Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998
Poems by Robert Joe Stout
The Conquest of California
Greedy with dreams
of clockless afternoons,
siestas and wine
poured by brown-skinned servant girls,
those first rough-bearded
sunburned seekers mapped
the rolling hills
with Spanish names, built mills,
Then clean-shaved Yankees came,
clocks in their brains,
squared maize fields
into lots of equal size
around the new-raised churches,
banks and jail.
brought things to sell
and took the maize away.
Today new condos
brick the trails
his pistols flashing
not ours to seize.
It Turned Out To Be Suicide
through the drying needles of gray pines
leaning across a sandstone ledge
—some kind of warning? I wondered
then saw darkening drops.
From oval manzanita leaves
on a branch protruding from the cliffside
just above my head
hung two—no three—sticky globules.
Above them, still higher,
the trunk of the pine
bled wavering signals
that grew thicker
where I squinted
towards the mouth
of a shallow cave:
an arm dangling downward
and the white of pupil-less eyes.
Winds change the face I left
on boyhood photographs, the old house
framed around my smile, cottonwoods
and Chinese elms leaning in to filigree
the distant clouds. In memory that face,
those eyes, the mouth's incipient smile,
become someone who's not quite me—
yet not quite someone else.
I look again: The eyebrows frame a foliage
of many season's leaves, phantoms
to reappear in another place
in someone else's mind. Hands on knees
I sit and smile, the child I'm not
becomes the me I seek.
My Daughter Finds a Baby Jay Fallen from a Tree
It opened its beak, like her–like me–
mute, overwhelmed. Slowly I knelt, my arm
around her shoulders. She trembled, hugging
the bird as panic tightened her throat
and a cry forced tears that I wiped from her face
with my fingers. Despite a ventilated
box, water and seeds, it died. Or went
to live within her doubting, anxious eyes.