The journey of the Messenger Mountain News is an ongoing discovery of the artistic riches that our mountains nurture. This is the second poetry offering in the short time we’ve been publishing. Meet award-winning poet Marsha de la O, who will be Topanga Authors Group’s featured guest at the Topanga Library on July 22. Joining her in these pages are Malibu Poet Laureate Ricardo Means Ybarra, Florence Weinberger and Topangans Joanne Martinez and Deena Metzger. Out illustrator, once again, is former Topanga Messenger editor Dan Mazur who lives in Boston, MA, but continues to carry within an understanding of the Topanga mystique.
Poem on a Female Goldfinch
Willow-green shy girl
gazing at me from a tree
of hard green lemons
from this field
where I wait
my quiet, her courage
of the broadleaf –
prosperous weed –
that country squire
who sets the table
with round-bellied aphids
their swollen curves
little sap buckets –
yellow, chartreuse, lime
moss green abbess
in the zendo at meal-time
her way-deep hunger
koan and blessing
she plunges and gulps
one eye on the beholder
white streak in my hair
after all this time
invited to the feast
—Marsha de la O
He remembers nothing of the famous photo
a full body shot under the flood-lit letters
captured in the wide angle Hollywood night
He didn’t cross ten lanes of freeway
to pose, flex a ripped set
stare direct, unconcerned
with the abrupt flash
the tracking device
around his neck.
He may ignore the collar, but
I don’t want to know when
the 3-5 year life expectancy
of a mountain lion
in Griffith Park
ends by car, bullet, rat poison.
I don’t want to see that photo
a full body shot on the side of a road
I don’t want to see that photo
pink tongue spilled in the night
I don’t want to see the glassy eyes
one long tooth exposed
a curl of blood dried smooth
as desire under the light.
—Ricardo Means Ybarra
Malibu Poet Laureate
Life is a Balancing Act
Today I woke and found I’d lost my small left toe.
It wasn’t there. A nothing filled its rightful place.
I searched. I scanned the floor and bed, I even checked the dirty clothes.
The toe was gone and I was in an awful place. I simply couldn’t
stand up straight. My left toe once had held me firm.
Now I just reeled and tipped
At first, I thought I might still be asleep, just dreaming of my fate.
But when I pinched my arm and knocked a bit upon
my head and both things hurt—I knew I was awake.
Awake and falling down. A tragic fate—a life with no left toe.
I barely reached the door to make my way downstairs—
held to the rail and moved with care. One wobbly step, then two.
At last I reached the floor.
So, there I was, downstairs inside my house, without a toe
to hold me fixed—a tipsy, reeling clown. I went about the
things I had to do with lumbering gait. I grabbed, I clutched,
I tried to stand up straight, but there it was—my life without a toe
was one mean balancing act, a sideshow with no crowds—
a play with just one scene—a single role without a solid plot.
The hardest thing I had to do was tie my shoes. When I bent
down to make a knot, I fell face first and landed on the floor.
I bumped my head at least a dozen times until I learned to lean
far back exactly at the time I tilted forward. It was a hard maneuver.
The muscles in my back got stronger with each fall—
until they bulged and held me tight and strong. Then I could tie my shoes.
Quite slowly, moment crawling at a dripping pace, I learned to stand and
hold my head erect. I learned to take one small step at a time, look straight ahead
then take another step. I learned to walk the distance from the stove to
couch without a pause and then I learned to sit and stand without a lurch.
By nightfall, I was quite in charge of how I moved and how I got around.
That damned left toe no longer was my life. That damned left toe would
not become my fate.
Yet, I still know it’s gone. I miss it in the middle of the night
when I curl into a ball and rub my feet together. There is a space
where once a toe belonged. And when I try to reach the highest shelf,
where I keep all the things I rarely use, it’s difficult, at best, to stand up tall
and hold myself erect. I almost fall, despite my new-found strength.
So, if you lose a toe, remember this—you’ll learn to walk and maybe run.
You’ll learn to stand erect, you’ll learn to tie your shoes but
never will you reach a place where you don’t miss your toe.
Until you die you’ll know a part is gone and you’re not whole.
You’ll always have to balance every move with care and
never take for granted what you have. The perfect person
you once were is gone. You’re not the man you always hoped to be.
You Won’t Believe How Hard it is to Change
I’m bored with rhyme and sick of my own rhythm
It’s no use smoking grass, the scene is repetitious
No, my friends aren’t redundant, they’re just not enough
No use banging my head against a pot of boiling water
I tried running with lentils in my shoes
I scolded my fingers and rinsed my tongue
I accepted that cats will trod on my roof
What I cannot accept is pretentiousness
Once I had a teacher who suggested holding a paper clip
or a straight pin and then writing down what came to me
That’s what I mean by pretentiousness
But I tried it
The Burden of Light
The butterfly, with the burden of light
on its back, weaves across the meadow
where the slightest green emerges
after four years of drought.
The sage has survived, although
it has been ash black for months.
It’s a monarch attaching
to the eucalyptus blossoms among the bees.
Small brown leaves flutter down,
columns of broken wings in the wind.
The clouds gather again in faint promises.
Until realized, we continue to water
wat we can reach of the wild and feral,
returning some of what we have stolen.
We look to the North to redeem us.
The polar bear mother will not survive.
As we burn, her cub will drown.
Still, we pray that her grief
will rain down upon us this season.
From her book, “The Burden of Light: Poems on Illness and Loss (2014),” the first poetry anthology of its kind, weaving together many solitary experiences to create a tapestry of inspiration, support, and hope…. “Optimized to be read on all current-model smartphones and tablets (computers, too)….” (Review by Tanya Chernov)