DEATH IS A SMALL THING IN CALIFORNIA
by Norma Smith
A prescribed burn,
in the language of forests,
turns us away
from the park entrance, a way
of protecting survivors of fire
and other pests.
Scorched paw, healed perhaps
in the ash.
In Redwood Park the stones sing
to the scant water flowing over them
this spring, the pinche tender leaves
of poison oak flutter seductively
near migrant wings of monarchs
in the moist shade, a moment’s rest
among what were giants,
hace pocas generaciones. The men
came, made the high secoya branches
in recognition of their dead
cousins approaching on the water, holding
straight, bound from Monterrey.
Leaves and masts whisper
against each other,
whipping the wind.
Who brought the muskets? Who the saws?
Who built the mission, who the city around it?
Who found gold
where they least expected it
in their blind search?
Who razed the forest,
left dust and used needles,
left rusting chimneys
among new picnic tables
and benches before the summer
customers arrive? What wildlife
here, among transported
convicts, knows how to glean
nourishment from pungent
gumtree? What charming marsupial
is called bear out of its name
but cannot live here
except caged? Far from home,
I meet California black bear
on the trail. We greet each other
paw to paw. They scar me,
these losses. What the
animal left me I can see in
Who called it
Camino real? Not the elephant seals.
Not the redtail screaming overhead.
Not coyote or conejo. Not El Cerrito
or Pleasant Hill. A colony of
hormigas befriends me, allows me to
track them. I ask permission to cross
their territory safely, promise not to
tread on them, plead with them not to
obliterate my presence, once I’m
About the Author
Norma Smith is a writer and community scholar-educator living in Oakland, California. Recent work has appeared in POETS READING THE NEWS, THE RACKET, and DISPATCHES FROM QUARANTINE, and is forthcoming in DESPUES DEL AGUACERO, A Pochino Press and Pan Dulce Poets publication (2022). Nomadic Press published Norma’s first book of poems, HOME REMEDY (2017). Description and purchasing information for HOME REMEDY can be found at https://nomadic-press.squarespace.com/store/homeremedy