Califas, My California, Mi Amor
by MK Chavez
Hummingbird heart over golden rolling hills,
please know that it’s not your beaches
that make me love you,
it’s the fury in your liver
and your Marysville men & Chowchilla women
in my marrow.
Your thirst is drought and dry as bleached ocean bone.
I want your revolutionary hamlets,
your murder dubs,
wetlands and marshes,
your ghettos and devil mountains,
the ghosts of your failed missions,
abandoned caves, and your sunken ships.
Bring me your she-bear, your grizzly.
Forever your strength.
Carnalita, your tongue, tan bilingua.
Your glorious Spanglish.
Give me the Indigenous in you,
the we’ve been here longer
than you in you.
Califas, you are rainbow flag and stone butch.
Coastal Starlight, you travel through Cuesta Grande,
you are track marks all the way
from the Chateau Marmot
to the emerald triangle.
you grow on the vine,
your wine, your Mexican tar,
you’re known for it.
You are wet-lands, delta, and once a year sandhill cranes.
You are monarch and pupa.
How I love to watch you emerge from your chrysalis.
Feed me your milkweed,
and non-native eucalyptus.
California your name is
Cherrie and Luis.
You are Barbary Coast, men fighting men over something that shines promise.
You are headlands, abandoned forts, sea lions, coastal range, and tulle elk.
California your malls bury your shell mounds
but this savage still prays for you.
California you kill me—
but you are reluctant.
Flog and fog. You can be a cold mistress
but I like it when you wake,
rise from the ocean and move over peaks.
Cali, your fissures are not your fault.
Golden arches of final goodbyes,
you are shark-infested waters
and El Capitan and the Salton Sea.
Califas, island of my spirit, untamable amazon,
last sanctuary for the estranged,
you hold my history
like the hidden Methuselah tree.
CASUALTIES OF A WAR ON CREATIVITY:
AT THE NO BUSINESS AS USUAL EXHIBIT OF PROTEST ART,
CITY COLLEGE OF SAN FRANCISCO, DECEMBER 2019
by Tehmina Khan
A necklace of scissors
Candles of remembrance
A skeleton rising up in the
graveyard for the murdered.
A vigil for the disappeared:
Casualties of a war on creativity.
A green serpent with
a moneybag for a head,
fangs ready to pierce.
The last screen print from CCSF, three of them in a row.
A colorful fist raised.
Schedule of classes shredded into ribbons.
“LIES” written in red
over the promise of graduation.
“BS” over the slogan of
Scissors, snip, cut, silence.
Testimony of immigrant women learning to weld.
Dreams of city people, working people
longing for words, numbers, stories, skills.
Dreams deferred. Who’s making a profit?
Who is the green serpent with fangs pointed at us?
From a painting on the wall,
Frida and Diego watch what we do.
They’ve been here before.
by Thea Matthews
After Jericho Brown
In isolation I vow to remember
Your voice your contagious laugh your eyes.
Your smile as I stared into your eyes
One last time you still tug on my sheets.
This body alone rests on cold sheets.
Wrestling with the memories of you
I swear you cannot be gone in one breath. You
Remain intact within my pulse in hand.
And whether or not you feel hands
Embracing your face please know my fingers
Rest in the streams of your hair. My fingers
Count the distance of separation.
Whether you are six feet away or
In isolation I vow to remember.
by Lourdes Figueroa
and who will have the last word if not
the mountain up ahead
with a rising sun
if not the sudden blue of the skies
if not the howl of the wind within a long corridor of buildings
if not the reflection of light on a cobweb
if not the horizon up ahead dividing the land sea & sky
& the resting sunset
if not the bone bare yellow moon on a star full night
whom will have the last word
if not the chirp of a newborn sparrow
who will it be
and if not any of this
and if there is a last word
upon whose ears will it fall upon
no mi vida
no te rajes
con nuestras caras hacia al sol
sentimos el calor del amanecer
pronto llega el sol
pronto llega el sol
mi vida no te rajes
con nuestros ojos cerrados
hacia lo azul
Pacifica, May 2020
by Ingrid Keir
Remember the dust of our ancestors tooth and bone
Their blood runs through me
as I dilate to the elementals that flow
a lifetime of grandmothers and grandfathers
Remember love at first touch exists
In this time of no-touching
Hydration, after a thirst so bottomless
seven layers deep
Lying in be
the glow of the universe spreads across the sky
lit by your hands
The lizard scales fall away
to a crimson rose, fragrant petals
I unfold myself into you
a teardrop carnelian
Along the shore
held by wildflowers and sand
Desire as an ever-changing kaleidoscope
I hear the hum of creation
Let us paint the story of beginnings
With your hands
spirals circumambulate my body
like Fibonacci’s golden ratio
sacred swirls, momentum,
To enter the erotic
through the gates of the unseen
A veiled dance behind silken strands
fingertips walk along skin
I have learned to love myself
planted my garden
which blooms, still,
let me see the crystalline stars
held in your irises
as we walk the corona
crowned by interstellar luminosity
Birth Poems 7/20/17
by Alexandra Kostoulas
Blue bird swinging on the lowest branch
watching over me
over the spirits of the unborn
as they make their way through the caul
into this gentle breeze
strips away the cool air from our breath
and 5 o’clock summer sun beats down unobstructed
all the birds and all the trees and all the
chimes in this back yard are one.
I am the old solid bark on the rusted deck
the convex shape in this whirling glass of water
the warbling the chirping the pre-dawn infinite
stretching into the corners of every lazy afternoon in late July
the red trumpet flowers of it all.
I give birth to this baby
I give birth to myself
birth to the infinite violet dusk over and over again.
Mirror inside mirror. Rainbow prism inside rainbow prism
I am alive even when I am no longer alive
Even 100 years from now
when all the butterflies are dead.
I will be encapsulated in this moment
right here in this city
my feet in flip flops
my hair a mess
a slouchy sweater falling off the backs of my bare shoulders
enjoying the sun glistening down on my olive skin.
Birds are overhead
This city that is so cruel to some
And so lucky for others.
In the middle of one of its many golden ages
I sit draped in a loose gray dress,
And realize these are
new ancestral lands
the 4 th generation San Franciscan
inside me eager to be born.
by James Siegel
We tried not to get too excited about it too soon ... So we waited patiently, quietly, to see how many this week’s mail would bring. And then there were none ... – Bay Area Reporter, August 1998
Summer in San Francisco is never this warm, yet here we are. Ninety degrees in August. The hottest day of the year.
The flowers have dragged their blooms from the basement. The fog packed away for another day. And this season’s crop of young men have shed their clothes on the lawns of Dolores Park. Their pale, bony torsos have turned to copper. Turned to mercury.
They are becoming something more. And now we see that anything is possible.
Even today’s news is possible. The front page fluttering on a park bench—No obits—as though death has quit his job, taken a much deserved rest.
For years the names poured in. A deluge. The editor’s inbox flooded with crisp white envelopes, handwritten return addresses staring back like an epitaph. Piles of human history type-spaced on an ancient typewriter. A life folded neatly—a shroud—holding a photo, the face of someone now gone, journeying off to the dark mystery we all fear.
Now the bay breeze flips the front page to the classifieds, the arts section, an ad for the opera, the Tea Room Theater. And the past comes back as a whisper—we were a generation betrayed by government. The face of Regan. Betrayed by a silence that shouted:
There is nothing to see here. There is nothing that can be done.
Our families buried us before we could die. And the family we adopted lived as they stood dying, refusing the betrayal of our own bodies. An inside job. Our cells resisting the cocktail of pills. Thrush and sarcoma.
And still we sipped sidecars with the North Beach crowds— the beat boys at Vesuvio, the queens of Finnochio’s on Broadway— because this life was worth hanging on to. Our halos cabaret lights burning until burning out.
Next week, perhaps next month, when September rolls off the ocean, the season will cool. The chill of mortality settling in the air.
But today the city is a warm hand. A lost friend inviting us to stretch our limbs on the green grass. To feel the sun’s rays on our skin. One day this will blink out. Fade away. Die. But not yet.
Infinite Definitions of Birth Right
by Lauren Ito
Is it place
Or lullabies caressing cheek
Or contorted masks in shapes we can’t bring ourselves to recognize anymore
I hitchhike towards mirages
Count mile markers in what grows beside the road
Who destroys it
How the invasive species are named
Where resilient blooms atop fault lines keep extinction at bay
And poetry becomes wills only some can inherit.
Tucking affirmations beneath toes at each bend
I ground prayers for cocooned comfort in given skin
As if we were destined to belong here
song of the four winds
by Carol Lee Sanchez
to inspire a careful language
cautious for other centuries-
these portfolios out of ourselves.
the halls are crowded with name tags
gold leaf and celluloid
document the quiet change,
walk the edge of the unknown
planting specks of light to note
the most useable path through oblivion
will bear the mark of
the careful explorers
will continue to prosper here,
unnoticed for awhile until
all the webs are untangled
and they will find us-
holding the ends of these threads
a smile caught between us.
What the Moon Said
by Paula Gunn Allen
The moon lives in all the alone places
“There are things
I work out for myself,” she says.
“You don’t have to be depressed about them.
These are my paces, and walking through them
Is my right.
You don’t need to care
when I’m down.
“Or if I’m mad at myself, don’t believe
I’m mad at you.
If I glare it is not your face I am staring at
but my own.
If I weep, it is not your tears that flow.
“And if I glow
with the brush of twilight wings,
if I rise round and warm
above your bed,
if I sail
through the iridescent
heavy with promise,
with red and fruity light,
and leave your breath
tangled in the tossing tops
of trees as I arise,
as I speed away into the far distance,
disappearing as you gaze
turning silver, turning white
it is not your glory I reflect
It is not your love
That makes me pink,
It is mine.”
The moon moves along the sky by her own willing.
It is her nature to shed some light, sometimes
To be full and close, heavy with unborn thought
On rising. It is her nature sometimes
to wander inn some distant place, hidden, absent, gone.
by Tongo Eisen-Martin
A tour guide through your robbery
He also is
Cigarette saying, “look what I did about your silence.”
Ransom water and box spring gold
-This decade is only for accent grooming, I guess
Ransom water and box spring gold
-The corner store must die
War games, I guess
All these tongues rummage junk
The start of mass destruction
Begins and ends In restaurant bathrooms
That some people use
And other people clean
“?you telling me there’s a rag in the sky”
-waiting for you. yes-
we’ve written a scene
we’ve set a stage
we should have fit in. warehouse jobs are for communists. But now more corridor and hallway have walked into our lives. Now the whistling is less playful. The barbed wire is overcrowded too.
.My dear, if it is not a city, it is a prison
.If it has a prison, it is a prison. Not a city
,When a courtyard talks on behalf of military issue
.all walks take place outside of the body
.Dear life to your left
.Medieval painting to your right
.None of this makes an impression
.Crop people living in thin air
You got five minutes
to learn how to see
.through this breeze
,When a mask goes sideways
.barbed wire becomes the floor
.Barbed wire becomes the roof
Forty feet into the sky
.becomes out of bounds
,When a mask breaks in half
.mind which way the eyes go
They’ve killed the world for the sake of giving everyone the same backstory
We’re watching Gary, Indiana fight itself into the sky
Old pennies for wind. For that wind you feel before the hood goes up and over your headache. Pennies that stick to each other (mocking all aspirations). Stuck together pennies was the first newspaper I ever read. Along with the storefront dwelling army that always lets us down.
Where the holy spirit favors the backroom. Souls in a situation that offer one hundred ways to remain a loser. Souls watching the clock hoping that eyes don’t lie to sad people.
"?what were we talking about again"
the narrator asked the graveyard
-ten minutes flat-
said the graveyard
-the funeral only took ten minutes-
",never tell anyone that again"
the narrator severely replied
“You just going to pin the 90s on me?”
-all thirty years of them-
“Then why should I know the difference between sleep and satire?”
the pyramid of corner stores fell on our heads
-we died right away
that building wants to climb up and jump off another building
-these are downtown decisions
somewhere on this planet, it is august 7th
and we’re running down the rust thinking, “one more needs to come with me”
on earth, so
that we could
be sent back
THE NO BICH* ARCANE
by Jack Hirschman
From a magic
a mad poet,
a bender of
a vessel hauling
to the Muse,
a translator with
I sang this
in its still
have its way
my pen wept
until all I am
is this friend
in the sun
floor and the
*Haitian for North Beach
Washing My Hands
by Kitty Costello
Something quivers at the brink of my skin
where I thought I end but don’t.
Edges have gone all blurry
like a rainy night under Paris streetlamps.
Distance is rearranged.
Surpassing is the new way of things,
going beyond anything we thought
could hold us close or keep us safe
or shut us in, proximity superseded.
Prayer was always seeping through walls,
penetrating to bedsides, to gravesides
of those unseen, afar.
Longing was always perpetrating
the quiet of my heart.
Hearing remains just out of earshot,
the cries of the world entering
through some long-forgotten sense gate,
tears spilling from ancient fountains we
did not fashion and will never drain,
no matter how long our sirens wail.
This indelible something
as it ravages the known,
through mortal fingers.
Kitty Costello, 3/27/20
There Is No Word for Goodbye
by Mary TallMountain
Sokoya, I said, looking through
the net of wrinkles into
wise black pools
of her eyes,
What do you say in Athabaskan
when you leave each other?
What is the word
A shade of feeling rippled
the wind-tanned skin.
Ah, nothing, she said,
watching the river flash.
She looked at me close
We just say Tlaa. That means,
We never leave each other.
When does your mouth
say goodbye to your heart?
She touched me light
as a bluebell.
You forgot when you leave us,
You're so small then
We don't use that word.
We always think you're coming back,
but if you don't,
we'll see you someplace else.
There is no word for goodbye.
“Sokoya” means “Aunt” in the Athabaskan language
by Mary TallMountain
by Paul Corman-Roberts
a teenage saint
a B list princess
takes the time each day and night
to ask blessing
from the four elements
and yes, perhaps the fifth
We reach out to the future
with all our love
our prayers and passion
from the edge of a blade
without a notion as to who
you might be.
Our brightest minds at the pleasure
of our grimmest hearts
have concluded we must shelter in place
at the precise moment our faith in ourselves
has reached a fork in the blade.
A Short History of Journey
by Aileen Cassinetto
The fault, dear Arcturus, is not in your star.
I’m afraid we misread the swells
like explorers mistaking one continent for another.
“Columbus stretched out Asia eastward until Japan almost kissed the Azores.”
“The Chinese treasure fleet had been mothballed long before Magellan set to sea."
In other words, they were imprecise, and they perished.
(Behold the flight of birds on rarefied air,
from breeding ground to wintering ground.
Behold intention, and it’s kin, precision.)
Be that as it may, we were always meant for motion.
See how the Silk Road was paved with horses’ bones.
And more than smuggled silkworm, it brought sugar, silver,
paper—utter world changer.
See how the Spice Trade flourished,
shoring up an empire, its galleons—implacable bearers of a slave
trade from Manila to Acapulco.
The world got its cinnamon, its cocoa, its cassia and cardamom,
its lapis lazuli, and its Balas Ruby—ancient and sapphire-veined.
We got wanderlust.
And the bravest of us looked up and remembered everything—
the fixed star, the dippers, the king, the queen, the bear-keeper—
rubescent and fourth brightest in all the night sky, dearest,
remembered also the cardinal of old fields and every roadside—
brilliantly blue and sometimes true—in the same night sky,
roaming its way home.
Aileen Cassinetto, poet laureate of San Mateo County
From Below the Belt
by Bill Vartnaw
for David Meltzer
is a question of which
a story has rained,
reigned upon our (un- &) conscious minds
“…whether we chose
to believe it or not,”
the dream comes (with its uni-verse)
like the flooding of the Nile
& each flood, its variations,
whether spiritual, biological
psychological &/or political;
each must touch the body of man/woman
either building it, stretching it
molding, breaking or killing it…
let us turn each flood into a growing season
food for the body, food for thought
we can, we must feed each
other; we are all other
not the quick advertisement they/we are selling
we must prepare for the next deluge
it will come
dig your ditches soon enough;
dig them deep (far & wide) enough
to handle the next inundation
Remember to turn the soil, open the Earth
for the story moves us forward
or we do not move forward.
we know it is made up
with words we use everyday
& dreams we have dreamt,
whether we remember them or not
& that somewhere, the word
for our “dream” is but one letter away
from becoming “comfort, salvation,
peace…” the right combination
of our conscious blood, sweat &
laughter (tears, like the flood, are
a gift) can change this word to the one
we think is "better or richer or true…"
Bill Vartnaw, former poet laureate of Sonoma County
by Shizue Seigel
I love my neighborhood of stubborn weeds
I’m praying that COVID came just in time to rescue it
from total eradication, preserving the last of the grit
from million-dollar scrubs of virgin
olive oil, oatmeal and sage by the pampered who
can afford to bathe their skins with what lesser folk could eat.
I’m hoping this scare will slow them down
like the bursting of dot.com bubble v. 1
or the 1989 earthquake.
It used to be that coastal fog was enough
to keep out those who did not love this land
and its fragile interface with sea and
sky sometimes unseen all summer long.
Morning fog tendrils, microdroplets
bursting against our cheek, reminded us
like warning blasts and mournful bellows
signaling ships at sea and landlubbers alike
that we are all adrift on life—reality rising and falling
heaving and lulling, by turns.
There are no guarantees
Only the invitation to risk
We are a hardy people
buckwheat and sorrel
plantains, dandelions and succulents.
Look down your nose at us,
Endulge yourself elsewhere
with showy blooms and gourmet grazings.
We are a plain people whose meager dollars
sent a generation to college so
they could look down at us, too.
They have yet to learn
there are no guarantees except
to all of us in the end.
Life is how you
Poem for Michael McClure
by Kim Shuck
The bridge meant fishing and floodwater
Like all good symbols
It was mostly borrowed and they’ve
Renamed the river
But the part that’s mine
That little experience
The wood shudder
Running mostly down from Kansas
The part that’s mine will die with me
And there will still be a river
You wouldn’t stop playing with my hair
So I tugged the braid away
And smacked you with it
And we both laughed
A moment I have taken with me
As I roll on over flint
All the way
Down to Grand Lake