Featured Poet

J. P. Dancing Bear

( Northern California )


Half Asleep

I surrender to this window — half asleep.
Fog swirls in over the cement, sparrow quiet,
an acre of wild flowers crowd in,  muffled—
my garden not, but still I take joy from it.
Reflected me — superimposed, almost automatic, 
reciting a coffee elegy for adrenaline.  My hand 
moves like wind, like silent bees, easily 
pneumatic.  I surrender my silly boundaries, 
my will, even as the sun glares on asleep, 
vaguely mindful.  The magpie’s twilight shroud 
is like the dead — too easy.  In the raccoon mist 
the haze and weather band sorrows together 
into one distant stare, one regret, like a kiss, 
stolen.  Alone, here, now as black and white birds
dive, I become a sprawling field of asphodel.

Gacela of Burning Love Letters

How many days had she run her finger along the crease in a letter?
How many nights spent running from the burning house of his love?

Still the trapped ghosts of curling cursive remain, moaning their serifs—
spirit, ectoplasm, energy stays in these, his last words written.

Another hour, another moment, when we are together in the flames—
oh, Love, I burn a different color with the thought of your face.

With ink as black as lies, as cold as moonless winter nights,
he signed his name like a forger, a brilliant copy of a lover.

Let fire cleanse his words from the heart of the forest.
Set flame to yellow paper, set flame to curling leaves, to the trees!


Out of the darkness of our love I see
the chromium clouds lighten, gulls 
in the wind, the spindrift dunes.

Everything is quickened by fear—
the deer darting into the brush,
your awakening gasp, taillights.

I wear it all like a tailored business suit.


I stood in the brush, without a word.  
The soft symphony of the river made 
the perfect background for her.  
Any movement would have drawn attention,
guilt rose like flushed pheasants on my brow.
Yes, I watched her. Water splashed against 
the backs of her legs. The moonlight cast her 
surreal silver—serene. Her head darted 
to every sound, her predator eyes glowing, 
keen, hungry.  I was a stiff  with stag fear, 
lucky to be downwind—praying 
for this wolf to disappear.

Portrait in a Free Trade World

You're walking alone in your steel town
—desolate— anxious of clocks and whistles.
The spirits of the dead laborers who dreamed,
this town crowd around you in a sudden march.
You feel like a soldier in rolled up sleeves, sweat
dripping down dirty forearms. Where is the war
that caused your brothers to die?  They were
your brothers, right?  Sometimes you are certain
that the people who made these streets, 
who smelled of metal and knew their god
was alloy, they were your family. Artillery 
shells have wounded the sidewalk; although
you can't remember explosions or jumping
into foxholes, but today you're confident 
you could storm an enemy gun emplacement.
You're certain you could compromise 
their depot on the edge of the county—
you've taken notes, made drawings, watched
their movements for days till the notepad pages 
are smudged with a grime that reminds you 
of factory dirt.  It's these little remembrances
of what it was like to work in a community,
to know all your neighbors, to feel secure
in an honest life, that stir you, fill you 
with anger when to think you so easily bought 
what the enemy sold in those early innocent days.
And you can't find a pair of shoes that were made
here or even in what’s left of this country.  
So you paint your face guerilla with coal and soil 
from the abandoned mill and walk like the black 
foreign suits, the carpetbaggers who lock their doors 
at night, and revel in cheap food and goods 
in the megamarket.  To them there are no seasons, 
no towns, no states, no boundaries, no sanctuaries, 
no preserves.  You trudge around these global villagers 
who detect the scent of money in your pocket.  
They don’t see your ghosts.  Do you think you are
clever enough to barter for your next need?  What 
service, what product can you offer in return?  
You're scaling the wreckage of the old hardware store, 
air thick with the smoke of violence, the carnage of a battle
that burns your nostrils.  The loose bricks and scrabble 
you clamber over are the last remnants of landmarks
from an old world you thought would always be right here.

Next - Lightsey Darst


Current Issue - Winter 2005