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County LInes: The Poetry of Sacramento

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County Lines: The Poetry of Sacramento, by Bob Stanley, Sacramento Poet Laureate, 2009-11

As poet laureate of Sacramento city and county, I want to publicize the work of many fine writers that call Sacramento home. Please note that this will be the last installment of County Lines. Thank you for reading County Lines, and feel free to contact me at if you have any questions.

WEEK 31: September 13, 2010

It’s about kids, it’s about culture, and it’s about pop culture, too – the good, the bad, the ugly, the funny, the musical, the pointed. Tim Kahl’s poems are a little bit like Borges’s aleph – the universe is contained within, and sometimes a reader can get a little uncomfortable with all the shifting and the intensity. But it’s always a surprise to follow as a poem opens out into new realms – often with commentary in multiple languages or voices.  I’ve been fortunate to hear Tim read many times over the last few years, and his poems are constantly evolving, opening new doors, both on the page and in performance.

In the poem “At the Estate Sale for Captain Sacto” Tim gives the reader a cartoonish close up of the old TV host’s paraphernalia: from Playboys to Instamatics and spaghetti stains, but then the poet shifts the mood:

                                                It’s time to go,
but I’m still searching for that single word that describes
a house full of fledgling interests, somethings that
might have been, but didn’t get to be

I think his recent book Possessing Yourself is a masterful work; it reveals a poet who has a remarkable dedication to his art. Be prepared to find plenty of nuggets, well, asteroids of wisdom, perhaps, within the swirling galaxies of Tim Kahl’s poems.

Tim Kahl has had work published in Prairie Schooner, American Letters & Commentary, Berkeley Poetry Review, Notre Dame Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, and many others. His first full-length book of poems, Possessing Yourself, was published by WordTech Press in 2009. Tim is also a translator of the works of German poet Rolf Haufs and Austrian avant-gardist Friederike Mayröcker and Portuguese poetry by an assortment of Brazilian poets and Portuguese Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago. He is also vice president and hosting coordinator of The Sacramento Poetry Center, a teacher at the University of the Pacific, and a poetry blogger (aka Victor Schnickelfritz) at The Great American Pinup [http://www.greatamerican] and a poetry videographer at Linebreak Studios []. In his spare time he likes to make and design books for various outlets in the Sacramento area. Check out his work at



A universe full of ribose and
the Oort Cloud spitting comets at the earth
to serve up some extreme conditions —
only the archaea troll the ocean vents.
Our oxygen urge prevents an imagined face
from existing in the rumen of cattle,
in termite guts, in the mud of volcanoes.
We are not the only institution rooted
in the surface, thinking we are too big
to fail. We weigh less than all the nematodes
lurking in the topsoil. We shy from
acid baths that melt the flesh, but
we are all ice cubes melting in a room,
insisting our resistance to entropy
can be achieved by the will, will, will
of our same ways. The little bits leak off
and assemble into competing interests
that collect and swirl in the methane layer.
Then the methanogens take over.
The hot springs rile with a symbiotic
scrim. Polar oceans pulse with life in
their microscopic veins. Rust never sleeps
beneath the crust of Mars.
None of this tells me how to
fill up my days, except I have a duty:
to comprehend. I must act in
the interest of a universe of ribose
that likes to keep its secrets old.
I search the sludge and sewage
for a hint of my instinct to thrive
in adverse conditions.
But it disappears, pressed into
the odd columns and mats of
the hungry extremophiles.

At the Estate Sale for Captain Sacto

My sons and I wander the rooms, trapped by
memorabilia, confused by the Dwight and Mamie
Eisenhower plate, why anyone would want
the exquisitely rendered face of the general to help
during battle with a grapefruit. “It’s just for show,”
I tell them, but they shuffle off to the spare bedroom
with the Barbi Benton poster, her signature poised
above her peek-a-boo undies. There are stacks of
Johnny Cash. Elvis records are piled against a wall
dedicated to the sequined king. Then the bobbleheads
of Kings, from Bobby Hurley to Kevin Martin,
a pennant of the 89 A’s. These explain away the man’s
transition to boy when a thrill was still possible at
the turn of every day, like the thrill of hearing
a voice say:

Captain Sacto calling control tower.
Tell all the boys and girls I’m coming in.

He was the host of a children’s show thirty years ago,
and his fans assemble to glean the photos,
perhaps capture a glossy instance from their youth.
They scramble after paraphernalia, cartoon versions
of adults who root through the personal effects
and gasp at the collected bits: the sabre saws,
the matchbooks, the Yorkie statuettes,
the pocket instamatics, the Playboys, the garden
trowels, the Durante 78’s. I have seen the flaws
of man as collector. Yes, I have seen the spaghetti stains
on the row of old white shirts. But they keep coming
to lift a swatch of Captain Sacto back into their lives.
They wish for:

From out of the blue it’s Captain Sacto landing
in his secret airfield west of Rockville.

They move, animated frame by frame, guided past
their entertainment fatigue from all the years of
watching, watching, and hoping not to miss anything,
not to lose interest in their lives when the ridiculous
happens or when the voices get silly. Even stuck in
an action loop with words and mouth out of sync,
weary of the deep notches marring their chosen work,
their health, their kids who now watch shows only
in syndication, they lug a salt shaker homewards,
a ceramic spoon rest, volumes two and three of Password.
We are all trying to guess a word that this scene hints at.
My sons are carousing by the antiques. It’s time to go,
but I’m still searching for that single word that describes
a house full of fledgling interests, somethings that
might have been, but didn’t get to be, like Captain Sacto’s
imaginary profession: space volunteer. And each
episode’s stated mission: cartoon fun for everyone.

Lebensraum in the Wild West
for Stephen Cook

A man in a tan Chevy displays
a house flyer in his passenger side window.
Does he really think I’ll call him about
a real estate deal while I’m driving 70 MPH?
Is there an attic? Hey, what’s the
square footage of the garage?
He thinks I’m as desperate to find a house where
I can store my crap as he is to move his inventory.
Four houses on my street up for sale too,
prices softening. It’s like the last two months
the Comanches have been picking off my neighbors,
and I’m the stubborn homesteader on the frontier,
keeping vigil until some mortgage brokers turn up
dead in the streets. I think the banks
should retrieve the bodies, but they can’t even
cut the grass for the two-story on the corner.
I watch the lawn turn brown, rip out
the thistles growing up through the grevillea,
throw the clippings on the piled-up trash.
I want to know if I can give my invoice
to the repo man who comes for your car
in the night. So come on over and drive me
to the last row of houses going up on
the edge of town. There I think I hear the sound
of California’s hide cracking. And yes, yes,
I admit I can’t stop the thrill of fitting
the profile of buyer, buyer, buyer.
Everywhere everything’s for sale
along the highway. I can feel the man
in the tan Chevy coming for the soul
I’ve buried deep in my wallet.
He’s coming to give me the deal of my life,
but I can’t hand my life over to him.
Pieces of it are still on loan from
a movie I once saw about the West.

Sacramento River Days

If we utter the names of the creatures we see,
then we will become a cartoon of them,
riding our bikes along the trail by the marina.
My two sons and I stop to mock the gulls
in their idiot flocks, taunting them with their
“Mine, Mine” all day long. Aha, there is
Secret Squirrel, skulking across the sweetgum’s
branches, then hopping into the trash can
to fashion some futuristic gadget. His brother,
Rocky, flies with his trapeze tail flowing,
escaping the traps of Boris and Natasha.
I see Daffy Duck crossing the parking lot
wisecracking about the weather and
giving us lip about being a road hazard.
One lone egret stands at the water’s edge,
elegant as a white plate — no cartoon
to complement it — and we stare at
its slow motion, pretending
the grace it would take us to go

down to the river and into the river we dive
down to the river we ride.

I got a job as a teacher at a college in the community
but lately some classes are cancelled on account of the economy,
so we ride our bikes to the tourist spots,
roll in low gear through the Old Sac streets
and past the boardwalk traffic buzzing by
the windows of the tchotchke shops. We grin at
the homeless guy’s dog, sure that it’s either
Scooby Doo or Hong Kong Phooey.
It’s an afternoon of cartoon classics and
bikers’ thunderclaps, Harleys signaling
freedom with every engine revved.
We wander around, the three great scholars
of the three stooges. “Wise Guy, eh?” I say,
when one of my sons gives me a flat,
the other one’s pockets crammed with
taffy he jacked from Candy Heaven.
The day is perfect and stupid as a dream.
We’ll remember it as the day we created
one of the world’s great penny-candy thieves.

Now will this memory came back to haunt me
will it haunt me like a curse
Is this dream a lie if it hadn’t come true
or is it something worse
that sends us down to the river
and in the river we spy
down in the river is the time of our lives
down to the river
my two sons and I
down to the river we ride

We ride somewhere between a cartoon
and a rock and roll anthem — aimless,
patient, insisting on our place that we
have made in the Sacramento River days,
not far from the confluence.

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