Earthworms

mariposa

He is no Woland –
this Orange Devil in a suit
with flabby lips he steps out
of the television
as if none of it were real

His Trojan Horse
driven to the capital
by a team of millions
hopped up small words
and big faith
brandishing old weapons
horsemen of the apocalypse
take their posts
and Aleppo
and leaking pipelines
and refugees
and I finally, struck dumb,
I notice it is raining

It has been raining all day
the streets are flooded
the creeks are rising and even
the amanitas and false chantarelles under the oaks
so shy in recent years
erupt in celebration
from earthy sleep
as the atmospheric river
flows on to distant lands
in the sky

There have always been rescuers
of earthworms –
We do what we do
so many of these pinkish pilgrims
feeling with the deluge from their holes
wriggling towards higher ground
but finding the asphalt hard
and unyielding, the water pooling
so few can save themselves

Still, in my boots and cotton pants
I save as many as I can
knowing in my heart
that each earthworm returned
safely to the soil means hundreds
more will die so long as the rains fall
so long as the floodwaters rise
so long as passersby remain indifferent
to their peril

But we worm savers are not deterred
we do not turn our backs on the few
we can reach when the death toll rises
we do not go inside to stay dry
and cover our ears from the
suffering of the lowly worm
even when we know they are solitary
creatures and the Nightcrawlers are not
native to this soil and classified as
simple as complex creatures go
but just one, even broken in half,
might bury the tiny seed of a redwood
which will grow, in time,
into that great grandmother of all trees
and die in fire or by time
only to give birth to
a circle of saplings in her place
where the Pileated Woodpeckers
make their nests
and the ringtail cat hunts
and the Indians once made houses
of their red bark
and the ferns hold council in their circles
and the slugs traipse across the duff
and the asphalt stays a little cooler
under the scorching sun
until the great trees crack the path
with their knitted roots
and the worms bury the crumbling pieces
under eons of castings

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Carcass Island

carcassisland

Come away to Carcass Island
In the sundering, Southern Seas
Where black night heron shadows roots
In scorched wood cypress trees

Come away to Carcass Island
Where the tussock grasses die
Among the dog roses and fuschias
Under high cerulean skies

Come away to Carcass Island
Where the ghosts hum funeral hymns
And the sailor sway like rag dolls
In the noose-knots hung from limbs

Come away to Carcass Island
Where the cabbage palms once grew
For I’ve never known an anyone
More dearly dead than you.

 

In Honor of #TalkLikeAPirateDay…a poem

   Strait of Messina

Summon the selkies, the freshwater fishes
Shuck the black oysters in sea wormwood dishes
Let the Sea King dream as the shearwaters scream
Ten bits in the pot for your wasted last wishes.
The luminous wind-gall is the least of her charms
But when she starts blowing great guns and small arms
Any port in a storm will do, merry men,
Any port in a storm will do.

Bring cards and a bottle to succor thy souls
Sail silently under the black Sacks of Coals
Whisper the waters – the Scylla awaits
We make for the ballow to slip past the shoals
Boldering weather is the least of her charms
But when she starts blowing great guns and small arms
Any port in a storm will do, merry men,
Any port in a storm will do.

Turn not to the blunderbuss, saker and cannon
Rum up the tongue to lively the Chanty Man
Offer Charybdis your Abraham-men
Ncidit in scyllam cupiens vitare charybdim
Blustrous bunk is the least of her charms
But when she starts blowing great guns and small arms
Any port in a storm will do, merry men,
Any port in a storm will do.

Keep her rap-full! See the cavernous maw!
The great horned claw, the spiked toothy jaw
A debt we must pay for our bird catching days
See the pull-away-boys row swiftly away
Charybdis, old girl, she’ll swallow us raw
Ready About! The storm petrels swarm
She’s already blowing great guns and small arms
Yea, any port in a storm would have done, merry men
Any port in a storm would have done!

Ogygia…early reviews are in

fauna of mirrors

 

“Lisa Summers’ new book of poetry Ogygia is delightful, mythic and episodic. The best analogy for this well-crafted volume is a film, perhaps a film like Altman’s ‘Short Cuts’ or a Terrance Malik film. Summers’ poetic eye moves in and out of shots, sometimes offering a panoramic view, at other times close up shots of the lives and moments that inhabit that mythic world.

A poem that beautifully illustrates this camera lens effect is ‘Mylar Sirens.’ The name of this poem defines Summers’ aesthetic in this volume, blending the gaudy artificial with mythic voices of seduction and longing. The panorama is dominated by a ‘pitiless sun” of  a ‘blank // and glaring gaze.’ The focus shifts to the tune of ‘Benny and the Jets’ (Electric boots . . .). The camera chooses points in time to reflect the inner musings of the outer frame perspective. A standout line is the depiction of someone who is not the speaker’s mother, but might be:

‘Two Women in floral Paintsuits
(One Might be her Mother)’

The landscape of these memories, although mingled with mythic and Romantic elements, is decidedly not. ‘Not a patch of dappled light // here to soften the grassy expanses.’ There is no Hopkins to infuse beauty into this vision.

‘An Open Letter to Mammon’ has a strikingly different tone. It is an urgent critique of greed as a mythic, all consuming force; not just the ‘old, the weak, and the very young’ are “desiccated’ by this force, but rather the very landscape of the world in the poem that follows. This ‘muddy touché’ to Mammon is a key passage in the world view of this volume, in which the forces of spirit, goddess, beauty and mythic female power find themselves at the margins, torn, adrift, and forgotten.

One such women is invoked in ‘Eulogy for Sycorax. The ‘Eternity Machine’ of the starlit sky dominates the landscape of this poem, but Caliban’s mother is brought into focus here. Again, we see a grotesque Romanticism:

‘She Steps across the stinking mounds of
Starfish, spent by some plague
Of the waves sent by Proteus.’

It is unclear if Sycorax herself is the “primary dreamer” or if she will awaken to renew this fallen world.

The witches, outcasts and forgotten goddesses who people this volume in the richly textured language of this gifted poet remind the reader that some knowledge, some power, survives in roots that go deeper than the culture of patriarchal power and greed that seeks to efface them from the record of time:

‘Some roots begin in the future and reach back
Into the dry, scorched earth of the present
In search of the nutrients and the clear water
For which they thirst.’

The root at the end of ‘Half Savage and Free’ echoes the roots of earlier poems.  There is a haunting forlorn quality to the skies and landscapes in this volume with echoes of Wuthering Heights. Mammon figures here too.  Looking both forward and backwards through both a wide lens and mythic scope and a detailed microscope, this elegant volume of poetry and its vision contributes importantly to that search for meaning and roots.”

(Professor Tim Wandling is currently the Graduate Advisor at Sonoma State University’s Department of English. He has been a Literature faculty member of the department since completing his doctorate at Stanford in 1997, on Byron, “Transgressive Eloquence,” and 19th Century theories about reading.  He has presented or published papers on Lord Byron, Thomas Hardy, J.S. Mill, and the teaching of Social Protest literature.  His scholarly interests include Romantic and Victorian literature, Frankfurt School critical theory, socialist feminism, utopian and social protest literature of all sorts, and the New Women literature of the late 19th c.)

 

 

“In Ogygia, Summers floats on the tide of myth. One also hears echoes of Plath and the Mirror and Wylie and finds shades of Tennyson, Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci,’ early Yeats with the musicality and nuance of the refrain, not used enough in contemporary poetry:

‘Before the night pulls tight its shutters / At the coming of the dawn.’

(Professor James Tipton currently teaches creative writing at College of Marin. He holds a PhD in literature from the University of California, Davis where he worked with Gary Snyder on his doctoral dissertation on the California nature poet, Kenneth Rexroth. Tipton has taught English and creative writing at U.C. Davis, the University of Bordeaux, France, and at colleges around the Bay Area. He is the author of the best selling novel Annette Vallon.)

 

 

“I was transported into a mystical land of springtails, selkies, myths and maidens – so transported I hardly realized I was parked in the Whole Foods lot, still in the driver’s seat with Ogygia propped against my steering wheel.   I read it cover to cover, going back for seconds on favorite lines about lichen-covered faces and secret chambers of squash, and hanging on the powerful italics and ending lines, like interrupted dreams and offerings of pins.

What I think good poetry should do, and does, is shake up the dusty places in the soul, unsettle the mind in inexplicable ways, and remind us of things we didn’t know we’d forgotten, awakening parts we didn’t know were asleep.  Good poetry should cause a dust storm of déjà vu that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, like missing the smell of a horse’s sweat that you’ve never ridden. 

This book stirred me.”

(Stacey Tuel holds a Masters of English Literature from Sonoma State University with an emphasis on Creative Writing. Her story “My Mexican Cleaning Lady” was included in Best Women’s Travel Writing. Recently Stacey can be found behind an old typewriter as a member of the Farm Fresh Poets at the Sonoma Valley Farmers’ Market.  Her new  chapbook “Snapshots of Ireland” is based on travels with companion and co-author Jonah Raskin (CultureCounter Press.) )

Ogygia – Release

My new book OGYGIA is finally out.

If you live in the SF Bay Area, please join me, Daedalus Howell, Jonah Raskin, Stacey Tuel and Amy Petersen at Epicurean Connection (122 W. Napa Street) on November 13 for an evening of poetry, music and our book(s) release party.

Find me on Twitter @the_bananafish if you have any questions about the event or would like to order a book.

I’m working on getting a new email address. For now sixtomales@yahoo.com is what I check.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

Ogygia

 

 

Open Letter to Mammon

Mammon

A muddy touché! Ye villains
of Hong Kong and Dubai,
fork-tongued evangelists of
foreign currency!

We applaud the handing over
of our stolen goods –
May we offer you a free-of-charge
gondola ride over the holy land
a bird’s-eye view of your assets
your wives and daughters, your mothers
your pimps, your priests and pederasts
your arms traders and factory generals
your Legacy on its death march –
advancing with the Exodus
in the shadow of a thunderhead
towards the promise of absolution
in a wine dark sea

Desiccated by desert heat
the old, the weak, and the very young
and others beyond utility
shall remain eternally entombed
under a violent sun–

Still others, inhabitants of bygone ice
of the high steppes,
of the Dengue jungles,
of the sand spit nations,
by your leave they join the fate of those
dragging their feet from Bethlehem
with the taste of sea salt
on their blackened tongues

You, tiny man with the tiny screen,
spitting crimson betel juice
on the shoeshine boy
from the City of God,
on the shoeshine girl
from the City of Angels,
grinning, your bleachies glinting
as the laborers of your camps
vacate the bowels, so oozing with parasites,
of your Super Babylons
of your endless outskirts
of your suburban Irkallas
with their rent-a-Nergals
festering like a thousand boils
upon the continents

The widening gyre spins in
a kaleidoscope
of shampoo bottles

Throw a rock through
the liquor store window –
Go to Jail dot com

Yesterday, a reactor meltdown in Japan,
Tomorrow the monarch will perish
in the rain of highway shoulder poisons,
meanwhile microbeads assemble in
nearshore waters–
they are watching you like
a billion billion billion
primitive eyes in the waves

Forgetting, they abandon the stragglers
shaking breadcrumbs from their pockets
tossing silver coins for the trade rats

Some leave to wander the
emptied alleys and wind tunnels –
woodwinds of the Trades –
echoing in the lonely island temples
sinking back into the oceans
of their emergence

No one to know what the polecat ate
No one to hear the gasping
of the Vaquita and Silky Sifafka
of the Mekong Catfish
as they sink below the surface

But wait, Mammon, remember
your little chochita with
pinto bean skin?
She hides her poison darts
under her Shakira beach towel –
She is coming for you first, hombre

You and your black market organ traders
who sleep like infants and fear nothing
if not the loss of your Legacy –
you must know that It too will be buried
in the sub-sea archives

This text is classified
Your last wishes will be recorded
in the annals of the Lithosphere
lost in the subduction zones
guarded by tube worms –
great scholars of the deep

For Wendy

ErnstHaeckel

 

Sagacious peach!
Sturdy in her mud-caked boots,
her white hair – a dandelion mane,
she walks, alive with the riotous laughter
of water running over stones,
among the wisest of the
willows that grow along
the banks of Redwood Creek.

Oh! Patron Saint of nettles
and Dharma transmissions,
champion of the lowly springtail,
keeper of the soil’s dark secrets,
we beg her – do not leave us to a world
of watery tomatoes!

Instead, across an abyss of
time and hard memories,
she calls the Seneca Nation –
guardians of the Western Door.

Though wary of our West Coast ways,
they teach us the wisdom
of the three sisters:
we learn that to save the bear bean
the squash and gourds,
the Iroquois corn,
is to save ourselves.

As we stare at each other
in the dappled plains of understory
we are invited to dance
beneath the coast live oak
with the Hamadryads,
losing ourselves in the absurdity
of old limbs and stiff backs,
rolling our ankles on acorns.

In the borrowed words of Alan Chadwick
Wendy tells us, her unruly students –
The garden makes the gardener;
the farm makes the farmer
.

And we whisper back –
And so patience and noble heart make the teacher.