California

by Dale McLain
Wild Poetry Forum
Third Place, March 2016
Judged by Lee Slonimsky


Today I thought
of souvenirs, carved doors swung wide
enough to invite the dark, a river of eels
and smoke. I thought of you, well versed
in dusk. Would you spare me a lantern
to press against the sky, a spear to coax
the stars? Would you think of me at all
when the sea surged and the pines bent?

I joke. I am here in La Jolla. The cliffs
are stacks of honey cake. The air is all sea lions
and champagne. The night is a marvel,
a revel of constellations and silvery mirth.
I might stay here, might stay to paint
everything that blooms and flickers.
Shadows cannot be bought here,
but grace is in the sand and sedge,
laid upon it like manna. I did not think
of you.


“California” is filled with extraordinary, inventive moments in language like “well versed in dusk,” “a spear to coax the stars,” “The air is all sea lions and champagne.” A narrative of recovery from romance, the poem uses California, a presence so vast in contemporary America that its nuances are almost endless, as a place of beauty and mystery to escape to. The relationship between the poet and the person to whom the poem is addressed is receding even as the poem itself is being written! --Lee Slonimsky

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