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Poets of the Monterey Bay

Five Poems by Amber Coverdale Sumrall


My grandfather’s fish pond
lived beneath an avocado tree.
Leaves of green.  Fruit of green.
Red flame of the fish.
I filled my lungs with air
from the damp grotto,
walked the cobblestones
slippery with moss,
tossing pebbles and pennies,
wishes swelling my chest.
Time stretched a single afternoon into days.

Grandpa brought tall mugs
of steaming green tea from China,
sat beside me on the old stone bench,
smoking his hand-carved bamboo pipe.
We listened to wind rub branches together,
the songs of vesper sparrows, mourning doves,
and the long unbroken silence of the fish.

At the bottom of my heart,
goldfish floated up from murky green depths,
carrying my dreams on their backs.
My dreams were not the same as my prayers,
which rose like clear bubbles of breath
and never stopped breaking the surface.

The World Is a Song

The world is a song
coming toward you.
You have only to find
the pulsing green knob
and raise the volume.
You have only to turn down
your what must be done next mind,
step into the eternity of this moment:
blue-grey nuthatches upside down
on the nut cake, showers
of twirling pine needles,
a kingfisher patrolling the creek,
diving for minnows, tiny whirlpools
in the dwindling water.
Even the trucks rumbling by
on the road can take you
somewhere that sings.
Look at the ground:
a hundred poems disguised as stones
are waiting for you to bend down
and lift them into the light.

Common Brown Birds

In the time it takes for a full breath
you may miss them: birds the color of tan oak,

sun-crisped weeds, baked summer earth,
flying low across a meadow,

their assorted buzzes and whistles
like tea kettles, kitchen timers, going off.

Wren, thrush, towhee, finch, sparrow,
as if any bird could be called common.

They blend into manzanita, hide in blackberry bramble,
invisible to eyes desiring more exotic vestments.

Humble as monks in simple brown robes, they open
each morning with praise, swell the air with uncommon grace.

What Can’t Be Said

All the words I’ve used, day after day, year after year,
choosing carefully, filling the blanks with just the right one.
This poem, that conversation, this letter, that prayer,

only to find them scattered in the air now,
a flock of blackbirds dipping over a field at dusk,
the dark alphabet of their wings now invisible
as they turn and bank sharply into what is left of the day.

I write love, ache, hunger.  I say sweetness, you, now.
I multiply them by a thousand, a hundred thousand,
they fly through my hands to you and still
they are not enough, will never be enough.

Kingdom Come, 1951

When the Jehovah’s Witnesses rang the doorbell
and knocked in that urgent way, as if delivering a telegram,
my mother was ready for them.  Dressed as usual,
in stockings with seams, high heels, a ruffled apron
covering her brown checkered housedress, she opened the door,
smiling in that abstract way reserved for flies
and hornets just before swatting them to Kingdom Come.

The woman, almost hidden inside a navy-blue bonnet,
asked if my mother had been saved, proffered a copy of Watchtower.
No thank you, my mother said, recoiling from the pamphlet
as if it were pornography, we’re not interested here.
Please don’t waste your time, and please don’t come back.
Smelling of hair tonic and stale sweat, the man leaned
into the doorway, his face haggard as if heĠd been fasting for days.
The Second Coming is at hand, he warned.  God will smite
those who deny His words and pestilence shall be visited
upon those who turn their backs on Him.

My mother tossed her head, held it high as if dark floodwaters
were swirling around her.  Now you listen to me, she hissed.
We’re Catholics and we’ve been saved since the day we were born.
Don’t you dare come to this house again, thumping on your so-called Bibles.
She, who never stood up to anyone, even my father, held her necklace
with the silver cross up to his face as if he were a vampire.
Paling, he fled down the brick walkway.  The woman retrieved his briefcase,
eyes lowered, mumbling, thank you for your time.
God bless you, my mother said sweetly, closing the door.

Copyright 2007