Tim Kahl


Perhaps it is the era of the Port-O-Let on the side of the highway
for CalTrans workers to squat in private and hide their souls
while a plume of smoke from the stacks introduces its
fresh regret to the penitent wind and the brotherhood of clouds.
O garden of potholes and shadows thrown by car parts
broken off and lurking on the shoulder where the straw
collects after it has quit the grasp of the trucks.
Ahead, the brown foothills shimmer in their crewcuts
of sun-baked stubble. I spy an orchard, an island
of misbegotten green in the months of drought.
Passing over the aqueduct, my eyes bounce along
the power lines; the deeds of men in the past
support the weight of the travelers over the curves
and contours of this golden landscape full of bitters.
The dead traffic cones are cut down by the inattentive,
hurrying to the edge of the reservoir’s skeleton.
Tire tracks run across the charred earth and
leave a record of a steep crawl against the hill
and the vague notion of a dam turning to
dust and rubble. It’s a thought that occupies
the minds of three logicians in a strawberry field.
The automatic drivers pass the places without names
where the fences have fallen down, where the spider webs
quiver, where the corridos measure an old form
of tribute to wild water, where the trees are sculpted
by ambitious weather, a fusion of heat and sound . . .
where the beads that women wear are clods of earth,
where a lone egret stands in a field of lettuce,
where the admission is free and inquiry is
a beverage made of surplus fruit. Corn maze next exit.
The day absorbs more doubt and contaminants
and shades toward the dark—illegal fireworks
lighting up the night sky over Salinas.
The old debate about the desal plant powers up
again. An attempt is made to reclaim the storm
as it sweeps across the tedious highway lanes.
Still, the rubber bumper marks on the white
cement dividing walls remain. A nylon sack full of
tent stakes has fallen off and slid to the berm.
Toys and dolls were given to flight, a result of
a backseat experiment with an open window.
Their painted faces resist the grit the traffic
spits at them. They coil and crumple like manikins
of the deceased the Miwok made. If the shovelers
pick up the remnants, all of it undergoes the change
from trash to gas, joined by the pillow nestled between
two pylons, the crushed red canister, the bungee cord,
the flip-flop flung to the dotted line. Still more:
the recliner with its cotton guts hanging out,
paper plates, a plastic oil carton, a stripped bumper,
and miles upon miles of shredded tires.
Somebody notify the crap collectors and tell them
to carry our dung-catchers from site to site.
Is this the era of the Port-O-Let? cries the chorus
of roosters. Let the new day begin with another
tangled sculpture of debris that has dribbled out of us.



One of my father’s favorite games was guessing
the size of the socket needed for a bolt that
was holding together whatever we were trying
to take apart. Was it 1/2 inch? 9/16?
Only a deadeye could tell. This duly impressed him—
someone who could quickly size up a work situation.
But I was underwhelmed the way my dogs are
by the white fright wigs of the clover blossoms.
They have their own interests, sniffing the air
and listening to it as it drags through leaves
and needles. They call it windthrow.
Tell me no two trees sound the same.
I believe them and listen to the fig
tell me of the Maidu’s great spirit
who created nothing but haunts certain
hills in The Valley. The Maidu believed
in the transmigration of souls—
into grizzlies, into clover, into rivers.
The Sacramento murmurs and the fig tree
takes it all down, calm as a raft of
matted reeds. Then an engine sputters
into action somewhere, and I catch
myself becoming always on the verge
of elegy. Something has been lost,
and it’s my job to put it back together.
What size socket should I use for
the nine goslings and their mother on
the other side of the reservoir fence
from the gander? I listen to the windthrow
of their feathers. . . like it’s some
universal chorus. My dogs are charmed
not once, not twice, but three times
by the flavor of goose turd. They don’t
miss anything. They are leading the way
to the high council of sniffing,
which I can’t even begin to see.

Author Portrait

Tim Kahl [http://www.timkahl.com] is the author of Possessing Yourself (CW Books, 2009), The Century of Travel (CW Books, 2012) and The String of Islands (Dink, 2015). His work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Drunken Boat, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Notre Dame Review, The Journal, The Volta, Caliban, and many other journals in the U.S. He appears as Victor Schnickelfritz at the poetry and poetics blog The Great American Pinup (http://greatamericanpinup.wordpress.com/). He is also editor of Clade Song [http://www.cladesong.com]. He is the vice president and events coordinator of The Sacramento Poetry Center. He also has a public installation in Sacramento {In Scarcity We Bare The Teeth} [http://www.sacmetroarts.org/documents/FullPoems.pdf] He currently teaches at California State University, Sacramento.