On Being a Fox

— Leslie Hoffman

You call me Red Fox
but I would still be a fox
if my coat were grey.
Does not the Grey Fox
eat what I eat,
drink what I drink?

Look into my golden eyes
and tell me if you can see
into my heart, into my soul.
You may no longer wear
my fur around your neck
or as a muff to warm your hands,
but you still train your dogs
to chase my kind into a tree
for your amusement.

Like you did my mate
carrying my pup
whose blood ran red
the same as yours
before being born.

Hereafter

— Leslie Hoffman

I’m meeting him in Vasona Park
my friend shrieked
–isn’t life wonderful!

My musings temporarily interrupted
of the plot in Madronia Cemetery

I’d inherited by default

where “notable individuals” are interred
such as Thomas Kinkade
and the second wife
of the Abolitionist John Brown

and my sister

our plots under a gnarly oak
where over half a century ago
we stifled giggles while dancing
on the ground above
where we had no idea
we’d be spending eternity

side by side

non-notably

I’m sure I’ll be a noisy love-maker
she said, while posing for a selfie
–you know, like when you’re at a funeral
and can’t stop giggling.

Ozark Dust: A Villanelle

— Leslie Hoffman

Breathing in red dust of their ancestors
Three soldiers, at ease, solemnify
Blood spilled in yesteryear’s war.

On a splintered bench sits Ozark lore;
Three warriors claim battles gone by,
Breathing in red dust of their ancestors.
Invisible wounds earned on foreign shores

Recall to the three, cries of semper fi
While forfeiting blood in yesteryear’s war.
Fissured Ozark clay, front of Amos’ store,
Formed with memories of do-or-die,

Embodies red dust of their ancestors.
On a splintered bench, esprit de corps,
Rest three weathered comrades, nary a blind eye
To blood they spilled in yesteryear’s war.

Parades long past, now on homeland shores,
Three soldiers at ease, semper fi,
On a splintered bench, fear disillusionment more
Than their blood being spilled in tomorrow’s war

Late Rain

— Leslie Hoffman

Red and Yellow flash
Swirl, blinds
Bleeds into my senses.

A voice on the phone
Said this is the spot
Just past the bend
In the road.
The damp road.
The slippery road.

Where’s my son?
My baby boy…
Two weeks from sixteen.

Red, now, only Red
(Swirls, blinds
Bleeds into my memory)
On the road.
The damp road.
The skid-marked road.

The Mind of a Child

— Leslie Hoffman

To put myself into the mind of a child
would do a disservice to the child.
It must be the reverse
for me to relive the innocence
of youth, the naivity of a new soul.

To put the child back into my mind
allows me to once again awaken
to morning dew on my nose
while camping at Big Basin;
naming a twenty pound mushroom
found on a misty hike above Skyline Blvd.
and taking “Henry” home to reside
in my closet for far too long.

Inviting the child into my mind
takes me back to Palmer sliding into home
while I chased his ball into the corn field—
that summer before the fire
burned down the school house.

To put the child back into my mind…
no…
no…
For some, it’s best to remember the future.

Inspiration

— Leslie Hoffman

William Henley’s Invictus
Out of the night…
A baby’s squeal
The Dalai Lama’s laughter
Pablo Neruda
Martin Espada’s Chilé
Cesar Chavez
Steinbeck’s migrants
Kerouac’s road trip
Hemingway’s sea
A whale’s song
Dr. King’s dream
Richard Rodrigues’ essays
Maya’s Still I Rise

Language
not action—
prelusive to engagement.

The Scent of Almond Blossoms

— Leslie Hoffman

On early March mornings, as tule fog
begins to lift in California’s Central Valley,
winter’s skeletons transform into trees
and a blush of almond blossoms
carpet orchard floors.

Most every morning, I’d walk through
the dappled light of the alabaster canopy
until I reached the canal, where I’d sit,
adjust my headphones, and lean back
against the scaly bark of my familiar tree

Getting high on the scent of almond blossoms,
nature’s perfume, while Miles’ sweet-cream
trumpet played Gershwin’s “Summertime”
when the livin’ was easy
when the trees were still young

Before the scent of burnt almond
permeated the autumn sky—
before the Valley nodded off
for another winter, when the trees—
and I—were still young.

Rudy Bridge

— Leslie Hoffman

A hot breeze separates the stalks of summer
as I run between the rows of ripe, golden ears,
a trickle of blood running down my knee.
She didn’t believe me.

Where stalks end, Rudy’s bridge stands,
spaces between planks wide enough to step into;
the pain of truth blinding, separating.
She didn’t want to believe me.

Kneeling on a plank, I ignore a splinter
entering my cut, shallow, like the creek below,
barely deep enough for tadpoles. Behind me,
the breeze thrums silk on ears of stone.

Reverie

— Leslie Hoffman

My shadow points north
where filagree moss hangs
from gnarled oak, longing
for osage and dogwood
my father beside me
on a bale of hay, smoking
in the cool barn, now
where only swallows nest—
the rails no longer humming
Month of the reading: December

 

Published in Mused-BellaOnline Literary Review, 2014 Winter Solstice issue.

The Anasazi

— Leslie Hoffman

Silver etchings of cumulus clouds
tower above Mesozoic sandstone

vermillion waves wash
across an ancient sea,
spherical ripples blown
by Mojave winds against
sun-baked cliffs where
wisdom of the Ancient Ones
carved through desert varnish
tells the story of hunters,
the big horn and antelope

life sacrified
for collective survival.

Shamans chant around
sacred hoop sculpted
from gathered stones
cleansed by sage,
warmed by juniper,
a spiral sun carved
into the petroglyph tableau
shines down on cholla,
prickly pear and maize

life sustained
for the Anasazi.

Spirit Pony

— Leslie Hoffman

I watched from a distance
girl mount bareback
a horse called Moon.
Spine straight, blonde hair flowed,
black mane billowed;
platinum and ebony,
resolute, vigilant,
nostrils flared.
If I were a horse,
I’d be you, Moon,
her words rode on the wind.
Moon whinnied,
her fluid gait uninterrupted.
Rider and mount challenged to trust
each other, inner-selves,
their collective power.

On Wilder Avenue

— Leslie E. Hoffman

You turned your back and walked away
Under boughs of elm shedding golden leaves
Leaving me with unsettled heart
Second guessing

Words I’d spoken
Under boughs of elm shedding golden leaves

Forty years traveled, our paths again cross
Regret collides with tomorrow’s intention

And, in that time—the years between—
Separate journeys conspired
To reunite us
Under boughs of elm shedding golden leaves

Rocking

— Leslie E. Hoffman

Rocking
rocking, to-and-fro…

Alone with his grief
Grandfather rages
against the deaths
of black-lunged miners

Memories lingering
of a wrinkle in time
glossed over
when life, worn hard
as a vein of coal,
its spirit subdued
under steel-toed boots
from The Company Store.

The weight of earth
on miners’ chests
before the cave-in
of the carbon cavern,
its crushing vacuum
compressing, strangling,
abducting their lives
breath by wheezing breath

Until that day in 1940
when the whistle screamed
“Don’t take a chance,
it may be your last.”

Grandfather rocks
rocks, to-and-fro…

Seasons of My Father

— Leslie Hoffman

Spring

She sits in his parlor, waiting, quite properly and stiff
except her fingers are twisting the hem of her dress

Mom told me he’s handsome—tall with blue eyes
But I’m not pretty, and what if I cry

The slam of a door, footsteps come closer

I won’t let him kiss me—oh no, it’s too late

She cautiously leans toward his embrace

No, no tears, he won’t see me cry

But her lips are moist and taste of salt
when she calls this stranger…Father

Summer

He threw his arms around me
brushed my cheek with a kiss
and for a moment, I forgot
what hadn’t been
for thirty-something years

I followed him into his house where
July heat had stayed the night and
he put on a pot of coffee while
the Ozarks filtered dawn’s light

We sat at the kitchen table, each
wondering what to expect, both
silently studying the other, each
afraid to commit

He reached out
to pour my coffee
I placed my hand on his
and for a moment, both
father and daughter
forgot what hadn’t been

Fall

I did not go to my father’s funeral

I did shout—I love you, Dad
into the telephone
the night before he died
at the VA hospital

His voice cracked
as he mumbled an incoherent reply

Maybe, it was—I love you, too
the night before he died

Winter

Today, a Son of Africa

— Leslie Hoffman

Sevenscore years ago
a race of people bled from the whip.
Twoscore and fourteen years ago
they sat at the back of the bus.

Today, a son of Africa
holds highest office in the land.

Yes, we can…

This son of Africa
speaks of our patchwork heritage
while voices from the past
chant, We shall overcome.

Yes, we can…

One generation removed from
the ground Lucy walked
this son of Africa leads
from the house built by slaves.

Yes, we can.

Bora Bora

— Leslie Hoffman

The massive Pacific pummels
the mile-out barrier reef
like ancient Polynesian drums
beating an alpha rhythm

on Bora Bora
coconut palms weep
the tepid sea bespeckled
as clouds of perles noir
mask the Southern Cross
jagged bolts of platinum
set alight the vulcan sky

quixotic as the South Seas
clusters of perles créme return
mirrored in the transparent lagoon
while Otuu struts the water’s edge
sun ripened Maohi
wrapped loosely in pareus
their beauty crowned with Tiare Tahiti
sway to the beat of ancestral drums
at the foot of Otemanu
on Bora Bora

The Labyrinth

— Leslie Hoffman

A wave breaks
Sol’s ashes settle on white foam, above
a lone gull traces the shoreline

Turning away, a woman walks
toward the labyrinth
blaming tears on the wind

Each forward step
inside the spiral maze, recalls
dreams not manifested

Reaching center, she kneels
at modest offerings—smoky quartz
a half-burned bundle of sage

Surf spray prickles
as the sun dissolves

I retrace my steps into the future
Month of the reading: October
Poem title: The Labyrinth

 This poem appeared in MUSED Literary Review, Vol. 7, Issue 3, Fall 2013