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Fall 2003, Volume 21.1

Poetry

 

C. J. EliasonPhoto of C. J. Eliason.


C. J. Eliason teaches high school and lives in Fresno, California, with her family and large assortment of animals. Her poetry reflects her avid interest in science, history, and environmentalism. Her work is forthcoming in Caveat Lector.

 

Basho Reads the News:
Sierra Frogs Fall Silent

Sour stagnant pond
     Dessicate yellowing frog
A battered silence

Wind carries the valley here
Fretting marsh grass in its sweep

High in the Sierra the sun's decline
will set you on your feet
if you walk the pressed dirt path round the forest basin
you see the fate of frogs
dehydrated light as cardboard
fading like old spinach
cartoon flat and stretched
as if pinned out for dissection

Where are your children?
     When was immortality
Shrunk to this mute form?

 

You gave voice to swelling night
Glistening strands fertility

In college lab my partner forearmed me aside
I was an obvious amateur in the casual kill
dip a thready cotton ball in the heavy fluid
drop it down the mason jar
clamp the lid and twist
align the instruments while you wait
look past the restless bobbing
the pulse of pale throat
he gulps and gulps the time
now you may begin

There have come soft rains
     Fine misting clouds, but not clouds
Organophosphates

Deadly diazinon drift
Rides the morning canyon wind

To store all the frogs used in beginning biology
would require the cathedral of warehouses
and a crew of forklifts to grind and pivot
stacking rusty metal trays bearing beds
aging and acrid in the old formaldehyde
the silent forms still staked
the neat rectangular columns
reach in Sistine inspiration
swaying like noble trees in the warehouse breeze
it's been a clear-cut of frogs
mostly to teach it's okay to kill frogs
and later
rats cats dogs sharks and monkeys
shrug your shoulder and continue pulling wings

Old adventurer
     Your forebears first to emerge
From primeval seas

What if someone on the bank
Clubbed you as you struggled out?

I was not a cow-licked child in search of prey
I did not chase you by the muddy ditch
I did not long for polliwogs in grimy sunlit jars
when you jumped, I jumped
your skin and my skin
twitched a nervous syncopation
I shrank from the panic beat of tender throat
the bulbous teary eye weeping tacky fluid
I did not conclude however
you should not live

When the danger comes
     Soft soft the trembling bell
Silenced by the rain

Each cunning distillation
Spatters to a leaf below

In the Sierra a moonless night draws quick and cold with stars
the shimmer of the Milky Way treads our basin rim
uneasy in the pressing beauty
time's engulfing night
the hastened fire is set to spread
the warmth of flickering light
But your lingering chorus calls from the swelling dark
long ago we too had our children by the bank
like a banished Greek performance
you precede us into night
we huddle to the embers
to keep the cold away

At the marsh's edge
     Basho sits an empty shore
Water-sound no more

Valley wind moves restlessly
To the howling in the reeds

 

References:
Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) is considered to be the greatest of the early Japanese haiku poets. His most famous poem featured the image and sound of a frog jumping into an ancient pond.

Acknowledgment and gratitude to Sara Teasdale's title/line "There Will Come Soft Rains."

 

Divulgence

Atwixt two seasons the granite slab
provides a familiar rough seat
crow warns a feathered beat as day
heats the dark green of incense cedar
cones and furrowed bark release
the night concealed perfume
adrift the circled clearing

A path divines scraping gooseberry
lodgepole leads to a ravine
wind carried water sounds the inner ear
slide step down steep forest duff
manzanita parting at your shoulders
dusted top soil floats and clings
dotting in the pores of arms and legs

There, between assumptions
a stream flowing
brightly fulsome
not the fluke of a singular year
but a tributary dug from long seasonal habit
unnoticed

Pace the bank to verify its existence
riffled plunges
stones wetly singing
the jutting log
purple aster wild azalea
fringe its merry obstinance
and the rushing pool within the ear
rises and rises to collar the consciousness

Things exist
with or without the human gaze
and beyond
a river flows
unmarked upon a map of our design
above the wind currents trace a familiar topography
unknown to us below
and yet curls there and there

This stream, like universal radiation
seems a living energy pattern
a thinly scattered backdrop
of the cosmic origin
unseen unheard unfelt

Mendel's peas pop pale and green and pale again
chemical bases dance in a sequence
to whisper the genetic stream in a double helix
We unconscious recipients of immortality
spirit water and matter
glide the surface to the bubbling convergence

Much is carried by the sonorous flow
the way you were raised by a feeling from your mother
an intention from your father
a river created by a thousand glens
forming rivulets to carry you
a multitude of shining moments
resulting ages hence
in a child
who shall sit on a rough slab
swinging a boot
arcing a pattern
from you

 

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