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Five Poems, by Martha Ronk


in the sky

in the sky would be as others have recognized an anti-utilitarian move
yet no doubt all humans have posited such—just their sounds and cries
call it up—the gliding sideswoop raptors mostly, but in the twilight
the swallows take to the abundant flying insects as if nothing else
had ever existed, and that swarm near the edge of Peninsula road
is one place to be on this peninsula not so different from any others
these birds no words can get hold of—no adjectives, fonts, metaphors—
how could even an ode praise one of them enough even out of the sky
as an egret lifts one leg then another in slow progress in the shallows,
undulating white against gray (unda/wave), language fails bird
or idea as it moves as if water were an element to be distained

Leonardo envisioned a device to be built of wood, reeds and taffeta: “A small
model can be made of paper with a spring-like metal shaft that after having been
released, after having been twisted, causes the screw to spin up into the air.”



in the seaweed strewn across the tide line the Least Sandpipers
settle to feed, until suddenly they’re off in a great wave
miniscule flecks of light switching on and off, lifting up,
a Mobius strip twisting away into nothing and back again at great speed
until at a spot recognized by some mechanism humans lack
they touch down momentarily before sweeping off again
in a line of white hallucination you can’t keep up with can’t see how
they don’t knock one another out of the air given such urgency
and immobile as you are you’ve caught yourself up in the blinding cloud
of indistinguishable birds unable to pull away unable to do anything
but give in as if some substance for which you have no name
enabled adherence to the steak of light the flip of their wings releases
just at the top line of water like a large fish about to breach the surface

Isaac Newton: “Hence therefore it comes to pass, that Whiteness is the usual colour of Light; for Light is a confused aggregate of Rays indued with all sorts of Colours, as they are promiscuously darted from the various parts of luminous bodies.”


The place of night

In a slurry of dark and light, night picks out light not the other way around—
the curvy shadows of branches, the reflective shine, the lull between stem and stem,

leaking into black sorrel undergrowth and with the passing of centuries extra trunks
on redwoods fuse and flow together and branches move horizontally as bridges
from trunk to trunk from limb to limb, and it is dark,

no way to visualize a dark that can’t be seen, memory leeching away as time itself,
dark undercurrents of connections one to another across thresholds, and in the center

how black-suited, how back-turned they all appear late as it is and unusual,
night enclosing and opening as dimly this face and that one finally slide through

fusing with us as we make our way stumbling with the uneven paving
into another time as the interstices of the brain weaken and allow for seepage

we tend to huddle and branch, shedding outer garments as trees shed bark
dropping woolens and jackets in tandem as if agreed upon

the surreal occurring more frequently as I’m nearer the trees that seem to
evoke such nightly disfiguration without the curse of ordinary speech.


Night: a photograph by Robert Adams

Ordinary bits of light on neighborhood leaves, trees passed by,
spattered not-very-white on a random number of them,
the canopy of leaves wide enough to hold multiple bits of light
and what I can’t help is how pulled I am into the lights as if my eyes
could focus on multiple places at once which I know they can’t
and yet my body, flattened and splayed, spreads itself over the leaves
and the branch never lowers or moves, simply stays as it is
as I am pulled from each limb and finger, head and elbow onto the tree
as if I could just lie there elongating out to the extreme endpoints
not in my neighborhood but in his Longmont neighborhood in 1976
when at that time I was nowhere near and yet the collection
online allows me to move entirely into a night and lights
scattered I suppose from an ordinary street lamp on the sidewalk
and the tree branches and it must be summer given so many leaves.


what next

what might turn into what     grow into what as out of mud

what place might humans have      in the turbulence

so awkwardly creaturely     lumpish with legs

switching language around     wishing it could out of nothing

on the phone she says     moldy bread was put on wounds

—civil war wounds or mushrooms or dirt—

there’s garbage in the Balboa creek watershed     chip bags

Styrofoam clams    plastic this’s and that’s congealing

someday     computer altered frog cells could eat them

yet the transitoriness of all we know we are    fractures us

damns our creaturely minds     self-destructive in intent

crows must have been something else before     they’re so self-assured

skies marked up with ink pens     they roll around on ant hills

open up locked boxes     laugh at us clumsy sorts

even ground water doesn’t last     we once imagined

oceans swirling    unending underneath     water into water



  • Martha Ronk is the author of eleven books of poetry and one book of short stories. Her most recent books include The Place One Is, Silences, Transfer of Qualities (longlisted for the National Book Award), and Vertigo (winner of the National Poetry Series). She has had several artist residences at Djerassi and MacDowell, and has won a National Endowment Grant and the Lynda Hull Poetry Award. Her PhD is in Renaissance literature and she has been a faculty member at Occidental College in Los Angeles and during the fall 2015 at Otis College of Art and Design.

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