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Cathie Sandstrom: California Poets Part 4, Five Poems

Cathie Sandstrom

December 29th, 2021

California Poets: Part IV

Cathie Sandstrom

Five Poems

This Wasn’t Always a Desert

Amargosa River Basin—only ten years ago

these brittle salt-crusted flats east of Death Valley

were muddy wetlands. Now so saline, so alkaline,

even the Amargosa niterwort is giving up.

Four inches high, a tiny star of five pink petals

and five stamens surround one fleshy ovary.

Inside: one seed—if lucky botanists find the plants.

Luckier still, and the seed might be viable. Few are.

The Northern Mojave has never been drier.

The Amargosa river runs underground here

before it drops beneath Death Valley.

Upstream, the land drained, farmed, mined, sold, pumped dry.

Break through the white-crystalled soil. See the wort’s rhizomes

—the creeping rootstock that creates a colony, sends

new growth, stores food—withered, alkali-scorched.

Does this remind you of anything?


In 2015, the Oxford Junior Dictionary cut forty common words, all relative

to the Natural world, replacing them with terms of the virtual world.

Willow Minnow Mussel Lark


Acorn Adder Otter Fern

Not used enough to merit an entry.

Singled out for loss—Raven.

I have to build,

the sculptor says,

what I need

to protect

these wax creatures

I keep bringing

into the world.

His Orpheus series,

each one expressing

the metaphor slightly


Why we need

starling, wren.

I lie awake, worry about

linnet, fen, hallow.

Equinox Plain as the panes in a penniless chapel, this room’s four panels of diamond-patterned leaded glass streaked yellow-green as if two colors of molten glass were poured together and unstirred. On this September afternoon for over an hour they glow warm and rich as saffron, pour light onto a quartet of bronzes each centered before a panel. Primal as gods: the four elements— Fire, Earth, Air and Water— dark against the glass until that liquid hour when the sun re-enacts the crucible’s flow. Come from fire, in shadow they hold cold secrets. But backlit and warmed, they speak of alchemic power: base material refined to bridge the body’s core to pure spirit.

This Thin Line of the Present where past and future confront each other is the threshold of all else— every learned or felt thing. It all happens here: the inner and outer vying for balance as this line advances relentlessly toward the unknowable while the past—part refugee, part asylum seeker—hauls behind its bundles of memory and circumstance. The task of refining takes place here in this narrow, but expandable, present: the dark prima materia of our lives transformed into a lantern held high to illuminate one step then the next

Winged Messenger A pair of red-tailed hawks ride the thermals from the valley floor up the face of this hillside. My mind, swept clear of all intention, follows their turning gyre, spiral in the sky. They climb the wind, sail without effort on a stream of energy that Nature, in her generosity, provides. A sign from the spirit world— intuition awakening insight. Hawks, lend me your keen-eyed vision: whole sight flowing into sharper focus. Let me also soar, trusting the wind under my going, borne up by the ways we connect. As you and I step off the precipice of the known, you, love, in passing, lay a feather on the page I’m writing.

Author Bio:

A military brat, Cathie Sandstrom has lived in four countries and ten states. Twice a Pushcart nominee, her work appears online at the Academy of American Poets and has appeared in The Southern Review, Ploughshares, Ekphrasis, Cider Press Review, The Comstock Review and Lyric, among others. Anthologies include Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond and The Coiled Serpent. Her work is forthcoming in Poetry in Motion, Los Angeles. Her poem “You, Again” is in the artists’ book collection at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles.


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