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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From all over San Luis Obispo County, this group of poems includes wonderful variety again.
There are poems about the Newtown massacre, civil war in Yugoslavia, Native Americans, India, Oakland, Cairo, Diablo Canyon, horses, ducks, dolphins, the wind in the willows, the weather and a hooded oriole.
Who says poetry can’t be interesting and informative? Who says it has to obfuscate meaning, be obscure and obtuse? It should be bold, alive and as exciting as any of the other writing disciplines.
If this is the Information Age, it should be the Communication Age, too.
— Jerry Douglas Smith, San Luis Obispo poet laureate
Breaking News on PBS RadioEvelyn Cole, Arroyo Grande
Esoteric insect researchers
at the University of Georgia
describe their observations
on how mosquitos survive raindrops
These scientists know, through weighted
mathematics, that a raindrop falling
on a mosquito is equivalent to
a grand piano landing on me
When a raindrop falls,
the mosquito flies
atop the drop
and rides it down
The next time a grand piano
falls toward me, I’ll jump atop it
and ride it down playing the
Triumphal March from Aida
DolphinsAnne Klinger, Avila Beach
Sleek, silver sisters, leaping surf riders,
Your bodies rise like smoke in the wind.
Your pirouettes on point dazzle us,
With glimpses of your aqua world.
The curve of the waves mirrors
The curve of your backs,
Crested like sharp fins
Perfect in concept and design.
You catch us easily, play with the ship,
You come close, your face and eyes smile,
We laugh in mutual delight.
Then, in a flash of foam, you are gone,
Leaving only your imprint in our mind’s eye.
Indian TimeIvan BrownOtter, Cayucos
“You are a day and five hours late
for this interview,” said the superintendent
at the Navajo school. “How come?”
I looked at him and took a breath
as if to say, Well dang, Mr. Superintendent,
there are no street signs. How did you expect me
to find the place? I’m not Superman.
Global positioning hasn’t arrived yet.
Sandy roads curve in and out of rainbow clouds,
circle back through red rock canyons.
I can’t tell an Indian road from a sandstone pathway.
I ended up in Lukachukai then Chilchinbeto
without knowing how I got there.
I slept out in the middle of nowhere
under a gallery of glacial-blue stars.
But I didn’t say it out loud. Instead I said,
“I’m from Phoenix. You can’t get here from there.”
The superintendent laughed. “You’re right about that.
Several people applied for this position,
but you’re the only one who showed up.
You’re our new English teacher.
Looks like you’re already on Indian time.”
WillowsLinnaea Phillips, San Luis Obispo
Winter weeping willows dance naked
Clothes strewn around the ground
They weep for yesterdays
When their entangled locks
Held winds’ whispers.
Whispers danced as voluptuous tangos
And remembered as yesterday’s Springs.
Atef, Portrait Artist
Josephine Redlin, Arroyo Grande
A crowd gathers to watch. With trance-like
detachment, his back held straight,
he does the eyes first, then scribbles with broad,
quick strokes, sometimes in blue or green,
as if he has no plan, until out of the chaos
a face emerges, a reflection, coming as
mysteriously as the Holy Face to Veronica’s veil.
Sometimes weariness recedes from eyes,
slack tightens under the chin, color softens,
as he sees each subject in the best possible light.
Using the broadside of a crayon in long,
smooth strokes, he summons up wisps
of cornsilk blonde as easily as at other times
he evokes the dark tumbling to Oriental shoulders.
The crowd murmurs, nods in approval as he
makes last-minute corrections with a rub
of a finger or Kleenex, then sets the chalk
with hairspray, waving the can across the face.
Yellow/BlackTom Wright, Cayucos
No warning. Suddenly there.
Clutching the rail of our red
hummingbird feeder: a bright
yellow Hooded Oriole.
Coal-black patterned throat, its dark
thin legs and grey claws, transfixed
my friends and me. Were we not
in the right place and at the
right time? Who would want to be
separated from the real:
simple perfection of form
and function? But it quickly
fled, flashing off, away: a
yellow/black touch of glory.
Love Lost and FoundSharon E. Kimball, Avila Beach
Like addicts to cocaine,
we were destined for a long,
“I need you,” you said:
then, you flew to parts unknown
never to return.
Touches of springtime:
hands clasped, lips pressed, bodies snug
out of reach for me.
Embrace the Spirit:
safe love with no strings attached
Allah, Yahweh, God.
It’s safe to come home:
my hurt and my pain are gone
and so is my love.
Stari Grad: In Memoriam — Dubrovnik, YugoslaviaJudith Bernstein, Arroyo Grande
Not old town, new town.
Not new town, stari town.
Town with starry eyes,
Streets that shimmer, roofs that shine.
Streets of marble, slip and slide.
Fishbone alleys, ladder stairs, red-toothed roof tiles.
Salt coats the guild signs,
thin cats roam the rubble.
Feet glide up stari stairs, down stari alleys.
Eyes reach for turrets, hands grasp balustrades,
ears seek out slap of sea, flap of sails,
cries in byways, sighs, bells struck at odd hours.
Not dead city, hidden city.
Not ancient city, starry city.
City with glowing eyes,
streets that glisten, roofs that bite,
(Stari Grad means “old town, ancient city.”)
The Blue TreeVicki Hanson, San Luis Obispo
From Cuernavaca to San Luis Obispo,
first memory to Central Coast spring:
the blue tree remains always the language
of turning seasons, the breathing world.
Under a hot Mexican sun my mother holds me
in blue water dazzling like sequins, the green tiles
of the pool lapping around us, the blue tree
dropping purple blossoms that spin in circles.
“Sehr shön,” my mother says, drawing me around
in the shimmering water. “Muy bello,” circling,
holding me close inside syllables I know. “Lovely.”
Her words fly up, the tree glows more brightly.
I am very small but wonder, Who am I to the
blue tree? To my mother, pointing with her hand
at the blue tree? She smiles, shifts my weight,
then says, always teaching: “Jacaranda.”
My mother’s arms around me are the blue tree’s
arms, her fragrant summer skin the fragrant skin
of the shining blue tree above us. Its flowers
move in a warm breeze, drift down, float away.
And ever since, that slender tree, its soft blue petals,
remind me: I am still myself — alive, loved, and safe.
Palm SundayAnne Candelaria, Morro Bay
Sometimes, when summer is coming,
twilight is more inviting than usual.
Intimations of June’s languor
lie on the tops of trees.
We think of nights when fireflies
will burst above the heat-filled grass
and cicadas call across the open lawns
of small towns.
Before long, the County Fair: girls lush
in peasant blouses will follow the farmer’s
son even to his prize pig’s pen, lean over the gate
to lure him into moonlight
and the thrill of a Ferris wheel.
When summer is coming
as on this Palm Sunday, the mourning
dove wakes us: coo ru coo coo.
We think of summer’s long twilights to come
when we will fold ourselves
into a porch swing or sit on the steps,
drinking down the day.
350 Vernon StreetCharlie Lawrence, Paso Robles
Master craftsmen of 1880
oxen-hauled redwood timbers
to the hill that overlooks Oakland
and build the Victorian home.
Jagged crack in the kitchen wall
from the earthquake of 1906
was laughed off by the family —
Sunset drawn down the long hall —
like a kaleidoscope through westward stained glass —
with the lordly aroma of aging wood,
all, gloried in history.
Great-Grandfather Joshua’s progeny
born and died in that home —
generations of fledgling feet bounded down
that airy staircase.
Great-Gramma Emma’s redolent gardens
endured ‘til the end —
gardenias, azaleas razed.
For godawful, gaudy apartments.
Horses and LifeJohn F. Christensen, Paso Robles
Babe was my first horse, an old sorrel mare
We logged many a mile and made quite a pair
Then JoJo, a Morgan, an ugly horse — yes
But she had more cow sense than all of the rest
Old Blue from the ranch, was a dog of a horse
But on the trail rides he stayed right on course
Oliver, an Appy, JoJo’s only colt
He was smooth on the trail and wow could he bolt
Boots was white lightning, the fastest — all go
Amboy, the dumbest, dimwitted and slow
Honeybear, a big mare I rode up the coast
Peanut, the greenest, he bucked me the most
Napoleon, a black horse — white blaze on his face
Tully was gentle and bucked not a trace
Also King Todd and Rusty, Choppo and Jaun
Snowball and Danno — the list could go on
Decades with horses are like chapters of life
Each one is a story of joy, tears and strife
As I ponder each one and the memories they have cast
Leaving hoofprints and smiles on the trail of my past
Lament for NewtownJohn-David Hughes, Los Osos
My sweet one wrested from me for no reason
I tied your tiny shoes before you ran down the path
boarded that yellow bus and went away
Now I must wait for you until the angels come
and light the stars sending balm and solace
Wait for you until the smoky-ending-dusk
of my twilight calls me to rest and to sleep
I will find you then
In starry travels together we will
fly from star to star to star and
ride the winds of time
First Day of the Fifth WorldDaniel Justin Mansberg, Paso Robles
Tonight I heard the distant train
And knew that a new
Day would soon be upon us
Steady and strong
As the iron wheels, as rain
On a Summer’s eve
As the sheer joy of young
Girls running in Autumn,
We would still be here
To figure it out
To learn the right questions
To ask, to unravel the answer
That came with the first seeds
To learn how to make
This tiny garden of life
On a speck of dust transcend
Its brutal origin and bloom
That the universe might notice
Soft on their pillows
Might dream in peace.
Quickly Past AvilaCeleste Goyer, Paso Robles
The sun shines its misty love
on Avila Bay
a paradise of expensive contentment
shielded with thick ballistic glass
misting over with the effort
of ignoring a certain something
tucked discreetly behind the hill
a certain bottle of iodine tablets
that came gratis
with the beach condo
wrapped in dire instructions
and escape maps
a certain siren notice thoughtfully
posted to draw our attention to
the hovering horns that one day
will sing a deep death song
they hang over us black against
the washed blue happiness
of a postcard image harbor
now permanently shadowed
by our pet monster
mouthing his hot cage
FencesMichaelann Dimitrijevich, Atascadero
I slow down at the signs marked “Flooded.”
The pasture where the donkey and the old mare live
is under three feet of water
and is now inhabited by a pair of mallards.
The ducks are oblivious to the white fence boundary
and paddle across the road in front of my car.
They swim as if holding hands;
a honeymoon couple with a resort to themselves.
I stay and watch them,
blinking at the illusion
that a post and rail fence
could contain a pond.
And I think what folly
the years I spent building walls
when I could have had fences
that water and birds could pass through.
VaranasiBarbara Bell, San Luis Obispo
Lit from within
Brightly colored sari shops
Line the road to enlightenment
Throngs move as one
On the path to the ghats
Honoring those who passed before
A cacophony of sounds —
Yelling begging honking
As loved ones are dipped
In holy water
Before the final fire
She IsAlly Schofield, Grover Beach
Capricious and cunning
A tantalizing tease.
Whimsical and wily,
She does what she pleases.
Flirtacious and fanciful,
Soothing and calming.
Cool and refreshing.
A warm ocean breeze.
She can’t be controlled.
She will not be tethered.
An omnipotent force.
She is the weather!