Eyes of Dawn and Dew

dew drop eyesWho closed your morning eyes
your eyes of dawn and dew?
Irises bold and bright begone
have lost their lustrous hue

Once you loved the rainbow show
and felt that windy song
then you swam the grey-blue sea
your gaze just drifted on

Was it the great grey bird of prey, they say,
who feasted upon your sight?
Or was it she, that weary thing,
that rides you through the night?

I’ve heard a tale of fancy
I don’t know if it’s truth or lie
of water running pure and fine
that’ll heal such wounded eyes

It’s found beyond the rush and roar
in the nearby faraway
amidst a grove of sacred trees
it flows there every day

they say to dip your eyes right in,
wash your head in waters cold
and if you’re bold enough, just get in
and dunk your dusty soul.

You eyes of dawn and dew return
their colors will resurrect
again your morning eyes will burn
one of its many effects

but most of all, what happens next
a mystery at its best,
behind the breastbone beneath the eyes
a brightness builds its nest

Such a fable can’t be believed
it sounds too good to be true
but just in case, seek the place
perhaps it will be proved




The Song a New Creek Sings

cosmic creek

Studying texts and stiff meditation can make you lose your Original Mind.
A solitary tune by a fisherman, though, can be an invaluable treasure.

From the world of passions returning to the world of passions:
There is a moment’s pause.
If it rains, let it rain, if the wind blows, let it blow.
-Ikkyu, 15th Century Japanese Zen Buddhist monk & poet

Already dreaming of sea and soil
this gifted fluent flow
appears overnight
beside my sodded hut–
a wink in time

Already dreaming of roots and return
it assumes a virtue
washing the forest clean
of all the detritus left behind
by fall’s decay

yet creating more
resurrecting autumn’s handful of dust
as muddy munificence

telling a tale en route
of things that happened long ago

no different than
what is happening right now

its ancient dialect
chimes a melody
difficult to hear
with the labyrinthine ears
of us civilized men
used to thick and soupy din

it is the sound of light pouring
from eternal efflux
cracked effulgent
from the dark

the cosmic diapason
silvery sacred symphony

tearing towards the big sea
at play with and as
the proliferous multitudes

first, in thicker accent, rushing, roaring
then, in thinner accent, whispering, warbling

back and forth and in between

the bushbird hears it, and hums harmony
the oak hears it, and lifts a greeny bough
the happy slug hears it, slimes its melodic march
the newt hears it, a pilgrim by its meter

they’ve washed their ears clean with it
it’s why they can sing along

Knock on the Moon (Full Moon #6)

IMG_4305Once more I step into the sky
and knock on the moon:

“Knock Knock.”

“Anybody home?”

“Would you like to come out and play?”

No answer

Turns out there’s no door on the moon
Number of entry points: zero
Only craters that masquerade as doors

the moon is a unified solid mass
a moving mystery
who reveals herself in phases

And bereft of water

That’s what the earth is for
and why it is misnamed:
should be called Planet Water

Do you ever wonder what would happen if
some stray drop of water
from an earthbound tide
would be drawn to orbit
and slowly seep into a tiny crack in the surface
and find its way downward
into the heart of the moon?

where a memory of that ancient collision
remains buried in the bones of her lunar body
that awful planetary cataclysm that birthed her
and split the primordial union with her mother?

It’s amazing how long a hard rock
can go without water

It’s amazing what water can do
given enough time

For now, a crater is as deep as one can go
with no doorways to knock upon

They Circulate Through You

img_3010Sometimes all you need
Is the blessing of
Of the February full moon

Giving a sermon on change
and powerful secret things

Adopted by your heart
They circulate through you

even when the clouds conspire
To play hide and seek

Sometimes all you need
is marmalade marshmallow sunrise
Or an impossible dawn

To circulate through you
Like a solar system jamboree

Sometimes all you need
Is the crisp  mountain breath
the living wild offspring
Of a million Manzanitas
and unending oak and pine

Adopted by your blood
They circulate through you

Sometimes all you need
are the succulent sounds of water gliding and gulping over glistening rocks at the muddy creek

As a reminder of flowing things
That circulate through you

I Am the Monarch Who Finds His Way

monarch-migration-176I dreamt I was a dolphin
dying on the shore
stomach swollen with plastic

I am that dolphin

I am the bee with no home
whose family rests
like a lifeless carpet on the ground

I’m the 6th Great Extinction
the missing migratory path
the squandered topsoil
the oil in the water
the last of the halibut
the pine tree ravaged by beetles
the mountain gorilla saying goodbye
the Gulf dead zone
the diminishing snowpack
the coral reef bleached by acid in warming seas
the child with asthma poisoned by air
the most basic need

I am the memory of Roughie the tree frog
who kids will never see
the last of his kind

I am the California coast redwood
most of my kin cut down

But my identities conflict:

I am also the lizard that regrows its tail
the comeback of the grey whale
the monarch who finds his way
the orangutan that lives another day

I am the seeds planted in prayer
and fist of hope in the air
for the resurrection of interconnection
and protection

I’m the ears to hear
the earth’s sounds
perennial roots in the ground

I am Sierra yellow-legged frog
returning against all odds

I am the remediating mushroom
and the artichoke bloom

I am the vacant lot turned to food
the attitude of gratitude

I am the salmon swimming unimpeded
up and down stream
tattooed lines of the earth’s dream

When I can’t remember who I am:

I see the dandelion
busting through the concrete
and know where wisdom lives

Photo Credit

A Creek Runs Through It – Dispatch from the Watershed Poetry Festival

The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. – Wendell Berry


Vincent Medina, Ohlone Poet

When I saw the post for the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival in Berkeley on Poetry Flash, I knew that I had to attend. I was in need of both creative and moral inspiration, in this era of drought, climate change, and ecosystem collapse. And I am always enchanted by sweet nature-infused wordsmithery, especially celebrations of water, trees, and land.

This was my first time, though it is celebrating its 21st year. The Watershed Festival emerged during the tenure of former U.S. Nobel Laureate and Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winner Robert Hass in the 1990s, when he launched the national Watershed Initiative. It continues today as an international poetry competition, River of Words, which encourages “children to make art and poetry about their watersheds.”

The day began with a walk along Strawberry Creek, starting on UC Berkeley campus and tracing above ground the route the creek takes underground until it reaches the bay.

The themes of poems on Saturday ranged from a tribute to the forests accompanied by a jazz-funk trio, to readings from an anthology dedicated to California State Parks called What Redwoods Know. But the highlight for me was two performances, equal parts edifying and inspiring: one by a local indigenous man and the other by middle school students who were part of California Poets in the Schools.

Vincent Medina is a member of an Muwekma Ohlone tribe. He spoke about his language Chochenyo, which, like much indigenous language and culture, has been the victim of erasure and suppression at the hands of colonial powers and outsiders, from the Spaniards to contemporary U.S. capitalism and imperialism. He is on a mission:”Reawaken” his ancestral language after it had “gone to sleep.” He didn’t grow up speaking the language, but his grandmother did and he began digging into archives and talking with elders. He is now conversationally fluent in Chochenyo.

The language connects them to the land and their ancestors, he said. To their oldest selves. And Chochenyo’s combination of rough and smooth sounds mirror the landscape of this bioregion, which the Ohlone have inhabited for at least several thousand years.

If you live in the East Bay, your mountain is Mt. Diablo, a name given by Spanish colonialists. But in Medina’s language it is called Tuyshtak, meaning something like “Place of the Day” or “at the dawn of time.” Tuyshtak was a sacred site for the Ohlone and features in many of their stories. From Altamont Pass to the ocean, the ups and downs of the land texture their historic sense of place. In preserving his language and anchoring it in the land, he was saying, “We have no intention of leaving.”

Medina then shared a poem and a phrase in Chochenyo that translates as “We are related.” It reminded me of the Lakota phrase, Mitakuye Oyasin, “All my relations,” both invocation and reaffirmation of our true interconnectedness – one our modern economy and worldview have largely forgotten.

If you ever need a boost in mood and hope for humanity, listen to kids read their poetry. Ten kids, ages 8-13, shared poems about submission, about the wonder of lizards growing their tails back, about bees dying, about stars that shine even when you can’t see them, and about pretty wishes sparkling in the night.

Their poems were so crisp, honest, unfiltered, and perceptive. Find out more about California Poets in the Schools.

The festival was a great reminder that we must begin to honestly see the natural world around us and to resurrect words that reaffirm the sacredness of that world and our connection with it. In doing so, we honor both our place and ourselves. If we are to cultivate living in proper relation to our home, language is a great place to start.

P.S. You can get a map of Oakland-Berkeley creeks and watersheds here and find lots of resources on Bay Area local watersheds at the Watershed Project and EBMUD.