WE RECEIVED MORE THAN 300 POEMS THIS YEAR FOR 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.
Thanks to everyone who submitted a poem, with special gratitude to San Luis Obispo poet laureate Jerry Douglas Smith for reading them all.
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— 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
UNTITLEDDonna 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.
AT THE FURNACE CREEK GAS STATIONMichael 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.
THE MIDNIGHT OIL IS RUNNING LOWLili 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.
MEMORIESSally 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.
ODE TO A FOXTAIL PINENorma 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.
AUTOMATIONJim 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!
Man made machines … or
Machine made man.
PERFECT TIMINGBeverly Boyd, Los Osos
Whitecaps stud the bay.
A green catamaran, orange
sail taut, skims chop
on starboard tack.
Before it returns,
I move glass
to pane and put
eye to aperture
as green and orange
enter my range.
hiked out, smiling
and buoyant, you
FOR GOOD MEASURESherry 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.
UNTITLEDSandy 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.
WHEN I WAS TWELVE I NEVER THOUGHT I’D GET MY HEAD BLOWN OFF IN THE BACK OF A BUSRobert 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.
BROTHERSWill 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.
NO COVER CHARGESherry 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.
ONE OF THE LAST GOOD DAYSPam 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
I KNOW I SHOULD, BUT …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.
AROMATHERAPYCynthia 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.
TIMINGMuriel Wright, Cayucos
Great-aunt Mimi turned
Her sand-filled glass
Cone sheathed in
Down for a
Years later I tip
That cone timing
My soft boiled eggs
For that same perfection.
THE WAITINGEd Valentine, San Luis Obispo
The hours wrap themselves around
a secret grief
layer by layer,
a break against
Fragrances once carried on the winds
of early spring
not quite joy.
Counting the cadence
beneath the winter moon,
their shapes dark blossoms
in the night.
like the belated dawn
for the earth
to turn my way.
TRANSITIONMyra 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,
Race into the sun-soaked yard,
Eyes squinting, bare arms flailing.
From behind smudged windows,
The envious parents smile,
Reticent with winter chill.