December 6, 2021

April—A Celebration of Poetry & A Poetry Contest


April is Poetry Month, a time for the Topanga Messenger to acknowledge some of our local poets, among them Judy Brow, Ann Buxie, Jean Colonomos, Philip Daughtry, Ellen Reich and Florence Weinberger, who herewith grace our pages.

In addition, we are extending our appreciation and love of poetry beyond the official month and invite all poets to participate in a poetry contest that begins today.

Once the Messenger suggested the idea of a contest, Topanga poet Jean Colonomos (see “Dancing With Martha,” Messenger, Vol. 39, No. 5, March 12, 2015) recommended that we ask Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert to participate by providing a “prompt” to wake up the poetic muses. Lupert created and maintains the Poetry Super Highway ( With Lupert, our jurors are Jean Colonomos and Topanga Library Manager Oleg Kagan.

The Prompt: A Poem of Place—Topanga Canyon is unique in Los Angeles, a refuge for artists in the ‘60s that has yet to shed its bohemian enclave reputation. (Nor should it.) When you visit, you know you are there. You may find comfort in that; or you may feel an itch to retreat to something more familiar. Perhaps you feel the same about your home or a particular place. Write a poem of place. It can be a place you love and are supremely comfortable in, or the complete opposite. Speak to the unique identity of that place, even if that identity is exclusive to your perception of it. You can paint a complete picture, or hone in on a minute detail. Be brave, be funny. Show us your Topanga. Take us to that place.

The Rules—Submissions are due on or before June 1, and winners will be announced in the July 2 issue. Please send two unpublished poems no longer than 50 lines (no epics please) to All copyrights revert to the owner upon publication. First, Second and Third prizes, are thanks to the literary wisdom and suggestions of our jurors.

First Prize: $25 and Rick Lupert’s latest book, “The Gettysburg Undress: Poems from Gettysburg, PA, Washington, DC, Richmond, VA, Baltimore, MD., and Environs.”

Second Prize: “Holdouts: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance,” by Bill Mohr (University of Iowa Press, 2011), his account of Los Angeles’ poetic communities.

Third Prize: “Madness, Rack and Honey,” by Mary Rueffle, a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award.

—Flavia Potenza, Editor



Cajun flavors

Southern glory

First the roux

Flour and oil

Stirred, stirred, stirred

Arm tired, iron pot black

Nose itching from slightly acrid smell

Stare, don’t look away

Follow the rules

Gumbo or etouffé

Base must be dark for chicken or fish

Light for dark meat such as duck or game

Mixed spices await as do

Watery celery, tasting of fresh rain

Green peppers promising mouth flooding


Sweating onions to sweeten

Base smoking now

Seasoning rapidly tossed

Followed by vegetables

Stirred, turned

Now an unappetizing muddy mess

Fold and fold till heat has calmed

For etouffé add a little fish stock

Cook gently

For gumbo a touch of filé

Lots of broth

Keep at trembling boil

Brown poultry pieces

Don’t drain

Add to pot

Leave to simmer

Sit and while some time away

Peel shrimp or crayfish

For which our dark foundation will do

Wash good Louisiana rice

Steam as mealtime nears

Add pink crustaceans to etouffé

For oomph throw some in the gumbo

Spoon rich stew over rice

Savor subtle heat of final brews.

You My Child

When a child hurts

guilt doesn't fix it

shame doesn't shroud it

love doesn't negate it

sacrifice doesn't heal it

confession doesn't change it

contrition doesn't remove it

acceptance doesn't ease it

you are beloved

you are ours

you are a gift

you are alone

you are afloat

today I cannot heal the wounds

that once a bandage fixed

nor can I prevent tomorrow's scars

motherhood now tattered by age

I try to clutch your heart

only to soothe the ache

see your smile

touch your hand

you will survive

you will prevail


you my child

you are.

Why Poetry?Poetry is the nexus of visual, aural and sensual memories. Poems combine truths, fairy tales and secrets. They allow me to be both present and absent.


April—A Celebration of Poetry  & A Poetry Contest

Ann Buxie.


As soon as there is form, there is message.

—Esther Pasztory from “Thinking with Things”

Everything communicates.

Neak ta, guardian spirits of the land

speak through banyan trees.

Women hear them and swoon

shutting down garment factories

opposing evictions, demanding justice.

In Oklahoma a man dances four days

around a cottonwood tree

keeper of his prayers.

In a forest sanctuary Buddha listens

to a tree pour forth truths without end

its circumference raining light

its fruit a blazing radiance.

The world is not silent.

From a field thick with anise

the song of a red-winged blackbird

echoes, a sadness i dare not express

because people are too busy to bear

this gospel decanted into a bird

too distant for the whinny of a horse

the lowing of a cow or a bleating lamb.

All these sounds and creatures

awaken a particular sympathy

and there are more I never heard

1827 Australia, the Kangaroo Island Emu

1844 Iceland, the Great Auk

1852 USA, the Xerces Blue butterfly

1880 North America, the Labrador Duck

19th century, the Tahitian Red-billed Rail

1914 New Zealand, the Laughing Owl

1914 Cincinnati Zoo, the Passenger Pigeon

1930s Big Island, the Hawaian ‘O’o

1942 Morocco, the Barbary Lion

2006 the Chinese River Dolphin

2011 Eastern USA, the Eastern Cougar

this is the sound of extinction.

No greater crime is there than taking life away.

—Chantral Rinpoche, 101 Tibetan religious leader

Thus have I heard.

So begins the Flower Ornament Scripture

a symphony of Buddhist thought.

Thus have I heard how three lions

were pawned in the 13th century

caged in London’s tower

symbols of power and alliance

between nations.

Thus have I seen

two images of a mountain lion

a before and an after

the before, a lion in her glory

caught mid-stride

alert, sure, and supple

the after, a head shot

rat poison swims in her blood

she peers out, bewildered

her perception dulled, her vigor gone

There is no where

her broken gaze does not reach

Thus do we take.

Why Poetry? Our poetry spills us out into the world. In that spilling is our medicine for healing.


April—A Celebration of Poetry  & A Poetry Contest

Poet Jean Colonomos.


Make Over

(for Lou)

In collaboration with biotech company, Which End Is Up, scientists Paul Skie and Belle Wether are combing southern Iraq where Eden allegedly took place. They’re searching for Eve’s cells that may be still embedded in the sand. Through the process of nuclear transfer, Skie and Wether plan to birth Eve the way Dolly the sheep was created. Dolly had three mothers: one provided the egg, another the DNA and a third carried the cloned embryo to term.* The scientists will place the new Eve in a space capsule and release her into the atmosphere where she’ll be pre-programmed to ignore the Tree of Knowledge and return humankind to its infancy.

She Evokes A Soul For Winter

(for my daughter)

Fireplace warm, teddy bear tender,

she speaks of her husband and children

as they course through her being

where there's no beginning or end.

It's my daughter's compassion

that wraps me in blanket fields,

electric current connects me to

the light pouring in.

Why Poetry? Poetry is one way among many to have a love affair with the world.


April—A Celebration of Poetry  & A Poetry Contest

Poet and author Philip Daughtry.


In Case Alaska Dies Before I Do

(for Ulli Steltzer*)

I wake in a hunter’s dream

swimming against it

until resistance


to some undersea kinship

in the deeps of sleep

where human faces

grow a seal’s whiskers.

Higher in the Chugash

wolves howl a slice

off the moon

before carnivorous silence

devours the world

its wintery ghost

of translated entrails

Earth’s final warming


of mammoth tusks

fossil snowmobiles

oil slicks from melting permafrost.

Fresh ice skitches the lake

each rush fleet

as a hummingbird dart

whispers man brush your teeth.

Pawing another face

in the toothpaste mirror

I see a piano vulture

hunched over dead keys

mutter to a cannibal fire

peel redeye spuds

hard as halibut sinkers.

a life’s mad flickering

dance in the arms of alder logs.

Why Poetry? Poetic language carries unmediated energy directly into the soul awakening us, sometimes with startling wildness. There are truths seeking expression only found in the arts. Without a living poetry, language decays. Because humans think in language, (even describing ourselves to ourselves in words), we need an enriched speech to grow consciousness. Poetry reminds me,say, when a loved one meets my eyes, how so much gathers to every instant.

* Ulli Steltzer was a prominent Canadian photographer who lived among various Inuit communities and captured their way of life. She befriended me during a difficult time.The Chugash refers to a mountain range in western Alaska.


The true center of everything is ambiguity ...

—Ann Buxie

The sea, blue as a Hockney pool,

reminds me there are questions with no answers.

The horizon is sharp.

Sea-crashing swells draw back for another attack.

Shells lie among necklaces of seaweed.

I need further instruction from this world of waves.

Night’s sea, black as squid-ink, in sync with my pulse.

From where does the sea’s stubborn power come?

(I’m at the edge of knowing, but that is all.)

Quivering runnels of water know what they must do.

Waiting for answers until patience abandons me,

I absorb the broken moon and accept peace.

The sea, now gray as a gull, sends salty fragrance, curls at water’s edge.

Sand darkens like wet wood, holds my footprints as I walk.

I skitter back when another wave builds.

The sea’s lips kiss my toes, sting my skin with salty elixir.

There is never silence in the sudden gift of stones the sea bequeaths.

I have no answers for how to receive this resonant offering.

I relish solitude and will not question it.

Seclusion is both emptiness and fullness.

The fullness of the past rushes inside me like tide.

The emptiness, like bird-foot tracings on sand, untranslatable and naked.

Sea glass, polished in the turbulence of ocean, are jewels.

Like celestial stars I treasure their laborious journeys.

Fog floats in, soothes my dry-furrowed face, a gift unable to be returned.

The sun intrudes, swallows the fog.

I don’t want daylight’s clarity; it brings no resolutions.

I want the sun to melt me to nothing.

In nothing, perhaps answers are born.

The weight of the planet is lifted away by simplicity.

I dip my cupped hand into the sea, gather its liquid,

hold, until it seeps through my fingers and trickles down on sand.

There is freedom in unanswered questions.

I love, probe, suspect, mistrust, owe everyone in the language of the sea,

mouth of whale, turtle eggs, coral reefs, eyes of octopi, jellyfish stings,

the arms of squid, smooth fishbone, the absence of answers.


My eyes still partly pinched from a

dreamless sleep

I’m in my long, blue terry robe—

armor against the early dawn’s fog

that seeps into the chilly kitchen.

There she is—adorable, small

alert ears (better than Mickey’s)

respectable pointed ears, a bit pink,

her tail like a delicate needle.

She’s enjoyed my raw unsalted


chewed through the cellophane.

I take a small terry towel convinced

I can gently grab her and carry the

towel outdoors.


Back to the pantry to set some new-

fangled contraptions

with peanuts but she knows how to

trick me

taking nuts without tripping the


I’d evidenced her search for a nesting


in my kitchen towel drawer.

I buy new traps. Glue Trays they’re


Our tiny boarder stays home as we

fly off for four days.

I wonder if I’ll come back

to a litter of baby mice in the towel


dirtied by blood and droppings.

Home again I open the pantry door.

She lies dull-coated

on her sticky bed.


I’m sorry I whisper

Why Poetry? Poetry allows me to enter a peaceful place, a scary place, the unknown because poetry insists on honesty. Poetry allows for the exploration of deep places within. Poetry is vital. Poetry is making art.


April—A Celebration of Poetry  & A Poetry Contest

Poet Florence Weinberger.


How Do the Seagulls Know to Wait

How do the seagulls know to wait,

quivering with vulture patience,

while a homeless man hovers over a trash can?

Where did they learn the trill of hope,

watching him delving for bottles and cans,

what he could sell,

hoping like gold mine bosses

he would dislodge other treasures,

let spill the trickle-downed leftovers,

crisps and the charred remnants of hamburgers,

bun crusts and greasy wrappers to play with?

Where did they learn to live off the labor of others?

All Memory Is A Lie

I knew, when I was two,

the woman I followed up the stairs on all fours

was my mother, and the child she carried my little sister.

Words still too few to describe her shoes.

Did they have laces, was she wearing hose?

No one tracked me to freeze that crabbed climb,

the way they posed me bare-assed

on faux leopard when I was five months old—

And the kitchen that we entered when we reached

the top (I don’t see my father)

has an ice box, and an iron tub she bathed me in.

There must have been an ironing board, a hot iron

carelessly left plugged in, a sink over which

she peeled potatoes, so she could wrap my burning

fingers with those cooling


Why is it I remember my mother’s tears

when my sister speaks only of her laughter?

Maybe it’s because all the memories we carted

as we moved from house to house, from coast to coast,

the ones we kept in shards and flashes,

were always wrong and always vivid and always shared.

Maybe it’s because memory is all scars, and still alive.

Why Poetry? After my children and grandchildren, and only a little before chocolate, I love writing poetry. I’d hardly read anything other than nursery rhymes when I began writing poetry as a child. Why is it so satisfying? The glib answer: it feeds my soul. The honest answer: I don’t know.