POTHOLE POND

Hapless newborn tadpoles
swimming in a pothole pond
spawned by a wrecked sprinkler,
hatched from eggs shat into
a midnight half inch of hope
by some misdirected Frog God.
Squirming beneath a layer of tepid scum
we strain to grow limbs and lungs
before daylight bakes us to dirt.

What mighty tadpoles we be!
Beasts of opera and engineering,
algorithms and ambition,
allegory and opposable thumbs,
cunning with a perpetual striving
to keep the sprinkler broke.

***

SUMMERTIME

It was a fertile season,
baby skunks scampered on tiptoe by the half dozens
in sweet scented shade of night-blooming jasmine.
Shameless jacarandas birthed purple
blooms well into the late hot doldrums.
Tomatoes gave their fruit early
then gave up, green
vines gone bald in the heat
of a dying sun.
Sofas mated, multiplied on street corners,
plump foam for bird’s nests,
scrapyard steel at thirty cents a pound.

It was a complaisant season,
all pear-crisp saisons and hand-thrown tortillas,
forty-thousand acre fires a nuisance
only when the wind blew our way.
Cops who elsewhere used triggers to scratch
what itched them
sat at the wheel by my house
staring at phones in laps while white
boys driving black
BMWs blew through red
lights, scattering pedestrians.

Then, too, it was a fractious season,
the first pickup that hurtled down my street
trailing an American flag big as a bedsheet
seemed a truculent patriotism, toddler
to be mollified not feared.
But as a high-pressure ridge settled in
for yet another month of record temperatures,
appeared strange linens of every fold.

A steady stream of charts and runes
reminded us of November season’s coming chill.
Crybabies fingered buttons while grownups
who should have known better
made our beds on a knife edge
and waited to discover what kind
of country we had become.

***

MEDIAN

Consider the optimism
required to plant
tomatoes
in a city median
in year five
of the drought.

Imagine the watering can,
how far it must
be carried
and by whom. A madwoman
or hungry
citizen?

Remember when you believed all vines
produced fruit worth
eating, each
poem you could imagine
seemed worth
writing down?

***

AFTER THE CONFLAGRATION

Three months since the fire and already Mother Nature’s miracle is visible
on the hillsides. Amidst patches of gray ash, between piles of soot-stained
limbs and stones, new life begins to show. Dagger-sharp yucca roasted khaki
by flames are going green at the roots. Fresh shoots in bright pastels
with tell-tale burgundy highlights reach up from the base of blackened
laurel, buds clenched like defiant fists. Where burnt
bark has peeled away, pink-tinted
wood hints at life hidden beneath.

Turn a corner on the trail and the faint smell of smoke still hangs
in the air. Turn another to see the lone pine on the bluff, half-seared
but saved by brave firefighters from the nearby women’s prison wielding
rakes and pulaskis. Nestled in the needles, a spider hovers
in the center of her hopeful web. Overhead, a pair of crows tussles
on the updraft.

Families in the homes below look up in wonder, moved by how quick
life has been to reassert itself. They, too, were singed and yet survived.
Still, though the fire is out their beloved heirlooms and valuable papers
remain packed in plastic boxes, ready to go. This marvel will not be enough
to save the hillside when monsoon rains arrive.

***

Photo © Bronwyn Mauldin