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October 2022 - Issue #302

A field guide is a kind of guidebook book designed to help the reader identify wildlife (flora or fauna) or other objects of natural occurrence (e.g. rocks and minerals). It is generally designed to be brought into the "field" or local area where such objects exist to help distinguish between similar objects.

My first field guide was a Boy Scouts' Handbook which was a guide to many things from camping skills, survival in the wild and as a proper young man.

I bought a new book of poetry in 1989 by Robert Hass titled Field Guide.It is full of things about nature and the world that surrounded him in the California landscape.

A person can also be a field guide, if they have the knowledge of a field guide and are willing to take others out in the field or through a field.

There of plenty of guides to insects, mammals, trees, birds, fossils and other things. There are also reader's guides to novels and poetry. How about a guide to metaphysical poets or surrealism? Or a guide to Wallace Stevens' poem "The Emperor of Ice Cream."

Howard Nemerov has a poem titled "Beginner's Guide" which is a broad kind of guide to guides.
They stand in the corner, on a shadowy shelf,
Field Books of This, Beginner's Guide to That,
Remainders of an abdicated self
That wanted knowledge of no matter what.

Our model poem for this month is "Survival Guide" by Joy Ladin.
No matter how old you are,
it helps to be young
when you’re coming to life,
to be unfinished, a mysterious statement,
a journey from star to star...

When you think about it, you realize that almost all the guides - field or otherwise - are survival guides.

I read Ladin's poem and then looking for more poems and some bio notes, I found this essay where Ladin writes:
"I am not not me. When I lived as a man, I was not me. My 'I'–the leafless tree of my public pronoun–referred to a man I knew I wasn’t. Since I stopped living as a man, my 'I' refers to me, myself as I know myself to be."

I reread the poem thinking about what advice on survival is being given. Whole-class Discussion: What imagery feels the most powerful in this poem? What might these lines
"Learn to love / the awkward silence you are going to be”
and “Turn yourself into / the real you / you can only discover by being other”?

For our September issue, we call for submissions of poems that are a kind of guidebook. We suggest that you might want to title your poem with a guide's title. A few other guidebook poems with intriguing titles include "Guidebooks for the Dead" by Cynthia Cruz, and "Guide to Avian Architecture" by Megan Snyder-Camp.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


You want a lotus for your water garden.
Not a water lily that sits on the water.
For Buddhists, the color of the flower matters. Blue, white, red,
purple. Each means something.
Unsure? Choose true pink.
They rise from the mud and bloom upright and pure.
We like that it is a perennial plant
that wants, like me, like you, a sunny warm home.
Handle the tuber gently, especially the eyes
where the leaves will grow.
Read a poem
Lotus pond!
do not pick any
on this festival of spirits

said Basho.
You can start it in a pot.
Most of us start small.
It will grow to the size of the pot.
I like a deep pot with a few inches of sand
in the bottom and a few inches of heavy topsoil
- not that fluffy, fancy potting soil.
They rise from the mud.
They don't need sunlight until leaves appear.
Write a poem
Purple lotus there
marking the path that I see -
still cannot follow
Ready to move your lotus outside to the pond?
The water needs to be warm.
Add sand to the top of the pot.
Submerge your pot
The stalk is the past.
The flower is the present.
The fruit is the future.
Perhaps it will bloom on Buddha's birthday.
In evening, they return to the dark water -
like me, like you -
and open at daybreak.

Lily Hana Hayashi


My high school teacher always told me
I had to read faster.
Be it a book or the questions on an exam.
I never obliged, mostly because
I really wanted her to acknowledge
How I read, what I got out of it
And how it made me feel.
Also I couldn't care less
About how she graded me.

My mom told me, when reading books
she skips chapters and sometimes
even starts with the last.
That sounded awfully anti-chronological
But intriguing nonetheless.
She never forced me to read
And the more I enjoy
Exchanging sentiments with her now.

Some people tell me
They don't read at all.
They probably mean books
And it's probably because books are Menacing enough, time-consuming
When you're not a fast reader.
Societal pressure also weighs tomes
On the consumer who doesn't consume:
Be it social media blogs, Reddit rants,
The newspaper or books.

I've always taken my time
And still read most sentences twice
Or even 4 times if it's a foreign tongue.
It's as much of a pleasure
As is finishing a book quickly
And being able to start the next.

The author is my travel guide to
Acknowledging the people
Hidden behind the pages and letters
They give you time and space
To ponder yourself
And might bring you closer to
How you read, what you get out of it,
And why it makes you feel.

Victor Green


Find a place where you can hike year round
Not too far from where you live
Free of people, traffic noise
Moderately challenging terrain

Make time to go there everyday
Regardless of your mood
Blazing Sun, snowstorm or dreary rain
Morning, night or lazy afternoon

Take note of your surroundings as you walk
Colors, textures, movement, feel
Drink in every sight you see
Soak up every sound

Do not fight distracting thoughts
Allow them to intrude
They will dissipate in time
You have only to ignore them

Breathe in as you would normally
Breathe out your distractions
Acknowledge your anxiety
Take note of your reactions

Do not expect some magic cure
For all your woes and troubles
Do not dream of enlightenment
You are no Bodhisattva

What you're looking for is emptiness
A quiet corner of the mind
Away from all the chaos
The ugly Sturm und Drang

In time, you may find yourself
Unable to enumerate Life's imperfections
Knowing the World remains unchanged
Accepting your life as it is

Frank Kelly


The glass is small, thick, heavy,
Shaped like an elongated bell
Emerging from a squashed-ball base.

The alcohol pours like clear satin,
Calmly making the space its own,
The meniscus curving like a sly smile.

Coffee beans are dropped in and float
Incongruously, like tiny dark dug-outs.
Three for the purists; four is just showing off.

It takes skill to conjure flame from liquid -
Are we lighting the drink here, or the fumes above?
They're electric blue at first, and almost invisible.

Tiny wrinkles press up to the inside of the glass
Like fingerprints. The beans begin to boil and bubble -
They are the catalyst that changes everything.

The blue flame dons an orange mantle
As each bean releases a brown spike
Of gently sinking melt. As above, so below.
As the flames peak, and the spikes bottom out,
It's time to blow out the fire and pause,
Patiently, for quick lips do burn and blister!

The scent that arises on the tiny thermal
Is of aniseed and cedar wood, cicadas,
And a Columbian barista undertone.
The first lift to the lips is pure sensory overload.
The first sip heady, warm, spicy,
And it slides down the throat with its sharp claws out.

I like to sip, but not too slowly,
Timing it so there's a little heat left,
Even as the last drop glides past the beans well spent.

Robert Best


Of course, if you don’t keep them they are not secrets. Secrets are not meant to be shared.

The tulip bulbs I planted are invisible under leaves. No one knows where they are buried until spring and then the secret is secret no more.

The boy I thought I loved when I was 14 still doesn’t know. He will never know.

There are photographs on my phone that I never share. One day I will delete them.

Some days I lead a secret life. No one knows where I am or what I’m doing.

My dreams are secrets. Sometimes even to me.

I will tell you one secret. I’m writing this naked in the bathtub, late at night, sipping sweet vermouth. That is not a secret anymore.

But there are things I’ve written that you will never see. They are like those days, photographs, that boy, my tulips, some poems, and the person to whom I am writing.

Pamela Milne


The Book: One Hundred and Thirty-Five Chapters, a dedication to Nathaniel Hawthorne, an Etymology, numerous Extracts from many writers on seas and whales, plus an Epilogue.
It’s an experience, not a novel, a slog
through the oceans of history, philosophy,
theology, of being enisled on a ship
whose driving purpose is set by a Miltonic
demon bent on the destruction of a white whale.

The Author: Herman Melville
A seaman, writer of sagas, of yarns, of tales
full of water and driven men, of good and ill,
a penny-spent man loved by few, disregarded
by many, reeking of emptiness, the loneliness
of a life spent in spinning words in cramped spaces.

The Title: Moby-Dick, or The Whale
Name of an albino whale from an obscure source
page printed in an old journal but raised to a
monster of the deep who is the incarnation
of natural forces encountered by man in his
eternal drive to dominate all of the earth.

The Captain: Ahab
A whalebone for a leg, a revenge-driven death-
obsessed old whaler who haunts his own quarter-deck
with a taut, single-minded obsession to kill
the whale that maimed him, to spite god and nature
for the eternal suffering of man, a Lear.

The Narrator: Ishmael
A man of no background but infinite learning,
self-described as one “in mute calm amid the
tornadoed Atlantic,” with “ponderous planets
of unwaning woe revolving” about him
where he abides in “eternal mildness of joy.”

The Allusions
Full of arcane references to old explorers
of the deep, of definitions, of echoes,
of riffs on Lear, Sir Thomas Browne, and the Bible,
monodies on death and descriptions of “that
howling infinite” and “Descartian vortices.”

The Symbols
The whale, the ship, the captain, the untrammeled sea,
the color white, Queequeg’s coffin, names of ships
encountered in the void, the Blacksmith, the hat,
the sharks, the harpoon, tattooed Queequeg and his god
Yojo, and of course the ship itself, The Pequod.

The Meaning
It is “chance, free will, and necessity” combined
“interweavingly working together” under
“the unseen and unaccountable old joker”
himself, “the fine hammered steel of woe” played out in
“manhood’s pondering repose of If.” It is life.

Rob Miller


After all the time
Torn between them, Hester,
Come sit with me,
Rest with me by the rivulet,
Its cool water coursing lightly
Over our toes.

You don’t know all the time
I imagined what Arthur whispered
To you after yet another day
Of Roger’s churlishness.
I have no sense of what he said,
Or how he said whatever it was that led
To Pearl.

Hold my hand, dear Hester.
Pulse that memory of the moment,
Of the rush you felt,
The flush that negated Roger
And let it flow to me.
For that is my desire, bold Hester,
To know the words, to swallow them,
So that I too can learn to navigate
The prism of your heart.

Rob Friedman


Walk through the house methodically,
not slowly. The fire’s just a few miles away,
and headed in your direction
by whims of wind it creates itself as it goes.
Its pyro-anvil reaches five miles into sky,
iron-dark, spewing live embers.
Prepare to evacuate, the bullhorn’s
already fading into distance
as you fondle a crystal wine-glass (no,
leave it), a well-worn pair of boots (maybe),
hammer – what might you need
in this unknown country
your familiar world becomes
when smoke gets in your eyes, your lungs?
Grab an N95. Important papers, meds,
laptop/charger, cat carrier –
don’t forget the cat! How much will fit
in your car? Think of this
as practice in the art of lightening
your self, of leaving, giving things up;
of taking off into the wild
smoky-blue. Flames on the ridgetop help
re-set the meaning of Essentials.
Think of this as life.

Taylor Graham


From the Latin “Gravare”
To Burden - but how to let it go?
To let it go?
This is no Disney movie
*Rule 1 - There is no timeline
No end in sight
Time has both stopped
And continued
There is only the “before” and the “after”
It is how you measure the days and weeks
You speak to others like yourself
but they have been there; done that
Or something like it
Grief has no one size for all
Your pain is fresh; in the now
But now is where you are
Still, you want the yesterdays
Yet you know what seems comforting
Will keep you from tomorrow
Where you imagine the pain is less
Though not painless
Back to the Book
Crying – Chapter 2- seriously, a whole chapter
This is depressing but you wonder
How much crying is too much? Not enough?
You wonder what it means to move on
(I steal a look- there it is - the last chapter)
When you can barely move at all
They say you need to MOVE
They say you need to get OUT
Out of bed? Out of your head?
It hurts
Of course they say
No, it hurts – all over
They say you need to MOVE
I imagine a Peloton boo-hoo bootcamp
You got this; Oh, wait, no you don't
They say you need to get OUT
On go my sneakers, mask and sunglasses
I can at least look like everyone else
Fake it till you make it
Breathe they say
Nature heals
But I feel
Even more aimless
More lonely
More alone
Where is the hand that used to hold mine?
Stick with it they say
Stick, Stank (did I shower this week?), Stuck
Maybe it’s Dr. Seuss I need
I laugh
It feels strange
But good
Laughter- the best medicine
But not much is funny
Laugh and the world laughs with you
I never could tell a joke
Cry and you cry alone
So I do*

Terri J. Guttilla


Invite the stony heart to go with you
to fish for crappie in April. Pure fun.
No fancy equipment needed. A cane pole
and minnows work just fine. Find a cove and
anchor near shoreline’s brush piles or cypress
or troll alongside an old log jetting out
into the shallows. Give a good cast
and be patient. A crappie seldom strikes
with gusto so be on your mark for the hit.
When you feel the pull, set the hook
with a gentle tug upward so you don’t tear
its paper-thin mouth. If you have bad luck,
turn your pockets inside out or ease on over
to another spot and try again, enjoying
the warm sun on your face and shoulders.
Continue for a good part of the day.
Know there’s no pressure to catch a mess
because you can always make up a tale
to tell your friends back home, but if
you catch a string of ‘em, go ashore and
fry ‘em up for a meal fittin’ and filling.
Besides that, anything can happen
near water during the breaking of bread.
An atrophied heart might even feel a tug.

Jo Taylor


First of all, remember this:
Baking a cake is not about you.
A cake is a gift that could fall flat and fail, so stay focused.
Some experts will tell you that baking is nothing more than science,
Like a lab experiment in your Chemistry class.
Certain elements are combined in a prescribed order,
Sugar, butter, eggs, flour, salt, leavening agent, and additives
Such as nuts, fruits, spices and flavorings, if called for in the strategic plan.
Then the components are heated to exact specifications to achieve the desired outcome.
Others say that cake baking is a craft, based on years of practice,
Like weaving a set of place mats or throwing a pot on your wheel,
The crafter must seek out the finest materials, focusing on color, season,
Aroma, texture, design and scale, obtaining the best tools and caring for them faithfully
Until the long hours of devoted research bring the project to light,
In this case, perhaps a Black Forest Cake with cherry filling and perfect whipped cream,
Served in the spring when deep sweet Bings are red and ripe.
Others know in their hearts that baking is an art,
Inspired by the angels themselves, as the artist in winter’s cold
Fashions the Bouche de Noel on Christmas Eve with candied chestnuts
Nestled in gingered icing with white sugar crystals like snow in starlight.
The experts are all wrong. And they’re all right.
Baking a cake is all of these, and you are the gift-giver,
Creating with your own hands and your whole open heart
Some from nothing more than the stores in your pantry.
And you, the chemist, the weaver, the painter
Must step aside and surrender the moment your masterpiece
Passes from your hands to the birthday boy, the graduate, the retiree,
The bride and groom, the Christmas celebrants.
But you can remember, as I remember
The carrot cake with cream cheese icing I made for my sister’s birthday
When she turned seventy, nine years before she died. She was complicated,
And I had to make a complicated cake for her—
Carrots grated by hand, crushed pineapple, coconut and almonds
That had to be toasted in advance, and after the icing,
When I had part of a large carrot left, the baking angels whispered to me,
“Decorate the top with candied carrot curls. You can do it. We’ll show you how.”
These are the memories a cake baker carries in her heart.
But as a beginner, buy the Fanny Farmer Cookbook, pay attention to
Details, like pre-heating the oven, practice your craft, and trust the angels of art.

Rose Anna Higashi


A camouflaged duck boat floats between oyster beds,
its outboard motor silent and similarly disguised,
bobs up and down on vertical waves once
longshore currents exhaust violent energy surges,
the moon & sun’s gravitational pull subside,
& magnetic fields build momentum anew.

One mariner in waders jumps over the bow,
peers into shallows searches for treasures:
horseshoe crabs, magic lanterns, mother of pearl…
as his grunting buddy dressed in military fatigues
prepares to battle salmon locked in the shoals
fortifying himself with slugs of sour barley.

The men & their dingy lean towards the shoreline,
ranch dressing falls surreally in the distance
like micro-meteors as seagulls shower homes
with guano, tag spotless glass windows, delight
children rife in superstitious lore who welcome
good luck of those anointed in bird droppings.

Good fortune blessed young minds given to chance,
grandmother’s fables & urban legends; they
beckon wayward hunters to dance on the beach—
squeeze sand between toes rather than sinking
in the ocean’s saturated soil—immersing themselves
in salt water mysteries, hooking spawning fish for sport.

Sterling Warner