Issue Number 1, December 2008

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Baiji

by Gary Brower

"The first species to be erased from this
planet's...cetaceans in modern times...
appears to be the baiji, a white, nearly
blind denizen of the Yangtze River."
—New York Times (12/7/06).

"The dolphin by itself is an allegory of
 salvation."—J.E. Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols.

In legend, the pallid porpoise princess was once human.
Refusing her family's demands she marry a rich, old
warlord with long, curved fingernails, she was taken
to the center of the river, pushed overboard.

But before she could die, Princess Baiji became
Goddess of the Yangtze, mother of the white,
fresh-water, near-blind, river dolphins,
finding fish by sonar reverb, like her relatives
in the Amazon, La Plata, Ganges, Indus.

But now, we have succeeded where her parents didn't,
pushed the species, which cannot live in captivity,
into the ocean of oblivion.

In this Chinese opera, humans are villains,
Yangtze dolphins, dying swans.

After twenty million years, the baiji are gone,
their watery space at river's head dredged for ships
in the polluted flow, as they were caught in fishermen's nets,
killed for food, destroyed by electric fishing, vessel collisions.

In an ecocidal echo,
a thin, high-pitched, cetacean song from her consort,
comes the last message of the baiji princess
as she drowns in the ignorance of the world:

When you have killed all animals in the wild,
remember us, waiting for your death,
waving like pale handkerchiefs
in deep river currents,
albino ghosts in dark water.




Birdsong from My Patio

by Ellen Bass

Despair so easy. Hope so hard to bear.
—THOMAS MCGRATH

I've never heard this much song,
trills pure as crystal bells,
but not like bells: alive, small rushes
of air from the tiny plush lungs
of birds tucked in among the stiff
leaves of the olive and almond,
the lemon with its hard green studs.
As the sun slides down newborn
from thick muscled clouds
their glittering voices catch the light
like bits of twirling aluminum.
I picture their wrinkled feet
curled around thin branches,
absorbing pesticide.
I see them preening, tainted
feathers sliding through their glossy
beaks, over their leathery tongues.
They're feeding on contaminated insects,
wild seeds glistening with acid rain.
And their porous, thin-shelled eggs,
bluish or milky or speckled,
lying doomed in each
intricate nest. Everything
is drenched with loss:
the wood thrush and starling,
the unripe fruit of the lemon tree.
With all that's been ruined
these songs impale the air
with their sharp, insistent needles.


from The Human Line Copper Canyon Press



Blue Whales

by Gail Rudd Entrekin

Gail lives in a small valley on an even smaller wooded hill amid the Coastal Range east of San Francisco Bay in the San Pablo Bay watershed just above San Pablo Creek.

Blue whales are out there somewhere,
six thousand of the hundreds of thousands
that once roamed the planet's seas.
Now separated from each other
by thousands of miles, they moan their loneliness
four octaves below middle C, so low, so slow,
we humans cannot even hear. But on our ocean liners
and in our lighthouse kitchens, the cutlery jangles on the table,
the glass pane vibrates in its frame, and we know
something nearby is crying out in need.
Two thousand miles away, they can be heard
and answered, the loudest sound made by a living thing,
and we don't know what it says, but only that,
speeded up ten times, what we hear is a long, blue,
unearthly note, a gurgle so deep
we slip down into our own lostness,
grateful that they are carrying for us
something bigger than we could hold.




Breathe

by Eileen Adele Hale

Oh to be definite!
Oh, to know how to sing, where is my voice where is my breath,
Cry the mother that chained my voice down
Chained it to the ironing board with her headache, with her
     sorrow,
With her suffering that my song could only pain like logs on a fire,
With her suffering brown and ice, blue and quiet, kitchen sinks
     and dishes and girl scout songs forbidden
The lighteners of work like stones upon her brow, each note
My dance too hard the floor the chair, a livingroom full of books,
     full of other souls' voices silent on the page,
My linoleum upstairs floor, the bare-naked light, my bare-naked
     breasts in the mirror in the green swim
Undressing quietly and exploring my body in the mirror, in the
     bare-naked light in the cold brittle winter,
In the dark light of mind of cold winter of separation from the bare
     dark branches in the fresh wind,
Of being twelve feet above the solid earth and six inches away
     from the earth's weather ---
Oh give it back!
The stones of the path, worn grass of the dance ground, thirty
     trees to howl under, the sky blue and deep as ice;
The snake in the yew hedge, seasons of small dry leaf falls
     caught in web slings, spiders' eyes, millipedes,
Segmented bodies and legs tickling the underfoot fall of all the
     ripe and desiccated, yesterday's maple leaves, last year's birch seeds,
Lung spore gills and the pale of under, of hidden,
Castings of the worms of clean centuries.

Let me sing the sun up over the edge and through the arch of olive limbs, the
     sun-speckles stamping the floor of a grove of limitless serrated who am I kidding?
But let me anyway sing the rain in under, under the leaves verdant running small snakes
     of the stuff that feeds the ground, fills our mouths and veins, ponds and puddles,
     two-tailed mosquito larvae.
Flies in chickenshit, pine-tree-wind, can the freeway hum, bring in thunder.
Crack the street wide open down to bedrock, grass rooting, clover rooting, alfalfa
     splitting the clay down deep and feeding worms!
The bass chant of the thunder, kettledrum splashes, the whine-stretched reflection
     of trees deep into pond-sky,
Muck and cattails and frogs, the piping light of lightningbugs, the slow chase of stars
     across the clean hours of night.
Hard edge of angled rock underthigh, the moist and rough smooth crystalline under
     the cobalt night of stars and black tree edges, tree fingers into the cobalt, the
     humming pale of the far edge of the lake and the nearby whisper of a mouse
     going home.
Bats like inept dishcloths flapping in the dusk; a whisper of air on breast and side.

Breathe the night. Breathe the rain. Breathe air and stars, the points of light
     expanding into time.
Breathe the pace that night sets, breathe the tide, breathe with the beat of the earth.
Breathe for the cracking of the canyons of concrete, and the marching in
     of the canyons of pine.
Breathe for the rotting of the rushing heaps of metal, the rubble of roads and the grass
     growing over, the faultings of the splinters of concrete through the earth, the
     new vales and valleys and hillocks heaped on the old blocks in new curves.
Breathe for the return of night and morning, for the song the sun sings as it walks across
     the sky, for the dance of the moon and the stars streaming behind.
Breathe for us, for the holy, for our return to the earth.
Breathe for Noah's boat, for the rain and the night and the ocean;
Breathe for finding land again.
Breathe for all the water.
Breathe for the mud, and the worms in it.
Breathe for our bare toes, in the mud, with the worms.
Breathe for the trees.




Dazzled and Undone

by Catherine Hodges

"If the reader is not at risk, he is not reading.
If the writer is not at risk, he is not writing."
— Harold Brodkey

Have I got this right?
You're saying that if I read or write
right, or well, or truly,
I might as well shut my
eyes, hold
my breath, walk off the edge (which is
crumbling anyway), feel the water
close over my head, the bubbles
surge and roil around me.
Following which I
1) surface, spluttering, or
2) drown, though not without a struggle, or
3) will myself gilled—slits will
do, or the improbable feather sort—
anything to stay found and alive in the
words on the page until I fling myself
     gasping and absurd
back up onto the tide-licked world
which is, it's true, crumbling (or fading, or
shimmering into some sort of dusk).
And lie there, looped in sea grass,
dazzled and undone by what words
attempt and the ways in which they
fail, dumbstruck by pelicans.




Denver

by Jeanne Althouse

One mile high, five thousand two hundred eighty feet above sea level, at the edge of the Rocky Mountains—which rose like giant skirts above her knobby knees—the Queen City of the Plains snuggled in, sleeping. At dawn points of light spiked up from below the horizon and slowly Pike's Peak—seventy-five miles south of Denver, ten miles west of Colorado Springs—with its granite summit carved thousands of years ago by rivers of ice, turned pink in the reflected sunrise. On fair days at 22 South Albion, a small house perched on the side of a Denver hill in a newly developed neighborhood one block from Colorado Boulevard, the peak was visible from the side dining room window which framed it like a painting. On Albion Street dusts of dry snow decorated trees and the desert air breathed thin and fresh. No birds sang in the hush. A trickle of traffic began the song of day, a slow beat, on and off, waking.

Downtown on the main drag Dads carpooled a used ?54 Chevy to work—past the Denver Dry Goods Company, its display windows stuffed with mannequins dressed in satin evening gowns, pre-maturely ready for the holiday parties, past the old Brown Palace Hotel where grandmas took little girls in gloves to high tea in the restaurant with the black and white marbled bathroom where someone had to tip the attendant a quarter or they weren't allowed to tinkle, past the Denver Post with its glassy-eyed, investigating windows and the May D&F building's grand daddy of clocks, set in the tower modeled after the Campanile in Italy, which chimed on the hour. Leslie Settle, an engineer, drove on to his office at Stearns-Rogers where he corrected building blueprints using a soft lead number two pencil which he stored behind his ear, computed with a slide rule kept in a leather case dangling from his belt, and smoked all day standing at his drawing table, unaware of any risk to his poor heart.

At home, the kitchen hummed, spewing forth Crisco-fried chicken, deviled eggs with cream and baked beans made with maple syrup for Saturday's family ice skating picnic at the Washington Park lake. At lunch time, with one hand mothers served left-over macaroni and cheese to the toddlers, who smeared them in orange noodle designs on high chair trays, and with the other hand the mothers conducted a symphony of ironing including a triumphant fourth movement of sheets and pillow cases. One young mother's face was wrinkle free. While her baby napped, Lois Settle took off her rose print house dress and, wearing a white slip over her full-body girdle, which she had worn since gaining weight when her third was born last year, mopped the floor on her hands and knees—the only way to be certain it was clean. When she was done, she took a clear glass cola bottle to the dining room table where she sat looking out the window, watching far-away Pike's Peak—the one time during the entire day that she stopped to rest. The elementary school children all walked back and forth to school without an adult present because no one was afraid.

In the evening, dusk dropping, the melody of traffic would fall off, fading slowly, like a song without an ending. Families sat at the dining room table eating sloppy Joes and carrot and raisin salad, unless it was Tuesday and then it was stuffed green peppers lathered in ketchup and Jell-O with canned mixed fruit. The oldest daughter was already in bed because once a month she got migraine headaches from the high altitude. Later Lizzie Settle would move away to live at sea level, her headaches would go away, and while she was gone the Denver Dry Goods building, once called the largest department store west of Chicago, would convert to apartments, the Post would be in decline because classified ads were moving to the Internet, and the May D&F building would be demolished during an urban-renewal project, leaving only the clock tower, with its 16-foot-high, four-faced analog clock, standing alone, like a left-over. The mothers would all go to work for pay and drive their own cars, main drags would morph into freeways, and commute traffic would be one person to a car.

Forty years later, at 22 South Albion the dining room window still observed the hill to the South, but Pike's Peak, with its granite summit carved thousands of years ago by rivers of ice, had disappeared. Smog, said Leslie Settle—whose doctor finally convinced him to stop driving after his by-pass surgery—smog had swallowed his mountain.

THE END




Guzzle

by Kim Culberston

a short, short story by Kim Culbertson

           No one at school knew her.  She arrived one day in that yellow shirt of hers.  It was the shirt we noticed.  Guzzle, it read across the front in black letters.  At first, we assumed she had something to do with bees, what with the black and yellow.  Or Charlie Brown for those of us who had parents who introduced us to that kind of thing.
           But there she was at lunch one day, standing by one of those big silver garbage cans half the students don’t seem to use.
           “What are you doing?” Stefie Jacobs asked her as Guzzle grabbed the can Stefie had just tossed in the trash. 
           “Guzzle,” she replied because, as we soon learned, that was all she would say.  And she stuffed it into the cream canvas sack she always carried.
           “You need therapy,” Stefie sniffed, before joining the girls waiting for her by the door.
           Guzzle,” said now as a whisper, eyes downcast.
           Several days later, she was still by the can at lunch.  Only this time, she seemed to be multiplying.  That girl with the big teeth from band had taken a black marker to her white t-shirt:  Consume.  She talked too much and no one listened to her, but she stood next to Guzzle, unwavering.  Guzzle just stared at our trash, sifting through it like a child through sand at the beach.
           The following week, three freshman from my gym class and a skinny sophomore who wore a camera around his neck the size of his head joined her ranks.
           “Hey, man,” he said when I passed him with my friends.  His red shirt said choose in black letters.
           “Um, are you guys, like, with the drama department or something?”  My friend Trey asked them.
           “We’re citizens of the world,” Consume told us, her jaw tilted down like she was anticipating a punch in the mouth.
           “Citizens of the freak show,” said Louis Monty, a sophomore built from bulging blocks of flesh.  He had come up behind us suddenly.  Crumpling his soda can, he threw it in the garbage.  Guzzle went after it like a bird after a flashing thing.
           Louis laughed and pushed through the glass doors of the cafeteria.
           Still, the shirts were everywhere, standing watch next to the dumpsters out in back of the theatre, next to the bins in classrooms.  Reckless.  Imagine.  Think.  And my favorite, Fornicate, though this one landed its wearer in Mr. Jeffrey’s office.
           Then, Guzzle was gone.  That yellow shirt nowhere.  No canvas bag.  I looked for days, my eyes scanning the throng of students after classes, at lunch, next to any garbage can.  Gone. 
           I passed a girl from my Spanish class wearing a green shirt that said Green in letters like trees.  She held a canvas bag at her side with a picture of Shakespeare.  I watched her stop in our hallway of lockers, collect some stray papers, place them in her bag, then move again out into the white air of winter.




Learning About Trees

by Kirsten Casey

Kirsten lives at the top of Banner Lava Cap Mountain, once a volcano. Her home is minutes from Scott's Flat Lake, and less than an hour from the Yuba River in the South Yuba River watershed.

Notice first, that they are tall, beyond
the power poles that bend and spark
under the weight of January snow.
The trees know their yoga, have stretched
and bowed only to return square shouldered,
in proper posture.
 
Please recognize the deep moles, blackened
by lightning strikes, in the thick bark
that was once sapling skin
now ragged and squirrel-abused, a home
and a maypole and a scratching post.
 
Most of the roots are hidden, bulging
wooden veins.  They hold trees to the ground,
heavy, primitive ship anchors,
eventually rusting and rotting through.
 
When they are old enough they fall
because their insides are now beetles,
or the wind shifts to the north,
or there is not enough water,
or the late winter soil is too drenched
and has to let go.
 
You've already seen the diagram,
know the arrows' path, all of that oxygen
and carbon dioxide.  And you've read
that slim green book about a boy
who sold his tree in pieces
and ended up old on a stump.
 
This isn't to warn you, but just to let you know,
that sometimes they outlive the people in their shade
with their wide trunks and mysterious rings
and treetop perspective.  Sometimes they burn,
they crack and shake hands in a bluster of sparks.
Sometime people carve letters into them,
a scar they can't read, in a language
that is only ours.




Out of Control or The Story of My Life in One Dream and Thirteen Lines

by Andrena Zawinski

Andrena lives in Ballena Bay on Alameda, an island off the Oakland estuary in San Francisco Bay, where besides the regular stingrays floating by, an occasional seal wanders in under a boisterous Pacific Flyway.

The road is never the same, never the same,
but the dream is, its ribboning s-curves
snaking bends and thin berms without guard rails,
foot at the gas instead of the brake,
fast enough to wheel into sky,
into its breathy blinding blue
taut canvas stippled by clouds,
the next scene a black screen
peppered with pixels of stars and flying
the mountain, valley, meadow, a range,
axel snapping, wheel locking, but flying
into sky cracked open by sun. Someone
is driving. It is not me. It is not me.


Reprinted with permission from Psychological Perspectives: A Semi-annual Journal of Jungian Thought



Warming

by Anne Mennebroker

Here, in Sacramento's old park
on Alhambra Boulevard, we sit and
talk.  The Clooney pool is still empty
and we remember Victoria's poem
about it.  The muddy, green pond
floats its ducks and geese.  We sit
beside a man playing his guitar.
This late winter pleasure floats in
our heads, breaking through memory
as disturbed as the pond's murky
bottom.  You tell me a story
about being in another country,
how you and a man chased a rainbow
and stood in it, but it kept
shifting ahead of you.  You couldn't
keep the gold of that moment
except now, in remembering.
Far from where we talk, a huge
shelf of ice falls into the ocean
as we watch the ripples
in the water.




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