Autumn Blues

Autumn has put on its brittle shell,

or taken off. Half-naked and too skinny

in a rust-colored negligee, the oaks striptease

to the high ice-music

of the shifting pallor of the sky.


The photograph captures

an instant, the story

captures a thread. Nothing’s

gospel, just a little reflected

radiance, motes dancing

in a shaft of sun.


That’s what

our lives are. We’re not

after unvarnished

truth. Truth, yes, but varnish

is what we’re all about, the glossy

veneer, protective coat.


The sun in hiding now,

the Sierra dreaming of snow,

but so far there’s just this

gold and copper lingerie

strewn on the forest

floor, scattered on the green

altar of the outstretched arms of cedar,

a counterfeit clothing for these



What is revealed

in this paring down? What gets unhoused

in me as autumn’s candle sputters?

Some small ache burrows

like a mole in the dark, seeking comfort,


isolation, as the temperature

drops and the holidays

begin their unstoppable



Movies, books, a nap on the couch,

anything will do

to elude this fierce-eyed



Music of the season,

nothing more.


©Maxima Kahn. This poem was first published in an earlier form in the literary journal Slant.

California Fall

Already late October and where did September go?

In the garden crocuses push up through the leaf fall.

Everything’s confused here. It’s California,

caught in weird, autumnal thrall.


California, like a page thumbed open,

exposed to weathers, like a recitation

of forgetfulness, flighty liturgy,

the unearthly gaining shape as the whole

continent tips westward into the sea.


Here in the low Sierras, camellias mingle

with the flash and flame of migrant maples,

old icons planted by homesick pioneers, hungry for a different gold.

And the breeze that shifts out of the East

might as well bring snow as clouds

sink into the valley below.


What is it we gather to ourselves

while these things want to bloom even as the dying

begins, even as the season yearns for completion?

What is it unravels as the new ravelling starts?


There’s no summation in California.

We tremble at the tip, but never fall.

We linger too long and lose our scope,

and drift into the endless sea, headlong

into the West.


by Maxima Kahn, first published in Hardpan


1 a space of partial illumination (as in an eclipse) between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light  

2 a surrounding or adjoining region in which something exists in a lesser degree: fringe

maybe we had been talking about this a long time, the sky growing grey and still, the windows turning to glassy stares

maybe we sat at the wooden table by the window a long time, the river freezing over inch by inch, snow piling on its banks and in its waters

maybe the line is just one unit of measurement and not the absolute – as a painter and a poet we might never know

maybe the stone bridge is a metaphor of crossing, our passage through, and from one life to the next

maybe it’s a metaphor for holding hands, banks linked, differences retained but bridged

maybe the edges of our vision, the edges of the allowable and the unseen, are a habitable country and the natives are friendlier than we suspect

maybe our thoughts are like magnets, invisible agents working double-time in the oceans of the night

maybe we will make small notations in the margins and these will become the whole story or song

maybe there are spaces that link the things between that are more important than the perfect shadow and the full light

maybe the round edges of our bodies signify a borderland, a general area and not a hard boundary, a place of exploration and entry

maybe nothing is definitive

maybe you would hold my hand


by Maxima Kahn, first published in The Nevada County Poetry Series Anthology

Becoming Pearl

to love is pearl medicine

terrifying transformation

oozing grit and spit

unwinding to original aura


to love is unveiled garbage

poems in the furrows

a restless gypsy at the crossroads

earthward and earth bound


hardest homecoming

a house with the dirt still intact

i am covered in blood and shit

still beautiful unworthy


to love is to give up the ideal

find orchids in the muck

overcast freckled paradise

a ladder a painful door


you give me granite and agate

hard shine an eden where people eat

sleep fuck cry laugh

where we sharpen our pencils


to praise the ordinary

i resist it all

wanting evanescence

you give me the thick tang of reality


a cup filled with my own history

and evasions a choice

i’m rattling the bars of the cage

drink up you say drink up


by Maxima Kahn, first published in Tule Review

St. Martin in the Fields

this morning my body wrapped like a cord

like something caving in on itself

the little stone in my chest knocking in its cavity


and though the sun strikes white-gold

on the evergreens and a man on the radio

mentions the Academy of St. Martin

in the Fields, and i think how nice it must be


to stand in the fields, how all our academies

ought to be in the fields, where we might

consider the lilies and learn––


now another man is speaking of “last night’s

massacre,” as if it were a nightly occurrence,

and then the music comes on, the fierce beauty

of an orchestra, the luring cry of an oboe

and i am lost––the little stone grinds down


there is something i cannot recover from

something like knowledge, or blindness

something like wandering while the world

keeps flowing past my door


it holds me in its teeth like a riddle

write me, tell me the answer


by Maxima Kahn, first published in Untitled Country Review

Pillar of Fire


for a few moments

i was a pillar of fire

i could hold my own

even if a whole city was burning


but driving home

in the car

suddenly a tidal wave

knowing for the first time

how much i love you and not


knowing in which pocket

to carry

such knowledge

none of them being

big enough.


by Maxima Kahn, first published in the Sacramento News & Review


Dear ones,

what is it we are after

on this bridge, in the frozen

solitudes? What simple

act of kindness will bind us

forever? What is it

that might solve us, absolve

us? What radiant

glimmering now gone?


How shall we survive

the tempest that swirls

around our thin boat?

How are we to live

in such a gale

of grief and becoming,

bewildering lostness?


Where is the rock, that stalwart

homecoming we could

cling to? Where

is the break

between the clouds?

Where is anything

constant, wholly

good that doesn’t evaporate

or wind up

forgotten among a pile

of weeds and bills?


We ache with the same ache.

We burn, dimly, with the same

knowing. We are alive

with the same turbulent

blood. Dreams

swim in our eyes. Our hands

reach for the same touch.


by Maxima Kahn, first published in San Diego Poetry Annual

No one turned away for lack of funds

squirrelfor Mary Oliver

Everyone has their teachers,

I think to myself this morning

as I notice you have dedicated

your small great book of poems to James Wright.


We are all in each other’s debt,

all filled with this inconstant music—

inherited vocables, lost syllables—

speaking themselves again in our mouths.


The squirrel is gnawing at the inside

of the kitchen walls. All day I hear her slow,

determined ratcheting. She will find her way

through to something.


And I have your words in my head,

these words that echo

with his words; one day

you may even have mine.


I turn back to your poem.

Watching is what you do so well. Watching

until it opens you

and the words come pouring.


And you are slow and timely

and do not hurry over the least thing

until the earth glitters and every leaf

is upturned toward the light.


Look how abundantly

the earth scatters her rich gifts—

pine needles litter the red ground—

such surplus, such redundance,


as if she were singing, plenty, plenty, plenty,

while we shadow and cringe,

thinking never enough,

foolish in our small, square lives.


Now here I am to try my hand

wherever my own secret lies,

in some hoard, like the acorns

piled swiftly behind these


yellow walls—

my stash, my sweet supply.


—Maxima Kahn

first published in Spillway, A Poetry Magazine



your eyes on the gold

and silver of the morning

light in these trees,

your ears

on the rhythmic drumming

of the woodpecker, the funny laughter

of some little bird

snickering like a mischievous boy.


This is the balm of morning,

its healing salve,

everything in cahoots:

the dark purple

petunias shuddering

to the same pulse

as the clack of insects,

a persistent cheep

from the canyon below

punctuating at

precise intervals,


and when the leaf lets go

the branch, when the neighbor

sings out to his dog, the way

someone’s radio makes

a low undertone, or a cloud drifts

like a high soprano

over the whole arrangement,

even the infinitely slow

bass carillon of new

growing trees is part

of this harmony; nothing mars

the perfection

of the score, nothing

dampens the day.

©Maxima Kahn, previously published in Westview and The Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry


“I can lean the flame in my heart into your life and turn all that frightens you

into holy incense ash.”   

—Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky


The poem

is a prayer—

tendril, wind machine,

shimmer, plough—

how we cling


to the words, little

paupers, poor saviors.

It sputters

and burns,

touching us here,


singeing the tips

of our fingers, our


and yet

what houses us


(most deeply)

is what we don’t


what we refuse

to enclose


with our little word-


what flies out

every time.

We are most


set free

by what we can’t

catch. And where

i try to reach

and miss, where i



fall short

fall flat


You are

most radiant


there You meet

and touch



and again



my body

to ash,

to holy


– Maxima Kahn

First published in the journal Poem.



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