Thomas Piekarski

In Shape

Sometimes it comes down to mathematics. One plus
one equals two a fair bet to remain true no matter what.
Other times the math doesn’t add up, and one begins
to wander further and further toward the edge. But edge
of what? Do bees buzz, or do our minds just tell us this?
Mind and spirit soaring in tandem over rainbows remain
intrinsically separate so as not to surrender their shapes.

Paradise Gained

He wouldn’t give in to intelligentsia,
acted as if he hadn’t read Sandburg,
failed to understand that once his
thinly-veiled coup attempt capsized
he’d drown in an ocean of shame.

Perfidiously, our Fearless Leader
chortled into several microphones
that layoffs at key corporations like
Carrier, Harley Davidson and GM
had nothing to do with his tariffs,
tax cuts nor the national debt.

Just maybe had he bothered to read
Sandburg, the sobering thought
would have lodged in his cranium
that without willing labor
capitalism totally collapses.


She capitalized on my generosity,
that witch I was once in love with.
We spent many a fun-filled day
driving in my Beetle convertible
throughout the foothills and Sierras.

One of our favorite adventures
was cruising the Central Valley
etherized by the aroma of orchards
that supply the nation with fruit.

Then through low rolling mountains,
past Oroville and a few miles north
unto the hamlet named Paradise
where we’d always stop for lattes
at a quaint little coffee shop
and breathe in the mirth of pines.


After several months without
any hint of rain, during a very hot
Indian summer that seemed endless,
on a day when November winds
whipped throughout the terrain
around Paradise, a fire ignited.
It grew to gigantic proportions
suddenly without notice.

The result unmitigated disaster,
the town gutted by a firestorm
that incinerated trees and buildings.

This made national news
and drew the Fearless Leader
from his roost in Washington D.C.
to inspect the damage incurred.

Rather than express regret about
many residents burned to death
while in their cars and beds
he would only dish out blame.


That fateful morning the fire
turned Paradise into an inferno
I was working in Sacramento
at a school teaching autistic kids
the basics of reading and writing.

Those kids entirely oblivious
to the ravages of global warming,
nuclear threat, homelessness
and crumbling infrastructure.

We shuffled out to the playground
and detected the smell of smoke.
Perhaps, I thought, some nearby
building was ablaze, that is
until another teacher announced
she’d heard on the radio
that a fire was raging in Paradise
and throughout the entire region.

Within a day that fire was racing
over several square miles of lands,
scorching forests, valleys and hills
turned crispy as fried chicken
by year after year of drought.


In order for a thing to be magical
it must first be mystical, make an
indelible impression on the psyche.

When I woke Christmas morning
what suddenly jetted into mind
was the premonition that I’d get
a text from my parted paramour,
a cosmic connection, ESP, love
that won’t subside though I die.
I hadn’t heard a word from her
in a year. Yet there there it was,
the anticipated text fresh from my
exotic belly dancer, yoga instructor,
Native American Zumba queen,
like a laser straight to the brain.


Fearless Leader’s spirit rests
at the epicenter of death.

He leads zombie troops,
immeasurable their
hatred and rage.

No matter how miserable
Fearless Leader makes others
he routinely foments, spreads
lies, conspiracies, and treason.


The greetings on Christmas morn
overwhelm. I’m snowed under with
emails, calls, Facebook greetings.
Such outpouring from cherished
relatives and friends, I’m upended.

Though it rained last night, the sky
is quickly clearing and morning sun
beams sprightly through the blinds.

What a great day to celebrate birth
of the god within, or should I say
regeneration? Jesus is surely nice,
Santa Claus benign, turkey, yams
and cherry pie with my relatives
an option should I fancy chit-chat.

But it’s too special a day for blather.
There is much to see, miles to go
before I dream this Christmas day.


Throughout mankind’s brief tenure
thousands swallowed by seven seas,
and tribes martyred in favor of gods
they would never see nor hear.
Some logic could finally set in
regardless of original sin
would not for spurious idioms
that monopolize popular airwaves.
What kind of perverted goon satiates
his ego by gobbling demons?
I can’t help myself. I ponder,
where’s Robin Hood when you need him,
and if not Robin, at least Mack the Knife?


It wasn’t my initial aim to visit Paradise
that particular Christmas day. I set out
on the open road with blue crystal skies
to refresh me through an open moon roof.

In the slow lane I motored. Released
from the miasma of city traffic
I reached Auburn at the very heart
of the Mother Lode in an hour or so.

At Auburn I paid my respects
at the statue of Claude Chana,
the first to discover gold
in a ravine south of town.

From Auburn back down to the valley
through the burgeoning berg of Lincoln
where at its heralded Indian casino
gamblers played roulette deep in debt,
and jolly patrons stuffed their bellies
at the grand international buffet.


It had been a decidedly difficult summer,
searing heat with only occasional breezes.
Add to this smog that clogs the valley
worsened by days when smoke from fires
all over California entered the equation.

October brought a little respite from heat.
Then cool autumn winds arrived, revived
our enthusiasm, for we looked forward
to November when temperatures decline.

We had no notion that this November
would be one to remember like no other,
for monster fires broke out north and south.

California wrapped in a deep smoke bank
except at summits of the High Sierra.


Why must one man’s gain be another’s loss?
Ashes to atoms, dust to rust. Life ephemeral,
life divine. Riches and fame are but
crutches for the marginally insane.
Just trust in me says the Fearless Leader.
I’ll lift you peasants from poverty. Buy in,
he exhorts, lest our nation wither away
and grovel in the hell that is majority rule.
Support me, embrace my iron-clad will.
Gulp a glass of brandy, down another pill.


Should hastening environmental depletion
remain the overarching world standard
we all may wind up expiring in disgrace.

Disasters will certainly occur. They are
inevitable within metaphysical constructs.

With each birth we beget a concomitant
death. And every death spawns implicit
self lulled by both love and a thereafter.


Past Lincoln I zoom full speed ahead
across miles of mostly dormant farm land.
Near Marysville they enter my purview,
ragged buttes shoved from Earth’s bowels,
extinct volcanoes altogether resembling
a humongous dinosaur fin.

Reconnoitering at Marysville I consider
I might as well continue on to Oroville.
It’s right on the Feather River where
Bidwell being the first to prospect back
in 1848, had easy pickings, collected
enough gold to purchase the expansive
Rancho Chico property he’s known for.
At Oroville it’s up two miles of winding
country road, headed to the reservoir.
I want to see how much capacity it has
remaining to accommodate winter rains.
But the road to the dam is blocked, thus
my curiosity about water storage aborts.

Yet I do get a look at the new spillway,
built after the last one lately collapsed
and initiated torrential flooding which
sent Oroville’s citizens fleeing in fear.


From Oroville to Paradise a mere
fifteen miles, through dense woods
loaded with a variety of tall conifers,
withering wild oak, ruddy manzanita,
huckleberry bushes, weeping willow,
eucalyptus groves and incredible dales
now emerald by dint of winter showers.

But dare I go there, especially on
Christmas? Evil spirits may lurk,
left by Fearless Leader. The press
portrays Paradise like Hiroshima,
obliterated, nothing left save ashes.

I’ve never encountered devastation
of such enormous magnitude. It is

no wonder that despite marshaling
enough pluck to proceed, I quiver.


A noted scholar on Facebook posted
that the Fearless Leader is but a shill,
a shell, buffoon and vindictive lout,
predicting he will pass and be flushed
down the toilet of history. And further
he will nonetheless be worshipped by
voters who endorse hatred and penury,
those never to be purged nor expunged
from America’s DNA. One day, he says,
another Fearless Leader will emerge like
a phoenix from the ashes, and Americans
in their collective amnesia will genuflect,
usher him to the White House, pounding
nails into their own coffins. And someone
responded that this can be averted should
teachers be allowed to tell the genuine tale
as it should be told, how catastrophe was
narrowly avoided, our freedoms preserved.


I could barely inculcate horrors in store.
Was I prepared to make a plunge
into the abyss of woe so many knew
having been wretchedly cremated?

A three hundred foot high wall of flame
swept through Paradise like a hurricane.

There was some warning, but not much.
Those who were fortunate enough
to have received word and fled
to safety in Chico were indeed blessed.
Yet scores of their brethren
didn’t make it, fried alive in cars,
in homes and businesses, on streets.

The forest a few miles out from Paradise
is coal black, included in the big burn.
Thousands of acres devoured, moreover
putrid CO2 pumped into the atmosphere.

I half expected schools
of poltergeists skimming the skies,
or wraiths circling like hungry vultures.


They had already spent days sifting
gray and white ruins for bodies.
Many were found, remains removed.

Therefore most of the grisly aspects
of that doleful decimation are absent
before I enter a daunting, haunting
Paradise this Christmas afternoon.

I’m reminded of newsreels I’ve seen,
bombed-out places, Berlin, Hanoi.

Detritus scattered all over the place.
Concrete foundations and piles of ash,
scarred aluminum file cabinets, pipes,
eerie steel chairs in bygone rooms.

Not one person among the population
except me anywhere to be found. It is
a virtual ghost town, and I’m all alone.

You might think a stray dog or two,
perhaps some hitchhiker, elderly man
or woman out for a walk would show.
But nothing stirs, not even a bird.

To my considerable pleasure I find
the media has been less than candid,
their images of absolute obliteration
only half true. Although much burned
all the way to the ground, much more
remains intact, physically unaffected.

Though I can’t locate my coffee shop,
assuming it has left this Earth forever,
as my car glides down the boulevard
I see several storefronts miraculously
unscathed, pristine, where proprietors
would seem ready for business as usual.

But in Paradise it isn’t business as usual.

Clearing of dead trees along rustic roads
nets stacks of obsidian-black sawn logs.

And plenty of rubble yet to be dumped.

Thomas Piekarski is a former editor of the California State Poetry Quarterly. His poetry and interviews have appeared in publications internationally, including Florida English Journal, Poetry Salzburg, Mandala Journal, Poetry Quarterly, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Boston Poetry Magazine. He has published a travel guide, Best Choices In Northern California. His most recent poetry books are Ballad of Billy the Kid and Monterey Bay Adventures.