Featured Poet

Susan Terris


( San Francisco, California )


Whoever said the beach house needed a purple garden hose was wrong.
There, amid bleached wood and shells and fossils—
a threat, a neon reminder of why we turn our backs on life
and dream of living on a desert isle.

If hoses were snakes, the purple one could slither away in the night.
If hoses had legs, the purple one could centipede itself into the dune grass
and disappear forever.
If hoses were chameleons, it could change its color to an acceptable green.

This hose won't flex. It doesn't like to coil or uncoil.
The raven and gulls are laughing. The stellar jay won't drink from it.
It looks like something left out of a Pokemon cartoon
or something poisonous Captain Hook might have put ashore
to tempt the Lost Boys. Buddha, sitting cross-legged by the redwood fence,
is considering moving his serene hands from his lap to cover his eyes.

Something there is that does not love a purple hose.
Two roads diverged, and I took the one that did not have a purple hose...


Mermaid's Lament

When wind and wave
erased the merman in the sand
iceplant touched me
with fleshy fingers,
offered a bed to lie on
and a yellow flower
with narcotic sweetness
to ease the ache
and put me to sleep.

Time And Tide

Keening, I poised
on a rock held
my mirror and combed
sleep-snarled hair
as the tide came in.
Then sand and wave and darkness
assaulted me,
stole my song and my tale
as the tide came in.


In the kelp forest,
where sand sharks needled past
and jellyfish pulsed
like hot air balloons,
the merman and I
clung to one another,
banished, fugitives
from a world where
tide and time hold sway


In the square of window reflected on a window,
a scribble of cirrus, wave and sand, corner of an eave.
Then two pelicans make sky their movie screen.

Soon she'll watch herself walk below the eave
wearing a hat she's never seen, trailed by
an unfamiliar dog and a shadow not her own.

Odd and mad to exist in similtaneity — a flatland image,
but she seems to have strayed from her own life
into a film scrolling across the beach house window.

Past Duxbury Reef, a three-masted sailing ship looms.
It's day-for-night and, under a waning crescent,
moonrakers scuttle like crabs across rock and sand.

She and her shadow and the nameless dog are hunched
in a dinghy rowing treasure toward the ship,
toward adventure with a captain who has

eyepatch, bagpipes, and a pirate's salty breeches.
Below decks, a beamed cabin smelling faintly of fish
and dog, where she and her shadow embrace.

She has untied herself from the every day. Now she
and her shadow, listening to skirl of bagpipe,
are at sea with the moonrakers treasure in their arms.


The tide turns at the mouth of the lagoon
like an hourglass poised in the hands
of someone who is out of time,
someone looking not forward
but backward with regrets.
When the tide turns
its surface is inert like the skin
of a woman who has lost herself,
all motion stilled,
the grain unwilling to shift.
But after the tide turns
dark salt water begins to pulse and flow
as it does in fingers of a woman
who holds her heart in her hands,
as it does in the throat
of a woman who has a song to sing.


Water Walking

like glass at night
ink and sheen
the moon marks your steps

Estuary, Delta, Stream, Creek

marsh and water and moon
a large world
shrinks to the line of now

The Food Chain

don't stop shine the light
hold your breath
big fish eat small ones

The Architecture of Fishes

bones sift in pearled silt
watch them dance
a fin a fluke who can tell

Tide Rules

in and out sing a song stay or go
do what you will
the moon makes the rules


Slowly the undertow eases its pull
and she moves backwards,
toes in whited foam,
heels biting half moons in the sand,
head roiled with grainy images.
Birthday parties. Ballet classes.
Grade school spelling bees.
Also the Post Office flyer. It says
her daughter is Endangered Missing,
shows an easy stance
and toothy, unguarded smile.

All night, the mother has searched
through ocean canyons, in kelp forests
for her girl who's lost in time.
Now, at firstlight: blind steps
into seaside dunes.
For a moment, an orange sun soothes
nape of her neck and fingertips.
But as day-winds rise,
sand begins to cyclone the air.
It roughs her skin,
grits the lens of each tired eye.


Mother dreams of our dead father, and in her dreams
he is unfaithful.

She dreams, too, of a secret room near the root cellar
with its bleeding tomatoes and peaches,
a place of animals in cages and terrariums,
of foul fish tanks.
A room walled-up for decades yet open now
because the house is up for sale.

As she inhales the stench of death and neglect,
she sees dust has furred everything.
Beneath it, mouse bones dance and fish skeletons
fin past while three floors above,
in the attic, Father's rusty tuxedo slumps
against her rotted wedding coat.

But there is no attic of disembodied clothes,
no basement cache with lost creatures,
no black-and-white film to whine
on an ticking projector. Father was never unfaithful,
yet a fox appears with grapes
and parrots from Telegraph Hill.
Amid parrots, Mother is fixing chili with sauce

from Denn's, our father's old dive in Springfield.
She is not drinking, but we sip from flutes of
champagne and joke about tomorrow's
flinty headaches. Never good at restraint,
we are the wrong ones
to deal with Mother's dream. Unasked,
we release the spirits of the dust-covered dead,

clean their cages and seal up that room.
Mother, as she stirs chili, nibbles spritz cookies,
says how tired she is, how little attention
she gets now. But Father, ignoring
her, has put on his tux and is waltzing
with a woman in yellow chintz,

while at Mother's feet, a clutch of children tug
at her apron, ask for one more Aesop's fable.

Next - Claudia Grinnell

Winter 2003 Issue