Martin Willitts Jr, age unknown
Collecting Stones
by Martin Willitts Jr

I have collected stones early on.
I never counted them, but inspected each
like a jeweler looking for perfection
or flaws. I was limited to what fit
in a front blue jeans pocket, undetectable
from a mother’s keen eye.
They often felt heavy as theft.
It was as if I was taking a mountain apart
and reassembling it elsewhere.
Sooner or later the evidence would catch up.
You cannot teach guilt from a book.

I read about gemstones, learning their secrets:
ruby, sapphire, emerald, jade. Translucent
as a dead spirit, like colorless goshenite, or
abrasive as sandpaper like corundum
allegedly worn by Helen of Troy.
Since adults never seemed to know answers
to questions. I found some books had information.

Turning a stone over, feeling it rough or smooth,
I felt like an ancient god spinning the earth.
If I put my finger down randomly like on a school globe,
I might touch the African deserts or Pacific Ocean.

What I was searching for was the sense of smallness.
Some stone that would speak to me,
telling me what it is like to be ageless, not able to die
like my friend struck by a car. The stones understood
having been around longer than remembrance.

Books never answered why children can die.
I read that some people leave a stone on a grave
as markers of respect. For years I would visit him,
leave a stone like it was a prayer
asking him to forgive me for surviving and him not.

When I was young, I did not believe children could die.
After his death, I had too much belief
like semi-precious stones in my pockets
turning them numbly between my fingers,
small planets of pain. Now I no longer search
for exception clauses for death in books.

PHOTO: Martin Willitts Jr as a child (age unknown).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I asked all kinds of questions like any child. All children pose metaphysical questions, especially like “why do people die?”I had a lot of experience with death when I first saw my grandfather cut a chicken’s head off when I was five. I knew a lot of people who died, but a friend dying as a child really made me question the value of death versus God: “Why did my friend die?”We were the same age. So the real question was: “Would I die too?” Parents have no answers. I had been collecting rocks for as long as I can remember. I knew that any questions I had might be answered in a book. I taught myself about rock collecting among other interests through reading books, but none of the books answered my question, “would I die?”Even though I had seen death and had slaughtered animals, I never could reconcile the aimlessness of death versus anything I read including the Bible.You might say I had a troubled childhood to be so serious about death. This is not exactly the case. I was curious and wanted answers for troubling questions like any child trying to make sense out of a senseless world. Out of my natural or unnatural curiosity, I became a Librarian trying to provide answers to children by recommending books which may or may not answer of their questions.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Martin Willitts Jr is a retired Children’s Librarian. He won the one-time 2014 International Dylan Thomas Poetry Award. He has 28 chapbooks and 8 full-length collections, including recently Irises, the Lightning Conductor For Van Gogh’s Illness (Aldrich Press, 2014) and Late All Night Sessions with Charlie “the Bird” Parker and the Members of Birdland, in Take-Three (A Kind Of a Hurricane Press, 2015).

School Photo, Glenis
The Tao of the Black Plastic Comb
by Glenis Redmond

Bless my bad ideas and butt whippings:
the black plastic combs passed out on picture day.
Bless my taking the comb and listening
to the blond haired girl promising: I can make you pretty.
Bless me for wanting to be pretty,
but obviously lost in the whitest of seas
floating on a Kindergarten raft with no sign of help
via a mirror or a black girlfriend to keep me from going astray.
Bless my Ramona the Pest ways, always getting it wrong —
collar and ribbon upturned always at the other end of mama’s, dag nam      your time child.
Bless the five years that I had already spent on this earth
those years already filled with my school girl sense of shame
wearing Pigpen’s dusty aura like a shadow that I could not shake.
Bless mama’s tug of war with each strand.
Bless my tender headedness that matched my heart.
Tender. Nothing, but tender — too tender
for my mama’s heavy hands
that did not know their own strength
pulling each strand on my head through the hot comb,
during this Saturday morning ritual.
Bless her command: don’t let nobody touch your hair.
Bless my ears not hearing.
Bless the brewing of sorrow and regret that are already in my eyes.
Bless the back of the camel broken by the straw.
Bless my backside the day the pictures arrived home,
when my mama saw my hair as what she called,
something the cat drug in.
Bless my eyes and the load they were already carrying.
Bless me a high-strung girl feeling like my families’ punch line,
when they saw my first school photo each laugh felt like a jolt.
Bless how I learned to pocket the hurt in my heart.
Bless this act of survival.
Bless the small tines of the black comb: The teeth. The bite
that every hand is not a helping one.
Bless the little white girl that did not see my beauty.
Bless me for not seeing my beauty —
the years it took for me to unlearn self-loathing
and not one hair on my head that needed touching.
Bless this little girl within me waiting
to come back to this picture with a smile
seeing myself as cute and lovable
with sandalwood smooth skin and the deepest amber eyes
scrying already like a poet.
Bless my little girlself waiting for my return
to make the connection between then
and now: my hair now loc’d and woven
wrapping myself with both forgiveness and release.

PHOTOGRAPH: Glenis Redmond, Washington State Elementary School, age 5.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: For the last few years in my writing, I have been doing a lot work around forgiveness in order to let go of the shadows and ghosts of the past. One of my favorite poems is the “Little Blue Eye Glasses” by Louise Erdrich. This poem gave me the idea for my title, “The Tao of the Black Plastic Comb.” Silver Birch Press’s call for a poem addressing a school photo gave me the permission that I needed to talk to my five-year-old self. Instead of looking back with shame, I embraced Lucille Clifton’s gaze in her poem “Blessing the Boats.” This lens allows me to bless the hardships in my life instead lamenting them. The black comb stands as a concrete object, but also as metaphorical entry point that leads to my own understanding and self-forgiveness. The poem offers no easy resolve, but offers opportunity for me to bear witness to my little girlself that begins a process of acknowledgement, affirmation, and release.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Glenis Redmond is the Poet-in-Residence at The Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, South Carolina, and at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 2014 she served as the Mentor Poet for the National Student Poets Program. She prepared the five National Student Poets to read at the Library of Congress, the Department of Education and for the First Lady, Michelle Obama, at The White House. Glenis is a Cave Canem Fellow and a North Carolina Literary Fellowship Recipient and a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist. She helped create the first Writer-in-Residence at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Glenis is also a full-time road poet, performing and teaching poetry across the country.

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On April 1, 2015, we’ll begin to feature poems in the Silver Birch Press ME, AS A CHILD Poetry Series. We’ve received an outpouring of submissions from around the world and look forward to sharing this amazing work throughout April and May 2015. Stay tuned…

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Thank you to the 132 poets and photographers who participated in the Silver Birch Press WHERE I LIVE Poetry & Poetry Series, which ran from February 1 – March 31, 2015. The series was an amazing adventure around the world. Thanks for a great ride! We’ll post all the participants’ names and the places we visited in a few days.

garcia
Monsoon Skyline
by Jerry Garcia

Midnight thunderhead
hovers above a vertical bar graph
of metropolitan halation.
Patina-framed windows
throw random sparks
at foot-stepped puddles.

Hooded valets lock rusted gates,
trip on soda cans down to the Metro;
café waitstaffs turn chairs over tables,
journeyman lawyers drive corporate sedans
vacating downtown perspiration.
Delivery truck sprits pavement,
lost tourists make U-turns
on one-way streets,
electric drizzle descends
like a drawn curtain fade out
muffling the booms of Bald Mountain.

Dawn’s alabaster lamplight
generates steaming silhouettes
of bicycles and shopping carts;
morning guards start their shifts
while last night’s security takes a walk.

Friday morning
Jack Purcell traffic jam
emerges from 7th Street/Metro Station
to invade the valley of worn itinerants.
Just another soggy pavement day
unusually cool to the touch.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Though I live in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles County, I am never far from a view of the city and its cluster of high-rise office buildings. On this particular day, clouds shadowed downtown Los Angeles while thunder echoed in the surrounding mountains reminding me of Bald Mountain in Fantasia. At sunset I thought of the day travelers who visit or work in the city.

PHOTOGRAPH: “Rainbow over Los Angeles, California” by Jerry Garcia.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jerry Garcia is a poet, photographer, and filmmaker from Los Angeles, California. His poetry has been seen in a variety of journals, including Chaparral, The Chiron Review, Askew, Lummox, Palabra Magazine, poeticdiversity, The San Pedro River Review, and his chapbook Hitchhiking with the Guilty. Visit him at gratefulnotdead.com.

SF-Fillmore-St
Living with Geology
by Phyllis Klein

You prayed it wouldn’t be the big one.
Is it over? Your body is tight.
You peer out at the fractured world
from under the bed that didn’t collapse.
Out the window that didn’t break
the dogs howl. The air isn’t the same,
though you can’t say why.
It is stillness after something profound.
And there they are, howling again, an aftershock.

You check yourself, no broken bones,
but your head’s shook up. You rise to see what,
besides your peace of mind, has been rattled.

You smell for gas, note broken glass, refrigerator
door ajar, a mess of food spilled on the floor.
When you moved here it was paradise, palm trees,
headlands, a bay filled with sails, no tornadoes, no snow.

This wasn’t the punch kind, delivered by a subterranean fist.
This one, more lurch, then twist, and then the crashing starts.

You sit on the floor with the books, the overturned lamp,
the ceiling dust. There are cracks on the walls that will stay that way.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I love living in Northern California in spite of the fact that the earthquake risk hangs in the back of my consciousness. My first earthquake experience was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and couldn’t figure out why things were gently trembling. Since moving west in 1984, I have been through enough to know that the house could fall. It’s been quite awhile since the last one, and my emergency supply of water has expired. (There’ usually a run on the preparedness stuff right after the stronger ones.) It was interesting to write about what it’s like at the time, and a reminder about how the cracks remain.

PHOTOGRAPH: “Filmore Street at Broadway” (San Francisco, California) by Phyllis Klein.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR/PHOTOGRAPHER: Phyllis is a California transplant from New York via Michigan. Visit her at phyllisklein.com.

sean_foster
Low Tide
by Ruth Bavetta

A shiplike rock sails
upon its own shadow, prow
warty with anemones;
water, green and pale, wears
a scrim of foamy lace;
minnows dart from sun
to shadow to sun.

A single piece of kelp,
carved from amber, floats
gently in a shallow bowl; eelgrass
sways from a crevice, strands
abandoned in a mermaid’s comb.

A hermit crab, lugging
his purloined home,
clambers from one spot
to another almost identical.
Barnacles stop kicking
food into their mouths, close
their shingles tightly against the heat.

Everything that lives
in these twin worlds
of water and of air
lies exposed.
The sky, shattered,
smiles back upon itself
in the green water.

SOURCE: “Low Tide” appears in Ruth Bavetta‘s poetry collection Embers on the Stairs (Moon Tide Press, 2014).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My grandmother had a tiny cottage just few steps from the sand in Laguna Beach, California. Spending time there as a child and young adult forever tied me to the smell of salt and seaweed, the sound of the waves, the sparkle of the afternoon sun on blue.

PHOTOGRAPH: “A Day in Laguna Beach” by Sean Foster. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ruth Bavetta’s poems have been published in Rhino, Rattle, Nimrod, Tar River Poetry, North American Review, Spillway, Hanging Loose, Poetry East, Poetry New Zealand and numerous others, and are included in the anthologies Wait a Minute; I Have to Take off My Bra, Feast, Pirene’s Fountain Beverage Anthology, Forgetting Home and Twelve Los Angeles Poets. She has published two books, Fugitive Pigments and Embers on the Stairs. A third book, No Longer at this Address, will appear soon. Visit her at ruthbavetta.com.

kyle_hanson
Sleeping by the Tracks
     Carpinteria, California
by Tamara Madison

The sea casts its song
To the eucalyptus
Tree shadows move
In the night window
A frog chorus sings
In the rank river mouth

The train rushes through
Like a tidal wave
Throws its warning blare
Before the shudder cleaves
The campers’ sleep
And night flows back in

The voices of the surf
Echo again in the trees
We lay ourselves
Before all greater forces
And step onto the raft of sleep.

PHOTOGRAPH: “Train Tracks” (Carpinteria, California) by Kyle Hanson. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tamara Madison teaches English and French at a public high school in Los Angeles. Raised on a citrus farm in the California desert, Tamara’s life has taken her many places, including Europe and the former Soviet Union, where she spent fifteen months in the 1970s. A swimmer and dog lover, Tamara says, “All I ever wanted to do with my life was write, and I mostly write poetry because it suits my lifestyle. I like the way one can say so much in the economical space of a poem.”

zazzle
Sincerely
by Rebecca Guess Cantor

The palm trees stand above me,
a subtly curving halo for this,
the city of angels. They line the streets
shielding me from smog.

It’s different here. I’m always looking up
through sun roofs, skylights;
sitting in traffic
but enjoying the warmth.

I think about you, shoveling our driveway
with your head down, determined,
whenever I see your region
shaded a light blue on the television.

I think about the home we made,
the shutters, hanging hinges, marbles
mixed with gravel, plastic toys scattered
on the deck, plastic pool

filled with rain water, the gas fire burning
an inch of blue flame,
the door with the half-moon window.
I said that I’d be back to shovel the snow,

that I’d write more, call
on days like today—a birthday, our son’s.
That morning in the hospital two years back,
I couldn’t open my mouth

without a promise sliding out.
Best father. Best husband. Provider. Protector.
You’ll never have to worry, I said.
And on that morning I meant what I said.

But I’m here now,
and there’s something about the palm trees,
the ocean, the light.
And I may not be back this winter after all.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this poem about my home but from the perspective of someone escaping from some other place and some other life.

PHOTOGRAPH: “Two Palm Trees with Los Angeles in Distance” — postcard available at zazzle.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Guess Cantor writes about names and naming, literature, women’s issues, and women in the Bible, among other subjects. She received her Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University in 2011 and is currently the Director of the Writing Center at Azusa Pacific University. Rebecca’s work has appeared in journals including Two Words For, Mezzo Cammin, The Cresset, and The Lyric.

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…another day
by Don Kingfisher Campbell

fiber on the inside of my pocket clogs my pen
but I pick it out with my fingertips and start to think
about where I live in a city with lots of cars unsold
and wheels fording streets to find tributary space
in Alhambra (not Spain) I park amidst similar license
plates note colors of shells and skin of those who step
outside I feel I reside in United Nations apartments
only everybody kinda keeps apart living parallel lives
I wake up in quiet mourning vacate unit to work in
a different city enter that environment speak some
language of a job eat a lunch culture I can choose
to fill myself with then back on the flowing road to
find my mind home re-enter allotted paid-for place
turn on electronic entertainment so full of the world
put on some music I get up and down for inner dinner
look to elevate reach for keyboard imitate our gods
let words appear about what is within set them loose
see how poetry may help me understand or mystify
my life with either result ready to repeat all this on…

PHOTOGRAPH: “Alhambra, California, Landscape” by Nathan Solis.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Don Kingfisher Campbell, MFA (Antioch University, Los Angeles), multi-award-winning poet listed on the Poets and Writers website, has been the long-time Creative Writing instructor for the Occidental College Upward Bound program, a coach and judge for Poetry Out Loud, a performing poet/teacher for Red Hen Press Youth Writing Workshops, Los Angeles Area Coordinator and Board Member for California Poets In The Schools, publisher of the San Gabriel Valley Poetry Quarterly, leader of the Emerging Urban Poets writing and Deep Critique workshops, organizer of the San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival, and host of the Saturday Afternoon Poetry reading series in Pasadena, California. For publication credits, please go to: http://dkc1031.blogspot.com.

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