for Nathalie Kalae
My granddaughter is allergic to Kansas. Three months
of hives, foot fungus, coughs and belly-aches drive her
back west on the prow of a black, twisted wind.
God’s self-appointed chosen churched her half to death.
All her arteries run rich with the sea: Hawaiian star-chasers,
Norse navigators, French pirateers. Volcanoes make her cook-fires.
In Kansas she can’t fish the high tide surf, dip shrimp or smelt,
set crab pots by moonlight. Her arms ache for a low tide,
for her clam-shovel and mussel-knife, for cockles and oysters
snuggled in gravel and limpets sucking the rocks. And Kansas?
Flat land, flat attitudes, pesticides and ticks, vipers in the waters
And one perfectly good westbound highway heading home.
Ambush is out. Already the Enemy
occupies our islands and surrounds
the key portal. After a few costly probes
they know we’re here. Overconfident
and fat, they sit the beachhead, eat
the best our islands have, plan
their next move.
Poison in the streams oughta take some
fight out of them.
Air assault with our newfangled beam weapon
will cook them and their food supply
in their slimy tracks.
Brook no forgiveness, take no prisoners,
burn all their bodies right on the beaches.
Let the tides wash their char out to sea
If we have to burn our islands to burn
the Enemy, so be it. This is war.
Ready the troops now. Here
Steel in my yard heaps up.
It is my wealth and my testimony.
The one good tire sniffs out nails
the Buick and DeSoto yawn.
That Volkswagen, stiff on its side,
dreams of sun, paint jobs and Argentine beaches.
Trails of the abandoned meet at my door.
Their brown splinters of broken nights
clutter gravel, curbs and stairways
clot my heart like clattering scars
and batter this living cage of crude despair down.
When I move in next door
beware of me, my cars and my bottle.
Beware this dark country that chases me home.
DOWN MT. ROSE
In Memorium: Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Coyote songs of my ancestors skip in a dry scramble of lizard.
Wind here puffs its short hot breaths: a child sleeping late
and curled close. The mountain groans deep,
a hard moaning body in the middle of love.
This lizard who is all lizards snaps flies from a flat back
of black rock. As I step down, scrabbling and plunging
whips of brush stinging my eyes and bare palms rubbing raw,
we all step down, and the long low breath of the mountain sings.
I am a porcupine on the edge of my bed.
My poems are quills
they rattle thin and dry around me.
I dream of classrooms and of money
and wake to the cough, that demonic cough
and to thick grapes of blood flung
hard as ice at the floor.
Silence grins white and crooked as skulls
scattered by coyotes in Hatwai Draw.
This morning my paws are black on my sheets.
They shiver at dreams of money and books
and off in their schools the children twirl
the beautiful children twirl.
was born in Puyallup, Washington, in 1945, and he began full-time employment at the age of eleven as an agricultural worker. He attended Washington State University on track and boxing scholarships, and the University of Puget Sound on a track scholarship. He received his BA in Sociology and English Education from the University of Washington in 1970. From 1965 to 1970 Ransom worked as an expeditor on a quick engine change team, building and repairing military and commercial jet engines. He studied American Minority Literature and Old and Middle English on an NDEA Title IV Fellowship at the University of Nevada, Reno, then began a pilot project with the Poetry in the Schools program in Washington State. He received his MA in English from Utah State University. He founded and directed the popular Port Townsend Writers Conference for Centrum. He was a firefighter, fire fighting basic training instructor, and CPR instructor for six years, and an advanced life support emergency medical technician for ten years in Jefferson County, Washington. He volunteers with humanitarian groups in Central America. Ransom has published six novels, six poetry collections, numerous short stories and articles. Learning the Ropes (Utah State University Press), a collection of poetry, short fiction and essays, was billed as “a creative autobiography.” Three of his short stories from this collection have been selections of the PEN/NEA syndicated fiction project, often called “the Pulitzer prize of the short story”: “Uncle Hungry,” “What Elena Said,” and “Learning the Ropes.” These appeared in the Sunday Magazine editions of major newspapers around the country. His poetry has been nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Bill Ransom currently serves as Academic Dean of Curriculum at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. His latest collection is The Woman and the War Baby, recently published by Blue Begonia Press.