Poems by Maya Khosla

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Arribada: Arrival of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

by Maya Khosla

From Canary Spring 2014

Maya lives near Copeland Creek, which is a part of the Russian River watershed in Sonoma County.

Because desire and perfection are tangled forever in darkness,
those who emerge are offspring of an edge
whose salts and sighs echo the waves.
The night rising and sinking under phosphorescence
churned into being
with each wave’s crash and sizzle. A map of cold
green light from which mystery
must surface to breathe, must swell
to the shape of a thousand strangers,
a thousand more. All clothed in submarine suitcases
heaped with expectation.
No choice but to sink to your knees in sand
terrified that life, laden with all her pearls of tomorrow,
could lose her lumbering grip on the world.
And though the turtles cannot afford
to care about perils, evolution does.
And so has created this mad saturation—
so great you could walk miles on their shells
and never touch sand.
Such is persistence. It has no choice but itself,
older than the Jurassic moment
when females began this flipper-footed scraping,
this egg-laying labor, eyes gazing seaward
vertical eyelids opening, shutting, opening
full of tear-gel.

Blue Border of Extinction

by Maya Khosla

From Canary Spring 2013

Blue the suspended dive, a whale mired in netting.
Litmus blue, the alkalinity of a marsh in storm.
Blue the phone ringing and ringing in an empty house.
Blue irises tasting air.
Blue blinking populations, butterflies alive for a week.
Light a blue flame for coffee.
Blue tugboat pounds the air with motor-sized fists.
Blue the vastness underneath, tending toward darkness,
Blue of infinity commencing with sand-grain.
Blue the single whale far below listening for a song of reply.
Blue-gray blowhole sends out the stench of exhalation.
Blue the hunch of a canoe overturning, two inside,
the chance of survival, snorkeling past icebergs.
Slippery blue salmon lunging for unreachable waterfalls.
Blue the sliced loop-knots between whale eye and diver.
Sky’s dawn-blue tongue dissolving stars like salt.
Blue collar-bone-bruise from the canoe’s collapse.
Blue heart tightening in its cage-within-a-cage.
Silence, the netting cut loose, the whale freed.
Blue fabric of jet-stream brings a message from wings.
Blue the pressure, whale snout nudging each rescuer.
Blue to the power of blue and none of it enough.

Helpless, 2015

"…an unusually high number of sea lions stranded since January,"
Justin Greenman, NOAA

by Maya Khosla

From Canary Spring 2016

Hundreds beach, more slippery than puppies.
Black chains of thought tying the sea-drought
to their numbers. Tying their visible rib cages
to us. Arrival is a testimony to loss so great
it’s impossible to fathom with simple currencies
of air or blue salt. How the good sun becomes
underwater ribbons. How easy to mistake
the bands of light and dark for signs of hope.
Motherless hunger is the gravity binding
the pups. To themselves and sand.
As mammals to mammals, we offer warmth.
They are like any helpless human we have held.
Ours is an old story of borrowing, unable to return.
An ocean. Two. A globe. Now they come to us
in pods, eyes terrified by the act of begging.
For every hundred growing anchorless,
a hundred more, slipping beyond oblivion.
And we too are adrift, stray to ourselves
in new light. In new shooting stars of heat
streaking through ocean and ionosphere.
Out beyond the tide’s musculature, the parents
are grazing and grazing on empty sounds.

Horned Rhino Population

by Maya Khosla

From Canary Winter 2012-13

You could die when it’s time. Or for the “medicine” in the meat of your keratin. Many among you once strayed too far on the opposite side, the river muscling through your floodplain. Only horns were sliced off. The rest, flesh, hooves, skin-shields, sank into sun. Scents of skull and ribcage drew civets, fishing cats. Remains passed unannounced to the larger family—vulture, hyena, fungus. Receded to hints of bone. Wind wiped the crumpled water, emerged as an incantation tinctured with cartilage. Now glassy plates of water slip and buckle. The crowns of two trees stretch closer, touch above the point where one of you gave birth. Forks of purpled light rise and flash before slipping from the sky like nameless fish. Shuddering the flies off, you who remain are so blended

with mud and silt, you
are almost absent.

Rescuing Tree Frogs

by Maya Khosla

From Canary Fall 2012

In minutes, workers will pour liquid concrete,
button up this ditch full of pipes. A slurry
that will gel in twenty, be rock-hard tomorrow.
I’m five feet under, catching frogs that want
to squeeze from my grip. Forty spindly-legged dollops
have been dropped back into the pond
they’re dispersing from. Metamorphs,

a thumb-nail in size and brand new to the world
of air. But forty isn’t success. Many slink back.
Dozens of others evade, eyeing me from between

great tubes of polyvinyl chloride that rattle
and slip under my feet. Safety marries instinct, unable
to anticipate the sting of alkalinity moments ahead.

And when it comes, the torrent pouring in,
they leap the amphibian equivalent of a scream.
Flinging them out, I dive back, knee-deep
in the gray soup hardening around my legs.
The foreman shouts Too thick! And two men
haul me out minus my right boot –
too full of the gravid pull to emerge.

The Beauty of Black

by Maya Khosla

From Canary Fall 2016

The first tinge of light lifts an uproar out of the mountains – buntings, bluebirds, wood peewees, tanagers, robins and woodpeckers, all calling eagerly. And, in the distance, a mountain quail’s exclamations. The light grows opalescent, revealing trees stripped bare as ship masts afloat in a sea of young leaves. They stretch on for miles, down one slope and up another. These are snags, standing dead trees. Wearing thick cloaks of charcoal they stand gathered by the hundred, as if in conference.

In the summer of 2013, the Rim Fire set Yosemite and Stanislaus National Forest ablaze. A mosaic of fiery intensities crackled through the lush forests – more than 400 square miles when all was over.

Not over – a new beginning. Where the fire brushed by with low intensity, great expanses of cedar and fir and pine were blackened from their base up to eye level or slightly higher. Most of those trees remained green; their forest floor layered with ash and burned detritus. Two springs later, the earth is packed with wallflowers and all manner of saplings. Northern goshawks have chosen to raise their chicks in one grove, spotted owls in another – the highest forms of praise rare raptors could ever give to a post-fire forest. And the soft footfalls of black bear and deer can be heard as they forage on the new growth.

On slopes where the fire burned hotter, it left the ship masts – snags charred-black on the outside with solid wood on the inside. The snag forest too is crammed with all manner of life, which came as a surprise as their treasures were unknown to me. But the birds have known for eons, and the insects for even longer. Their knowledge is so ancient that veritable rivers of birds ride in after the rivers of insects that swarm into the tell-tale flow of smoke after fire. The smoke of ancient lightning fires runs through the instincts of insect and bird, like a familiar language. Beetles arrive to lay eggs on the snags and the eggs hatch into worm-like larvae that chew their way through bark and wood. These larvae are bread and butter for rare black-backed woodpeckers, pioneers among the snag forests they make their home. Woodpeckers, like the black-backed, the white-headed and the red-breasted sapsuckers, drill and carve and bevel fresh cavities out of the forest of ship masts – and finally decide on one to call home. That leaves their unused homes for bluebirds and nuthatches and squirrels that are drawn into the brand new forest. They switch and flicker from perch to perch and their excited singing voices pronounce the infinities of sunlight as world.

But deep in these mountains, there are lives slipping away from us every day. They have evolved with fire for millions of years. Over 80,000 acres of post-fire forests are being logged right now. Perhaps their departure is marked by great sounds, a falling from beauty. Perhaps their protests go unheard. That they are irreplaceable is for certain. Far in the back-country, they may go unnoticed for days or whole seasons.

By the time we shake ourselves awake to walk their country, it may feel like something halved, trying to learn to be whole again. It may feel tentative, like a song with its chorus sliced off. As more and more of us grow to value the beauty and richness of post-fire forests, we will learn to save them.

For now the earth is clinging damply to its half-darkness, as I cling to my three layers to stay warm. The first touch of sunlight sticks to tops of the ships masts like honey. New pine needles glitter from the tips of some burned trees. The birds grow busier, replicating the forests’ filigrees of green in sound, building nests. Rejuvenation is at work everywhere.

When sunlight spills down the sea of leaves is suddenly dazzling, an almost fluorescent blend of miner’s lettuce, dogwood, paintbrush, lupine, unfurling fern, and sapling of oak and conifer in numbers dense as constellations. One look down and I must swiftly lift my foot before it touches earth— a comical reversal that just about throws me off-balance. Two conifer saplings are underfoot.

Down the slope, a snag is ringing with cicada sounds. It stops when I stop. So I slip behind a large stump and allow fifteen to minutes creep by.

A black-backed woodpecker alights on the snag. Black on black, he virtually disappears – all but a bright spot of gold on his head. The high-pitched cicada sounds begin again with gusto.

A noodle-like larva flails around in his beak as the woodpecker rappels scratchily down the burned bark. He pauses at a round, perfectly beveled hole, where a baby black-backed woodpecker shrills like a cicada, barely able to contain its exhilaration. Within three seconds, the adult has stuffed food down his baby’s still-singing gullet – and vanished.

The Double Darkness of Chance and Instinct

by Maya Khosla

From Canary Summer 2012

No grass, no swale. The field burns like a fever
planed to a straight line. Scrapers, excavators,
bulldozers, done and gone. But when rain
pummels the barrens, knocking and knocking,

tiger salamanders deep under the earth
are ready to answer, as they have for eons.
Suction-cupped feet test, then climb through cracks.
Snouts turn from their subterranean world.

Of course the swale-becomes-pond is extinguished,
Clays have dissolved into inch-deep slop
too shallow for breeding. Days later, the four-limbed
slip back into the double darkness of chance

and instinct, leaving all their worth in puddles
doomed to dry. Yet here they are! Embryos
each in a ball of juice, differentiating into foot,
gill, will to live. Biogeography staying loyal.

They hatch into long-tailed larva chewing yolk
the color of sun. Swim the snipped lengths
of muddy silk, as much home to them, as much universe,
as the vast plates of water were to ancestors.

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