Rhythms: Poems by John Curl*


What is a word?

A meaningful vibration.

In the beginning was the word.

And the word was Creation.


Rock, air, fire, water,

oak leaves, ocean waves,

tropical jungles, ocelots.

Gasps of ecstasy, groans of love.

We look into each other’s eyes

as we pass in the street,

we don’t say a word, but we

understand the meaningful vibrations

beyond words or before words,

both before and beyond words at the same time.

All living things, all nonliving things.

Music. Waterfalls.

On this planet and beyond.

Flocks of small birds in the early morning.

Crickets at dusk.

The gurgle of a baby.

The voices in a singing brook.


What are words?

Meaningful vibrations.

In the beginning was the word.

And the word was Creation.


We walk these slippery banks

along the lake of our emergence,

the center pole of our forest,

our muddy port of entry into this world,

our origin of place, our place of origin.

We step from the lake into the place we belong.

Only briefly do we walk here today,

learning how to be indigenous,

these restless streets we pace

where our unborn great grandchildren play.


Breezes blow wavelets rolling toward the far shore,

while around us hushed fields of poppies grow,

and beneath our feet rocks melt

and caverns of magma flow.


The uniforms, face shields, nightsticks

separating brother from daughter, sister from mother,

do not separate illusion from delusion.

All truth is recreated each morning

when a small bird peeks out of a nest

hidden in a lilac bush by the water’s edge.


To be able to walk here since the world began

is a gift of inexpressible joy.

Who gets to claim

this wild watery homeland as their own?

Who gets to call it home?

Every place is the center of the world,

and everywhere is our place of origin.


John Curl




Open up again, you who’ve been so hurt,

trust, take the risk of being hurt again.

Truth is painful but when

it doesn’t kill you, it’s healing.


The many sordid traumas she keeps still hidden

deep in her psyche beneath so many layers of

misplaced shame, the whispered lies, the secret

betrayals, abuses to her flesh her spirit her air her

water her seagulls her grass her rocks her trees

her wind her soul.


Only the betrayed can see it. Only the forlorn

can feel it. Only the forsaken can understand it

That bitterness in her smile, that grief in her

eyes. You’ve been there, haven’t you? I know

you have. I can feel it in the spaces between

your bones. You recognize her anguish

in your own. Try to run, you can’t run,

try to hide, you can’t hide. You can’t run,

you can’t hide from a crushed spirit. She didn’t

deserve this. She shrank into her fists, swore

she’d never leave herself so vulnerable, so

innocent, so open, so unconditional, swore she’d

never be a victim for love again.

America is suffering.

America is grieving from a broken heart.


Who broke it, so many times, in such cruel ways?

How do you heal a country?  How do you heal

a country with a broken heart?



John Curl



With the entire economy collapsed

from the pandemic, are they

going to throw us all out on the street?


As we plunge ever deeper into this blind

storm, desperation lurking in every shadow,

the unknown sweeping away every

high-water and low-water mark, the old

casino house rules now dim false

memories, relentless bills piling

up and up, tornados roiling every dark

cloud, cataclysmic change swirling among

the reckless wise women of the craft,

the unthinkable becoming common

sense. All too soon, tens of millions of us

may not be able to pay our rent or

mortgage or afford to feed our kids.

We’re not just helpless victims

of a housing heartless system,

we can’t escape to outer space.


If your rent’s overdue but

you still can’t pay,

Shelter In Place


If your mortgage banker threatens,

Shelter in Place.


If you shout at city hall

but they won’t listen at all,

if the sheriff’s a disgrace

and the police get in your face,

tell your neighbors, blow

the conch shell, sound the call.

Defend our earthly home

from the banker catacombs,

don’t submit, don’t be compliant,

don’t obey. Unite, defiant.


If your credit’s overdrawn

Shelter In Place


If an agent’s banging on your door,

Shelter In Place


If you have no place to stay

and the next check’s far away,

move into an empty building.

Shelter In Place


If your bank account’s malignant,

if your mortgage is delinquent,

ignite the housing justice lights.

If they’re coming to evict you,

don’t surrender, get indignant.

A home to live in is a human right.



John Curl



Dueling with the devil

In the eye of the hurricane,

Venus in retrograde

Aries rising,

dark spots cover the sun,

predators without shame,

nothing true under their darkness,

nothing new under their guns.

nothing to eat but

dogsbane and wolfsbane,

nothing to cast but blame,

nothing can change without

struggle and pain,

but nothing can stay the same.


But those murmurs in the gales

gusting all around us

sing of something

just beyond the storm:

rainbow weather’s rolling in,

I can smell it, I swear it,

rainbow weather’s rolling in like dawn.


Armies marching through the night,

monumental crimes and blunders,

scorched cliffs all around us,

centuries of rape and plunder,

bats flocking together

centipedes abusing power

jackals sniffing every crack

for lovers in a secret bower.


But those murmurs in the gales

gusting all around us

sing of something

just beyond the storm:

rainbow weather’s rolling in,

I can smell it, I swear it,

rainbow weather’s rolling in like dawn.


John Curl

*John Curl is the author of two novels, a memoir, history, poetry, and translations of ancient Maya, Aztec, and Quechua poets. He practiced custom woodworking at Heartwood Cooperative Woodshop in Berkeley,CA for over 40 years.  He was chairman of West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies (WEBAIC),promoting arts and industries in the manufacturing zone, and served as a Berkeley planning commissioner. He was a founding member of the committee organizing the annual Berkeley Indigenous Peoples Day PowWow. He has a degree in Comparative Literature from CCNY (CUNY), was a longtime board member of PEN Oakland and PEN USA, and is a member of the San Francisco Revolutionary Poets Brigade.