The Poems of Charles Atkinson

AE poetryEditor’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 [email protected]



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.

ae bookToday 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.


After Wildfire

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.

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