Beth Paulson lives in Ouray County, Colorado where she teaches workshops, leads Poetica, a monthly workshop for area writers, and co-directs the Open Bard Poetry Series. She formerly taught English at California State University Los Angeles for twenty-two years. Her poems have been published nationally in over 200 journals and anthologies and have four times been nominated for Pushcart Prizes. Beth’s fifth collection of poems, Immensity, was published in 2016 by Kelsay Books. Her website is www.wordcatcher.org.
Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world. Edna St. Vincent Millay
You were born with wings. Jalal-al-din-Rumi
Diamond of rainbow cloth, bent sticks
tail of ribbon trails behind,
all it does is scud along
unwinding its fat ball of string
while spring blows steady in our faces
park grass under us a sea
we run through, arms outstretched
like these blackbirds looping near
with their capable, unerring wings.
Suddenly it wheels and dives,
then climbs into the cloud-streaked sky:
a silk-clad jockey riding fast
or dancer costumed in bright sari?
Borne by gusts it rises high,
so much smaller far away
from us, feet tethered to the earth,
eyes looking up to marvel at:
does a kite strain to be free?
Sometimes the string you hold breaks
and there’s nothing you can do.
Sometimes people just leave you.
How tenuous are all connections:
we are, far as we can see,
just holding on at wind’s mercy.
First published in Cloudbank (journal of contemporary writing). Also appears in Canyon Notes (Ridgway, CO: Mt. Sneffels Press, 2012).
Seventeen Ways of Saying Rain
In the Japanese language, there are seventeen words for rain. Dianne Ackerman
Rain that makes the yellow leaves fall, rain that drips from a downspout into the mint patch, rain that beats a tattoo on the metal roof, rain that soaks through a waterproof jacket, rain that hangs like small pearls on spruce branches, rain that turns river water to café au lait, rain that collects on the backs of black and white cows, rain on marsh marigolds that was snow yesterday, rain that rolls rocks down onto a mountain pass, rain that makes dust puffs rise from dry earth, rain that shines through July afternoon sunlight, rain that smells of wood stacks and wood smoke, rain that hisses on asphalt under truck wheels, rain that unearths mushrooms in the forest , rain that paints deep red the sandstone cliffs, rain that bends down the faces of sunflowers, rain that mingles with tears.
First published in Mountain Gazette (2016). Also appears in Immensity (Kelsay Books, 2016).
The Color of Snow
Vermeer asked the maid
What color are clouds?
and he wouldn’t take white
for an answer. She looked
hard at the Delft sky
then, slow, replied
yellow and green….red!
In snow I see red, too,
on my way down Miller Mesa.
I’ve been snowshoeing,
soft slapping and crunching
what’s new fallen,
all afternoon following
through untouched meadows,
hushed forest of laden pines
and naked aspens, leaving
a giant’s deep tracks.
Now the sky’s lavender
and the distant peaks
I try to name violet
as late sun paints shadows
on boulders and drifts,
over a canvas of foothills,
sometimes blue and yes green.
First published in The Aurorean (2008) and nominated for 2009 Pushcart Prize. Also appears in Wild Raspberries (Austin, TX: Plainview Press, 2009)
All or Nothing
Nothing will do but to admit
there is a lot of you, nothing,
expanding, curving, exploding, birthing
throughout the universe, without ceasing,
shape shifter with no mass or charge--
there is just no way to measure you.
Big zero. Nil. Nada.
Our best thinkers can’t detect you
but only suspect you are behind
every insect wing, giant redwood,
fiery star and human being,
lurking between every atom,
holding together everything that exists.
Before Einstein you were named
Ether and Vacuum
but some now say you are eleven strings
of nothing (or maybe shards of subatomic particles).
I think I’ll call you invisible glue.
Both absence and presence,
you are the hole inside the empty bucket,
biblical void, wholly ghost,
suffused with unknown potential,
proof something comes from nothing.
Without you everything would be lost.
You are the white paper for my uncertain pen.
You are the air I step through above this broken sidewalk.
First published Sierra Nevada Review (2015). Also appears in Immensity (Kelsay Books, 2016).
Shooting Stars at Ghost Ranch
What is it we are a part of we do not see?
Such brightness in the immense
blackness I try to comprehend.
A universe 13 billion years old,
space-time, curved with strings
that sound in ten dimensions,
transparent matter holding together
billions of stars and planets.
This August night
I only know Earth I call home
is orbiting through a far-off field,
bits and pieces of comet rock
slamming into our atmosphere
lighting up nighttime.
Brilliant Perseid meteors
more than fifty we count
an hour, their persistent trains
lacing across the constellations
in a New Mexican sky on top of
a sleeping mesa where we sit
in a small galaxy of armchairs
and I murmur to you Ohhh
as each passes over our heads,
falling, burning itself up and out.
First published in Immensity (Kelsay Books, 2016)
Solo Hiking, Utah
Silent spires fill sight
light rises on red bluffs
buttes and blue sky
climb to cairns cross
slick rock fins wind-faced
grasp bend and tread
grip and scale boulders
scrape body to rock face
then stem and press chest
against walls or walk
on knees, reel and breathe
deep air. In a layered
and pocked slot of knotted
tree roots lift hips from the slit
when boots slip then
slide down lichened stone
sides of time-molded folds
and crab-crawl across ledge
edges sensing each measure
of descent to sand dune
noon oasis of old juniper
shade to a curved cave
where wind whispers time
and an arch opens like an eye.
First published in Immensity (Kelsay Books, 2016)
Land That Moves Back and Forth
Between umber sand, blue-streaked sky,
existence is a thin layer, place
Ute people named Sowapopheuyehe,
land that moves back and forth,
where you finger-sift a handful into mine,
grains so fine that once were mountains.
Ten miles out we watched cloud shadows
sweep across dun-colored hills
transformed to massive dunes
back-dropped by Sangre de Christos
over 14,000 feet, snow-capped in October.
Closer still the mounds lengthened,
unmetamorphic expanse stretched north
to south, a changing, ancient horizon.
Out of the car our feet touch down on
whatever sand last night blew in.
We inhale pungent yellow rabbit brush,
frame photos in gray-green rice grass.
Below us Medano Creek’s silver curve
glints in sunlight, its shallows cold
we wade through, bare-toed in Tevas.
Water, sand, wind--we only need three words.
You reach out your hand to pull me
when we slow-climb the closest one,
higher, deeper as air swirls, sands sting,
form waves we ride to the summit,
squint at behind sunglasses
before gravity pulls us like moonwalkers.
All day time’s construct expands.
I hold breath to meet it,
watch afternoon light spill, shadows shift
over dune faces, sands shape to fold, hollow, slope.
Perdonanos nuestros pecados tambien.
Forgive us also our trespasses.
By night we’ve grown spare, our need only
to shelter in fragrant sage under alimosas.
Hours slow. Awareness swells.
Ripple to bar, drift to ridge,
sand has already erased our footprints
With his small hands the eager child
grins and grips the fat brass pole
astride a sleek cream-colored pony
with painted wreath and legs a-gallop.
He reaches out for its carved mane
as around in a parade he rides
and leans his head back to look
up high in a red canopy
where a hundred or more white lights shine
on mirrors and pictures in golden frames
where an organ hid somewhere inside
plays circus music. His eyes roam
as he holds still and the world revolves--
sky and park and trees and people--
while his parents, moving slowly past him,
smile and wave one more time
and then he remembers their faces.
First published in Innisfree (2011). Also appears in Canyon Notes (Ridgway, CO: Mt. Sneffels Press, 2012).
A blaze of gold
more than red
in early evening light,
you strode slow through snow-
dusted new grass, skirting
a low hill behind the house.
Then black ears pointed up, you sensed
my presence on the porch
and turned your sleek head, sharp nose,
toward me quick-
flashing black bead eyes.
How you lit up
the dull afternoon
with your confidence
and in that moment gave me
a grim hint of your intent
before you trod soundless
to the forest edge
where lesser creatures live.
what more do I have
to fear or desire?
First published in Terrain (2008). Also appears in Wild Raspberries (Austin, TX: Plain View Press, 2009).
Except for Crows
I consider you common crow,
beautiful black rag in the sky.
Some call you trash bird
but I see you sleek,
slick in a silk suit,
in the best seat of the cottonwood.
True, you are often the undertaker
bobbing along side the road,
your voice perhaps too eager
broadcasting in clamorous caws news
of what to eat that’s dead.
I, whose heavy feet find only earth,
envy your perspective of gravity
and that among other birds
of less proven intelligence.
you don’t even display smugness.
Some campers have tried
tricking you with ropes into thinking
you were trapped inside a circle,
but you showed them
(first with one foot, then the other)
you know how to test boundaries.
I especially admire your monogamy,
the way two of you travel
through life’s blue air
seventy years or more, sometimes
resting on stretched wires or in trees
whose branches move slightly
with your dark weight.
And high inside rock clefts
you raise your young
to ignore all the trash talk
and to believe in the beauty
of their own blackness.
First published in The Kerf (2003). Also appears in The Company of Trees (Ponderosa Press, 2004).