California oak at sunrise

Three Poems by Andrew C. Gottlieb

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Above this bed, through the open window
I can hear and see it all.

A leaguer of bees throng the thick shrubs,
bubbling at the shy white flowers,
their flight a drone of early light.

California morning is white clouds,
cool air, bird chirp, stillness among the oaks,
wings waking in the eucalyptus.

Somewhere near everywhere the grey sea
is babbling its love to the beach like a teen:
foam, a mustache of bubbles, wet rock,
a collision of difference.

I beg you not to pull me to the world,

its valuations beyond light and song,
losses far past the recession of night,
the rise of morning, feathered machinations.

We’ll all lose it all in eventual erosion.
Until: there’s no more or less beyond
this eucalyptus stretch, the slim brown limbs
of these trees: the women of the coast.

Don’t ask me to battle a man in his car,
an email, language jailed in faraway fear.
There’s your therapist. You could spend
your life trying to mine the ore of okay.

Say to one another: I like your hair,
your try, the skin you’re sharing. Meaning:
keep surviving.

I’m no fool to find truth in quiet light,
the strive of surreptitious birding.

The electricity of the day: hummingbirds
surge from bloom to perch
quicker than blink, the click of their call
stitching night to the day with a soft repair.

Even the crows know their rough plead
is enough.

You know this light, this bird, this tree
is what you would do and be

all day if you could, if desire was magic,
if fingers were wings, and if you were braver
than you ever will be.



Still Life with Cormorant

Black slash of bird, you slip the rippled surface
like a slick. The lake: your playpen.
Lifting or landing, you fold and fan
as if your flesh was engineered
with the care of rules and squares.
Your feathers shine; your skin stays dry.
I aim the binoculars bill-high.
Mornings, I’ve seen you throng docks.
Wings spread, you lift light bones
and wet wishes to the sun, waiting for warmth
as if after you dry you might not disappear
to another fish-plunge,
tunneling far from our land-locked spot.
We watch your exit and wait.
Always a question.
You flirt with the surface but linger
at the depths. We see you then, briefly,
dark curl of muscle and thrust,
and just as you come into focus: rings widen.
We’re left guessing.
Where next? The hidden swim alone.
Another measured breath.




Early as shapes emerge gray after black.
The lake is flat as a floor, and your paddle
butters water as you push your canoe
from a muddy shore with your pack, your boots,
and your hope for a loon or a moose.
The bow turns clear glass smeary. The try
in your bicep is an ache that makes you grateful,
and you glance back for what you know is coming,
the first orange smolder of day, a promise
that’s still surprise. On Tobin Harbor’s north
shore, far in the fence of pine mining the ridge
root-deep and thick, a quick wolf-cry.
You pause the wood blade high. An echo
and an answer, and you picture the paws
prowling pack-wise, a pant of animal, fur-white
and tired. You glide in a listen. Silence
again. Back in your cabin, on a rock at the desk,
a cling of float copper sheathed in greens
and blacks but gleaming in the shiny wrinkle
where the plier’s eye crimped through corrosion.
Greenstones in a pile. All best things are accidental
finds. Three spiders and their webs, insects
you think of as friends because they sit and wait
as you do over thin paper, pale and blank,
strung out in lines, dreaming food.
You will root all day for clumsy flies.
You push your blade against the lake and gaze
again to see the first light shy and bare.
Shapes define as shadows stretch and blacken.
Suddenly color runs from everything on shore.
The whole day is coming to you, fresh and lit:
greens, blues and reds as beautiful and wet
as meadows fat with bent goldenrod, clover,
and streams of seeded grass freckled and dewy
with white water dropped and heating like speckled
beads of yellow light waiting to burst and shine.




Andrew C. GottliebAndrew C. Gottlieb’s most recent chapbook is Flow Variations (Finishing Line Press). He’s been writer-in-residence at three national parks as well as a number of other wilderness locations, and he’s on the editorial board of Say hello at

Header photo by curtis, courtesy Shutterstock. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.