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Poets of the Monterey Bay

Five Poems by Tilly Washburn Shaw


Out walking in the fog on Westcliff Drive,
everything becalmed & muffled way high up
over the Pacific, when comes a rumbling
and thrumming from afar, soon right upon
us, a whole strip of them winding in and
out of coastal curves, passing us one, two,
three abreast, all black-helmeted and in
dark leather, so of course I think

Hell’s Angels, instantly prepare my stormiest
scowl for their mechanized intrusion, mean to
flout this enemy invasion with every mortal muscle,
screwing my eyes into a masterful blast—,

when gradually it dawns, under all that armor,
inside harsh headgear, the scrawny pigtail, a
slight mounding in front, occasional flagrant
metal chains or gear, every single one of them’s
a woman!  
Whatever can I do but cheer?

Across The Fence

My neighbor comes to visit and we sit on the deck
swatting mosquitoes and sundry
in my bright porch chairs.
His white hair has blond in it,
his face speaks out clear.

Inside me there are pools over which
I look at him, as through a haze rising,
feel my eyes drift and grow afraid to settle,
start in slow loops like swallows
that cannot home.
Every looking is a trembling—
just an old friend casually near
but his deep brown eyes liquid,
the whole world gone to water,
till the talk steadies and travels on past
   eyes probe the air between us
   too much like touch to bear.

Green Brownies

                                     All during the war
father coasted our second-hand Olds down any
hill he could, bent on saving gas.  The whole
country was on rationing, it became a game.
Suddenly there’d be no noise, we’d be moving along
with the fields close by in the silence, car slowing, each
one of us coaxing under the breath, please, just
a little bit more.  At the last moment, he’d throw
the clutch in and the motor would jerk, gag,
settle into its humming again.
                                                     Those days I was
11, 12, 13, really too old to be a kid, but I
hauled bundles of newspapers and loose cans
down the streets with the rest of them, our
beat-up red wagon rattling over the macadam.
Opened empty cans by their bottoms, smashed and
flattened them full weight, one after the next,
tucked the lids in, heaped them all up into
clattery piles.
                          Already too old but not old enough,
confused, working each Saturday now to help
my working mother.  My mind often pulled
to friends playing outside, while I cleaned the
downstairs alone, dusted and oiled each piece—
my mother’s desk with its secret compartment,
father’s Steinway grand from before the Crash—
dawdling, making my child’s way at last
through the doors to the kitchen.
                                                         Those years
of no butter or chocolate, I had to color the
oleomargarine for the family, played with
pinpricks of orange from the packet, that bled
into color streaks, my wooden spoon pushing
and slipping on the hard white fat, softening
it interminably, till it grew smooth lemony
                Next, to mix up batter for
vanilla brownies—oleo, sugar, eggs, flour—
to which I once added on impulse
lots of bright green food coloring.  This
turned them chartreuse, a shocking color, worse
than green hair, as the pan emerged fragrant
from the oven and cooled.  Soon to be
gobbled down entirely unnoticed by my
overgrown brothers, while I, unlike them, gagged
at the lurid thing I’d made.  Still I felt rather
proud of it—something peculiar that nobody
told me to do—that nobody scolded me for either—
come out of nowhere in the years I was still
idle, going up and down hills
coasting, waiting for it both to begin
and to be over.

My Mother’s Death

I was ready, but didn’t know what form it would take,
what further would streak from it.

Exuberance skating above tears, riding the
roil boiling up from beneath.

Cash register ajangle, bells at the door ringing,
sudden crash of money in the bank.

Her life that ground forward, determined,
plangent in its clamoring.  Like a

drawer jammed open, restless pacing of her
wheelchair in the corridors.

Of a sudden, to be stopped, found slumped in
the backmost hall, first weekend I’m gone into

wilderness, both of us beyond reach, caught
in transit.  She:  returned to her

bedclothes for the last travail, tended by the
hands of others;

I:  among Jeffrey pines, memorizing the bright
zigzag of hills toward nightfall;

story that ends apart.

Quitting Computer Solitaire, After Playing 17,309 Times

I actually succeeded in all but two of the games,
although a few hands took forever to figure out,
seemed like rare hybrids.  At the end, on average, I went
through the cards in 2 minutes, 35 secs.  I imagined myself
hurtling through the night, speeding ahead of my
headlights.  What finally saved me were the total lapsed
hours—converted into work weeks, I realized they
equaled 5 months.

                                     Yet it wasn’t just done to me.
                                     I gave myself over entirely.
                                     I was exploring a drowning.

Copyright 2002, 2011