Noe Valley Voice September 2004

Daylight Saving

Poems by Leslie Steere

Baby Steps

This they didn't warn me of.
They said,
You'll be so tired
You'll have no time
It's so expensive
It'll put a strain on your relationship
You'll lose touch with all your friends
You'll forget how to talk about anything else
Say goodbye to sex and romance
for the next eighteen years
It's worth every bit of the trouble and pain
You won't be sorry.
As if I were embarking on a crusade
that everyone else had finished
or chosen not to take,
or something sillier--
St. George welcoming the dragon to her lair,
trading her sword for a pitcher of warm milk,
as if impervious to fire.
But no one mentioned repetition
as the main ingredient.
No one warned me that I would be here
at the bottom of the stairs
watching you climb down for the third slow time,
turning your head to see that I am here.
Your fat bare feet sliding down to reach the step below,
your hands patting the carpet,
fingers distracted by the pattern,
interrupting your descent for long seconds at a time,
until almost down
you reverse direction,
and panting like a marathoner
begin upward again.
Dragon impatience
breathes fire through my bones,
sucks my skin inward,
turns my brain to ash.
Writing, work, the garden, a thousand undone things
clatter against my skull
like angry marbles--
make my teeth scream.
And yet, here come your feet again,
inching toward me
and your face turned
waiting for my smile.
You are mastering this climbing task;
your entire being concentrated
on these two short flights of stairs
learning every carpet fiber,
every pocket of dog hair and dust,
every curve in the painted railing,
every distance.
When did I last wield
such a white-hot sword
against my world?
Here in the shadows
at the bottom of the steps
that I am too tired
and too familiar with
to climb,
I watch your earnest body
move away from me
into the light,
and I say
Come, my love,
do it again
and again
and again.


Daylight Saving

We who
fashion gods
in our own likenesses,
carve our faces
on cliffsides,
Who imagine
our species
as the only one
with prayers;
We who view
the moon and Mars
as habitat insurance
for the future children
of a dying Earth,
Who decide that nature
was a rough draft
left for humans to perfect,
Who count time
as mutable enough
to skip an hour
in one season,
add it to another:
We still stand
facing west
as the sun sets, unable
to slow that bloody descent,
unable to add
one minute of life back
to this day
no matter what gods
we call to our assistance.


California Summer

We called it the Santa Ana--
warm wind blowing in at night over the
Santa Ynez mountains
rubbing through the rose garden
rustling oleander leaves black as shadows
sending the horses skittering from one side of the corral
to the other in a long dark breath.
We children escaped from beds into the yard
dancing and yelling,
opening our fingers
to air as warm and thick as hair.
Sometimes along with flower scent
came a smell of old campfires,
faint at first, then stinging:
The sky glowed orange
The dog crawled out of her rosebush cave
to push a wet nose against one of our bare legs
The horses wheeled and screamed.
Dad came home late with stories
about burning trees shooting though the air
like matchsticks over the polo field,
owners opening barn doors
to let their animals run ahead of the flames,
people standing on their roofs with hoses,
miraculous escapes when a cow or horse trail
turned the fire line back on itself,
saving untold acres,
Until the essence of California summer
became to me that sooty smell
rising from blackened hills,
and every time a warm wind blows
I think of those long nights
when the sun set like another fire
and our bowl of sky between the mountain ranges
pressed down like damp and dirty cotton
muffling even the horses' screams.
All night long I missed the stars
as if without Orion and the dippers spinning above me
I could not find my place
or trust that if I shut my eyes to sleep
the earth would not rise
hot and molten
like another sun,
shrugging us off its liquid flanks
Sending us flying
into the Santa Ana wind
like bits of ash.


War Season

Something about the lone, dry leaf that blew across my path
in slanted evening light
painting my distance from the sun, and home
sucked spring away:
dropped me in fall, nostalgically farewelling
life itself
the way you do when crunching through autumn leaves;
the way you want to draw in
to the cozy darkening
even while clutching that last light
with hands brittle and sharp as rakes.
For just that one footstep
on the path
I could have been another person
in another place and season
As if my cells were split, dispersed,
absorbing chemicals and smoke and human wails
above Iraq,
the soldiers
thundering across their own fears
and desert air absorbing
this same light,
dark unfurling like a flag
over everything
beneath it.
For just one step,
and then the next I walked into the spring again
Again myself, briefcased and suited,
hearing the heavy door of my office building
suck securely shut,
the water birds dive bombing
for their marshy dinners across the quiet,
well-paved road,
my car keys jingling in my hand,
airplanes overhead unthreatening as kites
against the sky.
And almost all of me came back as I walked on
along the clean, now leafless path
toward my car,
except that small distortion, like a handprint
on the inside of a windshield,
disbelieving spring
and distances
and guileless planes
and coworkers returning safely
to their homes
and children sleeping
in their beds
and birds dipping
against a deepening sky
and spring ever becoming
that same kind of summer
where the fall
comes gently,
drawing in the darkness
like a cozy blanket
earlier each night
instead of dropping it
forty-two hundred pounds at a time,
until no season matters
and we are not surprised
by dead leaves
in the spring
or fall skies
lit into the night
with fires as bright as sun;
until the sight of soldiers
pulling mangled children
from dead parents' arms
no longer horrifies
or lingers longer
in the field of vision
than that one dead leaf
across my path
and gone.

A senior editorial director at Oracle Corporation, Leslie Steere is a fifth-generation Californian. She lives in Pacifica with her partner of many years, their 9-year-old daughter, and several aging pets. "If it weren't for a dedicated writing group that has been meeting for more than 15 years," Steere says, "none of these poems would have made it to paper."