We received more than 300 poems this year for "From Soul to Paper," our annual ode to poetry. 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. Thank you to everyone who submitted a poem, with special gratitude to San Luis Obispo poet laureate Jerry Douglas Smith for reading them all. — Tribune staff
Choosing poems for this first Sunday was difficult because of their good quality.
Poets try to say the unsayable — try to describe feelings, an impossible task. But it benefits us all to express ourselves even when no one else ever sees our journals or writing.
Imagine the number of people in the world who are forbidden free speech, never express their feelings or, unfortunately, are never listened to. Imagine the frustration of those who can’t speak or write for various reasons. Freedom of conscience and expression are priceless.
Never miss a local story.
— Jerry Douglas Smith, San Luis Obispo poet laureate
Jeanie Greensfelder, San Luis Obispo
Old enough to light wood matches,
Patti stuffs trash and newspapers into her family’s wire bin.
She invites me to watch —
she slides open the oblong box and unveils
magic sticks lined like soldiers in rows.
Patti picks one, strikes it several times
before it bursts blue orange. Her face glows a
s she ignites paper that curls as it burns.
Patti lights more soldiers because she can.
I’m jealous. My body stirs to the heat
of the blaze signaling coming of age
and smoky roads ahead.
AGE 10: THE SUMMER OF SNAKES FOR ALISON RICHARDS DAVIS RABOSKY
Pam Stolpman, Nipomo
Those long days I’d be lured out
at dawn by olive mist that tasted
of possibilities. I came to crave
that quicksilver dart in hollows
of the tall grass, its delicious startle,
and its signs of secret paths to follow.
From sweet damp underpinnings
of the lawn, I’d cull jade snakes
into glaucous Mason jars they’d
struggle up. Their pale underbellies
in dysrhythmic hitch against the glazing
made the same sound as weeping
willows brushing the ground, an asking
to be held. And I would gather them
into my jacket pockets where they
laced my fingers like another’s hand,
crept from cuff to collar as I waited
for that first parting of my hair.
MAN ON A HILL
Linnaea Phillips, San Luis Obispo
I see you in my binocular rounds, power 8x.
You’re early to the hill, morning’s just begun.
You stand, a silhouette against the sky,
a wayang-stick puppet behind the mist.
Then, too quickly for my glasses,
you jump, scrabble, and thrash.
I lose you. Then you pose,
arms outstretched, legs stanced wide.
You move, calisthenics or absolutions?
Are you Leonardo da Vinci’s man,
Vitruvian Man, squared within his circle;
or are you man trapped in classic proportions?
Elise Grover, Arroyo Grande
He saw her today unexpectedly,
The woman he once loved passionately.
He recalled her natural charm and grace,
That a beauty mark adorned her face,
And the hue of the maple tree matched her tresses;
O, how he fancied her caresses.
But, after she played out her flirting game,
She pursued her dream of artistic fame.
She tossed him aside, no kind words were spoken;
Bereft of her love, his young heart was broken.
Now, Time had avenged him for what she did,
Though it veiled her in twilight, he saw what it hid.
A face that was wrinkled, and hardest to bear,
In place of the beauty mark was a mole sprouting hair.
He was emboldened, the tables had turned.
He wanted her to feel the sting of being spurned.
He approached her. Then abruptly, his triumph was denied.
A car pulled up beside her and she got inside.
A disquieting mood enveloped him as she vanished out of sight;
Sly Time gave him just her beauty to remember through the night.
GREEN AND GOLD
Namasta Conner, Templeton
Daughters over grassy hills
Blow dandelions through their hair
Mothers suckle milklings ’til
The tulips burst and settle there
Turning of the fecund soil
Brings squashes round as earthen suns
Burning of the leaves of Fall
Brings quiet ash when season’s done
Looking back on loves I’ve known
Through antique windows waved by time
Like sugar peas up trestles climb
Are memories and gardens grown
Judith Bernstein, Arroyo Grande
They say cats answer to their names
because it means one thing: food.
I beg to differ.
When my cat Ulu hears his name,
he comes to me asking for affection:
a scratch alongside his ears,
a rub of the long black fur
on his arched back,
a soft touch on his tawny underside.
Then maybe food or water run in a bathtub
since he disdains bowls.
And next to be let outside to chew
on the greenery and explore the garden
and finally, a short snooze on his favorite chair.
Isn’t that what we all want
when a friend calls our name?
A pat on the back, a hug,
then maybe a shared meal
with fine wine to drink, a stroll
through a garden full of surprises,
and eventually, sleep in a comfortable bed.
MY FAVORITE SEASON
Monique Donovan, Atascadero
Winter, spring, summer, fall
When I first knew you were in my tummy
My favorite season of all
A tiny seed about to grow Your beautiful blue eyes I did not know
Will you be my baby girl or boy?
Either way, what love what joy
Sharing dreams and endless laughs
Your Mommy and Daddy’s
Baby, this love will always last
Frederick Thom, San Luis Obispo
When January’s days went all awry
That winter came a day before the cold
A day before the dimming of the sky
A day before the families were told
Into the rock a baker’s dozen went
A blast collapse it sealed the methane in
The bolts they hammered ’til but one was spent
And with their rescue keening could begin
Rough hands have gripped the knowing of the cause
Have gripped the knowing of the men to blame
The fingers scratched the surface without pause
And found or made conspiracy of shame
Now that the hands have done their righteous chore
Prepare the August earth to take two more
Carolyn Harrison, San Miguel
Ah my dear, is there loneliness
More lonely than distrust?
And yet, the deed, it now is done
And deal with it we must.
I watched the strangest morning moon
Float gibbous in the sky
Imagined it might be portent —
Unread with jaded eye.
The young soothsay to start again
But love, we’ve little time
And our vows in truth did not include
a regularity of rhyme.
If kindness be all that’s left
Is that so bad a thing?
I do not long for solitude
nor for silence it might bring.
Joy whispers from within these walls —
Acceptance, a small quiet room.
Come my Love, Now is all
we have — and this moment Truth enough.
Bill Roberts, Atascadero
Blooms flower, birds soar,
Frogs jump, snowpacks are melting
Kings go off to war.
Josephine Redlin, Arroyo Grande
That day I had been playing Hide-and-Seek
with my toddler granddaughter, Joanna.
“There you are!” I exclaimed when
I found her. Her blue eyes danced
with excitement as we both squealed.
Then her friend, David, came to play.
Each time she found him, she shouted
with the breathless joy: “There he are!”
“No honey,” I corrected,
“Now we say, ‘there he is!’ ”
She shot back a puzzled look,
But continued with “There he are!”
Oh well, I sighed. Let them play,
grammar lessons can wait.
The next day after we watched
a British production video
of The Tale of Peter Rabbit,
I asked: “Did you enjoy Peter Rabbit?”
“Not Peder Rabbit, Grandma,
it’s Pee-tah Rabbit,” she said with an
imperious air, mimicking the crisp
staccato of the British pronunciation.
AND THE DAWN COMES UP LIKE THUNDER
Anne Candelaria, Morro Bay
For the gift of sitting in the early sun,
I give you thanks, Lord.
Morning comes with her wagon of surprises:
banjo music spilling over the fence
from a new neighbor, a climbing old rose
bush hiding the player,
an ocean breeze arriving unimpeded
through a space across the way
once filled by two magnolias.
Why did they cut them down,
I ask myself, but myself, as usual,
has too many questions
and so few answers.
What I can do is notice the path
of beauty, opening up before me
I sit still.
Quiet as a nun.
FEEDING THE FISH BY FLASHLIGHT
Glenna Luschei, San Luis Obispo
I leave them for the last of my chores
and by the time I finally shake out
their flakes they are no longer hungry,
rising to the top only out of politeness.
“Can’t you come back tomorrow, but early?”
they would say. Is procrastination as bad
as pride, presuming we have all the time
in the world, and when we finally arrive
at midnight, knowing our nutrients flow
unheeded over the weir? Or seeing
our children near sleep, eyes half-hooded,
still waiting for their story?
NO STINKING ANCHOVIES
Cynthia Linn Bates, Atascadero
the anchovies lay beside the road
just stinking like a dead old toad
not fit for eating they lay alone
without a pizza to call their own
I threw them there, I’ll take the blame
discarded them, yet feel no shame
my husband’s order on the side
he’ll never know about their ride
out the window, on my way home
left by the road to stink alone
I think no fish should be permitted
to sit with cheese or olives, pitted
with sausage or Canadian bacon
they’ll ruin the pizza that you’re making
you want anchovies left alone
then be the one to drive them home
RULES FOR THE CAREGIVER
Carol Pappas, San Luis Obispo
Caregiver 24/7 Helpline 800-272-3900
It’s a disease, not the person doing it.
Say it once, then repeat it differently.
Keep their path bright and lighted.
Want to be happy or right?
Eat lots of dark chocolate.
Keep instructions simple.
Stay social and physical.
“Thou shalt not argue.”
Give simple answers.
Use “tell me more.”
Join their journey.
Agree or distract.
Laugh a lot often.
Make it fun!
Nina Grossman, Los Osos
Morning breaks with molten lava colored clouds in the eastern horizon.
Streets void of motion; empty caravans, sleeping cars, dormant hopes for the new day.
Up the hill toward the scent of horses, the bray of coyote, shuffling branches.
Dripping moisture from the eucalyptus grove on the corner.
Here is another level of habitation, the world with a view of such breathtaking and iconic scenery that my spirit awakens, the gift of energy emerging.
Easy chores: throwing hay, mixing mash, setting buckets. A carrot for those noticing.
Another early morning of routine, not drudgery at all.
Purpose, space, quiet beauty and horses in my neighborhood.
SO THERE, MARTHA STEWART
Diane Johnson, Paso Robles
One day Martha Stewart will go entirely too far
By saying clutter’s not good for the soul.
Well, Martha Stewart hasn’t seen my kitchen junk drawer
Which is totally beyond my control.
There are snippets of notes I’ll paw through one day
When I’ve lost an address that I need;
But of course after months and months in a drawer
They’ll be stained and too faded to read.
But there are pencils with nubbins of lead I can use,
And a couple of pens that will write;
There are bag-closing gizmos I someday may use;
You never can tell … I just might.
The scissors I use day in and day out
To open where my teeth cannot tear.
The chopsticks aren’t used, but nevertheless,
I like knowing they’ll always be there.
Loose change I suppose should be in my purse,
But I throw it in the junk drawer instead.
The matches? Who knows, the light may go out,
When the flashlight batteries are dead.
So there, Martha Stewart, get off your high horse
‘Cause my junk drawer is good for my soul!
Anthony Pannone, Templeton
After work and I need (my car needs) gas
stop at Circle K
regular unleaded $3.89
these California prices …
I grab a 25oz Bud
two packs of Munchies salted peanuts
think about a Snickers and Doritos
the man leaving bought two lotto tickets and an 18-pack
Debit or credit? she says
swipe the card and press green
punch the four-digit code
and press red and green again
She stares at Pot-O-Gold and Lucky 7s
never looks up or at me
only stares and sighs
and taps taps taps
Have a good one, I say
We remain invisible.
Beverly Boyd, Los Osos
a gliding hawk pair,
twine figure eights
on rising air.
Slow wing beats thrust
their joy in tune
to trace lines winding
through cloudless blue.
They tug two pairs
of earthbound eyes
to play cat’s cradle
CIRCLE OF MEMORY
Lani Steele, Los Osos
Still I wear your ring,
pretty symbol of the love
After forty years,
most of the memories