Out of the 115 original poems we received, 16 were selected to play on KQED’s airwaves every Friday in April.
The writers got creative and covered a variety of different topics: friendship, time, California and even bugs getting dressed up for a garden party. The poets come from all over the Bay Area, and included professionals in poetry, amateurs and students (fifth grade to be exact). The youngest poet who submitted is just 10 years old.
Below you’ll find the poem text and audio recordings from the broadcast. If you’re interested in reading the full 115 submitted works, you can view them here.
“How do you know all is well?”
And while you’re thinking that,
here’s a curious garden path
that winds back to a familiar piece of land,
small and intentionally tended,
the body that you grew up in,
and an abstract center or heart: a pear tree
whose branches reach just beyond your skin
and say, wordlessly,
“While you’re thinking that,
remember the hinge of your jaw,
the twin tunnels in your nose,
tight muscles over arm bones—
feel how they cling there—
and the space between the tissues
among your tarsals.”
you keep breathing the sky—
which is falling—
The tree doesn’t know
only that it’s winter,
and there against a gray background
is an alumy but edible pear.
That’s how you know.
“Nửa Việt & Half American”
The war was budding outside
my home in Quảng Ngãi & everywhere.
I lived with Ông Ngoại because his daughter
didn’t want me.
For school, I owned one color
pencil, double-headed: red
& blue, so the white must have been somewhere
inside of me.
I sat in class until the 5th grade, so when my children pass
elementary, I’ll burst—the thrill of knowing
they’re smarter than me.
Paul Kelly Campos
As I washed my hands they felt like a stranger’s - blue-veined and purple-nailed. And as I
glanced through the foggy window I caught a glimpse of myself on the roof with you.
On the roof, gravel shifting beneath us, you nudge out of the moist soil the green buds
you’ve been working so hard on. The world is so large out here, I try my best to take in with a breath.
Standing below, you hand me the planter and within it I can feel the wet grainy heat of the
life struggling to bloom.
“¡Quédate Quieto!” you yell to me in a command, as you prepare, what looks like,
golden empanadas in the kitchen. “¡Estas como un niño baboso! ¡Sentate!”
This loving and necessary ridicule casts you in the light of a different evening. In a house made
of white adobe and reddish tiles. Where the smell of fire, steaming earth, and flour are not far away
Sitting finally, I’m unable to stop laughing even with the warm food in my mouth. I laugh at
myself, at the absurdity around us, and most of all at my inability to stop laughing. My laughter
continues until I cannot remember laughing and can only recall sobbing sorrowfully. But you are
so strong, strong in ways that, sometimes, I am not sure I deserve. You drape yourself around my shoulders like a quilt and cool me down by telling me the story of Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl.
Albert Flynn DeSilver
“A Haiku for California”
pair of black vultures
glide between two burnt trees—
not a word between them
“Always Together ..”
When I am hurt, And you feel it..
When you feel I decide to ignore..
When I ignore you agree..
When you agree I forget ..
When I forget you come back..
And when you come back we walk together again..
~ No Sorry ..No forgiveness .. Just friendship .
Always together ..
Michal "MJ" Jones
When I came here / lifted from mother’s / abdomen like soil
I had enough lives / stockpiled to know / there is nothing to
the myth / getting it right / no matter how / many rotations we
spin and spin / til we’re sick dizzy / son & I / In centripetal orbit,
fleshy upright turnstiles / we scream a laughter / into ether like
prayer already answered / He’s exhausted bones / by nautical
twilight I gaze / between crib bars / brown skin / in deepening dusk
crest & trough / his dulcet breath / Oceans tide my looking / Perfection
my sins may deface / At star-rise ceremony / in blackness / I lift him
soft swift certain / of an un-caging / in my chest. Lay him / out just
a moment for apex / of breath / hummingbird heart / thrumming
against my life line / I could weep / at my own / capacity to hurt him &
hurt him again / Be the reason / he therapies / But for now I kiss
sweet sternum / massage soft tendrils / sprung from scalp
Stare into ceaseless / forgiving night.
“The Ladybug Band”
Have you ever seen a ladybug playing a violin?
Or making sweet music on an old accordion?
Maybe I was dreaming but I swear I think there was
a ladybug band playing by the ranunculus.
They practice every evening, after a working day.
Some drum on tambourines, others pick the bass.
It’s more of an orchestra, everyone joins in
until the sun goes down and daylight grows too thin.
Then once a month or so, they put on a show.
All bugs in the garden get dressed-up to go:
The butterflies wear bow-ties; rolly pollies in shiny shoes;
spiders love their fancy hats and dancing to the blues.
So anytime a ladybug lands upon your hand
maybe they are asking if you’d like to hear the band.
There’s so much in a garden that we don’t always know
but if you listen well, you may hear a tuba blow.
“The pink leaved blossom tree”
There was a pink leaved blossom tree that got prettier as the days went by.
And every time I looked at it, my voice turned to a sigh.
It was growing in my garden, getting taller every day.
I sat down in my chair as my years faded away.
I admired that tree, even in my dreams.
But then, I woke up and I started to see
That there were not many days left for me.
So I might as well sit down and admire the blossom tree.
“The Flesh of Time”
How do you spend time? With quarters and pennies
tossed into sun-splash fountains, meager transactions
for any sweet bitter moment? How bold it is to claim
that we can spend time, like crumpled dollars ordered
in a register in exchange for some fruit or a single box
of yet-to-be-bent spaghetti. I guess we are just hungry
for something, anything, that we are truly capable of
sinking our teeth into. After all, there is no raw pinky flesh of time
to tenderize, no chewy chocolate hours we can melt
beneath our tongues. We spend time just to buy time
for quality time, for some leisure time, for playtime--
and that’s all we’re really doing, isn’t it? Just playing
time, or playing it out, replaying it, or playing with it
as an imaginary friend we’ll never quite get to touch.
in june of 1979, when our edges run like mango juice down chins, she dunks me into the ocean
and i come up with my nose dripping. on her tongue there is a paper crane, electric blue, like my
favourite flavour of sour candy. she drips melted wax all over my feet, tips the can of soda into
her mouth. i catch the tail end of a prayer, sneak glances as she slips out of her swimsuit. her
collarbone is the most beautiful thing i have ever seen. the sun is bright in my eyes, god in the
sharp intake of breath. i write poems about summer in november, having just found the words
for the way the sky stuttered. like hey, i don’t know if you’ll ever see this but, and it shatters,
rains chunks of blue on my shoulders. her teeth sink into the plump part of my lip.
it was all burned by the sun — the valley
swollen with strip malls, the ash brown hills
pocked with gray rocks and the remnants
of human hands: a check suitcase filled
with sand, the lining torn open to rot and dust;
slabs of broken concrete littering the dry
riverbed; a chain link fence crowning
the high embankment, gone with rust
and warped by the daylight’s constant blaze.
we walked here, past the cacti, the alien
howl of the peacocks, their brilliant plumes hidden
behind the walls of a compound. do you remember?
I once found a feather, the indigo eye circling
on a black matte plane, gazing back at us
or beyond our bodies to the horizon
seeing nothing at all, its beauty intact
and useless. our gripped hands held and
released a pressure, the language of skin
on skin. love, sunset signaled our turn to home,
the sky’s spare colors, just rose flesh
and blue. the cold would descend at dusk,
a whiteness taking hold inside the night.
I couldn’t wait to undress, embrace and kiss.
I thought I would always keep you warm.
Esther Lim Palmer
“The Binding Bee”
Do we wake to wither, or climb
High for the rounded sky?
Must it be either?
I’ve grown in stillness—letting
Bumblebees sip my sweet nectar, and feeling
Their soft fur fill the hollow of my face
As they wiggle with natural contentment.
Here comes the rain again.
Let me not turn like autumn leaves,
Red and brittle with age,
Fallen and forgotten underfoot.
Let me live renewed in evergreen glades,
Among the hum of bees in the hive of bliss—
They will bring.
Would you please explain to me this preference for gravity
This lingering upon the shore, legs plastered to the sand
When weightlessness awaits at hand, bright buoyancy
Abounds for free — leave lead behind, enter the sea
Discover, know yourself to be mere tiny mote, bit of
Delight, held, embraced by liquid light — released
To play, awash in glee, loosened from sobriety
Floating, hyaline, vasty
“because the world's heart is on fire”
take the air in like your truest friend
because it, like death, is your body’s constant
most consistent companion. say yes to the
heavy rise and fall of your chest when sleep comes
and you dream of waking in a field of dandelions
bursting to seed, miles of softness matching
how you hold your own hand in your hand,
fold your fingers over your own fingers,
imagining each pointer and pinky and thumb
is a friend giving another friend a hug. be stranger
to no one, especially yourself. when you feel distant
from who you think you are meant to be, spend
every minute of brushing your teeth looking
in the mirror at the centers of your eyes until
your pupils dilate signifying you are in love.
do not be afraid of loving every thing, even
the dead jellyfish on the beach still glowing
a bit of purple inside translucent skin, or
the car alarm going off at three am when you
just began your cycle of REM, or the browning
leaves of the orchid you can’t get to bloom again,
or the homeless man who screams and spits,
or the shoelace that breaks off when you tie it,
or the missing last page of the novel you couldn’t
wait to finish, or the doubt in your head that
keeps trying to convince you your efforts
at efforting are worthless. no matter what
do not die another death inside. do ignite
the fire starter that’s easy to light. or the
firecrackers that remind you of being a child.
and run around with sparklers in daytime making
sure not to catch your hair or the too dry grass.
because the world’s heart is on fire and you
must not also burn away into piles of ash.
Siddharth Mahi Haasan
Yellow is the feeling you get when you’re outside having fun.
Yellow is the color of the big, bright sun.
Yellow is the sound of a nice breeze.
Yellow is the taste of hot and gooey cheese.
Yellow is the sound of a happy parade.
Yellow is the taste of ice-cold lemonade.
Yellow is the feeling you get when you get helped by a friend.
Yellow is the sound of bones getting a mend.
Yellow is the color of a vivid flower.
Yellow is the smell of a steaming hot shower.
Yellow is the feeling you get after a hard day’s work.
Yellow is the color of a bright field, where animals lurk.
Yellow is the smell outside on a hot summer day.
Yellow is the feeling you get when there’s a kind word you hear someone say.
Yellow is the color of a bright shooting star.
Yellow is the sound of a starting car.
And, yellow is a color that is warm and mellow.
"A Sudden Shower"
The sky must get angry and wants to pelt
Roaring rocking pouring
The dust of this land is washed away.
If I had known there would be a sudden shower
All the things I don’t want to remember
All those would have been left outside.
On a sudden shower day
I will be standing there.
As if nothing happened
The sun mischievously
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