Bio Note: For almost 40 years I've lived in various parts of southwestern Los Angeles County. The poems in this group come from Long Beach, West Los Angeles and Redondo Beach, which was my last habitat before I moved to Culver City 10 years ago. In this pandemic time I find it comforting to revisit previous lives and other summers.
Summer night, sickle moon. A whiff of skunk flavors the dark, blows through grass matted down by cats pleased by the lack of grooming. The ficus drips its sap on Big Blue, your Chevy workhorse resting in the drive. Somewhere inside lit rooms you’re cradled in the pages of a mystery. Cool salt air blends with skunk, nudges me away, even as light leaking through the blinds lures me home. August air tastes of autumn. High in the sky the white blade dwindles. How could I help but linger in the outer dark, how long refrain from going in?
Originally published in Steam Ticket (Spring 2008)
For Janet Keller
An insect, or crab blown off the moon, clings to cement on the harbor wall while seawater boils a few feet below. Inches above, ants run through their drills. The creature’s long feelers quiver, he shuffles jointed legs, but he stays where he is. Does he feel our hot breaths as we suspend over the rail, speculative as seagulls after a long day’s flying over waves picked clean of the usual meaty debris? Behind us are the same bluffs Dana saw when he sailed into this bay. The old explorer wouldn’t know them now they wear spool-shaped restaurants but your son Skyler sometimes walks straight up those cliffs in the dark as though what’s named after heaven must try to return. Maybe the alien sees us with his useless-looking eyes, maybe he hears the shouts from the nearby Pilgrim, nineteenth-century brig rebuilt for modern schoolkids. Twelve bodies hang over mizzen sails high above the waves while orders shouted from below confuse them and paralyze this beast. It’s hardly fair. It’s hardly what’s been bargained for. Everything hangs and stares down while he stares up and the ants, the damned ants, refuse to descend.
Originally published in The Missouri Review (1989)
Edge of Summer
Ratty-assed squirrels beat the thin-skinned roof, gallop the fence-top, stash at the corners grapefruits, avocados too young and hard to leave the mother tree. For a week a wizened globe sits at the edge of vision. Behind a locked gate in a room full of light I watch tomatoes climb trellises, name each small fruit: gordito, pequeno, manana, promesa de verano. Hummingbirds buzz spiderwebs, the deep blue morning glory bells, tiny coral flowers on the goldfish plant. I move through some deep dream of peace and do not want to wake. Outside the city goes on shouting, on Veteran a man with cratered face guides his bag-stuffed shopping cart down paths that lead to nowhere safe, no refuge. He inches forward, mumbles words that are not words, seldom lifts his eyes to others’ eyes. Tomato worms make lace of the plant’s green leaves. Cupped on the windowsill, cilantro spreads another filigree. Precariously I coax the sun, spread roots, drop dollars I can’t spare on dirt and flowers, answering summer’s call: expend yourself, make fruit, cold days are coming. Jacarandas drop last purple bells on everything, half their ferny heads already bald. I can save nothing, no one. Spend it all.
Originally published in The MacGuffin (Fall 1999)
©2020 Penelope Moffet
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