Since 1996 Volume XXI

Lynne Barnes

Lynne Barnes was born in Georgia and moved to New York City in 1968 with a front row ticket to Hair, before migrating to San Francisco in 1969, two years after the Summer of Love. She was part of a commune that thrived for twenty years in the Haight Ashbury. She has worked as a nurse on psych emergency units and oncology wards, and as a librarian in San Francisco's Public Libraries. Her collection of poetry, Falling Into Flowers, is from Blue Light Press and, according to publisher Diane Frank, she “writes poems that sing like ballads. Her language is gorgeous and devastating.” Lynne’s book was the recipient of the 2017 Rainbow Award for Best Gay and Lesbian Poetry and a finalist for the 2018 Eric Hoffer Book Award. Lynne lives with her beloved artist partner, Carole, who created the cover art for her book.

The Poet at Five

after Larry Levis  (“The Poet at Seventeen,” from Winter Stars)

My childhood? I see it from beneath
the sunk down brim of my granddaddy’s
sweat-scented, World War I-era wool cap,
borrowed for a morning that opens in neon black: 

electric first-morning-ever rising before the sun, 
a morning I can still touch after over sixty years, 
morning when his hat protects me from splinters 
of light as they begin to break from the sky’s edge.

The strap my grandmother has sewn onto a flour sack 
hangs across my shoulder and chest 
like a military sash; my sack is a miniature 
of the long, trailing bags the adults wear.

Blackberry grenades explode on my tongue, and wet 
green leaves slap my cheeks as we walk single file 
down a footpath through the woods, with honeysuckle 
aromas dissolving in cool Spanish moss mist.

At the end of our journey, a white field shimmers 
through the trees, and the sky is Mercurochrome; 
my imagination is lit: I hear bluebells tinkle 
as they brush against my legs.

From the cool oak and pine spires, into the oven of cotton field: 
July flies screech as I pry tufts from dry, brown fists that draw blood. 
I sit down in the dirt at the end of the first row,
taste salt trickling down my face, feel

the weightlessness of the treasure in my sack, watch
the deep pains my mother and my grandparents take
with the plants on the land I do not know they do not own
as they bend, burn, pick, bleed, sweat, thirst: Georgia 1951.

The Call of the West
We are homesick most for the places we have never known.

White fingers of fog grasp the bridge
as if to lift it from its moorings
along the headlands of Marin and San Francisco—
the strait named Golden Gate, once home of the Ohlone,
place where white, shark-fin sails
slice the water’s blues and grays, and in the distance,
a miles-long, hump-backed whale of thick mist
rolls over hills beneath which humans teem like krill.
In salty air fog horns keen outside walls
where poets lift their voices over beer
sitting next to gas log fireplaces,
and sweethearts  hear symphonies
after fragrant, wine-splashed meals,
where cold winds of street canyons carry sounds
of homeless pleading for coins and kindness
between raw coughs and schizophrenic outbursts,
as they stand in line for meals at Glide and St. Anthony’s;
where Monterey cypresses green a golden park,
where bullets suddenly rip the air, where gays have married.
Up close, where fog chills or sunbeams heat its soft winds,
this people-plashed cove at the edge of creation
holds all colors, all stripes, all ages, all tongues
in its tender St. Francis embrace, its unconditional hippie hug.


for Fin

I have not yet arrived home where your note
lies inside its sealed envelope on the kitchen table.
I am waking to deer nibbling, with cocked ears, 
on the spring green hills of Mt. Diablo. The sun 
is warm on my face for a while before I open 
my eyes to those deer, and behind them pastel clouds 
slowly blazing to white against the oxygen-rich blue 
sweep of the morning sky. I am not thinking of you 
now, but I will. It is just past dawn—hours before 
Bill and I will go home to be with you again, you 
with your harlequin hair, your scimitar grin. I have not 
yet driven across the bridge back into the city at dusk, 
where downtown buildings begin to light 
like evening stars. It is before I climb the stairs to home 
with camping gear and wonder for the first time 
where you are. Before the note or the call to the morgue 
when they say no, put me on hold then sharply, 
after a long time, say yes they have a Jane Doe 
from the top of the Hilton. We have not yet driven 
down to the refrigerated room where the man 
who learned we weren’t family explained
that you split, nearly hit the driver of a taxi 
as he stepped out of his cab at Ellis and Taylor.
It is not yet the time when the numbness took hold,
when the man in the lab coat pulled back the sheet,
showed us your egg shell face, bloodless, no trace 
of mirth. No, this moment is not yet here. I am still 
running in the warm air along the deer traces 
brushed by budding branches of April trees.


Between grief and nothing, I will take grief.
  —William Faulkner

Grief is discovering the world is flat after all,
that people really do fall off.

Grief is a red-winged blackbird
that startles when it lands
in empty, outstretched hands—
delicate, feathery thing
that keeps coming back 
in familiar patterns 
like seasons, dreams.

Hold it tenderly when it lights, 
despite its sharp claws, 
and it will sing you 
to another world,
then bring you home.

G.R.I.T.S.  ... Girls Raised in the South
for my cousin Trudy 

 My yes sir, no ma'am Melanie longed to be
your sneak out the bedroom window
after Granny goes to sleep Scarlett.
As I read Guideposts to the old couple across the street,
you go out with a boy in a turquoise
Chevy to the lock and dam
and don't come home until just before midnight.
In my Girl Scout green or peppermint pink striped uniforms
I watch you slither into tight red skirts and twist to Chuck Berry.
Nearly half a century later you are Melanie
lifting your grandchildren, though it's bad for your back,
reminding those around you, who never have, not to drink or smoke.
You babysit with your grown kid’s kids, don't see movies yourself,
and drive a mile up the road to tuck our 89-year-old Aunt Josephine
into her bed at The Home, seven nights a week.
After years living far away, I have become
what you must only imagine as Scarlett,
and you probably think some Rhett's frankly, my dear
has made me the way I am.
No, I have always loved women, 
and now I am just shimmying my way
across the dance floor toward the gates of hell,
in that green velvet dress pieced together 
from those front window drapes I finally ripped down.

Winter of Love

(Valentine’s Day San Francisco 2004)

At the front entrance of City Hall, exultant couples 
walk out through open glass doors, holding hands 
and licenses that flutter in their grasp like flags.

A tiptoe rain mizzles red, gold, 
pink, lavender rose petals 
quilting the palatial stone steps;
multi-colored umbrellas wait outside like limos.

The crowd cheers loudly every few minutes all day long, 
as pair after pair of women, pair after pair of men
walks out through the city’s gray mist
into rainbow, rainbow, rainbow.

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Mary Barnet


Grace Cavalieri

Joan Gelfand

Janet Brennan