Creation Song

In the beginning

there was no beginning

only the diamond moment

hammered from the abyss

of compressed night,

each facet a mirror,

reflecting the one light,

revealing all to come:

the shadow possibilities

and shimmering glints of your face and mine.


Then the Word spoke itself,

the sound embracing us,

before flinging us out in a spiral scream of joy

that echoed into kelp beds, lichen, redwoods,

into the exquisite unknown,

of these shards of light,

of this holy moment.



Midway through the journey of our life

We woke to find our daughter crying,

“Daddy, daddy, daddy!” at 3 a.m.


Rising, I entered her room

Stepping on Leggos, Brios and books

That bit into my foot and ankles.


How I carried her to the kitchen I still can’t recall.

Holding her, I opened the doors and refrigerator and bottle and

Microwave, pushing “4” and “0” and “power”


Until I heard the “beep, beep, beep” of warm milk

And found her mouth and felt the sucking and

I tried to lie down but she kicked and ordered


“Rock-a-bye! Rock-a-bye!” until I held her in my arms

And sang “Rock-a-bye baby on the tree-top,”

Listening to her sing it with me until


She stopped singing and crying and just breathed coarsely

Through her nose. I carried her to our bed, slowly,

Hoping to cradle her between my wife and me in a locked embrace.


But she managed to twist her feet onto me

Use my wife for a pillow, bisecting, connecting,

Until we formed something non-geometric


And she suddenly slept. Midway through the night

We were both awake and could not sleep feeling

Her growing limbs and dreaming overtake us


Midway through the tangle of our lives

When we stumbled and wondered and

Found ourselves shaped into something new.

Coyote Brush

From my home, looking uphill

at the shadowed green for years

I had no name

for this gray-green matte.

When I heard “coyote brush”

spoken, seen it written, low letters,

thick like this tangled-branched, oval-leaved

thing, I thought it a fitting name,

making a place for coyotes,

rough-cut dogs, matted,

low to the ground, hiding

in the mottled darkness.


Then yesterday, on San Bruno Mountain,

my student taught me the Ohlone myth

that where coyotes peed,

from that muck sprouted the first

gnarled green shoots of the eponymous plant,

smelling of coyote pee

to scare off hungry deer,

hungry enough to try to eat these lizard leaves,

dry, seedy, bitter.


Tonight I might try that trick,

see what grows when I take a leak,

give to the baked clay

around my house what moisture

I took from it, see what spawns

from my dragon’s teeth,

what hydra-headed plant,

nettles spouting hypos,

hemlock numbing seeds,

milkweed feeding caterpillars,

what beautiful death will arise

from my leavings?


by Paul Totah

Buckeye Canyon, San Bruno Mountain

Bare buckeye branches, green-gray fruit

suspended at the tips of each blade of branch.

Medusa would have been impressed,

would have envied this horrific beauty,

this tangle of bones here in Buckeye Canyon.

She might have peeled its fruit in strips

to stun fish with its poison,

just like the dead tribe did for 5,000 years

who lived in this canyon,

sheltered in the watershed of this mountain

near Bayshore Freeway.

This tribe, whose name I know but cannot pronounce,

kept 20 families in the simple windless sunshine

near their white-specked midden

without fear of grizzly or cougar.

They traded in tule boats for granite, obsidian —

the hard currency of tool and food.

They did war on occasion,

training their quickest men to run ahead,

taught them to dodge arrows, to see them coming

as fast as hummingbirds, to hear their feathers

sing by ears and eyes,

like the song David sang of otter in the bay —

transcribed by Frenchmen 250 years ago

who knew the value of a good tune, catchy lyrics,

who didn’t know their scarlet fever, measles, pox

would ravage this tribe like wildfire, burn

children to red ash, white bones.

Only these naked buckeyes remain, stinging the air

with memory

of a creek ravine running with salmon,

a bay splashing with otter,

a tidal marsh played like a harp

by winds that still blow

among what remains, what endures.


by Paul Totah



At Pescadero Beach

I have never seen silky beach pea before today.

Or, I have, but didn’t care enough

to stop and name the colors — violet, white,

olive, to press finger to petal,

to see its fine hairs

like the hairs on the back of my hand,

my cheeks, and listen to Brian tell me

that hair is hair, and we are all related.


Then I saw more —

its shaky footing on the sand,

the encroaching ice plants and horned sea rockets,

the tidal waves of footprints,

the sickle of wind mowing them low to the earth.


At five-foot, six-inches, I stand, low,

but I’m no extended metaphor for this beauty,

only an allusion to a time long ago

when our lines crossed,

where we intersected

in some genetic game of pickup sticks

and unstranded into man and plant,

each a molecule of the other.


Today, this beach pea teaches me how to walk

among these living hearts beating in tongues of color

to a music

that returns me to myself,


by Paul Totah


After my first gem show

Peacock copper

unbelievably blue green

providing insight

into the sea’s green ether

the sky’s earliest blue

each hue of the bird’s

feathery eye

flecked with yellow and rust

dusts of the beginning

adheres to you, glued.


Gemstone formed of

metals and rock,

you, to me, prove God

with your beauty, prove

me, discourse on the

motion of the planets


that move in blue green

sparkles, like bursts of turquoise

bubbles on the foam of the first bright sea.

Fly fishing, Golden Gate Park

The line whips like water spray,

like air itself

drawing Ss onto the wind.

Even with roll casts,

using the adhesive water

as catapult,

you see the curves

in every twitch of the sprung line,

in this game of tag where you

strike water, trick fish

and win with hook in lip.


My friend, the fly fisher, jokes

about using little band aids

before sending them back, bruised,

betrayed by feathers, fur, cork, hook.

He has the deft hand of a man who knows

how to see stonefly, dragonfly nymph,

honeybees, the difference between

swirls of currents and ripples of fishtail.


I’m learning to hear

the change in music three fish bring

to the waters around my boots,

to my own currents of blood

as I sense prey, knowing one day

I will die, no catch and release for me,

only hawk talons

taking me upward

into the strong and terrible air.

Evening Fog

Fog, like a China wall,

an enameled dragon, silver

slithers and crawls

toward the western horizon

swallows the mandarin sun

whole like a host

down its grey-gauze throat

burying alive all light,

all hope in its stranglehold

on the evening air.


I have seen nothing

more beautiful than this moment:

the death rattle of day;

the spasm of twilight.


by Paul Totah

August 28, 2004

Morning Meditation

Light takes the trees

and gives them back again

the way the first light bleaches

the hillside, keeps half in shadow

does not move, yet moves

over the frozen trees, dreaming,

still, of winds and fire.


Two birds cross the sky

obscene crows croaking.

They are not hawks, clean

and brooding death.


My cat studies them and now

the sun dances down.


Fog in the valley


A ghost ship, its gray bulwark

sails above eucalyptus tops,

a prow of wispy vapors,

paints monochrome grayscale in its wake,

erases the light blue morning sky,


while the rest of the fleet scuttles alongside,

the ghost crew staring me into silence.


The ships are now the sea,

then, slowly, they sink into the green ether

of treebranch, crowflight, rooftop

and the blue bursts like air bubbles

back to the surface.