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DEATH IS A SMALL THING IN CALIFORNIA by Norma Smith


Photo Credit: Hannah Vorenkamp for Unsplash


1.

A prescribed burn,

in the language of forests,

turns us away


from the park entrance, a way

of protecting survivors of fire

from beetle-plague

and other pests.


Scorched paw, healed perhaps

in the ash.


2.

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

seeking refuge


in the moist shade, a moment’s rest

among what were giants,

hace pocas generaciones. The men

came, made the high secoya branches

squeal

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.


3.

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

1

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

its scat.


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

gone.



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

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