From soul to paper: The Tribune kicks off its 13th annual celebration of National Poetry Month

April 7, 2013 


As in past years, we asked San Luis Obispo’s poet laureate to review all of the entries and select the best works for publication. We’ll publish these on Sundays throughout the month of April in Central Coast Living.

Thanks to everyone who submitted a poem, with special gratitude to San Luis Obispo poet laureate Jerry Douglas Smith for reading them all.

More local poetry: Week 1 | Week 2 » | Week 3 » | Week 4 »

— Tribune staff

We received a wonderful variety of rhymed and unrhymed poems representing just about every type, from haikus to odes, sonnets to slices of life. The quality of the poems was exceptional.

We see the world in various hues, and everyone expresses that vision differently. Having an outlet for our expressions is extremely important, and The Tribune generously affords us that opportunity via National Poetry Month in April and Letters to the Editor throughout the year. Writing helps us sense the world from the point of view of the various characters in our stories. Maintaining a curious, inquisitive mind about the nature of the universe continues to be a great asset.

— Jerry Douglas Smith, San Luis Obispo poet laureate




Donna P. Arozena, Los Osos

I rode across the range I had not seen for years.

The trail was spoilt and strange

And realized my fears.

How long could it have stayed

Open range from east to west?

Forever, I once had prayed,

But that was hope at best. I rode across the river

And beyond the far divide

Until the echo of forever

Staggered, faint behind and died.




Michael J. O’Brien, Nipomo

I pump diesel into my


crew-cab GMC, while the old boy on the other side of the island

pumps diesel into his


Power Stroke Ford, both of us bitching about the price when he up and says he’s from

Connecticut, and this is his last trip,


He is dying, maybe.

Death Valley ignores him, its wildflowers:

desert gold, crimson cactus,

purple phacelia, desert five-spot spilling down steep slopes of the Funeral Mountains.




Lili Gevorkian, San Luis Obispo

I am from the whispering trees,

from the leaves crunching underfoot

and the branches swaying in the dead breeze.

I am from the easel where paint is splattered,

the smock hung tightly around the hook.

I am from the ink smeared across love letters.

I am from unspoken words and expressions,

from the sweet sorrow filling up your eyes.

I’m from the textbooks and the playbooks,

from the lies beneath skin and the truth tied above.

I’m from the nook, curled up with book in hand —

balancing a cup of tea —

turned to the window and out into the rain.

I’m from the sweet pillows of comfort,

warm and cozy buried in love

from bright sun-drenched days

to the freezing days of white.

The moments are transient,

the world serene and dynamic, forever fleeting.

I am from those time-suspending moments —

snapped before I budded —

a leaf floating down from the family tree.




Sally Baldwin, Arroyo Grande

I hear the plaintive call of the Mourning Dove,

As the first glimmer of dawn Lights up the horizon

And the landscape seems so calm.

In my childhood on the prairie,

The workday had begun,

At early light, so ends the night

In summer reigns the sun.

The Mourning Dove calls to his mate,

“Awake and greet the morn.”

How sweet the sound floating around

On breezes softly borne.

And now when ’er I hear that call,

It takes me back in time,

To when I was a child again

When the future was all mine.




Norma Wightman, Morro Bay

Can I worm my way into your heartwood;

learn your secrets of long life and suffering?

Life pulses in one thin cambium layer

while your lightning-split trunk exposes

a vulnerable side. Weather at 10,000

feet protects you from beetle attack

while wind, rain and snow eat exposed

tissue leaving bleached ridges like baleen

on a beached whale. Your bald spire writhes.

Medusa-head branches plea to live

another century before nature deals

the ace of spades.

A wind-sanded skeleton will stand

another hundred years or more until

you’ll fall where tired hikers rest

their bodies on your ancient bones.




Jim Paglia, Atascadero

The steady hum of the motors.

The off beat of the punch as it pierces the metal,

Another mind grows stale.

A silent form watches …

The metal spin in the lathe.

While two hands go thru motion,

Motion that is without thought.

While yet another watches a grey metal monster,

lest there should be some mechanical


A whistle blows,

time for a break,

a cigarette, coffee or candy bar.

A whistle blows,

the human gear meshes with the metal.

This is production!

Yes, automation!

Man made machines … or

Machine made man.




Beverly Boyd, Los Osos

Whitecaps stud the bay.

A green catamaran, orange

sail taut, skims chop

hurling north

on starboard tack.

Before it returns,

I move glass

to pane and put

eye to aperture

as green and orange

enter my range.

I focus:

hiked out, smiling

and buoyant, you





Sherry Eiselen, Cambria

It makes no difference what I owned in this jealous life

Or what I lost

Unless I shared my plenty,

Unless I made soup from the bones of my sorrow.

It makes no difference what framed papers hung on my wall

Or who knew my name

Unless I used the keys,

Unless I held the door open for someone to follow.

The tape that measures marks our sensibilities.

More about priorities and effort,

Less about scale or circumstance,

Mindful choices credit the soul and make a difference.




Sandy Simon, San Luis Obispo

Funny little pixie face

Sporting impish grin

Playing with the neighbor kids

Trying hard to win.

Lots of time to run and play

Summer’s just begun

’Til you see the sun’s last ray

Outside having fun.

Hair of brown, curly cues

Lips as red as rose

Cherub eyes a twinklin’

Little upturned nose.

Much to do from dawn to dusk

Cycling, pets and friends

Being six in summertime

Wish it’d never end.




Robert S. Buck, San Luis Obispo

Tapping my feet on the floor,

listening to the girls whisper,

watching the sky turn blue,

I never thought about it.

Not until I heard

funny whistling sound I never heard before.

Not until I saw my teacher’s face,

and fell against the floor.

Not until Sarah’s blood poured from her blouse

down her arms, over my face.

Not until another shriek,

when the blood began to burn,

and the seat collapsed,

crushing my head.

Not until the last,

when I finally heard my own screams,

and remembered …

there was a birthday present

I hadn’t bought my mother.




Will Jones, San Luis Obispo

Reunited, you’d been on the town the night before,

But still rose early to tilt with the local waves,

Icy waters chasing the vapors from your foggy heads.

Now after lunch, I stand in the doorway

And watch you load your ride with surfboards and wetsuits,

The shields and chainmail of your passionate quest.

One fair, one dark, united by blood, love and courage,

About to venture on the Grail road together:

Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Half Moon.

“Peace!” you shout as you begin to pull away,

“Love and Truth!” I reply, as you swing a left,

Vanish around the next corner, my heart beating

A little faster as you go.




Sherry Shahan, Morro Bay

Margarita on the rocks, no salt.

Enter a man, making small

talk while the band sets up.

Says he’s been eighty-sixed for

stiffing a bartender down the street.

His hand extends over the laminated

wasteland. “Frank,” he says.

Nothing about the crease in his Chinos says

homeless, although he talks about the foam pad

snagged from an army surplus store; a comfy

spine beneath the sleeping bag in his van since,

“I lost my wife of twenty-seven years.”

So many shades to this briny seaside town;

small talk and live music. Three sets

for $1.75 ice tea, refills free.

Frank shrugs back to his artificially

sweetened tumbler and I wonder if he

knows which banks have free cookies on Fridays.




Pam Stolpman, Nipomo

In memory of J.M.C., May 13, 1944 – February 26, 1997

how peaceful it is to sit with you

in the dwindling winter light; we talk

of beheaded parking meters, their throats

bared, guzzling the February rain — and we are

smug in our cleverness

I don’t miss you yet as you drift

off, as the strains of Mozart’s Magic

Flute end in the abrupt hollow click that

signals the music’s over, because

we aren’t sad today

your reading light shines the leaves

of the schefflera, glazes the tubing that

drips your precious urine into the vessel we

watch with such care: it is clear, sweet

amber, and there is still enough of it

I’m happy, today, to watch you sleep,

watch and wait for that moment when

you will wake again and smile, reach

for my hand and say, as though surprised, oh,

I’m glad you’re still here




Wes Randolph, Grover Beach

Near nine decades spent on should and pushed to the background, all the coulds,

Were I to die tomorrow I’d have one regret: my poem is unwritten yet.

Persia’s Omar, our Thomas Gray lived lives that caused most folks to say were wastrels,

Burning up their time to capture beauty in their rhymes.

Had Thomas Gray done things he should and had not, in the churchyard, stood,

Had he been work ethic-smitten and “Elegy” had not been written,

Or if the Immortal Bard had spent days working in his yard,

If Goldsmith, Shelley, Shakespeare, Keats, had left us with works, incomplete,

If Frost had taken road more travelled and, knot of life, he’d not unraveled,

Or if Omar’s quatrains had not been translated,

An emptier world would have been fated.

While most shoulds are very good, more lasting are the things we could.

What beauty has been left unsaid and buried with the silent dead

Is cause for wonder and concern.

Though life requires we, livings, earn,

Both Gray and Omar had to choose what part of life, time, caused to lose.

The way, their lives, they chose to spend, did friends and family oft offend,

But we know if the choice were ours, we’d choose the gifts their lives empowered.




Cynthia Bates, Atascadero

In my room with lemon walls

and a lime door, the air hangs exotic.

His hands labored to create this sanctuary,

this place of freedom to search for myself.

He christened it with an offering

of emerald, ruby and pearl

candles on a bamboo tray, sides touching,

bases surrounded by smooth black stones.

Their mingled scents sing to me of foreign places

I catch a whiff of ylang-ylang, the tang of cloves,

The sweet sigh of vanilla, and something more,

an elusive zing that makes my nose

crinkle with joy.




Muriel Wright, Cayucos

In Eighteen-Ninety-Eight

Great-aunt Mimi turned

Her sand-filled glass

Cone sheathed in

Pewter upside

Down for a

Perfect Egg.


Over a


And fourteen

Years later I tip

That cone timing

My soft boiled eggs

For that same perfection.




Ed Valentine, San Luis Obispo

The hours wrap themselves around

a secret grief

layer by layer,

a break against

the cold.

Fragrances once carried on the winds

of early spring


with something

not quite joy.

Counting the cadence

of shadows

beneath the winter moon,

their shapes dark blossoms

in the night.

I breathe.

And wait

without prayer

like the belated dawn

for the earth

to turn my way.




Myra Lathrop, Paso Robles

With no thought to propriety,

Spring sneaks in the back door,

opening almond blossoms, pretty in pink,

and daffodils cheery in yellow.

Surprised and excited,

Pale-faced children

Race into the sun-soaked yard,

Eyes squinting, bare arms flailing.

From behind smudged windows,

The envious parents smile,

Reticent with winter chill.

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