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Poets of the Monterey Bay

Five Poems by Maggie Paul

Charlie O’s

Sitting in this dive, I get the feeling nothing really matters
anymore—one unfinished beginning only begets another.

Take this guy at Charlie O’s. He comes in
to blow smoke rings in the ladies’ hair, or run
his eyes up and down their fishnets. Even in winter
he sees beneath their polartec blues and imagines
the black nets he’d like to get caught up in.

I tell him, No, I don’t come here often.
Tell you the truth, I don’t come
at all unless I’m glued to some video
that shows me positions even I’ve never tried before.
Then he’s with me, hanging
on every word. I could be the one, he thinks
but keeps it under his nicotine tongue. I could make her…

Come over here, I say, leading him
to the pool table. Let me see you break
into the blues, break into the boy you once were
the boy who couldn’t go to sleep at night
without the sound of his mother’s voice in his ear,
the boy who ran away from home
looking for her after she died, certain
she’d never leave you all alone.

He picks up the cue
and twists the point into the blue chalk
like there’s no tomorrow, remembering how it felt
when he realized there really was no tomorrow, only
one day pressed against another, each day
an unfinished beginning.

Sometimes I tell myself it’s alright nothing’s ever
finished. It’s enough to know I could have
if I tried. I try this on like a pair of black fishnets
but they never did look good on me.

I put a pot of brown rice on the stove,
let the water boil, then turn down to simmer.
In the yard, pull up a chair and begin reading.

The art of Mindfulness brings transformation,
the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh says.
Close your eyes. Empty your Mind.
Breathe in and out, deeply.

My yard is drenched in green from winter’s rain.
Two small birds sing from one branch.

In one deep Buddha breath, I inhale the healing scent of spring,
remarking how my skin, ravaged by poison oak, will also heal.
Every cell of my body will sing like two birds on one branch.

Meanwhile, from the kitchen, thick bowls of smoke.
The pot on the stove trembles like a cymbal
beaten by the thrash of a good drummer.
Burned rock-hard grains of rice have become one
with its scorched black bottom.

Thich Nhat Hanh, why did you not mention
in your book on Transformation
the mindfulness of brown rice
cooking on the stove?

The Point

This ball point pen—
narrow river mouth,
wetland of multiple darknesses,
all that could come to the cursive sweep
of ink on paper
stops dead in its tracks
when I realize

it’s broken. Then, searching
upstairs and down,
through purse and drawer, the bottom
of my son’s lunch box,
hoping for a blue or a black or a red—
god please don’t make me resort to red—
until I settle

for a pencil. If I’m lucky
a Number 2 with a sharp point,
though by now even a dull tip will do
since the brilliant thought is fading
and only half of what I had in mind
remains translatable

to this pencil, that childhood instrument of telling
in a world which is not, after all,
waiting for what I have to say,
couldn’t care less, really, if I ever write it down.
Not even my mother would care
and there’s the world, right there.

So I do it. And for a moment
the moon questions its own omniscience.
The earth is not round but square.
Maybe I don’t really know everything.
Maybe I never really knew her.
Maybe that is why I write.


Now we recall
the anguish of mothers for sons, widows
for perished husbands
and what it means to mourn
the ruined remains of healthy men
as Anna Akhamatova did
waiting three hundred hours
outside the prison walls in Leningrad
with a package for her son,
where they never unbolted the doors for me….
Instead they tried to leash her voice
to the cold cage of their reason.

I can still see my mother sobbing
beneath the wing of the plane
that carried my 18-year-old brother to Vietnam.
Six of us then, our coats flapping in the wind,
we could hardly hear his boyish words
behind the noise of the engine.

We are guilty of what the stars accuse us,
of sleeping while others fight,
of letting dawn wake while the world comes
moment by moment
to its end across the sea.

On Neruda

Look how he numbered his poems
as they spilled out over the rim of his life,
currents always heading in the direction
of Mathilde, in whose hair
he saw stars and vines, whose hands
furnished him with prayer,
certain dark things to love.
Like a pomegranate, his heart’s center
grew crowded with seeds and stars, which he
sprinkled across his garden
as a way of insisting on beauty,
so that now, his voice pulls me in
to the earth’s core, to the underneath of love,
which is more love.

Copyright 2008, Maggie Paul