Poetry: Tim Kahl


The Shrine

I leave the heart of the toilet paper roll,
the cardboard cylinder, out on the bathroom
counter again. My wife finds the evidence
of my crime and insults my slovenliness.
She insists there can be nothing simpler than
to throw it out. She’s wholly unsympathetic
to the fact I get distracted because
I do my best thinking between wipes.

My father sat and sat in his own private
chamber, alone in his own foul world,
raising his thoughts to some engineering
feat or a sticky problem of mechanical
malfunction. He planned and designed
on the throne. Now eighty two,
a neighbor came over and found him
passed out on the bathroom floor, low
blood sugar. The last thing he remembers
was getting dizzy. Before he went to black,
he might have been propped up there
for days, trapped, slowly puzzling out
how to get his life some desperately needed
oil and grease before it wears down.

I, though, am quick about things during
the process of extrusion, preferring to linger
afterwards in my final triumph and in
my inspection regimen. If there are many
men who see faces in clouds, why not one
who sees the work of Picasso in
his brown period smeared across the folds
of bunched-up toilet paper?

I do not know why my mind wanders
when tasked with throwing away
the remnants of the roll. Perhaps I’m thinking
big things this week. Where else can one
think uninterruptedly, without confusion?
It is shrine and ceremony dedicated to
one of my epiphanies. Please, I beg of you,
do not reject it simply because I don’t
have the heart to rid myself of this
seemingly useless core, which
on any given day, may still have
a thousand and one other uses.

Survival of the Fittest in Rio Vista

Through the slant drizzle slowly chiseling
the Humphrey the Whale monument,
we walk the riverbank of the Sacramento,
looking for treasure. We cross the US 12 bridge,
my son fighting his instinct to pee off
the side. He finds a stick to hit the steel girders
and throw into the water. Just after,
a fishing boat full of men dressed in fatigues
passes under, no birds or deer with them.
This is the land of near misses, hunters and
the hunted. Something tells me here
I shouldn’t try to preserve innocence,
shouldn’t try to hold too many overt opinions.

We discover the carcass of a plastic ball,
some snarled monofilament that we joke
could be magic. If it could catch anything
in the world, my son says he wants a crappie.
A crappie. With an o sound I correct,
remembering my Midwestern nice. But Romero
confirms he learned the short a sound too,
like in California. I tell my son he should wish
for a way to get us out of this crappy weather,
as we head for the eighth wonder of the Delta.

At Foster’s Bighorn CafĂ© we sit under the elephant,
the largest stuffed mammal head in the world.
One of its tusks weighs more than I did in
high school. The old African has hung there
since long before that. He has been there
more than fifty years with his friends:
timber wolf, hippo, rhino, giraffe, cougar,
grizzly, salmon, platypus, hyena and
the jackalope. It’s nice to see they have
a sense of humor about it, so I joke there are
more heads in the kitchen–some of
the short order cooks who didn’t measure up.

It’s the opposite of a zoo, a whole season of episodes
for some kind of taxidermy channel. It’s the ultimate
dream for a blogger cataloging skulls stuffed with
nothingness. Clearly, the sense here is life and death
are the only major entertainments available.

We gnaw our fish and beef, use a straw to blow
root beer bubbles. All our troubles are whistling
down the Sacramento. We commit to being
the kind of animals whose brains raft along
in our heads, looking for the treasure of
some diversion. We find it here in one of the bar’s
patrons who’s narrating his near misses,
then wishes for how he’d like to go,
motoring out beyond the Golden Gate in a boat
full of Kessler’s. When he’s drunk all of it,
he’ll shoot a hole in the bottom and become
one more member of God’s studio audience
who can clap and comment and laugh at
the parts where it all gets so delightfully absurd.

Blue Calendar Days

The blue calendar days were removed one by one to run away and hide in full
light, in front of the desk with the hinged yellow top where George Herrick
buried his head inside like a pad of butter in a baked potato. He looked for
what was useful there: a math workbook ripped in half, a spelling list with
the words “cost” and “limit,” beds of kleenex for blue-haired trolls, pink
erasers with “yes” and “no” written on opposite sides–prepared to reveal
the future if flipped like a coin. But no personal calendar. That belonged
to us all like we all owned the sound of the letter “z.”

The alphabet encouraged animals to advertise its sounds. Tiger
was celebrity for “t,” elephant for “e,” and the friendly zebra looking calm
and rested so far removed from the World Book where a leopard dragged it
down from behind, terror drawn up through the eyes the way the heliotropic
bean seed danced up through the soil even when planted upside down. We
watched it point to the sky as it sat on the ledge above our heads full of
words. We uttered words that started to cut the skin of the days, the blue
calendar days, gone missing, used up like tissue that covers a gift in a

The desks were moved in a circle, a battalion of covered wagons,
each one full of task instructions and toys. We pledged allegiance to the
dime store flag stapled to a maple dowel, then lifted the yellow top to
behold what the desk cradled, what made us all owners of separate property.
So it was no wonder when George Herrick raised his little white penis and
pissed in his as formal protest. The rest of us were raising our hands to
answer the important questions: how Squanto helped the Pilgrims, when the
Liberty Bell last rang, where pennies and nickels were minted, how to
measure the days that belonged to no one but were always the same color,

Turtle Release

All along the retaining wall that runs along the highway
lies a ditch draining into the reservoir. I look for the lost
tumbleweeds sunning themselves in the gully there,
seemingly bored by all the highway traffic veering off
the exit ramp, spilling into the subdivision, and taking respite
among the punching bags, guns, and cable TV.
The tumbleweeds huddle, upset about the brush fires
coming in the summer. They begin to pray for rain.
I have seen them in a line, all hollow in the middle
as the wind blows through them and up over the roofs
of the houses into the gyres the red-tails abide.
I follow them overhead as they advertise
their silhouettes in the sky–my favorite distractions.
I can almost keep up with the variety of nicks in my
attention span, the regimen of crafty surprises,
the speed of the many screens flashing their signals at me.
I am a consumer of tempting imagery, my desire for
every color measured while I hope, like a dog dreaming of
the dishwasher door opening, that some incredible bounty
will be laid out in front of me. I prepare myself for
the vista beyond the retaining wall. I stand on
the embankment above the reservoir and
glare through the chain-link fence at my reflection
in the water–last summer no turtles there.
For sure, the time has come to hop this fence at midnight
with a flashlight, spirit of the spring equinox guiding me,
and release a few quarantined pond turtles back into
their native drink. Plop they go to gather together
and prosper in the California mud. With my neighbors
I will watch them basking in August, perched upon
gray rocks. They will serve as a focal point
for our calm, a prayer gong sounding on the plains.
We will go there to be captured by slowness.
Let those who deliver the fates of the tumbleweeds,
who’ve come for the imagined days ahead,
let them know that even in the suburbs
there are different endings possible,
different paths down to the reservoir
where a face can shine back at the moon.

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