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David Starkey (April-May)

-Poems by David Starkey

  Poems by David Starkey
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Poems by David Starkey


The Age of Sponges

Precursors of bathtub sponges were the dominant species on the planet for as long as 100 million years.
     --Nature magazine

            It was an epoch unmarked by significant

development in the arts and sciences. 

                        Indeed, the chief glory of the era

was its changelessness, the flow and ebb

                                    of food entering pleated body

            walls, then being sluiced back out to sea

            by a tidal surge that served as a kind

of Julian calendar.  No intellect or rage

                        marred the salty universe. Instinct alone

mattered, an organism’s ability

                                    to regenerate.  The sorry state

            at which they would eventually arrive—

            as cleaning implements, contraceptives

and cartoons—remained in some inconceivably

                        complex future.   The moon arose, then gave

way to the sun.  The vast waters plunged

                                    ashore, retreated.  Thousands of hundreds

            of millions of days passed in a nerveless,

            bloodless state of bliss, or what passes

for bliss among those who cannot name it.


Fire-following Flowers

     --For Sharon and Paul

            This past summer, when I almost lost my house

                                    to fire, I vowed to appreciate

                        the things left to me.  Yet this winter, when

you lost yours, it seemed presumptuous

            to assume might-have-been compared with what is.

                        Still, as spring approaches, we should recall

that the capricious earth witnesses,

            always, renewal.  The arroyo

            lupine and the golden efflorescence

                                    that is Spanish broom, the slender Mariposa

                        lily and the starfish-shaped and deadly

star lily, the waxy leafed soap plant

            and the twirly vines of the wild cucumber,

                        the wooly yarrow and the yucca plant—

also known as Our Lord’s candle and Spanish

            bayonet—deerweed and beardtongue and the many-

            blossomed snapdragon will explode in a chaos

                                    of orange, yellow, lavender, white and blue

                        across the steep slopes of our hills, which even now

are turning green.  Perhaps, when you’re hiking

            above the place your home once stood,

                        you’ll look down through the scrub oak and chinquapin

and glimpse a memory—a backyard barbecue,

            the driveway where your daughter learned to balance

            on her bike.  Maybe you’ll pick a fire poppy

                                    and pluck its pumpkin-colored petals

                        while you wait for the moment to pass.

Maybe the air will thrum with bees

            and the towhee’s here-here-here-please.

                        Possibly you will look at one another

and say, without speaking, that the most

            difficult times are sometimes lovely, too.


Triolet: The Zaca Fire

The world will end this way: covered in ash.

Blackened trees pointing fingers at the sky.

   If God could see, he’d look down on us abashed.

The world will end this way: covered in ash.

   Some giant with a giant brush blackwashed

   The mountains—scent of soot, sable and lye.

The world will end this way: covered in ash.

Blackened trees pointing fingers at the sky.


Scrub-Jay in a Manzanita Bush

It’s the sound, of course,

that one first notices:

the screech and whistle

and beak-clacking chatter. 

Then flash of blue and gray,

manic hopping

from branch to branch,

the wary bobbing head. 

Edge closer through the brush,

as I do now, there’s no chance

he won’t give one last

warning call, then burst

into flight and vanish

in the chaparral. What’s left

behind when frenzy’s gone?

The twisted trunk

and sinuous red branches,

bark smooth and warm

as the marble limbs of a statue

basking in the sun—except

where it peels away in curls,

like paper left too near a fire. 

Also September breeze

and the welcoming scent

of leaves rotting in the earth.



            How they agonized over the injustice

                        of the natural world, those of our ancestors

            who bothered to look closely.  The way,

for instance, a mother sparrow

                        allows her own brood to starve

            as she searches frantically for worms

                                    and grubs to feed the cowbird chick

            that’s larger than herself, its screeching

whistle peppering the air with self-regard. 

                        What God conjured such a parasite? 

            What Divine Judge could remain unstirred

                                    by such outrage?  How fortunate we are

            that such questions have ceased to bother us,

who no longer turn heavenward

                        for a mouthful of alien answers.


What the Sea Can Hold

A chorus of ethereal voices?  Of course. 

Mere orchestras—with their bassoons

and trombones, their tubas and triangles—

are nothing to its enormity.  The sea

can hold any number of symphonies. 

It contains whales and washing machines,

tires and albacore tuna, plankton

and the odd plank afloat somewhere

in the Pacific, five hundred miles

from the nearest atoll’s shore.  It cradles

the moon in its waves and embraces

each whim of the fickle wind, that demon

lover every sailor woos and fears.  Ships

the size of small cities sink anonymously

into its trenches: Mariana and Tonga,

Yap and Diamantina: they vanish

into the abyss of the Cayman Trough

and into the Calypso Deep, leaving only

blackness behind.  And yet the sea holds

words and chanteys and the ashes

of those we love and who loved her. 

It may grow bleak and barren,

but for all its surprises, it never fails

to come about.  Listen to its cadences:

every retreating tide promises a return.



Suddenly, crows everywhere:

gabbing on roof gables

like soldiers after

a triumphant campaign,

swinging on telephone wires

in high winds, spilling

from the branches of pepper trees

like pepper corns,

committing depredations

on all manner of fruit trees

and fields of grain, frightening

housecats and reciting stray

lines of poetry: bad seeds,

basically, and proud of it:

each time they are confronted

by the human world they chatter

as boldly as Parisians prowling

the bars and brasseries

of the Boulevard Saint-

Germain and refuse to scatter.


Watching a Western Fence Lizard Bask for Fifteen Minutes in the Late May Sun












       Fire reminds us

The world can go wrong any time.

       Fire reminds us

That boredom is a kind of bliss.

The days nothing happens are sublime.

If we forget in the meantime,

       Fire reminds us.



Nothing Liturgical


While they are devoted

to ritual, honeybees

have no formula

for public worship.


Therefore, when they began

to disappear, we, in turn,

possessed little ceremony

to mark their demise:


no bread for their bodies

or wine for their blood. 

Colonies collapsed

without a single doxology.


The wind’s brief homily

was wordless.  The other

insects could only hum

their pagan praise.



July Afternoon


Calm as a cedar tree

on the leaward side


of Santa Cruz Island,


I sit beneath the broad

canopy of a cedar tree


listening to the sharp


chirp of the bushtit, breeze

riffling the branches,


looking across the channel


toward the mainland—



and the likelihood of fog.





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