James Cushing

The Damp Shrine

Harvest comes early. In the

rehashed half-light

I heat my coffee and

hear something clicking,

something that wants to

show me where my feet

are pointing. It twists toward

me like a tuber, and even 

traffic whistles around its

entangling vines. 

Summer’s a doorknob

that just finished turning. I

long for the woman

who can hold the snakes. I

want the secret thing she

has. But this morning

the spotlight shines elsewhere,

and its flat circle falls onto

dreamers’ faces, drying

out the toys night

has left:

one star, half a ragged moon.


Folk Song

I like rolling to school in pajamas

a minute before deadline. I like to throw dry straw

around a feeding pen and watch big farm animals

arrive. This whole world’s

a canvas smeared with things I like.


We were standing on the corner of Sunset and Ivar 

where the Rolling Stones recorded

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and watching

The Shining’s Danny Lloyd and the ghost of Bobby Driscoll 

circle the block on a hand-painted sound truck. 


I must have tunnel vision—the world’s a terrible place,

but my eyes plead with me to love every moment I live

in it, although this is impossible;

I want to press grapes with my bare feet, 

ride a red boat that leaves the sky.


But wisdom has no website.

The snake I came too late to charm

coiled around a tree in its mating dance.

The moon’s past full, cloud-shrouded, safe. 

The river may be running full with fish 

and flowers, and the moon I think just

tuned into an all night folk song program.

I continue writing my name on the page

with a picture of a murdered clown.

A wind must be rising—look at the leaves.


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Author Bio

JAMES CUSHING, born 1953 in Palo Alto CA, holds a doctorate in English from UC Irvine. In the early 1980s, he hosted a live poetry radio program on KPFK-FM in Los Angeles which gave early exposure to Dennis Cooper, David Trinidad, Amy Gerstler, Wanda Coleman, Leland Hickman, and many others. Since 1989, he has taught literature and creative writing at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and served as the community’s Poet Laureate for 2008 – 2010. His poems have appeared in many journals, and a new collection, Solace, is due in October 2018 from Cahuenga Press. His daughter is the New York-based poet Iris Cushing.