17 Santa Cruz Poets — The 17th Annual National Poetry Month - 2012 PreviousNextHome


Charles Atkinson

Charles Atkinson

About Charles:

CHARLES ATKINSON'S first collection, The Only Cure I Know (San Diego Poets Press), received the American Book Series award for poetry; a chapbook, The Best of Us on Fire, won the Wayland Press competition.  A third volume, Because We Are Men, was awarded the Sow’s Ear Poetry Prize. His most recent collection is Fossil Honey, from Hummingbird Press. He has also received the Stanford Prize, the Comstock Review Prize, the Paumanok Poetry Award (SUNY Farmingdale), the Emily Dickinson Award (Universities West Press) and The Ledge Poetry Prize.


How to Start Over

Under a red umbrella, confide to morning
     your three soft scars—a pit, a plum, a glaze.
          Sometimes two sugars are not enough.

Keening helps, but use the lower register
     for grief—a cello, or bar of chocolate, dark.
          Uncouple the locomotive from its tender!

Scraps you squirreled away for just this moment—
     already they’re obsolete. How little you know, 
          how fiercely you’ve clutched it.

Learn the varied sounds of hammers—
     framing, ball-peen, tack. Then become
          a simple answer to a complex question.

Admit you can’t dial the truth, or have it faxed;
     begin to trust the thrum of your nerves. Keep
          others’ hands from your pocket, even for keys.

Heavenly bamboo’s not a bamboo; sometimes
     you can know too much. Imagine
          moonlight’s a phone to your heart.

Never say shimmer, given a choice. Start
     at the root of the tongue with couscous or
          quail eggs, the tang of what’s odd.

Read a history of wings before attempting flight.
     Some believe, to find your way, escape on paper.
          Now’s the time: re-couple the tender.

Scratch the one good ear of the pet who listens.
     Honeysuckle’s not the devil’s flower; the naked tulip is.
          Bang a wooden ladle on the iron skillet’s edge.

Skirt the saltwater marsh: a swirl of shearwaters
     banks in the wind, hidden plover explode underfoot.
         Watch sun simmer on the eddy’s oiled surface.

. . . by your bootstraps? Not everyone wears boots!
     Hold an answer long enough; the question changes.
          The body is heaviest when you first take wing.

To find the straightest line between two needs
     follow the hummingbird. Or the moth.
          Or the faithful beagle nosing a hedge.

Feel a ladybug traverse your inner thigh,
     let the small hard shell row into the void.
          Even a grizzled pigeon clatters up in time.

Imagine your dark heart’s serene, your feet not stones.
     Appreciate the glacial erratics in Antelope Valley. Deer
           believe their legs; watch them clear the cattle fence.

Hot day, wet mouth—both can change your mind.
     Think how green this small planet is,
          and how the petals fall away.


To a Sonagram

            the coming grandchild


Phantom-child, serene floater, mostly head, you’re dozing,
chin to chest, arms folded, bird legs stiff. Fingerprints,
tear-ducts, toenails; already your eyes sense light.

 You can hear your mother’s croon and booming heart.
But please—slow down! Your lungs are furled, you have no
head-hair, calluses, bravado or deceit: you’re still not ready.

Us? We’ve done our best. We’ve been distracted—flood, fire,
war—the lethal carnival. We haven’t fed those who came
before you, covered them with coats or roofs. Haven’t healed

the ones we trampled. Warned by ministers and scribes,
we’ve sprayed the land, tainted water, killed for peace.
Wanting you so much, we tried to soothe capricious gods.

We haven’t yet fashioned a world for you—but wait. Swim
in limbo while we make this temporary place—a newly
whitewashed room at least, a narrow crib, thin quilts.

Be patient: we’ll show we care with the gift of this world—
that someday you’ll be stricken, too, by a new soul forging
its ardent way toward your own calamitous, dazzled life.


for James D. Houston, novelist (1933-2009)


Like this: I’m spading up the garden,
          no idea his last breath’s puttered out
          from one dark spadeful to the next.
          It’s work. It’s hot. One day later
I’m running a hand over yesterday—

incidental things: the soil caked
          from rain, surface bleached, turned-up
          earthworms, twisting laces—pink.
          Did his tangled eyebrow twitch?
Did he swallow? What I didn’t know.

Here’s the beach he walked. Heat
          contorts the shoreline—throbbing cliffs.
          Limp surf scoter washed up. Not him
          ambling up the sand, waving.
Stranger with a singular gait—rolls

like him to the left. Wouldn’t see him
           for years, then a bass chuckle,
                       huge hand clamping mine, confidential
           eyes, “It’s one Great Joke, my friend,”
arm on my shoulders, “I’m dead serious.”

Pelican skims the breakers, riding
          thermals. Just to know he was here,
          brooding over the bay—fathomed
          himself day after day, trusting

words would come. It’s almost enough.
Ancheta || Atkinson || Crux || Dancing Bear || Freeman || Glick || Ifland || Moody || Omosupe || Robbins || Sirens || Spencer || Sullivan || Sumrall || Tagami || Teutsch || Weisner
  Co-sponsored by Poetry Santa Cruz and phren-Z   A publication of Santa Cruz Writes