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The Poetry Page

All Poetry Copyright 1999 and 2000 by James Dola



we rolled west through the brown and
tan desert flatlands out where planners
and developers stopped planting palm
trees along the roads nothing but the

naked desert right up to the asphalt's
edge we stopped at the circle k to pick
up jugs of water in the parking lot wind
whipped wrappers in tiny cyclones

between cars headed west
again, out to the white tanks reserve left
the car at the trail head in the vast desert
silence right away, we passed a creosote

with a rattler underneath, then dropped
down an arroyo full of smooth pink and
gray boulders the size of human heads, and
followed it up the canyon

on past the rust brown slabs of sandstone
bearing yellow orange petroglyphs of
antelope, stick figure hunters, radiant suns,
setting or rising, and other signs less




at rest on a ridge beneath a thorny desert
acacia, my brother said his daughter thinks
creosote smells 'like water' i thought the
little girl was right makes sense it

would smell most of what most isn't there, the  

scent of water on the wind, in a world christened in
sunlight, bite flies drone the
spiky green acacia gila monster 

in cholla shade, 10 feet away



Brownie Reflex

That is me, grave faced, standing
With my father in front of the crape myrtles
Outside our house on Tenth Street.

I in my white First Communion suit, he
In his gray businessman's two button, his
Huge palms resting on my shoulders, we both

Stare directly into the cheap Brownie Reflex
Cradled in my mother's hands. Had I already
Taken the Sacrament, or was I about to?

I don't remember. My feet

Hurt and burned in the new, black and white ox-
Fords in which I stood, pigeon toed,
Rolled up on the outer edges-a sign of

A child feeling awkward, ready to run away. In the

Background you can see how 10th and Edgefield
looked in May, 1957 — the year of
The Great Tornado, the year I saw the
Lady pedestrian smacked by a car and skid across
The pavement on her side. In that year that Sputnik

Sailed over our heads and we all prayed for salvation
From the Communists. That was the year that my father
And I stood for the Brownie Reflex, my mother playing
A game called 'Family'-and that is me in the picture,

Blinking in the sun, the

Small one in the white suit; that is me, posing for
The camera, trying not to run away, the year of my
First Communion.



Summer Prophecy

Cicadas sing their colossal aloneness across the
Chasms of summer-the mind turns to the inward
Desert where the forty days and forty nights never
End, and apparitions make hollow

To calm the mind in such a setting is supreme; to
know the pain in the cicada's cry, without
Succumbing, is tantamount. It is a dry road
We walk, past the outcroppings of a grander vision
Than is possible, in this, our given paradigm. In such a

World, the moon rises well before the sun has set, the
Dream intrudes before the sleeper
Settles in shadowy chambers. The battle for
The soul rages on; tomorrow is but another marker

On the road called Summer, and thus the cicada will
Continue his song of desolation, pointing the way
A little deeper into the dark hollow hidden in summer's
Core, the trancelike sleep of the wanderer in the
Dunes, the mendicant hermit alone, in negotiations

With shape shifting apparitions




There is a twelve year old boy walking
In my shadow. When I enter a room, and

Sit in a chair, he plops down in the empty one next to me. He
Bites his nails. He is fat. His shoes are untied.

There is a smear of ketchup on his Metallica shirt. Of course,
He needs a shower. Wherever I go, there he is.

He is fascinated with cars. In his dreams, blue ones and
Red ones race toward empty horizons at impossible

Speeds. They are sleek, divine bolts of irresistible force.
One day, I'd had enough. I spoke to him. I said,

You embarrass me. What do you want? And he said, Well,
You ignore me, so I guess we're even. He lifted the

Hamburger he was holding to his lips and chewed with his
Mouth open. His filthy baseball cap sat askew on his

Head, nearly falling off. Whadderyoulookinat? He said. I
Dunno, that's what I'm trying to figure out. It went on

Like that for a while, getting more and more ugly. Finally we ran
Out of things to say. There was a long silence. Who are

You really? I asked. When he told me, it was no surprise
At all. We looked each other in the eye a long time.

Eons passed. Sea floors rose up and hardened in the sun, became
Rock upon which the ancients carved their languages. Still,

We held each other's eye. At last the trance broke. I put my hand
Behind his head, pulled him to me. I know you are doing

The best you can, I said. I see how hard you try. I am right here,
I won't leave you. I won't let you down. I won't let you

Down, I said, to an empty chair, a fleeting image in a mirror, to
The air. Yes. It's true.

I spoke it to the air.



Piss Stop 1961

my father walked away from the
Parked car and stood in starlight, his
Heavy stream drumming
The ground.

Although I wasn't supposed to look,
I saw mother crouch in front of the car,
Holding the bumper for balance. She

Darkened the dust between her feet, then
She helped my little sister. Above, the
Milky Way hung like chiffon curtains in
The night sky.

My brother and I stood back to back,
Arcing our thin urgent streams in
Clear night air. We rotated back and forth,
Trying to write our names on the asphalt.

Just then,
Something heavy moved in the dark sage
At the roadside. Bulldog Cookie jerked
Her leash in my father's hand, wanted to
Go look. We froze a moment, then made

Our way back to the cooling car. It ticked
And groaned as it settled in the night. Headlights
Shone in the distance; a coyote pack began to
Yip and yowl, and tramp fires burned halfway
Up the mountainside.

Somehow, I knew there
Was a god who moved among us.Somehow,

I knew we'd make Reno
By daybreak.



A Summer's Tale


motion in the varmint trap
At the base of the martinhouse pole,
I go and open the wire cages. Two
Sparrows explode past, up into the sky.


There is a place, way out back, near the
Azalea bed, under the cedar trees,
Where the mosquitoes are especially
Thick. The martinhouse is there.


The cicadas are nearly gone. But I still
Hear them, those tuneless percussionists.
Their hulls are everywhere
You care to look. Sacrificed themselves
To give us summer, and now, it fades.


I have tried to avoid thinking of Fall. It is
Still too hot. I'll only make myself miserable
With thoughts like that. But when Fall comes, my
Son, my daughter, will be yet a little bit
More themselves, a little less mine.


Squirrels have gorged all summer on the nuts in
The Chinese pistachio near the patio. It is littered
With fragments of sharp shells. Barefoot, we walk
Gingerly on our heels, feet lifted to avoid them. It is
Too hot to sweep them up.


Nights I have a good view of downtown's towers,
When I am returning home with the dog. Overhead,
There is a landing path to D-FW. The longer I look, the
More planes I see. Moving jewels in the dark, black
Cedars waving in summer's wind.


The Next Town is Tonopah

If you're going 60 miles an hour and you stick
Your arm straight out the window, tilt the palm
Up, just a little, it will float on the torrent of air

Like a wing, effortless, weightless, maybe even separate from
You, a thing in itself .you can sit in the car and watch
Your arm with detachment, or wonder, or both -- take

Your pickI did that once all the way across the Mojave, my arm
Out the window of a 56 ford coupefather at the wheel,
Mother at the map, pouring cups of cold water

From the thermos. Three kids in the little cabin in the back
Seat. Night fell. The desert cooled, and gave off scents of
Rain, and wet dust, and nothingness. Drops formed on

The tip of the dog's nose, blew off in the blast, and showered me with
Wet. How clearly I hear the tires whining, smell the cool wind,
Know that the next town is Tonapah. Mother's hand is in the

Back seat handing me a sandwich. I wrap myself in the blanket, climb up on
The rear shelf, and witness the changeless starfields motionless as we fly,
A mile a minute across that vast, empty land.

© 1999, Jim Dolan


Read another hand float poem on -- or to return to The Shadow Knows page.


A Dynasty of Moon

In the east, moonrise; a red moon
fills up a third of
The sky. A creamy red
Moon, inscribed in black, with the
Figure of an eye, a bird, a jackal
Perhaps, or a cartouche of the house
Of pharaoh

'Ink dark' is what the poets
say of nights in the archipelago. And
'sprayed with a spew of stars.' We had
no inkling of the coming dynasty of
giantess moon, or her shadow spawn
behind every pine.

She had signed her name to the night. There
Was to be an awakening, but it never
Came. We were guests at an elaborate
Masque, served by tall footmen wearing
Hoods of starlight, soundless in their task.

There was a girl who wore nothing but the
Night, hiding where the curtains fluttered
In our rooms. We had a sense
It was coming to an end; we would be
Witness to the end. In the night's deepest

calm, dolphin cries echoed
from the hillsides
Ringing the sapphire lagoon. This is
Is how it came to be, the portentous red
Moon, the elaborate masque, the girl

Clad in sheerest moonlight,
not wanting to be touched. Palm
Fronds quavered, the tide went out, the red
Moon grew ever smaller and sank behind a

High ridge. Already, the morning
Doves were cooing, already, the sky was turning



Signs and Wonders

I am studying this aluminum
Ladder standing askew under the
Cedar tree. Somehow, I

Want to connect it to something
Sad, something gone, that is
No more. But I can't. I

Want to bring in something
Strange and wondrous. A
Portent, an omen, a

Falling star, a gliding hawk,
Lightning flash, thunder rumble.
But no such thing. Helicopters

Clatter in to the hospital. A flock
Of starlings festoons the high cedar
Across the street. Traffic roars. Jet-
Liners chalkstripe the blue. Redbud

Blooms. A man strolls in down vest and
Gimme cap. Sun slant. Squirrels
know no fear. Last night, coming home,
I saw a raccoon cross the road. A dark,

Humped, scuttling shape, moving from
Shadow to shadow. I thought of his
Tiny handprints in soft mud by the creek.
I thought about signs and wonders, the

Way they come from the dark, in
Wild shapes, and return to it, leaving
Nothing but dark behind.




Stopped at a light, her head
Gently bopping to the beat of
A tune I can't hear, the woman
In the sealed compartment of
Her thunderbird has eyes still

Adolescent in their vigor-but
Her face has widened and
Softened and sagged -- one parent was
Mexican, seen in the glittery black
Eyes of the
Mestizo, and one a blond, as in the
Light skin and fair hair-she is

Scanning the light for the green, she
Is feeling good this morning, the coffee
Is working, this
Morning her world is a promise

This morning her world has
No compare.


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