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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by Iris Jamahl Dunkle

Geography as Seen from the Tall Ships
From lull of dank, wet wood and passage, too many bodies
pressed together; our clothes bleached and worn thin
from sun’s glare and winds incessant blowing.
From the sway that had pooled and gathered in us
like a brackish bilge until we were unable
to understand land, that line of shore defining an end,
then from it the green hills pouring back into
what we were meant to discover. From the weak legs
that strode from the small boat into icy
surf came uncertainty and doubt. The weight
of cargo carried across then dragged off
the ship and over the grassy dunes
to the waiting wagons. There were no maps.
There were only ideas and a strange man standing by
the wagons. Still wet, we gathered again
close, but far away from what we knew of
ourselves in the rough wood cabs. Two rutted
tracks leading a dusty path out from months
of salt and sway, over the roll of hills.


Tule sway in the wind carrying song
from creek bed to creek bed: Atascadero Creek

born on English hill where the sea lingers on horizon
like a forgotten idea, flows back over

Gold Ridge to town then veers away toward
Green Valley.  And all along that blue song

moans, fog and limestone, above, then below
the ground.  From patchwork hills where orchard leaves

murmur reverently back until there is a song spoken
in pale pink blossoms that rise from

each trees’ green budded, but dark, delicate fingers.

I Must Go Out and Find Something Else to Hate

Besides the pink-petal blossoms that flag
the untrimmed trees that continually line
the passage of potholed roads carrying
me away from their embrace and this place. 

I must find something that is more deadly
than arsenic and lead to kill what spreads
uncontrollably: mistletoe, cankers
mildew, flies, and my need to always look back. 

I must watch the hills roll out toward
somewhere else where the fog rests.  I must
site a single tree rising on the hill’s
sloped, broad back, and know it as a sign.

Even as the wagon slows, even as
the dust rises to blind us of hope.


When there were just the two worn ox-cart ruts:
a road traveled between the lumbering
camps in the Russian River Valley and
the mouth of the Petaluma River
that which was needed was built roadside:
a few saloons, a blacksmith shop, a general store.

The few who stopped were welcomed by the scent
of the tall pines that crowned the hills above
and the wide prairie of the Laguna
where oaks rose offering a majestic, dappled shade
that reflected in the lakes. What the town would become,
months, years later was still written in the minds
of those passing through. Body stiff from
too many hours sitting at the helm
of the massive cart, the mind wanders, spins
cities out of fields, spells fortune out of stars.