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Prose Poems


A snare rides the air--the smell of sugar and baking grain—bread, bagels, cookies. Eyes widen; a pelt rises along my spine. I drop to my knuckles, head swinging side to side, surveying terrain, goods along the path. My carrying cart is silver metal, armored, with wheels. I could brandish this thing, bash the other hunters, spill their goods, steal them. I rise to the balls of my feet, scan the tempting piles. Women circling a mound of coats, others yanking bedding, men sniffing the roasted ribs and chickens. Choices must be made. What is needed now, what the season requires, what clever thing should be stored for later use. There are only two in our cave, but the tribe comes and goes, and supplies must be put away in dark niches. I feast on free food, offered at stands by hired witches: trail mix, sausage, pesto spread, gobbling, licking the little cups. They are strength for the hunt. I chart a course and gather quickly—walnuts in a three pound bag, four cans of salmon in a plastic tube, a case of beer, cheese, grapes, a sack of food for our wolves. It is not good to spend too much time in this place. My hunter sense, the long-honed instinct, becomes dulled, diluted. I lose my edge, grow confused and envious of what others carry. It is important to maintain a keen eye, fix on the path out and keep to it.  


 (from a news story in the L.A. Times, 4-22-09)


In Detroit, city of bumpers, fenders, hoods, eye-catching chrome, steel saves lives. “It did slow the bullet down,” the policeman said. A strip as narrow as a blade of grass: the half-hoop rod of an underwire bra. She lived, the woman who witnessed the crime in progress. To wake another day and dress and slip on that under-garment  again. What I call a true serendipity—something meant for one thing finds another happy use: push-up bra as body armor. Those wires, semicircles sewn in nylon lace, are meant to mimic hands, the curve from end of thumb to tip of index finger, gathering under breasts and lifting. Canceling out our natural sag toward earth. Establishing a firm foundation, like pitons placed in rock to aid the ascent. Once in the hallway of a hotel, I found two wires and picked them up. They seemed important, industrial, shining steel rods with nylon tips. Then I realized what they were: half-moon shapes, large enough to lift a pair of pumpkins. And saw her in my mind, that big-busted woman, sick of the rigidity of stays, her tender self trussed and bound, confined. She cut them out and flung them in the hallway, a testimonial to freedom. In prison underwire bras are banned. Female visitors in innocent underwear are caught by metal detectors and turned away. In prison, metal is a weapon, rod easily turned to shiv. What works as shield for one is weapon to another. And the garment we fasten every day, the one we call intimate, the one that signals to the world that we are women, is a prison of its own.



 Track Man


On the hillside sandwiched between freeway and sea, a man has pitched his tent beside the railroad tracks. Where narrow rails knife through a loaf of bluff, folds of camoflage canvas sag in wind. Above, steepness and cypress holding clay, the roar of semis powering up the ridge. Below, canted rubble and more trees, the old seawall and the sound of surf. From the beach, and only during minus tides, a searching look will find his tent. It is dun and dull green, the flap closed—except once, perhaps to let in the southern sun. The interior was black, a deep blank, like the opening of a mine. He has lived there a year or more, glimpsed a single time up on the rails--innocent camper cleaning out a pot. He leaves marks for the careful eye. Six pipes and wooden flumes funnel rainwater off the rail bed down to the seawall, and he has decorated their ends, an old gray sheet stretched over one, a dangling tire on another, a hanging stone tied with rope, coils of seaweed carefully wound. His ornaments are the color of the rocks and coastal scrub, eluding notice, like the man. But they are his, on the seawall top, high above the beach, where no one can go. Planted beside the rails, he feels the earthquakes of the trains, the long freights and silver Amtraks, wind thundering his thin walls; they must shake him like a seizure, vibrate his bones, concuss his heart. Perhaps this is what he needs. Perhaps our world has grown too thin for him, as unsubstantial as the fog layering the water, and he has separated himself from us—pale walkers, ghosts with thready voices—to live beside what he longs for, tumult and the hard thrash of air, the clatter and drum that tell him he is alive, he breathes. 




Once a family of trolls lived nearby, behind a fence that kept us out. They were always coming and going, an old man and woman, their son and his wife. Every utterance was a yell, a curse, an insult. I stood behind a bush, listening for the words to fall into sentences and sense. But the tumult went on and on like a terrible motor revving up. They drove primitive, grinding trucks and an old Econoline van with no windows. For trolls, they were industrious. They collected a fleet of World War II Land Rovers and parked them under the oaks at the bottom of the arroyo. When a county official came to call, they said they were agricultural vehicles. They collected many things, most of them unseen because no one dared to walk their road. One day a structure rose on the side of the hill, a gray concrete wall like a shield. The foundation for a house, we heard, after the county sealed it with a stop-work order. The wall stood there shambling and ruinous, growing poison oak vines until the trolls moved away. For several nights they drove the Land Rovers out and hauled away their stuff on the flatbeds of tractor-trailer rigs. After they were gone, the land behind the fence fell silent. At first we were timid about passing the broken gate, always looking over our shoulders. The places where trolls have lived stay downtrodden for a time, the air somber, the birds nervous. Curiosity finally carried us past the fence to see what they’d left behind. Lining the road higher than our heads: bath tubs and washing machines, car axels, couches, TV sets, a landslide of electronic parts, packing crates and bales of hay, trailers and pony carts and engines, tipping piles of marble slabs, cairns of stones, a spiral staircase, trunks and wire, boxes of dirt, bins of water where drowned rats bobbed, bundles of cloth, car skeletons, a coffin. The house in the oaks was full of troll rubble, open cans of food and ripped mattresses, broken glass, dripping insulation, newspapers, and burned clothing. We came away full of wonder—that we had shared the earth and ground and air with them, that they still lived and fought in our back yards, those ancient beings, mythic and crudely magical—that our lives, while they were here, had been touched by trolls.