Arts & Culture

From soul to paper: Week 2 of the The Tribune's 15th annual celebration of National Poetry Month

More local poetry: Week 1 »

This second group of poems by adults is presented in honor of National Poetry Month. There are flecks of gold in the river-gravel in these selected adult works — or maybe they’re more like those round-edged gray stone geodes that burst into rainbow crystals when you break them open.

Older people often snort when you suggest they’ve gathered wisdom in their lives. But it’s apparent, from this group of mature poets, that we do get wiser. Every one of these works is a wisdom-geode, carrying these crystals of understanding, hard and/or happily learned over many moments, over seasons and longer time frames. My poetry mentor, past San Luis Obispo poet laureate Jane Elsdon, writes:

“When at last we have lived long enough to grasp the fleeting preciousness of life the paradoxes it comes clothed in what ineffable sweetness and sorrow autumn brings…”

These poems prove her right, in so many ways.

Marguerite Costigan, San Luis Obispo County poet laureate

Golden Day

Ivon Blum, Cambria

They still cuddle after an evening of yelling and screaming

about their grown kids’ live-ins.

They pout over decisions that each wants the other to make

and dueling remotes.

The hallways have grown treadmills, the bed needs steps

and the stairs are no longer to code.

They laugh at creaking bones and deeper pains which

they downplay but can’t deny.

They plan a great vacation to Hawaii, the whole family, Dutch-treat,

and cancel.

They cry together at the swish-swish of medical machines

and study Medicare Parts A, B and D.

Golden Anniversary

Planning ahead, he drains the savings to buy her

an engraved headstone.

Golden Anniversary

Planning ahead, she sells the family burial plot to buy him

a new kidney.

Dear World

Nicholas Campbell, Atascadero

Once in a cave someone wrote on a wall

and though years passed before it was discovered,

the past gestured, a hand moved across the years

to greet us and a sound that may have been lost was heard.

Sometimes it happens: a friend will write

or you’ll read a poem and you’re not alone anymore.

Writing is a way the world has of not turning away.

When we write we keep saying hello.

Taming the Wild Ones

Michaelann Dimitrijevich, Atascadero

When I was twelve

I would ride my horse

through the hills for hours.

Resting under a tree I’d let her graze

while I sat with my arms spread wide

waiting for birds to land on my branches,

and all the small creatures

to gather around me

just like Francis of Assisi.

After all, cats and puppies

always followed me home

but to me, there was something holy

about taming the wild ones.

The Dog That Stopped Minding

Cal Wilvert, San Luis Obispo

For years late at night

my black lab Bear and I

climbed to the top of the street

so she could roam unleashed

in a vacant lot.

Glancing down to where I stood

under the streetlight,

she watched for my beckoning wave.

She came bounding,

never hesitating

to trade freedom

for pats and praise,

until one night

she failed to respond.

Wading through dewy weeds

I scolded and grabbed her collar.

The next day as I knelt tying a shoelace,

she nuzzled me.

Then I noticed those big brown eyes

clouding over.

What I Want

Will Jones, San Luis Obispo

What I want is sacred ritual

chanting, fire, strong tobacco,

animal spirits on the edge of darkness,

dancing until I collapse in ecstacy,

boundaries disappearing like morning mist,

thoughts scattered like windblown seeds,

consciousness replaced

by numinous awe and wonder.

What I get is a slow walk,

in bright sunshine under blue skies,

up a steep hill with good friends

on a late winter trail that cuts through

scrub oak, sage, manzanita, sudden meadows

flush with pink and purple shooting stars,

tufted orange poppies, rush-rose,

delicate chocolate lilies, an endless vista

of coastal ridges receding in all directions

like pebbled ripples in a quiet pond,

a mountaintop communion of strawberries,

apples, laughter and grateful talk.

What I want will have to wait.

What I get will more than do.

Clouds of Cambodia

Glenna Luschei, San Luis Obispo

Clouds dwell like lovers over the Mekong River

We walk barefoot through the jungle, splash

through the streets.

I have no lover.

The humidity drowns me into a new life.

I bathe in water from the Mekong and shear

my long hair. The air fills with water

and the river changes course.

It is my time to be reborn, to take refuge as a crone,

to sweep the Buddhist temple with a broom

made of twigs.

In a cascade of rain we study the carving

of creation, how the two armies pull

at Naga, the snake, until the sea churns in milk

and all creatures are born beneath it.


Jeanie Greensfelder, San Luis Obispo

The sun sears hot this morning,

comes down hard.

At breakfast, we stop to laugh.

He laughs when I say

we need to get the ladder

to change a light bulb

when I mean he needs to.

We laugh extra as we age,

look at each other a second too long,

see our inner roulette wheels spin,

and know the one left standing

will remember this moment.

The sun sears hot this morning,

comes down hard.


Marvin Sosna, Morro Bay

It happens in small silent steps,

the first tremor, an eyelid flutter

and no one thinks anything of it

until the next time but even then

it passes almost unnoticed.

Then, where did I put that jar

of jam becomes a question soon

answered there it is silly me but

why is it so difficult to open it, and

what did I do with the spoon?

A skin crease at the lip, the chin less firm

and the lines from nose to mouth

suddenly deeper than they were

last week or was it last month or maybe

yesterday, time an uncertain commodity.

Inside the frame it is as it was, no

Dorian Gray’s cast to the visage here,

nor Peter Pan’s shadow either, only

the sound of breathing, the aware sense

of passages and where they lead.


Lani Steele, Los Osos

When I was a kid I made

up words: WISHOO.

I was so confident of my words

that my friends used them too!


And it was sort of an in-group

thing, pretty good for a smart,

flat-chested junior high girl.

We’re going there; WISHOO …

He just ran — WISHOO — all the way

to the record store!

Hurry, WISHOO, we’re waiting.

Pachuco girls went WISHOO after school

to the Foster Freeze, where they

fought it out with nail files,

and my longtime boyfriend, Rickey, left me,

WISHOO, for Anita, who had a bosom.

He didn’t even send a card:

WISHOO were here.

Brainy Object of Knowledge (a.k.a. BOOK)

Sherry Shahan, Morro Bay

Check it out: Neo-technology.

No wires. No circuits. No batteries.

No on or off switch. No microchips.

Even children can operate it.

It appears on recycled paper,

bundled in a type of a binder.

A browsing feature lets fingertips

flip forward or back — no censorship.

The latest style has a bookmark.

Users can track where they left off.

Unlike other display devices,

this one never freezes or crashes.

Added function: Portability.

A library card makes them free.

Investors call BOOK the latest boon.

Heads-up: New titles to appear soon.

Kneeling by My Meyer Lemon Tree

Josephine Redlin, Arroyo Grande

I’m on my knees, pulling some weeds under my dwarf

Meyer lemon tree when I notice the trunk is so small that

I can almost encircle with one hand. How does it have

the strength to hold up the umbrella of branches laden with

over 100 lemons, let alone the power to siphon up gallons

of juice and nutrients? This tree has secrets, perhaps various

departments working in unison, surely a chemistry lab that

distills the exquisite Meyer lemon flavor, so fine that even

Martha Stewart uses this lemon in her delectable desserts.

And kudos to the perfumery that draws from this musty earth

the inimitable fresh lemon scent, the sweet smell of velvety,

white blossoms, the rare oil to fill gazillions of tiny glands

dimpling the lemons’ skin. What mathematician plots the seed

sections, and sets the complex schedule for this ever-bearing tree,

bringing on buds, blossoms, green fruit, golden ripe fruit all

at once? Enough multi-tasking to crash a computer. What a flurry

of activity goes on in this slender, gray trunk, this super highway.

Are there separate lanes to carry the fixings for the sweet and sour,

the oil and juice? Traffic seems to be moving along effortlessly

without mix-ups or delays, unlike the gridlock at the Port of L.A.

Here the plant manager has things under control. Everything

gets to where it needs to be without ado and right on time.

Angry Birds

Gail Jensen Sanford, Morro Bay

The little boy up the street, his face split

into a triangle by his Dennis Quaid grin,

charges by on his compact body, “I’m four!”

he’d claimed when his mother introduced him

as three. “Almost,” she’d agreed. He invites

me to look at the dead bird in the driveway,

“It’s covered with ants!” Even better.

Sun setting in a strata of crimson clouds

over a peaceful Pacific. Boys finishing

a golf lesson roll down a slope above the green.

A father calls out that it’s time to go home,

“Don’t be an angry bird.” I’m so old

I don’t even know what that means.

‘Like Your Poetry’

D. Williams, Los Osos

“Like your poetry,” she said.

Honey, if you only knew, the source of my expression

should be familiar to you.

My poetry is my life, pages of my pain; words are the bullets;

ripping, tearing, twisting, explosively quiet refrain.

My poetry, is it not common, do you not recognize a line,

Each is a gift from you to me,

passed over time.

You sit there and make such a statement, bold as can be,

oblivious to your presence, writing the words for all

but you to see.

“Like your poetry,” you say, a staring beauty I see, facing her empty closet,

ready to move away from me.

Careless sista, if you only knew, when you walk out that door,

The poetry goes too.

“Like your poetry,” you say, tightening straps on your backpack,

preparing to go away; California to New York, with the coming day.

So many loose pages, that you never read, but today you manage to see one

Lying on the bed.

You are the words I squeeze onto the page, the thoughts, tastes, smells and colors I see,

that makes what you call my

“… poetry.”

Life on the Edge

Evelyn Cole, Arroyo Grande

sounds dramatic, but

feels old when you wake up

every morning with a

precipice on your driveway

You look over the edge

which path to shimmy down?

which diet to drive you nuts?

which doctor to operate on you?

There’s a path down to riches

but it’s strewn with sharp rocks

and dark-suited

white men

There’s another path to deep love

but it looks rugged

filled with ghosts of parents

and past heartbreaks

The path to Heaven

disappears the minute

you step onto it

There is none to Hell

Life on the edge

is hell — back up


Chris Weygandt Alba, Paso Robles

My mother’s cookbook — stained

with chocolate, gritty batter, mysteries

dipped in oil as her fingers anointed

its pages with the holiness of food

for the stout and devout, whose

stormy hours and salvaged parts

rise together in pies and pigs,

chickens and cakes, sacrificed

on the altar of family —

Priceless now, this ratty book

record of her life as chief cook

in the tribe of not-chosen

and born-to and claimed

with the fragrance of herbs

seared meat, melting sugars

crispy crusts of bread

cast upon the waters, returning

to me now, daughter, mother,

new high priestess in the church

of Betty Crocker.


Linda Reed, San Miguel

This morning mineral mist

Swirls around the crockery of my yard.

Notes of mustard, lupine,

Rosemary haze,

Ruffle the invisible coyote bush.

Wisps of winter mask the

Promise of spring

As a lover’s quarrel masks devotion.

Pushing mulberry buds

Obscured by the gauze of morning’s white bisque,

Remind me that love sometimes hides.

If we are lucky it will coalesce into rain,

Soak the parched earth,

Drift down

To waiting roots,

Awaken my soul.

Fill my vessel with succulent water,

Sublime with notes of earth,

Wildflower, coastal prairie and you.


John Anderson, Nipomo

Ask a reflection

If there are whispers beneath

The winter water

Avila Beach

Robert C. Pavlik, San Luis Obispo

Diving into ocean water is akin to

jumping through a pane of shardless glass

the hurtling form creating a

splash of shattered drops that

rain back down into the deep green crucible.

Water clings like fire to the skin

molten liquid waves

boil and melt into a

vast beach sand casting

leaving faint shapes.

A brawny ocean reclaims its raw material

re-forming the

cold shimmery sheet

pulling tight a frameless window

awaiting another swimmer

plunging into another world.

This Is Not a Dream

George Asdel, Atascadero

I must be in a horse-drawn cart

headed down a narrow path to a

village in Ireland. After the rains, new

grass burst out of sleepy seeds to paint

every hill and valley a soft green.

Morning fog quiets the coastline,

sun rays cut through early mist

like Leprechaun lanterns.

But … this is not Ireland.

I’m driving my car down the Grade

to San Luis Obispo. I rub my eyes,

and shake myself to see if this is a

dream. It’s not. Once a year, we

become Ireland or Scotland. Then

quick as it came, like Brigadoon,

it vanishes. Our California hills change

their palette back to sienna browns

and golden ochers, as they rest

— and wait for winter rain.

Earth Sings

Liz Aires, Templeton

The Earth is singing its love to the sky,

in color, in green, that springs from the soil,

from last year’s leaves, the past’s reminder.

Along the hills the grasses are singing

their love to the trees and the oaks respond

with leaves the size of mouse ears.

In the shade, the ferns unspiral their fronds,

the thick tight coils reaching toward light,

and the silent mosses and fungi emerge,

while the trees crown themselves in crepe paper,

and the air is raining blossoms.

The sun is singing its love to the earth

and the spotted towhee replies. And the light!

And the night, still overtaken with Orion

the great master of the hunt, his time

at an end and who sinks now to the West,

while in the North, the bear will rise, arc high.

Surely the stars are harbingers. Why else

would Scorpio extend itself in the dark of morning

if not to reveal a new day at hand, a new season

coming round the bend, a time when the sky sings,

when even the earth is breathing light?