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John Norton


Ithuriel’s Spear San Francisco

ACKNOWLEDGMENT Earlier versions of some poems in this book have appeared in the following publications: America, Beatitude, Blue Unicorn, California Quarterly, Consciousness and Culture, Coracle, CrossConnect, Four Quarters, Kayak, New American Writing, Onthebus, Oxygen, Processed World, Beatitude 1959-2009 Golden Anniversary Anthology, and The Before Columbus Foundation Poetry Anthology.

Copyright Š 2010 by John Norton. Cover and book design by Plainfeather Printworks. Front cover painting Reflections: on Crossing I by Anne Subercaseaux ( Back cover photo also by Anne Subercaseaux. All rights reserved. ISBN 978-0-9793390-6-6 Library of Congress Control Number: 2010930351 Ithuriel’s Spear is a fiscally sponsored project of Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco.

Failure Is an Option all tourists are lost 5000 pigeons arrive each day on the Piazza then just as suddenly lift off in a gray swirl to return again these



behind the decaying splendor Venetians retain their secrets and drop consonants God helps the weak the powerful create monuments to ensure salvation

Processional Pushed to the front few volunteer some are driven some wander in most reluctant to experience catastrophe we are trying to discern in the haze of ideology what’s out there looking down between our toes we find air from the rear scattered cries of the newly born those who can hear nod look back and grin some jump to the front taking others with them one calls this sacrifice or martyrdom depending

Rules of the Road Safety’s no accident says the guru California’s golden rolling crust hold on for those sudden jolts the word circulating throughout LA this congregation’s in ecstasy dropping acid in the diamond lanes a street preacher on roller blades strumming a steel guitar zigzagging through the slalom of plastic cups Bob walking the glassy beach between the surf and the freeways gangbangers hanging loose bloods stabbing on Venice Beach to negotiate surface streets and avoid the inevitable Laura keeps rescue tools in the trunk condoms and fresh underwear a salmon pink stretch limo catapulted from the top deck of the interchange rubberneckers slowing for the carnage are waved through as we drag the man out of the burning car he’s screaming You’re pulling my legs apart Li Po remains secure in the foothills now that the stairs don’t face the door money can’t flow out of his house All praise to the holy ones traversing the great basin– Santa Monica San Diego Santa Ana San Gabriel San Bernardino los santos y los muertos intercedar por nosotros

5,000 Creatures Eyes to Eyes —Monterey Bay Aquarium

Schools of fat rich anchovies displaying their silver Swerve with the fish Japanese women in quiet conversation over strawberry anemones paired gray sharks cruising like vintage Oldsmobiles for dinner and entertainment Swerve with the fish steelheads ganged up don’t mess with us prerecorded voices reminding all hermaphrodites do have more sex reorient to life in the kelp forest and Swerve with the fish clever captions over the tanks THIS SHRIMP’S WORK IS NEVER DONE gaper clams proposing massive erections sex in the slough where LONG DISTANCE SEX IS THE NORM how do they do it Swerve with the fish in big worlds and small PLANTS CONTRIBUTE TO THE UNDERWATER ECONOMY Fresno Golden Oldies on tour the young ignore the signs camouflaged animals playing at hide and eat you wonder how you’ll age

JOHN NORTON moved to San Francisco in 1974

and soon afterwards joined the Saturday Writing Workshop at Small Press Traffic. His poetry and fiction began to appear in small magazines and literary journals. A previous book of prose poems and sketches won an American Book Award. He’s served on the boards of Small Press Traffic and the Irish Arts Foundation, and for many years helped organize the Irish-American Crossroads Festival. He works as a technical writer and editor in Silicon Valley.

Loss is never far from the surface in the

world that John Norton starkly observes in Air Transmigra: “There’s a lot of unhappiness in this business of trolling for disorganized messages.” Time has taken its toll and any turning back is in a nostalgia-free zone, illusion-less and clear as a New England winter day, but seen from a trans-continental distance. Or the distance a painting puts us from its subject. Or the pain that living without illusion makes liminal. — Alan Bernheimer, The Spoonlight Institute

John Norton’s Air Transmigra is about the dangers and pleasures of traveling and

much else besides: about the emptiness and lovelessness of life under capitalism, about the unresolved difficulties of relationships with family, about the anxious question of our dependence on the machines that seem more and more to dominate our lives, about the fate of the planet in catastrophic times. If this seems a grim catalog, that would be misleading: this poetry is witty and ironic: “God helps the weak/ the powerful create monuments/ to ensure salvation.” And in a poem called “Meditation” Norton imagines draining a reservoir behind a dam when the Buddhist handbooks teach “Empty the mind....” In “Air Transmigra” we seem to be on board a plane the destination of which is Hell. Finally, this poetry regards life with compassion as in the closing lines of “Rules of the Road:” “All praise to the holy ones traversing the great basin—/ Santa Monica San Diego Santa Ana/ San Gabriel San Bernardino/ los santos y los muertos/ intercedar por nosotros” This is about the famous “infrastructure” of California and the migrating peasants upon whose backs we have built a massive economy. “the road is 101/ the reality/ Interstate” Camino Real, pronounced “real” as it was in the play by Tennessee Williams. The Real Road. — Beverly Dahlen, A Reading

John Norton's New Book