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    Poetry Out Loud Results: Arwa Awan takes it again! (picture)

    For the second year in a row, Arwa Awan has taken County honors in Poetry Out Loud for her stirring recitations of first, “Becoming a Redwood” by Dana Gioia and secondly “The Legend” by Garrett Hongo. Read more…»

    San Fran to Monterey

    by Savannah Mitchem

    You can reinvent yourself, she says, that’s what I always say. She likes the fresh start, but she could never be anything less than herself. Me and Mom. We go where dad goes, where the wind blows, where God knows.
    I started out as a California zygote riding trolleys and my mom buying us fish for a treat. I’ve been a rolling stone since I rolled out of her, a nomad of the hunter-gatherer type. I can’t see life for me that’s stationary. Home is where the love is, and it’s really everywhere. Family is always a drive and a half away, and friends surface wherever we go.
    He says Freedom is a close relative to Summer, and Moving has a little sister Joy. He says if you don’t put your name in, you won’t know. He says we will be fine and love it there. I say okay, I believe you.
    The little one doesn’t say much actually. Not much at all. He sits in the back and goes quietly. Well, it’s bittersweet, we both say together. It hasn’t hit us, really.
    Dad takes leave, we pack up and head out in the unknown and nothing has ever been completed except our hearts. Pictures are leaned against the walls, never hung, collecting dust. I don’t like pictures anyway, I like memories. Anything we can put off till the next house we do, except they painted my room pistachio green. We put off me leaving, but I will have to leave the next house for good. On my own, to college.
    So I will come full circle to California. California, around the world, and then back again. And end my career as a kid table, back seat inhibitor. I will buy my own fish and eat it with my own mouth, and I will get tilapia, not salmon. I don’t like salmon. I’ll drive off and look back often.

    A New Age

    by Robin Olson

    I am from gossip.
    From a place where bad reputations emerge from hidden enemies.
    Where pain, struggle, and tears amuse those who cause them.
    And compassion is overrated.
    I am from bathroom whispers.
    A place where friends can backstab and lie.
    No consequences for the predator.
    Only a lifetime of suffering for his victims.
    Where has all the love gone?
    Where is the importance of community and respect?
    The smiles exchanged between strangers in the hall?
    Vanished as we gaze into handheld gadgets more important than human contact.
    Slipped through the supposed“maturity”we all gained after junior high.
    Conquered by computer screens and iPhones.
    With the click of a button, our love has dissolved.
    Spitting on the once-cherished bonds we possessed.
    We have all surrendered to the trends of our time.
    Leaving the ones we used to love behind.

    The Light in Our Hands

    by Emily Stewart

    Chang slid his outstretched hand in the cold stream. The paper lantern floated gently out of his fingers and began to drift away, a glowing cloud in the reflected sky. Chang straightened up, brushing his hands off on his pants. I entangled my hands in his, hoping to distract his bleak expression.
    “And that is to honor my father, and my father’s father, and all the fathers before him.” He finally spoke, gazing at the nothing but the flickering yellow lights enfolded with soft purple petals. “Each of whom died in war. It does not matter which war. All wars have become the same to me. They have all blended together in a useless clump of pain and anger, the shouts of the soldiers, the screams of the dying.”
    I watched as the light slowly drowned itself farther down in the river, dragged down by the changing tides.
    “And every day,” Chang whispered with scorn, his muscles tightening under his arm. “On this festival, I am reminded of all the people killed in the name of convoluted justice.” His chest heaving, Chang’s voice cracked. “Their ancestors must walk alone, with no one to honor them by sending cheap flower lanterns down a river. I suppose that must be all you look forward to, if you are dead. But at least you have the lesser of two evils.”
    Chang’s mouth set in a grim line. I followed his line of sight and watched with him as the figure Ling Ma appeared in the doorway, which illuminated her figure with light. Clutching the last of the handcrafted paper lanterns, she struggled desperately to reach the water’s edge. She knelt, and extended her shaking arms; but she held that lantern tight in her wizened hands. The first tear came, and then another; and she wept, holding her family, long dead and gone, close. She could not let them go down the river.
    “I would rather die than live a life of loneliness, watching every single one of my family be killed.” Chang said, closing his eyes to the pain of his grandmother and sharply turning. The movement caused me to stumble, and I caught his shoulder for support. He shrugged off my hands, his eyes fixated on the churning river’s depths, and spoke again.
    “I do not expect to live. I know I will die in war, as did my father, and my father’s father. It does not matter which war. Only a matter of time…”
    I rested my head on his shoulder, but he was too wrapped up in his own thoughts to notice me.
    “And for whom.”


    by Naiya Biddle

    I saw a shooting star today
    Soaring across the dark sky
    I pondered at the curious sight
    Deciding what to wish for
    I made a wish
    Just one simple little wish
    And then
    open my eyes again
    To see the star had flown out of sight
    I hope my wish comes true tonight
    And I hope you enjoy it too
    My shooting star should meet you soon
    My little wish
    to you


    by Lila Afifi

    It’s that time of year again
    When snow-capped trees reach for the sky
    Busy-goers cross the plain
    And secret presents pile high
    Snowball fights ensue rapidly
    Snowmen and snow-angels are created by children
    Ornaments cling to leaves steadfastly
    Gifts seek hiding spots by the millions
    While paper and ribbons race to the finish
    Anything and everything all paid in gallions
    As hungry stomachs continue to replenish
    Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and Hannukah throughout
    Mean, harsh words have been de-clawed of their talons
    So appetites for gourmet food stall between the bout
    Then comes New Years and time for joy
    With plates and drinks to way us down
    There are toys being played with by girls and boys
    While the grand new puppy-dog waddles round and round
    All these things come in the winter
    And only stops when spring arrives
    But for now beneath the bright white sky we’ll banter
    And stall the green that soon will thrive
    Winter is a jolly time for all
    For shoppers and sellers and wishers and frogs
    The wish-lists fulfilled just down the hall
    But no one should ever like wearing red clogs
    Just boots and sweaters with tea next to books
    Look out the window there’ll be snow on the ground
    With everything hidden in crannies and nooks
    No one will care to look and just lounge
    As winter is brought on, by snow on the falling down

    The Last Grain of Sand

    by Arwa Awan

    We wear our lives out
    Living among the dead bodies
    the Burnt, the Gone, the Misled
    the Dead
    Indulged in the luxuries of our own mind
    Bound to the rulings of our own flesh
    Convolutions of selfdom wrapped around the obscurities of passion
    Wild fire the rain is smothering
    Gleaming candles the wind is blowing
    The melting clocks
    The fleeing birds
    The teeming water
    The last grain of sand

    Dear Gravity

    by Savannah Chioino

    i want
    To make something controversial,
    artistic as
    a fragment soul
    stained with jewel-dark hues
    i want
    to leave a mark
    forever-lasting as
    scars on scraped knees
    silver-white and silken smooth
    i want
    to be remembered
    for myself alone
    ink-black syllables on a stark
    white page
    not forget the phantom wings
    called hope.

    Praise to the Dance

    by Emily Stewart

    There is something about the feeling
    Of skin moving:
    The concealing and the revealing,
    and the proving.
    Art with the whole self – that cannot be replicated.
    I am intoxicated.

    Tendu, fondu as you inhale and exhale
    You have now become the story.
    Breaking free of this life’s jail
    Let your body feel the glory
    Jeté to the stars as you glide along the barres
    No longer an observer you are

    Dance – the heart speaking without words
    This moment, alone, is ours
    Taking flight like blissful birds
    As our feet chase the glowing hours

    For that thing one cannot touch with the hand,
    But with the tip of the tongue,
    Or the heart,
    Of art.

    Alex’s Memory

    by Maya Mueller

    The moment hit Alex without warning.
    Like a brutal slap across the cheek, sharp and merciless, leaving stinging tears in his eyes and picking at the scars of his soul.  He placed a hand on his heart, becoming acutely aware of every intake of breath.
    Alex had lost something, something priceless and precious and unattainable.  The memory had slipped so quickly, like a slick pebble slipping from his fingers, lost among the wild currents of the river of his mind.  He had forgotten the precise color of his mother’s hair.
    Alex clearly remembered the delicate honey strands, like moonlight silver, yet could not precisely recall the color’s shade.  Were their caramel brown strands entwined with the blond?  Was it a soft flaxen, or a watery gold?  How did the hair feel, exactly, under his fingertips?  Like cotton, silk, water, fur?  He must remember.  He had to remember.  Without these memories she seemed even more like some transient fragment of his imagination.  She seemed less of a mother, but more of some distant goddess he worshipped, existing merely due to the power of his faith.  What if she had never lived?  What if…?
    The horror of the moment left him shaken, and he tremulously sat at the base of a tree.  The roots offered a rough, sturdy seat to support him on.
    Elsa Young was her name.  He repeated it under his breath like a mantra, grappling for breathily floating memories, holding his head in his hands.
    She was a woman of delicate bones, long and gentle and doe-like.  A woman of steep, sloping lines and gentle curves.  Her eyes, a mosaic of several different shades of blue―cobalt, dark navy, speckles of glassy aqua―framed by a fringe of colorless lashes that would tickle his cheek when she would embrace him.  Alex’s mother always smelled of the lavender facial water she dabbed on her face at night, a porcelain bottle that sat upon her dresser.  She would sit on the edge of the bed, her slender legs hanging of the sides, and dab her jaw bone with a cotton swab.  Alex, who was a toddler at the time, would sit at her feet with some car toy at hand and occasionally lean his cheek against her damp moisturized skin.
    He remembered the exact way she would smile; an almost guilty expression flitting across her face whenever he made her laugh.  Her eyes would crinkle into glistening blue crescents.  Her lips would curve upward despite her will, and her teeth would clench as the sheepish giggles rose from her throat, as if she were ashamed of herself for being happy.
    He remembered his mother in the garden; the oversized straw hat creating a crisscross of shadows along her face, the sleeves of her blouse rolled to her elbows.  She would pick a raspberry from the vine, and open her mouth into a large O to tell Alex to do the same.  He would obey happily, and she would smile faintly while placing the juicy fruit on his tongue.
    He remembered the cicada-humming, summer nights where they would lay together on her bed before his father finished his shower.  They would quietly listen to the water shoot from the faucets, intertwining their fingers, looking at each other with unflinching gazes.  She would draw swirls on his arm with her finger, or play shadow puppets against the solitary lamplight in the room.  Usually the ceiling fan was on, so her finger swans and geese and crocodiles would flicker before his eyes like some black and white film, like some bizarre illusion entrancing him.  She would sing Jewish lullabies to him, some other times, sorrowful lilting songs that he still remembered.
    But…the color of her hair…if only he could hold a strand, right now.  Or perhaps…if only she could stand in front of him, for one moment.  They did not need to speak, or touch.  Just to flicker before him like the shadow swans, a brief mirage to stir his memories, to saturate the thirst in his soul a little longer.  Perhaps, even, if she would smile again.  Just once.

    The Park Far From Town

    by Robin Olson

    Whenever I feel like thinking,
    I go to the park far from town.
    It’s a cozy little park,
    That will never be cut down.
    There’s only two people who know about it:
    Me and Mr. Brown.
    He likes to sit and talk to me,
    On our bench next to our big tree.
    And when we’re all done talking,
    “Goodbye,” we always say.
    And then he jumps off my lap,
    And he hops away.
    Ready to come back another day.


    by Veronica Davis

    The color of the ocean
    on a stormy day
    Tastes like the sweetest chocolate
    melting on the tongue
    Smells like the first batch of flowers
    blooming in the spring
    Looks like the sun
    rising in the east
    Sounds like the joy
    of a baby’s first cry
    Feels like a warm and loving embrace.
    This is hope.


    by Erika McLitus

    These fragile, amorous connections
    all butterflies and string
    stretched taut over a gaping emotional gulf–
    string breaking, wings tearing–
    I can feel the air through the gaps
    with each heavy sigh
    laden with its unacceptable truths.
    But as the night drops its heavy darkness over me,
    the naked honesty that appears in the moonlight
    renders my despair irrelevant.
    I grasp my protests closer to me,
    like a child seeking comfort,
    then, reluctantly, I let them go.
    All these empty denials
    descend like soap bubbles,
    beautiful lies that sink, rest, and burst.
    And as I embrace the transience,
    as I transcend my panic,
    I feel the tension lessen as my own hands open,
    loose string swaying in the breeze,
    butterflies fluttering between my fingers,
    happiness falling on my cheeks like a sunbeam.

    Our Life On Earth

    by Lauren Dykman

    There is nothing but a heartbeat. And swaying. The fluid movement of the ocean. My body licked by sunlight and caressed by kelp. I lie quiescent, face-down, arms outstretched, watching dancing fish cast shadows on sturdy rocks. A leopard shark, like a patch of sun, rock, plant, and shadow, glides beneath me. Such encounters with nature give me my most cherished gift: the ability to view the world through the eyes of a scientist. Now, when I snorkel above a leopard shark, I see everything connected to everything else, a flow of energy, a link between humanity and the global ecology. I see the history of life flash before my eyes…
    In the beginning, there was light. Sunlight poured upon the steaming sea. Frothy waves met the groaning volcanoes of the continent, and in turmoil elements linked, grew, and stacked energy upon energy. Molecules joined, cells split, tiny feelers bumped and nudged their tactile world, mindless and blind yet driven by deeply ingrained purpose. The elements of the earth rose, joined onto organisms that grew outward, channeled the sun’s energy into consciousness. And the day dawned when eyes opened and beheld their new world.
    Never did the elements question why they rose from ashes and came to life. Life is the way it is. The shark beneath me never questions why it snaps at darting fish, lusting to feed on flesh. Creatures live and die by legions for biological progression, fighting tooth and claw, blood for blood, always to the death. Corpses pile atop corpses creating the womb in which the living set their roots. The ceaseless battle endures on Earth for billions of years, proving that life always has been and always will be worth fighting for. By dying, the fish nourishes the shark and locks energy in the system. The shark advances life by growing strong to reproduce. Without thinking, without questioning, they battle to sustain their organic system.
    Life is a cycle dependent on elegant balance. Once in the ecosystem, substances remain. The water in which I float cycled through the sky, the soil, the veins of dinosaurs. The earth makes bodies, and bodies make the earth. For me, realizing mankind’s equality with all creatures was not a shattering, but an awakening into an interconnected web of shared energy. Now, as I watch the leopard shark bask, I recognize my responsibility to the planet.
    My experiences with nature changed my life because they allowed me to view mankind in the context of natural history. Humanity does not exist outside the ecosystem; it is part of it. Therefore, I hope every person will inherit his or her time on Earth with integrity and participate responsibly in Earth’s global ecology. For although individuals are but tiny travelers, isolated to their time and place, they are nevertheless connected to everything else in the web of life. Just as we are composed of pieces of all who came before, our actions will affect all who come after.

    PGHS’s Arwa Awan takes Poetry Out Loud at County

    Now it’s on to Sacramento for Pacific Grove’s fourth year running

    Arwa Awan took first prize at the county level of Poetry Out Loud with her dramatic recitations of Emily Dickinson’s It was not Death for I Stood Up and The Meaning of the Shovel by Martin Espada. Lyla Mahmoud, PGHS runner-up, recited Cartoon Physics by Nick Flynn.

    Runner-up in the County competition was Chloe Reimann of Santa Catalina, who recited Spring and Fall by Gerard Manley Hopkins and The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter by Ezra Pound. Santa Catalina’s runner-up was Mary Cho who recited Ecology by Jack Collom.

    Former Pacific Grove Poet-In-Residence Garland Thompson acted as emcee for the event. He told how, in 2007, he was driving down the highway near Spreckels and heard a broadcast on NPR about Poetry Out Loud. He was so amazed and excited that he pulled his car over and made the phone contacts that eventually brought the opportunity to Monterey County schools.

    Arwa will now go on to Sacramento to compete at the state level. Her three predecessors, Kylie Batlin (2009), Morgan Brown (2010) and Robert Marchand (2011) all went to the State level, and Brown and Marchand went on to the national level.

    Thank You Mr. Valentine

    by Emily Shifflett

    Can anyone here tell me,
    The origin of Valentine’s day?
    Well for one, it’s named for Saint Valentine,
    Who was stoned to death they say.
    Romantic isn’t it?
    Getting pelted with rocks until you die.
    Only to look down from where ever he is now,
    To see people skipping with joy.
    Some saints, they’re properly mourned.
    I mean, look at San Fermin.
    He gets the running of the bulls each year.
    People come from miles around to celebrate him.
    But poor old Valentine?
    He gets glitter cards and pink.
    Giant teddy bears and roses.
    Not how some would like to be remembered I think.
    So. remember when you’re giving your sweetheart
    Something heart covered and sweet.
    Nothing says I love you like a public stoning
    Though Mr. Valentine might disagree.

    Dark World

    by Golnoush Pak

    I’m tired
    Of these black days
    Of these hungry kids that beg for food
    I’m exhausted
    And I want to
    See the light
    It’s been a long time
    From the last time I’ve seen it
    Maybe I was a little kid
    Who didn’t know anything
    About the cruel world around her
    Thinking only about the beautiful nature out there and the birds
    That were singing everyday near my room’s window
    While the beautiful sunlight
    Started a peaceful day
    But now….
    Not even a crow …
    It’s all dark and everyday…
    I wake up
    Hearing a child crying for food
    Or even someone getting shot
    And maybe even.. dying….
    I see people becoming selfish monsters
    Pushing their way to the front of the proverbial line
    And the only peaceful thing I can think of is ….God
    I hate to be in a world like this…
    What have we done…
    All this darkness
    Where did the light and sunshine go?
    I wonder…….
    I close my eyes
    And feel a tear coming from my left eye
    All I hear is..
    Crying , Shouting , moaning
    And then the silence of fear..
    The Darkness
    Where did all the peace go?
    I wonder…

    The Liar

    by Emily Shifflett

    I am nobody.
    And not in the Dickinson sense.
    I am a nobody,
    Because nobody knows who I am.
    You see, I’m a pathological liar.
    So I can be whoever I wish.
    Sadly, though, that of course means
    Who I really am, is missed.
    You see today I have decided
    That I’m dying of a rare disease.
    My heart palpitates, my liver’s fading.
    I cough, I hack, I wheeze.
    Tomorrow, I shall be perfectly fine.
    And be a teacher for the blind,
    Who is herself a bit inclined
    To watching bobbin wheels unwind.
    But you will never know,
    For who could ever see?
    Behind all the masks and words and stories
    Who is really me?
    I am nobody,
    And yet I am.
    I am everyone,
    And here I stand.
    The liar has no face of his own,
    Simply dons the masks you see.
    No features for which he’s known.
    The liar is a nobody.

    Emily Dickinson flash mob

    Celebrating her birthday by invading Cannery Row with a flash mob reciting “I Am Nobody” and eating gingerbread. The Pacific Grove High School Young Writers Club, Poet-In-Residence Dr. Barbara Mossberg, English teacher Larry Haggquist, and probably some students from California State University, Monterey Bay and some bewildered tourists.

    The Physicist

    by Lauren Dykman

    A physicist sits pensive at his desk.
    Before him muddled numbers start to speak,
    Reminding him how his life used to make sense,
    Before the strength of God came to his keep.

    Simple days of university,
    With wonder looked upon the heavens high,
    Learned and got lost from reality,
    ‘Till tasseled hats waved innocence goodbye.

    In dark he sits his head held in his hands,
    With numbers stolen from the depths of space.
    The strength of life and death he now commands,
    He stole from God to rule the human race.
    And when he looks at numbers he has written,
    He falls apart because they are his sin.

    Thanksgiving message from our Poet-in-Residence

    Washington, D.C., for Thanksgiving, and in honor of our parents, whose remains lie in Arlington National Cemetery, heroes, both photographers, poets, and teachers, steadfast in fighting for doing right by earth and each other.

    I am giving Ansel Adams’ images and words to the Occupy Washington tent library Poetry/arts section.

    Adams lobbied in Washington, D.C., on behalf of earth policies. His work is intrinsic to our national spirit and how we rise to honor the legacy of American imagination and challenge. He responds to the majesty of natural landscapes preserved in national areas by laws representing civic values that in turn were shaped by words of poetry and artistic images responding to natural landscapes . . . . Art and public policy, art and law,  art and civic life, moving us forward, in ceaseless rhythm, as humans and trees feed each other in vital breath exchange, inextricably connected for mutual survival and flourishing.

    The challenge of our nation’s natural beauty, now preserved: how to do justice to the human life on this land of equivalent beauty, equivalent clear respectful sight. Adams’ philosophy of respect is conveyed through artistry.

    What laws of kindness are equal to our mountains? Kindness, a word of “kind” which is three-quarters “kin”–we are related, all of us are relations, and humanity has everything at stake in figuring out how we belong to each other and our earth.

    Americans originally lived here in tents. Here where people camp in the rain to express hope in better ways of common kindness, poetry and art belong, are central to the call to our national imagination, rooted in conscience, to see majesty in the human spirit, to preserve the grounds which nurture and sustain this spirit of possibility and mandate for doing things better for each other.


    Musings from the Fringe

    by Erika McLitus

    I’ve always found my center by wobbling.
    I have to skim the guardrails to stay in line.
    It’s amusing that they fail to recognize that
    Passion isn’t something you can confine.

    I’ll never fit in with the nice ones.
    It’s the blandness that I can’t survive.
    I can’t live like they do, all gray-colored boredom,
    And still call myself alive.

    I know that my way isn’t the best one.
    I strike matches just to watch them burn.
    Still I can’t help but feel as I watch them all kneel
    That they can’t know what it’s like to yearn.

    Mad Dash

    by Emily Shifflett

    Ah, it’s that time of year again.
    Once more, you’re called onto a battlefield.
    It bustles about, under fluorescent lighting
    Until the general purpose is revealed.
    The women around prepare themselves
    The goal sits full and plump
    You see the sea of combatants
    Waiting, poised to jump.
    Ever later the hour grows
    And panic seeps within
    You push it down, eyes on the prize
    Determined, only to win
    And, finally, oh finally at last
    The first contender makes her move
    All hell falls forth, a stampede awakens
    Of obstacles to be removed
    And up on high, it sits, surveying
    It’s gladiators in the ring
    The race, the chase, the frenzy
    All for one thing
    Late, late, almost too late
    You think as you draw to the slaughter near
    Must get there, must seize it
    Time prompts ever more fear
    You reach the battlegrounds and see the others
    Their plight clumsy and jerky
    You slip past so silently
    And, victoriously, claim the last Thanksgiving turkey.

    A Cynic’s Plight

    by Erika McLitus

    It seems like everything I set out to write
    Points out the flaws I see
    Through my own flawed sight.
    Even this, which should be a celebration…
    I can’t help but want to criticize and analyze,
    until it’s not a thanksgiving, but a degradation.
    I can’t just think of my gratitude,
    I am compelled to kill it with reasons,
    until my words are tainted with a poisonous attitude.
    I wish I knew how to explain
    what I do feel, that bliss that exists
    before my lips render the pure profane.

    The Jungles of Thailand

    by Lauren Dykman

    “Whatcha reading?”
    “A book about bugs,” Caesar replied from his cot.
    The honey-colored light of an oil lamp illuminated his well sculpted face and the pages of the book, Encyclopedia of Entomology, propped on his chest.
    “Yeah, I see that, but what is it about bugs that engrossed you for hours?” Angelo pestered. “They have sex a lot. No, just kidding. Check this out, Cordyceps fungus that possesses insects’ brains, then grows out of their bodies, killing them. Each species has a specialized fungus.” “Great.” Angelo didn’t really pay attention to the illustration Caesar stretched forward. He had only initiated a conversation because he felt increasingly antsy sit- ting in his cot. He wanted a smoke, but wondered if the result was worth the effort of getting up and walking into the humid midnight forest. “I want a cigarette,” he offered, trying his luck.
    “Take a hike then,” retorted Caesar, “I don’t want to be coughing up your smoke all night.”
    Angelo groaned and slipped through the canvas door into a buzzing cloud of mosquitoes. The forest was pitch black around the glowing tent, but still crawled and sang with activity. As he flicked on his torch their native guide, Tarrin, emerged phantom-like from the night.
    Tarrin was a local villager who Caesar paid to guide him and Angelo to an unexplored cave in the foothills. Upon sighting Angelo, Tarrin began to speak emphatically in his tribal dialect while gesticulating precisely with his hands. Caesar, who had spent years on this anthropological mission, could speak fluently with Tarrin, whereas Angelo the newcomer merely feigned comprehension and nodded. “Yes…okay…Look, I’m going out,” he pointed to the dark forest, “for a smoke. Cigarettes. Smoke. See?” he pulled his pack of Marlboros from his pocket and showed Tarrin.
    “I’ll be right back.” Tarrin responded in his own language equally slowly, as if equally doubtful of his companion’s competence. Angelo nodded, but his face registered no comprehension. Tarrin shrugged and tapped the pack of cigarettes.
    “Oh, sure take one. Not like they’re hard to come by out here.” Angelo handed Tarrin a cigarette and lit the tip. Tarrin nodded in thanks.
    From inside the tent, Caesar’s voice interjected, “Tarrin said to be careful of poisonous snakes. He saw a Pit Viper just now.” “Thanks for the translation Caesar!”
    “And thank you for giving Tarrin a cigarette,” Caesar’s voice spat, “now I’ll have to tell him to take a hike too!”
    Angelo chuckled and took off into the forest. In a matter of minutes, night enveloped him. He continued to navigate the labyrinth of ghostly foliage, his torchlight seeming to cut through air thick with moisture and noise. Angelo walked much farther from camp than necessary. He loved finding solitude in the nighttime jungle, a land of mangled trees, choking vegetation, layered darkness rustling with watchful creatures. He felt the struggle of life and death heavy in the air.
    In a small open space, Angelo lit his cigarette and flicked off his torch. The cigarette’s amber tip and the spectral flicker of fireflies now provided the only light in the jungle. Angelo heard distant chortling dampened by the rotting earth, felt beads of sweat tickling down his neck, and sensed a strange energy lingering in the air. For some reason new and unknown to him, he shuddered in fear. Angelo chuck- led in surprise. He had never feared any wild environment in his life…but wasn’t the forest feeling suddenly cold? No, the air was still moist and hot like inside a giant mouth. Then why did he feel chilly? He listened. The jungle still sang with life. He continued dragging on his cigarette, and crossed his arms against his foolish discom- fort. Suddenly, he sensed a presence behind him, and a very discernible breath on the back of his neck. Angelo levitated and fumbled for his torch in the darkness, but dropped it in his panic. Angelo found himself suddenly unable to move. Crouching in the abyss, he meekly felt along the ground and groaned when he failed to locate his light anywhere around him. His heart racing, he stretched farther, feeling over leaves and twigs on the wet forest floor. The whole time the presence persisted in sending chills down his spine. Then Angelo’s fingers closed around the torch and with a click, light blazed through layers of foliage. Shadows danced madly as Angelo spun around and the torch reflected off two white eyes. When he passed the light back over them Angelo saw the dark face of a native, more animal than man, painted with blood and suffering, and snarling at him with yellowed teeth and wide eyes. Angelo jumped and lost sight of the face and could not find it again. He played the light over every branch, around every shadow, but the wild man had ceased to exist. Hoping to God he had imagined it, Angelo ran back to camp, forgetting to look out for poisonous snakes. He forced his pace to a walk once he saw the glow of the tent, and slunk inside with laboriously steady breathing.
    “Hope you had a good smoke,” commented Caesar from around his bug book. Angelo responded with a nervous laugh. The next morning Angelo recounted his experience to Caesar. Caesar’s only reply was,
    “Good thing Tarrin can’t understand you. We had a hard time finding anyone to take us to the cave.”
    “The villagers have superstitions. None of them go anywhere near here. Tarrin is the bravest man in his tribe and we still had to pay him exorbitantly. I’m sure one word about your “supernatural encounter” will cost us our guide.”
    The three men packed up and left camp at dawn, walking single-file through narrow footpaths. In the daylight, the forest lost its sinister energy and resounded with light and song. Angelo wondered how he could have ever believed such an illusion as the one he had seen the previous night.
    The anthropological mission reached the cave at noon. It was an impressive cave, gaping out of a vine-mangled cliff, expelling stale earthy air from its throat. The world grew cold in its shadow. As their footsteps in the ashy dirt reverberated down the cave mouth, Angelo noticed Tarrin stop in his tracks and listen. Caesar looked back too, and called to the native some word that Angelo assumed meant “what’s wrong?” Tarrin’s brow furrowed and he loudly shouted an explanation and backed away. Caesar ran back up toward the light and held Tarrin’s forearm, talking soothingly. Then the two got in a heated debate, after which Tarrin, casting one last panicked glance into the depths of the cavern, ran away. Caesar descended back to Angelo, shaking his head.
    “Tarrin will wait for us away from the cave.”
    “Why won’t he come down?” Angelo implored, disguising his fear as annoyance.
    Caesar gave Angelo a knowing look. “There are evil spirits here.” Then he punched Angelo’s shoulder playfully, “Not like either of us believe in those right?”
    Deeper in the cave, a winding passageway turned away from the light and led them deeper into the intestines of the earth. With torches flaring, the two anthropologists navigated the eerie pools, dusty floors, and fang-like stalactites.
    “This is really beautiful,” breathed Caesar.
    Beyond a tight squeeze, Angelo could tell the tunnel widened into a larger room. They slid through the squeeze one at a time and pulled their backpacks through after them. And then Caesar’s light played over the white mound of a skull. With a gasp he illuminated the cavern…and discovered the floor strewn with hundreds of skeletons. Bones jutted from the ashen sand like bleached driftwood on a beach, skulls dotted the earth like smooth pebbles in a creek.
    “My God, My God!” celebrated Caesar. “It’s beautiful! Gorgeous! What a discovery! Do you know what this means for us?” Caesar held Angelo’s shoulders and shook him. Angelo’s gaze lingered on the remains. He identified children with cracked skulls, some adults curled in fetal position, alongside numerous species of monkeys. “An ancient mass-human-sacrifice.” whispered Angelo.
    “Oh man, we’re gonna have to call in back-up!” yelled Caesar. His voice rebounded off the cavern walls. “Here, start exploring,” he shoved his backpack at Angelo, “I’ll grab the rest of our equipment. We need to pull out the big-guns, so to speak,” and he sprinted from the burial ground to cart down the necessary excavation tools. Angelo waited for the foot steps and their echos to die away, then sat down cross-legged on his small ledge. Myriad eye sockets watched him imploringly, disturbed from their centuries of slumber. With a deep breath Angelo gave his torch a tight squeeze, then turned it off. The darkness was more complete than it ever was in the nighttime forest. Angelo stilled his breathing and heart beat and listened. He could hear whispers in strange tongues, subtle, rasping voices and quiet rustling in the far reaches of the cavern. The air was cold with whispers of haunted breaths on his skin and permeated with suffering and denial. He felt all around him a failed struggle for life, not yet given up.
    “I’m sorry,” he whispered, and his echos joined the whispers of the spirits.
    He walked out of the cave, through the labyrinths of tunnels and ran into an elated Caesar.
    Caesar noticed Angelo’s solemn face and asked if he felt alright.
    “Anthropological sites have never bothered me before,” Angelo answered, “but this one does. I’m going to wait outside for a while.”
    “You’ll come back and help me later though, right?”
    “Yes, I will return.”

    Months later, the excavation site lay empty. Hordes of experts had traipsed into the jungle to the cave of spirits, and carted off its jealous remains.
    As the last bones caught their flight to England for analysis, Angelo, the most celebrated anthropologist of the year, took his last walk alone in the forests of Thailand. The very next day he would catch his own flight back to England, leaving what had been his home for the last nine months . His footsteps softly plodded in the rich soil while the birds and mosquitos sang him a farewell lullaby. A small leap caught his eye, and he watched a tree frog make its way from plant to plant. One jump brought him to a leaf on which Angelo saw the small body of a dead insect. From its dried exoskeleton sprouted pure white minuscule mushrooms, curving from the victim like the necks of swans. As Angelo observed this Cordyceps fungus and the corpse that nourished it, he wondered at the mysterious dance between birth and rot, and the nebulous line between life and death in these haunted forests.

    Where You Belong

    by Emily Shifflett

    Who cares if I seem silly?
    Who cares how odd I seem?
    How can I otherwise show you,
    What you mean to me?
    One single arm span
    Pales in sad compare
    To show how much you are
    This second standing there
    You can roll your eyes at me right now
    But listen to my words
    No one can comprehend the truth
    Even if you think this gesture for the birds
    Race me to the sun
    And still you’ll never know
    You could travel to the very end of time
    And the distance still won’t show
    This is how I love you
    This is for how long
    This is for forever
    And this is where you belong

    * Inspired by “I Love You This Big” by Scotty McCreery

    Barbara on butterflies

    Your Handy Epigraphical Guide to Poetic Butterflies and a Portrait of the Poet as Butterfly: Notes on Blessing the Return of Butterflies at the Monarch Sactuary, Pacific Grove, AKA Butterfly town USA (Featuring Emily Dickinson, W.S.Merwin, Wendell Berry and Pablo Neruda, among others).

    Live from Butterfly Town, USA. We’re talking about butterflies today, in honor of their incredible desire and ability to migrate thousands of miles―straight here. The haven Monarch butterflies come home to is Pacific Grove, where I’m Poet in Residence, and in this role I was asked this week to recite a poem and blessing at the annual event for the Monarch Sanctuary as the butterflies once again begin to return. Local citizens have roused to care for their habitat; with about fifty enthusiastic welcomers including Essalen Nation Tribal Chairwoman Louise Ramirez, and Cedar Street Times Editor and community arts leader Marge Ann Jameson greeting about three abashed (but glorious) butterflies, I confess to you that I titled my address, Glorious R Us. Or: This is What Comes of Taking Care of the Trees, Please. Read more…»

    Dr. Mossberg’s Bio

    The Cultural Arts Commission of Pacific Grove announced that Dr. Barbara Mossberg has been selected as the Poet in Residence for Pacific Grove for a second year. Dr. Mossberg is currently serving as Director and Professor of Integrated Studies at the California State University Monterey Bay. She began her service as Poet in Residence in June, 2010.

    Dr. Mossberg is a poet, an academic scholar and a teacher. She brings a long list of academic achievements to the position including a PhD. in American literature, British literature and linguistics from Indiana University, several senior Fulbright awards and she has represented higher education as the American Studies Specialist for the U.S. Department of State.

    The Poet in Residence will occupy the Poet’s Perch, the historic home in downtown Pacific Grove that was bequeathed to the City of Pacific Grove by the Whitney Latham-Lechich Trust with the stipulation that the home be used to promote poetry in Pacific Grove. Dr Mossberg, who has been a poet since she was in grade school, believes in the power of poetry to change the world. As Pacific Grove’s Poet in Residence, she will produce poetry events and workshops that will “promote poetry in and for the community”.

    Dr. Mossberg will be the fourth Poet in Residence to occupy the Poet’s Perch since it was gifted to the City in 2002. The cottage, which was constructed in 1890, has been vacant for the past year to allow for foundation repairs required to stabilize the structure. Funds provided by the Trust for the upkeep of the property financed the repairs and made it possible to upgrade the existing bathroom, add a second bathroom and to restore the wood floors. The Poet’s Perch now has a fresh new face as well as new footing.

    Doing Business

    by Emily Shifflett

    Walking to the crossroads
    Little box in hand
    Shovel swung up over the shoulder
    t night, walks a lonely man
    When he comes to his destination
    The shovel meets the dirt
    Digging, digging, deeper down
    The box gets put into dark, moist earth
    Inside, there is a picture
    That’s faded on the edge
    Along with a couple leaves and twigs
    Clipped, by moonlight, from their hedge
    Then the lines are drawn in dust
    A beacon for him who rides
    Flickering candles at pivotal points
    In the middle, man stands in moonrise
    Lips move, quickly and quietly
    Murmuring the words to call
    Waiting for a response:
    The sounds as footsteps fall
    Then, suddenly, there he stands
    Shrouded in the night
    Blonder than almost possible
    Smirk full of pomp and spite
    “Now, how can I be of service?”
    He says with a lilt to his voice
    The man finally remembers to take breath,
    In the final moments of his choice
    “I need your help,” he finally says
    “You CAN do that, can’t you?”
    The smirk remains, and a mirthless laugh
    “You have no idea what I can do.”
    So, the man makes his request
    Signs with a drop of red
    Sulfur eyes spark for a moment
    As he does business with the King of the Dead

    The Corpse

    by Eugenia Wang

    There was a corpse on the floor of my living room. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, and at that time in my life I lacked that certain necessary vitality motivating me to care about the body rotting, and so I left it there to spoil in the damp carpet beneath my living-room couch. It smelled like my various leftover food items spilled and similarly abandoned- that is, it didn’t quite smell like a corpse, but that was fine.
    Actually, I think back then the corpse was in front of my couch. I kicked it under later, and then it came back out during the summer and I had to kick it back under again.
    Anyway, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself back then, it being a period of transition for me — I had recently abandoned the less productive of my hobbies, instead spending my time alternating between a deep engrossment in my studies and sitting quietly on my couch contemplating my studies, which I was doing then. When I was done contemplating my studies, I sat contemplating my future, and when I was done with that I sat.
    My friends called in the middle of it, asking me to visit with them at the local forest at five. I told them I was busy, but maybe we could visit tomorrow? They agreed with some hesitance, and then I returned to my sitting.
    I realized at that time that I was sitting also facing a corpse, and although that was only marginally more interesting than just sitting, it was definitely more interesting that sitting contemplating my studies, I sat facing the corpse, and then sat contemplating a corpse. It looked at me.
    I went to bed and then woke up and returned to my studies and then called with my friends to confirm our visit, and then began preparing for our visit. Our visits were the only thing breaking up those numbing periods of time in between my studies and my thinking about my studies. I avoided the visits frequently because they removed me from the comfort of my living room, but looked forward to them always- back then, I sometimes forgot that life lived on outside without me, and it was nice to be reminded that the door to my living room was operational, if rarely used.
    But as I stood in front of the door, contemplating turning the knob, pushing and working the hinges of the door and opening the door, as you do, I considered the corpse behind me that looked just as rotten as it had that previous night. I thought then that perhaps I should do something about it? But that was the last time I thought about it.
    (I wonder if I had done it then if I would be here, now, where I am, if what hadn’t happened still wouldn’t have happened, if it would be better or worse or the same as it is now.)
    The forest was beautiful in a way that I used to want to grab and hold close to my face and feel against my cheek. But the whole thing felt far away – I could touch the trees and the grass but it wasn’t enough back then. I used to walk and contemplate the forest and how the forest grew, and with my friends would contemplate it together.
    I returned home a new person, my experience having refreshed me, until I saw the couch first, and then the corpse, and then the Whole Thing and everything felt very inevitable. I sat down where I had sat every day for countless years, with my studies open about me. For a moment, I sat contemplating my studies and then I returned to my studies.
    I vowed never to go outside again, and didn’t go outside for an entire month before my friends forced me out into the world. We went to the forest again and it was only upon my returning that I realized that the corpse was actually, honestly rotting. A thin dusting of flies had gathered in my living room, buzzing around the corpse and planting maggots under its skin. I bent over to check its face, which remained unrecognizable.
    I returned to my studies and then sat contemplating my studies and then sat contemplating my future and then sat and then went to bed.
    I think it was the following morning while I was eating my breakfast snack and watching the corpse that I became acquainted with the corpse. I watched its empty eye sockets and the flies crawling around inside of it and laying their babies in its gut and I decided I wouldn’t go outside again. I wouldn’t even pick up the phone. The visits had become just another unproductive hobby. I had to grow as a person and once I had developed enough I would be able to go outside and watch the trees grow without feeling guilty for my own lack of progress, and the only way I’d be able to grow was through my studies. At the time I was under the impression that the corpse agreed with me, because the flies had arranged themselves into a smile over its teeth.
    We studied the whole year that year. We didn’t even sit contemplating my studies. We just studied and learned and grew and when I saw the corpse in my kitchen looking more rotten than ever I didn’t even give it a second thought. It felt good that year, until summer came and my living room felt dark and hot and wet and the corpse stunk and something was growing in its belly. The maggots bloomed and the air was thick with flies. I resolved to go outside, get some fresh air, and call my friends. For the first time- ever, I think – the corpse bothered me. But I didn’t care enough to remove it, so I kicked it under the couch. I don’t know what I was thinking. I tried for the door but the door wouldn’t open. I started to panic but I just choked on flies and so I stopped panicking. After a bit I returned to the couch and returned to my studies. The corpse rolled back out from under the couch and out of spite I kicked it back under again and then drew up my legs so it couldn’t grab my ankles and pull me under as well.
    I didn’t quite give up, though. I called my friends, conspiring with them, but our schedules never coincided. My friends and I planned a visit for two days from then, but they all canceled later. It was going to be at the town park. My friends didn’t go but we went anyways and the world looked so small, then.
    The time came when my friends tired of my absence and broke down my door using force. They didn’t call beforehand, as they usually did when they visited, so it was very surprising to me when the door broke at its hinges and fell to the floor before me. The flies of my room poured out of my living room and into the faces of my friends, escaping into the world in a black, buzzing smog.
    It was only after they broke down the door that I realized that the corpse smelled terribly and had rotted terribly- by that time, the flesh had been picked off until it was just meaty bits clinging to the bones with flies wriggling beneath the meat, and there was something wild breathing in its chest.
    In the past, I had been careful not to tell my friends about the corpse, as I doubted they would understand. Seeing their faces slack and dumb with an odd sort of something like horror, I realized that they really didn’t.
    “Is this your corpse?” the authorities asked.
    “Yes.” I said.
    The authorities were unable to identify the corpse, and no one was missing so there were no data for them to collect to convict me of murder, but they collected data anyway just in case. They gathered my studies into their hands and asked me what I was studying. I didn’t know. They took my couch and my old food and then they gave them all back when they were done, emptying their arms of my things as fast as possible. I think I had hoped they would take them from me forever. But I think my things were too small for them — they looked impossibly big in my house, and when they stood next to me I had to crane my neck to see their faces.
    My friends had grown, too.
    When they were done, the authorities looked at me knowingly but they didn’t convict me. My friends were relieved I didn’t kill the thing. But I think . . . I think I actually did kill it, although with nothing so clumsy as a knife slid between the ribs or poison in its food.
    They buried my corpse in an unmarked grave and it crawled back home to me.

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