Today I went to First Street Park in Benicia for the Poets’ Picnic with my mother, artist Barbara Holthuis. Poet Laureates from cities all over the Bay read their poems and the poems they drew from baskets that had been filled by Benicia writers involved in the First Tuesday Poets. The group meets monthly at the Benicia Library.
Hearing these poems, I was reminded of when I lived in Alexandria, Virginia and participated in the Live Poets of Alexandria. The group met regularly at the Alexandria Public Library. Some of the poems I wrote then eventually became a core part of my first poetry collection, Sanctuary.
Ronna Leon (Benicia), Deborah Grossman (Pleasanton), Janell Moon (Emeryville), Elaine Butts (San Ramon), Mary Rudge (Alameda), Juanita Martin (Fairfield), Joel Fallon (Benicia), Ruth Blakeney (Crockett), Cynthia Bryant (Pleasanton), Ronnie Holland (Dublin), Parthenia Hicks (Los Gatos), Gary Silva (Napa County), Sally Ashton (Santa Clara County), Robert Shelby (Benicia), Cher Wollard (Livermore), Allegra Silberstein (Davis), Connie Post (Livermore)
Organizer Ronna Leon, current Poet Laureate of Benicia, had a “Poem Home” where all listeners in today’s audience could pick up a poem to take home with them. Mine was by Theresa Whitehill of Ukiah.
“Gates of Winter”
The two gates of winter are guarded by the dead. All
Hallows’ Eve in early November
and Memorial Day when summer is allowed to leak
itself out into free air. Death by love, by life, by reason
on the one side, death by patriotism, by ideals, by
economy on the other.
We stand and feed the dead in order to fend off winter
and to banish it, to free ourselves of ornamental
limits. We feed the dead our memories and our
sorrows, with barbecues and sweets, with a holiday
dedicated to softening bones over a fire, chocolates
wrapped in iridescent foil. But what is it the dead
actually savor, what’s delectable once you’ve
divided yourself in two and no longer have to stand
on the hill imagining wisdom?
I have been listening to the dead and find them
difficult. They are not as articulate
as they could be. What is it that sets their skin
aflame, that causes them to flutter their eyelids
half open with helpless desire? I would think it would be
flowers, and babies, and the more expensive kind
of soap bubbles, red objects, fireworks, swooning,
those things inescapably fertile and passing. We are
this planet’s goodbye and its trident. We know how to
feed things, spirits and loneliness, structural steel
and alphabets, now we must learn somehow
to be fed.
On the Benicia Pier after the Poets’ Picnic