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Jim Natal: California Poets Part 5, Five Poems

Jim Natal

December 22nd, 2022

California Poets: Part V

Jim Natal

Five Poems

Crow Time We each have our own crow stalkers, sooty angels every morning to remind us of our failures, pick the scabs off regrets, goad us in no uncertain terms as we wake that it’s one more day past redemption o’clock and that, yes, it’s probably too late to change. Crack the bedroom curtains and venture a peek: They’re still staked out downstairs, loitering on the sidewalk across the street just like yesterday. Admit it, they are the truest mockingbirds, know us better than a pushed-beyond-the-limit spouse delivering an exhausted ultimatum, bloodless surgery before packing up and leaving for good. It’s beyond prayers now—it’s crow time.

Joshua Tree: Observational Philosophy and Desert Geopolitics Out here in the Mojave, a ways past Little Hombre Road, the native plants are restless. Reversing the sunbelt trend, flora is migrating like monarchs or spawning salmon, moving whole communities north and uphill, abandoning the arid valleys to newcomers in pale petal headscarves, low basins becoming jam-packed and as vulnerable to fire as ramshackle motels/gas stations/Quik-Marts on 395. Red brome has invaded, too, making a clean sweep of the locals, aided and abetted by a recidivist wind gusting in from the coast that Bogarts lungfulls of L.A. sky, shoulders past ridgeline turbines/high-rise casinos/outlet malls then exhales hard, the meteorological equivalent of dumping full nitrogen ashtrays on the living room rug. Mammoths and giant sloths sure knew when the gettin’ was good. And, yet, this is the year for golden-feathered nolina and globular orange oak galls. And it’s a terrific year for “belly plants”—you have to get down low, lie prone, go eye-to-eye with wooly daisies to refine your perspective. Sometimes in spring, when wind scour goes easy, the landscape sleeps like a closed door or, taking a cue from that distant dark volcanic peak, lies dormant…for now.

Dozing on a Chaise Lounge in a Geneva Backyard early autumn sun oblutioning my face, when I startle to the rustle of feathers low overhead, the labored flapping of stubby wings attempting to elevate and transport a rotund body from fenceline to fenceline. When I ask if the neighbors have any, my Swiss ex-brother-in-law, he of the inexhaustible recipes for them, who chefs them so myriadly at his table—roasted, fried, sautéed, poached, boiled, broiled, sauced, in sandwiches and in salads— replies he doesn’t think so. But I know what I heard, remember the unmistakable chuckling of the child’s wheeled wooden pull-toy I used to drag behind me across our apartment floor’s uncarpeted fringes and down Hyde Park Boulevard or there- abouts where signs hand-painted on white butcher paper were taped to shop windows boasting sales on “Legs, Thighs, Breasts.” I have known a few personally; the adolescent one we nicknamed Godzilla immediately pecks to mind who curled up on my bare foot beneath the patio table and slept soundly while we toasted sunset with Negronis on Moorea. My friend Marcia has a clutch in her garden, robed in Klimpt gold and black, freely ranging. They’ll sit in your lap, eye you sideways, sweet and potentially nasty at once. They could fill a tasty concert hall, clucks drowning out the orchestra, all the chickens, fully-formed or pre, I have eaten.

Sweet Home Chicago My home town is the smell of El train wires in winter, orange sparks crackling under flurrying skies, brakes screeching around buttressed curves like rutting cats in alleys behind fatback brick apartment buildings, it’s graffiti on wheels, your tongue stuck to the third rail. Overcast cinder, dinge, and russet dominate, the same peasant palette as Van Gogh’s “The Potato Eaters”; streetlights play the angles of battleship-gray porch slats, peeling stairs glazed in hip-breaking, shoulder-wrenching sheet ice. It’s a smell that coats the throat in ozone, that roils up chimneys of nostrils, soots the ceilings of sinuses, permeates your heaviest clothes more than blues bar cigarette smoke, guitar-lick midnights, the rush of stale beer and fumes of disinfectant reek when the joint’s front door cracks the brittle shell of morning. My home is frozen footprints and the caked corrosion on sagging bellies of GM hulks, the shudder and grind of sluggish pistons, iron engine blocks left running to thaw, spewing blue exhaust perfume while hard water streams down plastic shower curtains and coffee filters drip. It doesn’t matter what you wear crossing the Michigan Avenue Bridge in January, the river below cabbage-green as a bowl of revenge served cold. Coats stuffed with feathers of geese and ducks become helpless prey, carcasses left after the wind called “The Hawk” picks them clean. The smell of my home town penetrates, pervades like red stains on butchers’ aprons, a meat locker’s chill. It’s sodden brown shopping sacks, babushkas, boots, and gloves soggier than the buns at Al’s Beef Stand, the fries at Carl’s Hot Dogs, yellow mustard, sour pickles, pepperoncini on the side. The smell is chronic, a phantom ache from lugging 50-pound bags of sidewalk salt, shoveling too much wet snow. It’s a heart attack waiting to happen and it’s to the bone, baby, to the bone…

The Sameness

Sometimes it gets to me the sameness

pointed pointlessness of it all the atrophied years

numb comfort of routine the mind- emotion-

inspiration- motivation-quelling linked moments

Challenged to get out of bed and upon rising

I churn who what where when why

Still the cat has to be fed water boiled

How many reasons do I need beyond that

Please help me observe the river of memory

trace its windings at safe distance of revery

Help me see with my father’s eyes my mother’s

before the banks cave or bed dries up completely

Help me hear wordless music in the mundane

standing on the bridge looking down at the current

Watching not jumping inhale belly deep hold

then slowly let it go

Author Bio:

Jim Natal is the author of the chapbook Étude in the Form of a Crow and five full-length poetry collections including Spare Room: Haibun Variations and Memory and Rain. A multi-year Pushcart Prize nominee and a literary presenter, he is co-founder of Conflux Press.


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