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Maggie Paul: California Poets Part 6, Five Poems

Maggie Paul

October 18th, 2023

California Poets: Part VI

Maggie Paul

Five Poems

In the Fields of Monterey

The way light bends the morning here where migrants till the fields by day who’s to say who gets their share

Each pair of rugged hands appear to make sweet berries fall away just as the light bends morning here

The windswept mountains still can hear Steinbeck’s voice not far away cry out it’s time they get their share

I never knew the price so dear of spoiled crops I threw away while laborers’ backs bend mornings here

Migrant fingers know despair inside these fields their days decay Why can’t they say they’ll get their share

What we know we still betray 2 bucks a crate’s all we can spare I watch the light bend morning here And wonder when they’ll get their share

From a Line by Jack Gilbert

The Chinese say, When you write a river, you are the river.

But today I am more the rain rinsing the river’s ruddy throat.

Or yesterday’s sun, trying to swallow some dark delay between my four o’clock

curtains. Mornings can be a ground to lay our sorrows upon – a hard gift –

a tree trunk of a thing where the past surges up like a fountain

and cascades at our feet. It floods the world.

The one we step into. The one we walk out of.

—first appeared in Phren_Z and subsequently in Scrimshaw (Hummingbird Press, 2020)


Two young girls, thin as reeds, wade into the pond, red plastic pails and auburn braids leaning into their small shadows mirrored by shallow water, pointing and playing with minnows and crayfish – today’s delight to capture a living thing smaller than themselves so few things being smaller than a young girl with a pail at a pond. Watching them, I lean on the soft shoulder of memory, of being raised by water, soul-soaked in ponds, lakes, quarries and rivers, some that claimed classmates’ lives, usually boys, who for love of flying above their shadows jumped onto reckless rope swings of darkness daring to come up victors, immortal, alive.

Mine was a small town tucked between four vivid seasons, between the city and the shore, nothing much to do but risk your life some way or another to feel alive. I did it too, from one summer to the next, dove into black lakes well past dark and floated fully naked with open arms to the night sky, tried to make the stars glisten on my skin the way they did on the water’s surface, dance and glisten and perhaps take a little of me with them as they moved across the sky. Why not join the symphony of starlight, try to touch the eternal? Life, we heard, was short,

childhood shorter, and I wanted to have mine the way these young girls want to take home the minnows and crayfish and keep them, their secret, if for no other reason than to claim for themselves a small life , something mysterious as water or night, as I did, in that small town, which I knew was only a freckle on the face of the whole universe.

—first appeared in SALT, and subsequently in Scrimshaw (Hummingbird Press, 2020)

The Song in There

Now there is only the river That was always on its own way -W.S. Merwin

A natural spring infuses the pond, the very spring that suffocated during the drought when the sun cracked the soil into puzzle pieces and like, perhaps, the skin of the eucalyptus as it grows past its prime and tears away from itself, ages. Or the birch bark which peels off so smooth that, in childhood, we would scratch a message on it with a pen, feeling closer then to our own humanity than at any other moment, except, maybe, when walking barefoot over pine needles or stepping naked into a lake, which we knew, even if it were not taught to us, the natives have done for thousands of years.

We can spring something on someone like a piece of news in an unexpected letter, but this spring that feeds the pond fills up under new rain, and joins the river, behind rocks and trees and houses with children who look out their bedroom windows and listen, as the trees do the wind and the night does the stars, for the song in there, which seems to be telling them something ineffable, something unforgettable.

Gentle Accumulation

New Horizons spacecraft “alters theory of planet formation.” — BBC News, 13 Feb., 2020

Having ascertained our earth a remnant of the Big Bang, how do we come to terms with the news that the planets in our Solar System were not formed by violence, fractures, or explosions,

but by gentle accumulation, a tender coming together of matter that, once joined, became the planets we’ve known for millennia?

There’s a part of ourselves we can’t love if we don’t know where we come from.

When the theory of scientist Johansen was confirmed, putting closure on all previous theories of a violent beginning, he celebrated at home with his young daughter.

They had pizza and coke, and in the photo taken that very day, both appeared to love where they came from.

Author Bio:

Maggie Paul is the author of Scrimshaw (Hummingbird Press 2020), Borrowed World, (Hummingbird Press 2011), and the chapbook, Stones from the Baskets of Others (Black Dirt Press 2000). Her poems appear in Caesura, Porter Gulch Review, Red Wheelbarrow, SALT, The Jung Journal of San Francisco, Moonstone, Poetry Miscellany, and others. Interviews and book reviews are included in the Catamaran Literary Reader, Rattle, and the Valparaiso Poetry Review. Maggie offers private creative writing consultation and is an independent college writing coach. More can be found at:; ;


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