
Of other motion swept back in your wake,
And ended here, among fly-buzzing kelp.

Sleek swimmer drowned,
            and with your unwebbed bones.


When we are reunited after death,
The owls will call among the eucalyptus,
The white tailed kite will arc across the mesa,
And sunset cast orange light from the Pacific
Against the golden bush and eucalyptus
Where flowers and fruit and seeds appear all seasons
And our paired silhouettes are waiting for us.

Ground Swell

Is nothing real but when I was fifteen,
Going on sixteen, like a corny song?
I see myself so clearly then, and painfully—
Knees bleeding through my usher's uniform
Behind the candy counter in the theater
After a morning's surfing; paddling frantically
To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me,
Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor's
Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt.
Is that all I have to write about?
You write about the life that's vividest.
And if that is your own, that is your subject.
And if the years before and after sixteen
Are colorless as salt and taste like sand—
Return to those remembered chilly mornings,
The light spreading like a great skin on the water,
And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges,
And—what was it exactly?—that slow waiting
When, to invigorate yourself, you peed
Inside your bathing suit and felt the warmth
Crawl all around your hips and thighs,
And the first set rolled in and the water level
Rose in expectancy, and the sun struck
The water surface like a brassy palm,
Flat and gonglike, and the wave face formed.
Yes. But that was a summer so removed
In time, so specially peculiar to my life,
Why would I want to write about it again?
There was a day or two when, paddling out,
An older boy who had just graduated
And grown a great blonde moustache, like a walrus,
Skimmed past me like a smooth machine on the water,
And said my name. I was so much younger,
To be identified by one like him—
The easy deference of a kind of god
Who also went to church where I did—made me
Reconsider my worth. I had been noticed.
He soon was a small figure crossing waves,
The shawling crest surrounding him with spray,
Whiter than gull feathers. He had said my name
Without scorn, just with a bit of surprise
To notice me among those trying the big waves
Of the morning break. His name is carved now
On the black wall in Washington, the frozen wave
That grievers cross to find a name or names.
I knew him as I say I knew him, then,
Which wasn't very well. My father preached
His funeral. He came home in a bag
That may have mixed in pieces of his squad.
Yes, I can write about a lot of things
Besides the summer that I turned sixteen.
But that's my ground swell. I must start
Where things began to happen and I knew it.

Transfiguration (audio only)

And there appeared to them Elijah and Moses and they were talking to Jesus. Mark 9:2


They were talking to him about resurrection, about law,
      about the suffering ahead.
They were talking as if to remind him who he was and
      who they were. He was not
Like his three friends watching a little way off, not like
      the crowd
At the foot of the hill. A gray-green thunderhead massed
      from the sea
And God spoke from it and said he was his. They were
About how the body, broken or burned, could live again,
Only the fiery text of the thunderhead could explain it.
      And they were talking
About pain and the need for judgement and how he would
      make himself
A law of pain, both its spirit and its letter in his own flesh,
      and then break it,
That is, transcend it. His clothes flared like magnesium,
      as they talked.


When we brought our mother to him, we said "Lord,
      she falls down the stairs.
She cannot hold her water. In the afternoon she forgets
      the morning."
And he said, "All things are possible to those who believe.
      Shave her head,
Insert a silicone tube inside her skull, and run it under
      her scalp,
Down her neck, and over her collarbone, and lead it into
      her stomach."
And we did and saw that she no longer stumbled or wet
She could remember the morning until the evening came.
      And we went our way,
Rejoicing as much as we could, for we had worried many


They were talking to him about heaven, how all forms
      there were luciform,
How the leather girdle and the matted hair, how the lice
      coursing the skin
And the skin skinned alive, blaze with perfection,
      the vibrance of light.
And they were talking about the complexities of blood
      and lymph,
Each component crowding the vessels, the body and
      the antibody,
And they were talking about the lamp burning in
      the skull's niche,
The eyes drinking light from within and light from
And how simple it is to see the future, if you looked at it
      like the past,
And how the present belonged to the flesh and its density
      and darkness
And was hard to talk about. Before and after were easier.
      They talked about light.


A man came to him who said he had been blind since
      his wedding day
And had never seen his wife under the veil or the children
      she had given him.
And the Lord said, "Tell me about your parents."
      And the man talked
A long time, remembering how his mother cut his father's
      meat at dinner,
And how at night their voices crept along his bedroom
      ceiling, like--
But he could not say what they were like. And in
      the morning, everything began to tick
And ticked all day as if. . . . Now, he remembered!
And suddenly his sight came back and blinded him, like
      a flashbulb.


They were talking to him about law and how lawgiving
      should be
Like rainfall, a light rain falling all morning and mixing
      with dew--
A rain the passes through the spiderweb and penetrates
      the dirt clod
Without melting it, a persistent, suffusing shower, soaking
Making sweatshirts heavier, wool stink, and finding every
      hair's root on the scalp.
And that is when you hurled judgement into the crowd
      and watched them
Spook like cattle, reached in and stirred the turmoil faster,
And they were saying that, to save the best, many must be
Including the best. And no one was exempt, as they
      explained it,
Not themselves, not him, or anyone he loved, anyone who
      loved him.


Take anyone and plant a change inside them that they feel
And send them to an authority to assess that feeling.
      When they are told
That for them alone there waits a suffering in accordance
      with the laws
Of their condition, from which they may recover or may not,
Then they know the vortex on the mountaintop, the inside
      of the unspeakable,
The speechlessness before the voices begin talking to them,
Talking to prepare them, arm them and disarm them, until
      the end.
And if anybody's looking, they will seem transfigured.


I want to believe that he talked back to them, his radiant
And I want to believe he said too much was being asked
      and too much promised.
I want to believe that that was why he shone in the eyes
      of his friends,
The witnesses looking on, because he spoke for them,
      because he loved them
And was embarrassed to learn how he and they were
      going to suffer.
I want to believe he resisted at that moment, when he 
      appeared glorified,
Because he could not reconcile the contradictions
      and suspected
That love had a finite span and was merely the comfort
      of the lost.
I know he must have acceded to his duty, but I want
      to believe
He was transfigured by resistance, as he listened,
      and they talked.


To raise a stump of rock into a tower, rolling a stone 
     in place as the years pass.
Strangers who only know your silhouette bid it farewell and
     travel to Japan,
Cross China, venture into India, to Europe, and, changed 
     by time and space,
Sail home over the bulging eye of ocean only to see, when
     landfall looms in view,
The stump of rock--your tower--on the headland, and you there,
     rolling a stone in place,
The edifice apparently no taller, as if each night you had
     dismantled it
And every day had raised it up again.  To know, only in 
     completion, the nisus
That dominates the spider when it spins, the bird building 
     its nest, the gray whale
Turning toward Mexico and the sea lion clambering up shingle 
     toward its mate--
The nisus of cairn-building, rock-piling, mortaring stone has
     dominated you.
It dominates the reader bent above the book, poised like a
     stork hunting; like sleep,
It is an utter unity of will and action, known--at least by 
     man or woman--
Only when it is over.  And when the work is over--tower 
     building, poem writing--
You hear gulls cry and see them kiting at the bull terrier 
     out in the garden.
He has snatched up some strip of bloody fur they meant to mince
     with beaks.  Best to detach it
From his jaws, let gulls eat refuse like that.  Go out into
     the damp twilight, feel
The chill along the arms, through cloth, and take the petty
     morsel from the pet dog, toss it
To the scolding gulls, down the rocky bank beyond the garden.
     And lead the dog to food
Inside the kitchen.  Enter, expecting to see the woman, the two
     sons, and your place at table,
Waiting.  And find you are alone.  Even the dog at heel--
     vanished.  The stone house
Glumly dark and a dumb cold coming from its walls, that only
     whiskey cuts.
The cold and dark conceal much, and memory must be evoked 
     to penetrate them.
Meanwhile, they are the elements that starlight loves.  
     Clear cold, pure darkness, outside the window,
Beside the guestbed, where you have planned to lie at last,
     viewing the pure, clear stars without
Obstruction by the crude suburban dwellings--that absurd roof,
     down there, like a coal scoop,
And the spite fences either side your property.  Nothing
     in creation shows
More the supreme indifference to humanity, despite the patterns
     of the zodiac.
The stars, like bits of crystal ground into a griststone's
     granite rim, are small themselves.
Only the surrounding emptiness is great.  Take comfort in the
     emptiness; lie down.
The drink will help you sleep awhile alone, without her, until
     that section of the night
You've come to know--that region you once sailed through
     peacefully, worn out by work and love.
Now, stranded there till dawn, sleepless, it will not matter
     that you foresaw the planet's end
Or our end on the planet.  Only sleep will matter.  At that
     hour, in those conditions,
Just out of reach, receding like the dark itself as daylight
     pushes in, sleep only
Will be the thing you want.  Powerless to attain what you
     desire, yet bitterly
Desiring at all costs.  Perhaps, then, memory, not starlight,
     will intercede,
And the stone house gather warmth from its hearth fire, and
     loved ones reappear, and you will	sleep.