Editor’s note: Charles Atkinson has lived in Santa Cruz for 40 years. He is the author of five prize-winning volumes of poetry. The poems included here are from his most recent collection, “World News, Local Weather,” from Finishing Line Press (2013). To contact the author, email Atkinson@ucsc.edu.
At first I’d step into that room, eyes
down, braced as if something were
coiled beneath his bed. But he would
without fail slide his mottled
arm of bone from under sheets
to find my hand. I’d fold his claw—
still warm—in both my mitts and hold it
till I felt his flutter-pulse;
then I’d start to breathe again.
One day I smelled what huddled under
that bed: my poorest frightened self.
I lifted it, shaking, almost weightless,
into my lap and stroked its cool—
There now, dying looks like this.
Today I’m at his shoulder, to follow
the jagged breaths where they go,
surprised—not that I can love him,
but that I might love myself.
New Camaldoli Hermitage, Big Sur
The floor of hell could look like this: chalky
orange clay, exploded rock, black stumps.
Shredded pine roots from a ‘dozer’s firebreak.
Thousands of silent acres charred, inert.
Not a leaf on the hillside—till you kneel
in dirt: bindweed tendril, bracken nubs,
poison oak’s buds bronze in the ash. Why are
the noxious always most eager, first to return?
Beside the chapel, wren so quick to change
direction on a twig, faster than the eye:
now east—bald ridge—now west—the sheer Pacific—
intent on aphids from a potted rose.
Rain slides down an iron chain from eave
to ground, a rusty rippled sleeve. Each link
a wavering lens that frames the bell tower—
tiny silver towers stacked to the gutter.
Matins for the Mystery—blaze, vine,
bug, bird. They eddy out the chapel,
tufts of milkweed floss shaken loose
by wind, seeds above bare ground.