Some college girl
intently colors in
the lines of a butterfly.
Her ear buds channel music
obscuring our train’s whistle.

Fueled by heavy rain,
muddy ruts puddle in.
Hardly March, spring erupts in this valley.
Cows bow their heads
to the luxuriant meadow.

A few palm trees, awkward but majestic,
form a conduit connecting
low clouds to ground
but without a hint of lightning
from the heavens.

Because I’m from the East,
I don’t know the succulent
sprawled like a gangly bicolored green octopus—
an untamed beast,
up and overflowing the embankment.

Approaching the next station,
I fumble for the intimate shorthand
of naming things.


Off the 101

The fundamental nature of all things
is of the making.
Darkness is not absence of light.
Nothing is not absence of something.
Peace is not absence of war.

The deep forest was off-limits.
Slides and churning waters
blocked paths and weakened the footings of bridges.
This wilderness remained closed to us.
But nothing looked dangerous. Random batches of tumbled rocks,
clumps of soft mud, some exposed roots, where a tree—ripped
from its moorings—lay in the river. Still,
small-leafed and hopeful, spring burst from the tips of its limbs.
The cold water of the Big Sur raced downstream
wearing grey stones smooth in the creek bed.
Hardly anything out of place,
but we accepted the warning signs just the same.
From the bottom of a stand of redwoods,
I leaned back, lifting my head to the sky.
The giants blocked most of the sun
sending three shafts of smoky light
to the dark mossy forest floor at acute angles
where morning was changed to dusk.

We drove south to Garrapata and walked the cliffs
ankle deep in pink-blossomed succulents,
their flowers wide in the humid ocean air,
faces raised in praise of sun. Wild calla lilies,
in full bloom, a week before Easter.
I stumbled through narrow paths,
ruts really,
furthering their slow erosion
in search of wonderment
while nimble lizards, light and fast as puffs of dust,
darted in and out of ice plants. The prehistoric relics scurried,
mindless of my struggle to stay upright on these paths.
Thick, rubbery, and fingerlike, the underbrush
rubbed and grabbed at my ankles.
Here, roots run deep
stabilizing the edge of a continent.

At random intervals along El Camino Real,
Four fifty replicas of monastery bells dangle
from poles curled into question marks.
They hang in silence. Dead weight,
the solitary, rust-colored, cement tributes
thwart vandals
but call no one to prayer.
Centuries ago,
Father Serra limped towards sainthood
dangling salvation and civilization
before Chumash, Yakut, Salinan,
believing his mission of kindness and love
would convert one nation into another.
He cloistered thousands in unmarked graves—
the unending process
of erosion, conversion, displacement, conquest.

Yellow wildflowers flow from meadows
into the narrow sinews of muscular hills
that rise and ripple from the valleys
following the natural course
of rain in wet seasons
and dew in dry seasons
down to the sea.


Highway Exit With Fields

Years before we moved here,
you wondered why anyone would.

That was long before we saw
what grows on fallowed farmland.

we just drive by places like this—

never stopping to learn
how spring ripens a rippling field of hay,

how to see past the first few
rows of corn, deep in idling summer,

or witnessing the inexorable creep
of house, school, and shopping center—

until the nature of nature
wholly escapes us.

Then, last week
a double-rainbow bloomed,

vibrating rain and light.
As if two weren’t enough,

I imagined a third
intersecting arc.

The world stands before us, ready
to scatter its everyday revelations

in wavelengths—distinct and shining—
at the exit up ahead.


Barrier Island

The beach in negative.
Full moonlight and muted lust.
Pulling us. Pushing us.
We take. We give.

Silver kisses
ocean, sand, dune, street
shrub. Even we
are plate. Luminous

waves pool between shoreline
and jetty. Rocky gashes
fill with sea-swell, crash
with wave and brine.

Full color rises. The day gets hotter.
Plovers totter and tiptoe,
waves a receding arpeggio.
Fish glitter on the breakwater.


Ping Me

for Shoshi


We now can calculate precisely
how lost we are:

30 satellites triangulate the globe
in 2-meter segments.

Bluetooth beacons
track us in aisle 11.

Alerts, in silver and amber, beckon
the dispossessed and disoriented.

600 million computers call
an empty field in Kansas, home.

For those still brave enough
for love,

listen to the gray tree frogs
chirping in the bare magnolia.

Follow their songs deep
into the uncharted night.


Note: MaxMind, the largest database of computer IP addresses, assigns every computer without a specific street address to the Taylor Farm in rural Kansas.


Alan Toltzis

Alan Toltzis

Alan Toltzis, is the author of The Last Commandment. Recent work has appeared in print and online publications including Right Hand Pointing, IthacaLit, Hummingbird, r.k.v.r.y. Quarterly, and Burningword Literary Journal.