The Tribune's 10th annual celebration of National Poetry Month

On one of the first sunny afternoons in spring, I put on my poet laureate hat and read the first batch of entries. I was struck by how the best poems conveyed a fragrance of becoming. Among other charged events, an egret flies by and changes everything. Forests give secret clues to the trained eye. People take journeys by water that lead into and out of this life. All is observed as it moves.

I was also intrigued by the questions some of these lyrics pose.

Is the seashore a place to be feared? Do we really deserve the natural beauty we live in? When we meet ourselves at a border, what do we learn?

I want now to share these poems with the reading public for the pleasures of honest language found in them.

These poems do not talk down to anyone. They show no anxiety about categories such as “accessible” or “obscure.” They capture images in words, and the images become moments of real life, preserved.

— James Cushing, 2010 San Luis Obispo poet laureate


Madeline Martin, San Luis Obispo

with the moon in my pocketand the stars on a larkonly i understandthe importance of dark

when the night is your home and the sun never seen then the world is a gypsy and your life but a dream


Linnaea Phillips, San Luis Obispo

Fog’s scrim liftsAnd hangs along the shore.

Tide left coils of kelp; Medusa’s hair come undoneSeething, twisting, turning tendrils Of a thousand blackened snakes

Caught up by razor-clam barrettes.


Chris Weygandt Alba, Paso Robles

I lay prostrate on the couch & worried & worried The newspaper scattered like leaves around my bier The syllables of war trip over the tongue like poetry Afghaniraq darfuristan & the birds are fluttering Into distinction In the latter days the seas arise My aunt says God is coming soon but where is he Where is his sign I’ve lost you to the television & the latest tennis match among the titans Worried & worried until I saw the water’s reflection On the wall there A dancing curvature of light & through the glass I saw the egret winging past The long white neck folded & long dark legs folded Trimly as a package born aloft on broad white wings A love letter airmailed from a distant God


Barbara Bell, San Luis Obispo

Birds sing the day awakeThe sages bend their flowered lips To hummingbird’s long throatWhere sun meets fog

Pelicans and shorebirds give way to eagle and hawk A dream takes shape Beside the shadowOf deer, coyote, bobcat and cougarOne day, looking out at summer The next, yellow leaves Light slants at new angles Geese turning into it

Crickets chirp in time to heart beats The crescent moon glides up To light indigo darknessI meet myselfAt the garden gate


Michael McLaughlin, Nipomo

2:00 am

tiny flydies my thick black coffee, eyes into legsoutstretched.

arabic poetrymistaken for moonlight. human arabesques


Pam Stolpman, Nipomo(For Kathy, 1943 — 1998: Rest in Peace)

Flag the boatman down, if he’s got a seatempty. Though we can’t say it, we all seethe counterpane lifts less with every heartbeat.

We don’t need banana bread; please don’t heatmore casseroles. Just sneak out and quietlyflag the boatman down. If he’s got a seat

we’ll pay in advance; she’s not going to cheathim this time. Don’t haggle over his fee— the counterpane lifts less with every heartbeat.

What it comes to, in the end, is completeexhaustion — so much for epiphany.Flag the boatman down. If he’s got a seat,

Have him dock here tonight, but be discreet —we still haven’t dared tell her openlythe counterpane lifts less with each heartbeat.

We figure the best way out is deceit,to avoid any talk about the journey.Flag the boatman down. He must have a seat;the counterpane lifts less with each heartbeat.


Robert Huttle, San Luis Obispo

Wyoming sky, fat with rain,late August afternoontoward Jenny Lake.

We carve our way up a trailripe with huckleberries, stumped withfire-blackened trees.Downpour of angry thunderbolts,smell of decay in Teton country.

Up ahead Jenny Lake, gem in the cauldron,sleek-waisted maiden beckons,languorous fingers entwine.

Jenny Lake:Cover girl debutante ingossamer gown, awaiting the Ball.Galloping thoroughbred withtawny coat of burnished bronze. Spinnakered sloop infull song; glazed goddess.

Jenny Lake:Her intoxication takes us home.


Carly Imhof, San Luis Obispo

broken loveit broken goesbackward brokenin broken rowsbroken sunsmake broken glowbut when i’m broken,no one knows.


Jo Taylor, Paso Robles

Below hersounds of the city tumble alongskyscraper canyon walls

Birdslike black freckleson the face of a distant dometoo far away to see wings flapor hear the caws

With an eagle eyeshe notes the time on the clocktwo stories down

A note tucked in the bodiceof her yellow-flowered summer dress

His careless wordsleft lying on the clean-swept floorHer descent is as calm as stepping off her mother’s porchNo frantic handsno fierce grabs at air that will not save her

on her way to zero


Myra Lathrop, Paso Robles

I am quite honored:The quail marched into our yardAnd seemed to approve.


Anne Klinger, Avila Beach

Being loved by you Is like standing forever In a shaft of light.


Nancy Rucci, San Luis Obispo

I remember that night,Floating in wait,I dreamed of dinoflagellatesSpraying flecks of magic light from my breast-stroke.Moon rising fearlessly,my uncompromised heart was buoyant,on the edge.

I awoke to the rhythms of my labor,A forceWhose unrelenting pull would eventually deliver mefar out to sea,Into a deep blue stillness.

Yet now I awake, transformed;dissolved like salt,metamorphosed beyond recognition,thrown onto the shore like wreckage,my arms bulging with treasures;my heart forever divided,still trying to breathe.


Ruth Goodnow, San Luis Obispo

I’m losing you.I’m not readyto miss your kissesgiven with abandon,your eyes crimped with age,or your smell that I knowlike my own. I’m not ready.Time hasn’t prepared me;it’s made me unequal to the task.

I’ll lose you one daywhen the backyard redwoodkisses the cerulean skyand the hummingbirds chitter,the spicy radishes are plump ready to pickand your water bowl is full.


Jerry Douglas Smith, San Luis Obispo


if you always thank morning starmarvel at bee flowers and chuparrosasknow home by owl pellets and animal scrapesplant corn deep under frost to ripen earlydance in place for old warriorslisten to old trees

if you revel at rowing raven wingshear tongues of rain and windare tranced by dewclaw dancersride out storms in tall pinestremble at buffalo thunderpray in opal sunsets

if you soak up Great-Mother-Earth’s rhythm,you are Made-From-Everythingand walk the good path



Mark Lloyd Richardson, Los Osos

If you stand hereand lean against the sky,you see a field of poppiesstretching toward a distant blue,their golden petals outshiningeven the morning sun.In these mountains of gold,black tailed deer graze in glory,snowy egret stand in serene repose,regaling you in their white gowns,and choirs of chaparralchant ancient anthemsrising from an ancient sea.If you stand herethis place becomes a temple,and clothes even you in awe.


Ann Dozier, San Luis Obispo

I know the answer to that —It’s love. Except that’s no answerat all, because as years turn, love shifts

its shape like glass in a kaleidoscope:parents, friends, lovers, children —lives connect in different patterns.

As mirrors glued in a kaleidoscopereflect light and make bits of glassglow like jewels,

so what matters in life is the lightthat love shines into darknessilluminating the ordinary.


Moon in empty room Again the pale lily turns

A door sighsand opens.