You have to listen, no choice,
to feral parrots screech like carpenters
prying rusty nails from old lumber,
the derelict house of silence.
Two or three at a time, a dozen or more
egrets put into the elm’s safe harbor,
douse their spinnakers,
and settle into moorings for the night.
A few minutes later, I can hear them
cough in their sleep
like phlegmy old sailors.
Something has gone wrong
with the weather,
winter suffering a relapse
and fallen ill again
with the fevers of last summer.
A fog as warm as smoke
rises from the river
in which the current has called it quits
and crawled under the rocks,
saving its last sip for itself.
The scarred piano sits in the corner,
ignored, one caster broken,
deep in the dotage of outmoded music
none of us can hear.
Memory infuses the wood, an aural stain.
The strings wait, not without hope,
some slack, some wound too tight
like nerves ready to snap,
but the arthritic hammers lie still.
And you hesitate to touch a key
as if putting your finger on a withered wrist
to check for a pulse.
No one suffers foxtails gladly,
those irascible cousins of common weeds.
Urine yellow, brittle with bitterness,
they seem to exist only to needle us.
So we shun them,
taking the long way around
to keep clear of the burrs that cling,
piercing us in tender places.
But you and I are no better.
We get under the skin, too—
stick it to someone with wicked intent,
hoping our barbs sink in.
End Times on the Beach
One of those nights that make you
hold your breath, part of
an odd, pervasive stillness
that could foreshadow Apocalypse.
If the air were visible and not spirit,
you’d see something like fog
motionless above the water.
The slow surf lies flat, almost silent.
Now and then a buoy clangs
as if summoning the dead from the sea.
You can hear their saturated whispers:
“Not yet,” they say. “Not yet.”
Something in his eyes, a glint
more than mischievous,
makes me suspect this crow
has gone bad.
Is that possible—
that one member of the flock
can break loose
from its genetic chains?
And yet, his wicked, tactical beak
has been honed with intent
to do harm—to draw blood
and not just pluck carrion…
Some drab, almost gray females
that watch sidelong as he preens,
wisely keep their distance.
You wipe dust from a windowpane
and look in at the silence,
listening to its implicit liturgy.
It makes you want to hold your breath—
if you’re not just another ghost, locked out,
a drifter seeking sanctuary.
Author Don Thompson was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, and has lived in the southern San Joaquin Valley for most of his life. Currently the poet laureate of Kern County, he has been publishing poetry since the early sixties, including a dozen books and chapbooks. For more information and links to his publications, visit his website San Joaquin Ink (don-e-thompson.com).