Cover Art: Nomathemba Tana, You will indeed be clever to come through fire with water. 2000. Linoleum cut. MOMA
Sleepwalking in San Luis Obispo
You’re watching the waves
beat the land sleeplessly
as they always have, engineering
continents, chiseling escarpments,
throwing themselves at the moon
only to retreat, teasing the Earth’s
mud-red heart. Waiting
on the motel roof in the dark,
staring out into the late
opaque chill, you have to blink:
over tracts of splintered tide,
ships are coming. Natives appear
from night-fishing beneath cliffs,
now climbing the clefts so fast
you can hardly distinguish their bare hides
from mountain lions. And even before
you know the ships will wreck,
blood’s copper stench rises
into your nostrils
like a foreshadowed mourning. Now the night
sounds its guttural collapse
and you know the visions aren’t finished with you:
William Hearst’s zebras--
who weren’t meant to breed--
stampeding off the edge in striped coats,
flying like extraterrestrial creatures
over the foundering boats.
The prairies have retired, senescent and hunchbacked.
Below the dirt, wood frogs keep quiet
and groundhogs sleep.
Deer nose beneath park benches for grass
in a darkness that lingers
late into morning.
Nothing much grows but footprints and hoofs
outlined in snow. Trees close their chapter.
Pines alone hold on
staring out at what’s razed.
Like lovers, they have remained side-by-side,
wearing white death much better
than sun. But soon, their stiff sleep and frost
will subside. Forgotten rhizomes and tubers
trace roots to the surface. Dark hyacinth bulbs
will resurrect in reptilian colors, undoing winter’s pale
sanctity. Woolly sleepers will wake. Veined stems
will stretch under Spring’s warm wave.
And the gypsum moon, no longer hanging low, will drop
like a vial and scatter its bright shards, shattering
the lantern-glow, rearranging in an unthinkable burn--
Martha Bove is a poet currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Pacific University. She nannies and tutors children, is a freelance calligrapher, teaches painting at a local art studio, and lives with her husband John in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio.