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Poets of the Monterey Bay

Four Poems by J. Esmé Jel’enedra


It is the names of the dead.

The names of the disappeared
etched on slivers of silver.
We carry that weight in our bones.

This is what we own together.
This is our unholy bond

that we know the honed edge
of hope splintered,
the shock of dreams shattered
lodged like shrapnel
cold beneath the ribs.

We are wounded tending to wounded.
Our bodies applied like a poultice,
warm flesh against flesh
to draw out the shards
twisting through tissue and skin.

It is the nights the ghosts speak,
we fever and tremble.

We know the pierce of memory wending
through muscle, through dream.
This is what we own together.

But this will be our holy bond:
that one morning we will waken
and recognize each other,
and slowly, so slowly
begin again to sing.

On the Darkest Night of the Soul We Have a Pillow Fight

After all,
what else is there to do?
We’ve wrestled with shadows so long
we are sick
and slickened with sweat
and the whole room dank,
damp with stale tears.
It’s pitch black in here
though we’ve burned all our bridges
not a flicker, not even one coal
to see by.
Only this cloudburst
of black swan feathers raining down
on our heads
like ash.

The Soul Leaves the Body

And You!

You stand there arms akimbo,
yelling your commands Come! Sit! Stay!

down the empty street.

This is not the language of the soul.
You must learn a new vocabulary,

speak in the tongues of a softer palate.

You must learn to say Dance.
You must learn to say Sing.

You must learn

to throw Joy into the air
like a stick.


Say you are a farmer in Nebraska.
Say your life is every word for the color brown.
Say that daily you squat dust-spackled with the other men,
speak of topsoil, subsoil, the million subtleties
of dirt. You sift it through your fingers
watch it fall, think sepia, umber, rich sienna.
When you speak of the sky, you say blue.

Say one night, one day, a terrible wind...
Suspend your disbelief here and say it lifts you,
like in a bad B movie, tractor and all
and whirls you away, thumps you down days/
hours later in an unploughed field
on the pitched edge of the California coast.
You recognize the soil,

the same loam as your Nebraska earth.
But nothing else familiar. Not these burnished cliffs.
Not that roiling sea below, or the frenetic sky
one minute wedgewood, suddenly cerulean then twisting
into colors you cannot name.
A world in perpetual motion
as if to impress on the flat horizon of your mind

the unfathomable fact: the earth is a spinning globe
and you are perched precariously,
dizzied with wonder.

And how can you plough one straight furrow
above these cliffs where every meridian kinks
serpentine across the land?
Or sit atop your tractor and resist
right over the edge into that magnificent,
unmowed verdant field?

Copyright 2004