The names that scroll across the screen
diminish as they slip from view.
Entered years and passed from list to list,
they mostly live in distances, and stay

undialled. Amongst them are the dead
whose numbers, undeleted, can never
be recalled. What lies below the label
of their names is everything they were

and everything that could have been
if they had stayed. Unthinkable
to take them out, as if they’d never been.
In the end you may be next, or centre of

a lonely game, with you the last to stand.
Then they will be everything you are.
You can impose dementia, delete these keys
that lock/unlock the human in your brain –

but keep the faith with what they were,
and are, in every single, less than perfect, day.
What else when those ahead grow short
and cold as winter, in moonlight falling

behind trees? Why wish them gone,
and lose your time in theirs? Though no next
with them – our only paradisal hope remains
enfolded in the memory of their arms.

The Actress and the Aircraft Carrier

for Chastity Dotson

An Actress and an aircraft carrier –
two concepts Hollywood would understand.
See Hudson, Peck or Garner in command,
with Day, Monroe or Hepburn in the lace.
He humbled, she in control, the carrier
probably in shades of pink. It’s more teasing
than a test of war, with no weapon mightier
than a ring upon a finger.

Today’s Carrier refits in readiness
across the bay, a giant behemoth
of peace riding easy at her chains.
The Carl Vinson – Nimitz  Class – and capable
of anything at all.  Below her cold-war
decks glow two perpetual reactors
whose sleeping powers lie like cats.

Such great causes she has been about –
undertaker to Bin Laden’s burial at sea;
a rescue centre for disaster; delivering
protection for a world of energy and wealth.

No chance here for a young woman
to bring the navy or a nation to its knees.
But now you never know what anyone
may do, and in our happy hour bar
we meet an actress of our own. Young,
black, a new age pioneer of self-
determination, adventuring a world
of difference and change. She plays for roles
that make no stars, or writes her own.

An actor and an aircraft carrier. And here’s
a nation owning to the lives of both.
Between Seven Ages and the seven seas
both have futures to be made and settled.

My new screenplay has the ship afloat
upon the inner life, fighters overhead
emotions and their fickle flitter, dowsing
fires in bitter hearts and fissioned brains.
Our actress plays the captain of her soul,
rebukes the wind, turns swords and missiles
into pens and pageants for the final reel.

Somewhere a rainbow big enough where this
is not beyond. Sure in this big land
can come the greater good –  to be the master
of the human heart, the mistress of the seas.


See Chastity Dotson and the USS Carl Vinson

Mark’s Place

The Mojave saw the Mormons on their way
to sainthood, and a simple life with many wives.
They named the native cactus for a tree –
Joshuas with upheld arms invoking
Jahweh for some cause that only
trees could know. Seeing plants would
keep the faith, they left for Utah.

Up at the Keys Ranch, the climate
for ideas as this is colder and Joshuas
are rare. The last humans died
in 1969. The National Park
moved in. Recorded Time was paused.
Heritage became as good as gold.

We follow uniformed Naomi, Ranger
in Command, through the gate. Her green
sedan leads our plume of jeeps
to circle round a clearing. Our dust
cloud thins. The moment gathers in.
A joke about “them injuns” is suppressed.
Some sage reminds us that firearms
are banned in National Parks, for peace
is dear in these United States.

And Naomi says our 90 minute
tour on foot is dangerous enough.
“So keep together, take your water
bottles, and promise to avoid the snakes.”
She shakes a finger. “No hands
or feet to go where you can’t see.”
Though she’s amongst the youngest here,
we swiftly settle to the role of kids
in class.

She shows us when it all began –
indents in rock beside the trail show signs
that seeds and nuts spent seven
thousand years becoming flour,
ground by a people’s hands. This only
is their book. Hunters, readers of berries,
stars, footprints, they confided in their Gods
and wove themselves within. Leaving
no forwarding address, and silently,
they went in no more time than takes
a single life. I guess they hoped
the deserts of the world had places for a free
and wandering folk who share and care
for land as if it was their mother’s wombs.
Their patronyms remain: Serrano,
Chemehuevi, and Cahuilla – good names
and gone. They have no other story here.

They took their breath and bones
and left white faces in possession
for a brief syllable of time. Their story
fills the book. First, the Malcaneys
rustled cattle, and left for gold.

Then came the Keys. A simple dynasty
that dwindles through a steady 60 years –
one for each minute that Naomi’s tour
provides. How children came, and died,
how water gathered behind dams
and brought an orchard to this savage
paradise. How old man Keys avoided
jail because a writer paid for his defence
when he had killed a neighbour over title
to his land. And how they all had slowly died,
a testament to pale-faced laws of ever
diminishing returns. The wasting struggle
to survive becomes a beacon on the path
to nationhood; to learn, enjoy, relax.

Their home still stands, its lacey
curtains protecting privacy that’s gone.
The sheds still lean against the heat,
the lines of trucks, and tools, and rusty
cars that even then had come as junk.
The cookers, ranges, toilets – the mining
gear they salvaged from others’ short-held
and their red-eyed dreams – as gold glittered
in the creviced rock, the fragile streams.
Left to itself, the wood will bend
and warp, and termites take it all
to dust; the iron holding longer,
oxidizing down to remake rock,
and dry-as-prayer good earth.
The Park maintains it as it was, as if the words
were not a tale of pointlessness enough.

We notice Mark who gathers us together
as we near the end of our allotted
moment in the sun. He’s there to make
us leave no trace behind but what we bring
away, like any other ancient race.

He lives here now, trailered and alone,
a module base up on a distant world,
with aircon, shower, and fridge for steak
and beer. We almost do not see him,
but for his gentle way with keeping us in check.
He has no script, but guards the spirit
of a place he shares with snakes and scorpions.

Keys Ranch,
Joshua Tree National Park



Imagine her arrival at this San Diego quay –
steaming out of myths, her pennants blazing,
about to take her place alongside her history.

Listen, as her engines cool – for hours
the silence spreads, reverberates around
her emptiness: her hangars, bridges, flight deck,

bays for ordnance; her fuel tanks, cables,
pipes for steam and orders; her messes, cabins,
kitchens, chapel, fridges; the echoes in her bilges.

Now pointlessness persists like memory.
She has become a giant shell – listen.
you might just hear a rumour of the sea.

She’s now equipped for heritage and peace,
and takes the patient lines of tourists
with website tickets, cellphones, sneakers.

Old navy men command, shepherding
where once a reprimand might come.
The naval life flows in their words;

Reminds a world of duty, service,
watches; of storemen, cooks, and medics;
of ranks, technicians, engineers;

of chaplains, ensigns, rocketeers, of men
who feel the sea beneath their feet,
and boys who miss their girls and mothers

in their sleep. And so the ship, the sum
of all their parts, remains. So too the old
conflicted world she helped to keep alive.

For whatever such a past is worth,
the saved from scrapyard jets
commemorate the bold and dead.

Her flight deck reaches back, uniting
causes lost or not quite won,
for anyone who cares, or listens.


Aurora Borealis

In the darkness before midnight
the north sky dips towards turquoise –
day gathers round the pole
before it disinters at dawn.

I stand beside the road to make out
the approaching truck that
will rescue vehicle and me
from its inertness by the road.

Behind, the cemetery lies.
For hours it has been receiving visitors
that make you realise the dead
need company like anybody else –

and suddenly I see the lights.
At first in places where you expect –
a path  between the stones;
a guide between the shadows –

but closer in it seems these
are the solar  markers
that take their daily charge
and guard a garden through the night.

A good half dozen graves
have gained this firefly sign –
sufficient for a means to read
or tears to shine.

I guess the mourners lie awake
and see the grounded starlight
as a sign, that death is well,
the living have not been.