Issue > Poetry
John James

John James

John James is the author of The Milk Hours (Milkweed, 2019), selected by Henri Cole for the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize. An image-text pamphlet, Winter, Glossolalia, is forthcoming from Eyewear/Black Spring Press. His poems appear in Boston Review, Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, PEN America, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. He lives in California, where he is pursuing a PhD in English and Critical Theory at UC Berkeley. 

California Winter

Hiking near Sausalito, wind
slaps my skin. Bitterns
turn on the horizon, pick fleas
from the marshgrass
jutting up along the beach.
I lurch through
a great opium of pines, halls
of redwood shuttling me
toward sea's edge, strike
at the path with a stick so old
my father's father
might have held it, had he made it
this far—this coast, this sea.
Landlocked, I grew up: barges
floating coal
down a muddied river.
Grackles cackled. Black oaks
lay down their roots by the fern.
In summer I walked
my daughter to a garden
twenty blocks from the Capitol,
picked quinces and persimmons,
juneberries and thyme.
Hose in her hand, she turned it
to the sky, let drops
fall down upon her: a makeshift storm.
Cliffs and bluffs, shrubs
of Manzanita spot the hill.
The ocean fluxes in—
breakers bursting on low dunes.
Stagnant in mid-afternoon,
listless in the tide's
revising loop, waves buoy me
over sunk wharves,
dead grass, the gray beach
punctuated with cans—
driftwood, egrets, laughter, rain.



Small pools
mitigate the sea, black urchins
basking, rock crabs
trawling in foam. Leopard-speckled
frosted cowries
suck the shore's intertidal air.

Here I am
on this beach, its sunken nowhere,
thinking about the ways
to shape a line—
not this one, but the one
I'm casting out, tied with a hook
to loop a fish's mouth.


The scorpionfish
is as mean as it sounds, its dozen-
something venom-tipped spines
waiting for a foot to bleed.

Life begins
in these round volcanic pools,
stagnant, shallow,
cluttered with moss,
warmed by a steady equatorial sun.
Its light hardly shifts throughout the year.


Below me
a voice erupts, lifts
above the ocean's
black hum, its brackish
water sifting in:
a tourist combing for snails.

With a fork
he pries them from the rock.
I split the gray shell
of an ice-cold prawn, mount it
on a hook. Everything
wriggles with the prospect of its end.

Out along the yucca trees,
their white roots
splintering, the diehard fishermen
debate degrees—
severity of a ray's sting, the weight
of their biggest catch.
One shows off a tattoo.


Skinning a papaya,
its seeds black
like wet eggs, a bitter roe
but for the tough shells,
you spoon the pulp
with your hands.

I eat mine from a bowl,
toss stones into the sea.

When the line
goes taut, I begin to reel, hung
on the uncertainty
of the cord's other end.

Terns overhead
circle and dive, synch
their wings to the water's
metronomic swell.


You get a bucket ready.
The birds are picking off fish.


the shingled monster
from the water
is like lifting a bag of stones.
The line's about to break.

At twelve
or eleven pounds, his scaleless
body matches the rock,
the eye a vial of black blood
spooled in a cup from the tap.

We're creatures,
the two of us, here
in warmer water.
His body is dead weight.

Skulking in this inlet,
looking to feed,
I watch the gills flare.

after Robert Hass


David Roderick

David Roderick
Austere And Lonely


Ben Evans

Ben Evans
Back Home, On Edgewater St.


Brian Komei Dempster

Brian Komei Dempster
Brendan's Key