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Brenda Hillman: California Poets Part 4, Four Poems

Brenda Hillman

December 29th, 2021

California Poets: Part IV

Brenda Hillman

Four Poems

++– The Formation of Soils –+–

For forty million years a warm, warm rain —

then the sea got up to try to relax.

Vulnerable volcanoes had just melted away.

He worked below, translating the author’s imps and downs,

his ups and demons—;

pines grew skyward though the pines were not.

Thus began long episodes of quiet,

nickel laterites not ready

for the slots.

It took periods of soft showers attacking the dream

under the silt-covered sun,

Osiris washing his fragments,

Leda swimming with her vagabonds.

Everyone is made essentially the same way.

Through notebooks of tight red dirt

Franciscans walked upside down under us:

aluminum oxides, incidents of magma,

and I had to go down in the earth for something—

Iron sediments spread over the foothills where Caliban

had his flat;

I was wearing the brown sweater when we spoke,

my heart and the one below translating his heart out.

But by that time, what.

Experience had been sent up, at an angle.

+–+ ––+

from Cascadia, Wesleyan University Press, 2001

Species Prepare to Exist After Money

Turns out bacteria communicate in color.

They warn each other in teal

or celadon & humans assign

meaning to this, saying they are distressed

or full of longing. The wood rat

makes a nest of H’s; it hoards

the seven tiny silences. Crows in the pine

can count specific faces like writers

who feel their art has been ignored.

My father spent his life thinking

about money though he knew

it causes most of this stupid violence,

& he thought of me as a sensible person;

you have the chemical for sensible, he said.

There was no tragedy between us,

unlike how poor Joyce wrote

that his daughter turned away

from that battered cabman’s face, the world.

i didn’t turn away because i don’t know

where it is, it is all over, & when it seems

pure nothingness has come to pass,

i know another animal prepares itself

nationless, not sensible;

thinking of it helps a little bit—

From Extra Hidden Life, among the Days

(Wesleyan University Press 2018)

Dawn Tercets, with Blake & Nuthatch

& a new thought waited in its

triangle —refusal, hope & dream— then, as you slept—light

between the commas of dawn birds (not even sure

if the bird you hadn’t seen— white-breasted nuthatch,,

could find its commas, in the tree) then:

the knowledge of the them you feared failing, not the test from some

thug inner government — or someone else’s conscience—

but yourself, at your most secret public,

since language is a living thing, vital, vast —…

The naturalist had

taken a knife from the group

to slice open

an insect gall at the edge of the leaf… it looked like a pouty

red lip or a valentine. He wanted to see the larva

inside, was slicing

to show, well, maybe

the opposite of Blake. Rose, thou art

not exactly sick, thou art merely inhabited…

The instrument of change would chew itself out,

eventually. But you were human.

You wanted to be desired. Thought of.

Reprinted from The Jung Journal- forthcoming

In a Few Minutes Before Later – Wesleyan University Press 2022


Punctuation at the end of time

You will love each other

till the end of time (totally

a cliché but)... seems

like time might have more

than one end: : knoblike

structures on butterfly feelers,

(butterflies have them,

moths don’t...

Rhopalocera, clubbed horn, sort of

micro-clocks telling monarchs

when to migrate & so on, twin

apostrophes like ’’ or ‘ ’,

one on the distal side toward eternity,

one toward human life);; sometimes

the end of time is in the middle

as Lyn’s essay against

closure indicates. Also noted is how

finality in some poems is scattered

to make nano-seconds as when

light strikes one of two nothings on

biramous branches of the righteous oak....

if you loved a person well

it lasted till the end of time,,

after which, it continued—


In a Few Minutes Before Later – Wesleyan University Press 2022

Author Bio:

Brenda Hillman is the author of ten collections of poetry, from Wesleyan University Press, most recently Extra Hidden Life, Among the Days (2018). In a Few Minutes Before Later is forthcoming in 2022. Named by Poets and Writers as one of fifty inspiring writers in the world, Hillman has worked as a writer, teacher, editor and activist. Her work has received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award for innovation in poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. With her mother, Helen Hillman, she co-translated Brazilian poet Ana Cristina Cesar’s At Your Feet. Hillman has served as a Chancellor for the Academy of American Poets; she is a mother and grandmother, and lives with her husband Robert Hass in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a Professor of Poetry at Saint Mary’s College of California.


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