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Jim Natal's first full-length collection, In the Bee Trees (Archer Books, 2000) was a finalist for the Pen Center West and Publisher's Marketing Association Ben Franklin Awards. A second collection, Talking Back to the Rocks, was published by Archer Books in 2003. His poetry recently has been published or is forthcoming in The Cafe Review, Runes, Pool, The Paterson Literary Review, The Yalobusha Review, Solo, and ArtLife. Natal's work also has appeared in the anthologies What Have You Lost?, Fresh Water, the new anthology of California poets So Luminous the Wildflowers, and the upcoming Mischief, Caprice and Other Poetic Strategies. 

Along with recent readings at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey and in New York, he has been a featured poet at dozens of California venues, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Writers in Focus series, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and the Santa Barbara, Long Beach, and San Luis Obispo Poetry Festivals. 

Natal is the curator and co-host of the long-running Poem.X monthly poetry series in Santa Monica. He also has taught the Plein Air Poetry outdoor writing workshops in Joshua Tree National Park for the past four years. A Chicago native, Natal was a creative executive for the National Football League's Creative and Publishing Division for 25 years. He lives in Los Angeles.


I left my other body at the office 
behind my desk in the glow of the screen.
It will still be there for me 
on Monday morning.

If I were a mountain lion, I'd kill a deer today 
for fun.

I hate the sun; it reminds me too much
of the glint of airplane wings above
the noplace I am going.

My other heart was full, dozing, nearly 

But this beast heart is empty and screeching.
It reaches for the brain and wants to
pull it down, maul the coiled cortex 
of cravings.

Ay, mis corazones, why don't you 
sing duets anymore? 

Even songs of protest
are music.


Maybe it should have said: "FREE" instead of "LOST." 
Maybe it's the same crow I hear down the block 
puncturing the morning with insistent counterpoint 
to the soap-smooth Sunday dove songs. 
And "LOST" to whom? One creature's lost 
is another's escape. But now that it's back 
among the power lines and madronas, this crow 
really could be adrift, homeless and dressed 
in shabby black, roosting in doorways 
wrapped in atrophied wings.

There's the obvious question of how the crow lost 
its foot, what led to its pet name of Hopalong, Long John, 
or, perhaps, Lefty. Did it happen when it was young or grown? 
Or was it born that way, its whole life a balancing act? 
Crows are so smart. Curiosity or boredom 
could have gotten the better of it. And with sharp-edged 
suddenness, the idea of spending its maturity in someone's care 
became more necessary than ludicrous: kind words, 
a guaranteed ear, the certainty of scheduled meals, 
a place to sleep with both eyes closed.

And about that reward: If the crow is returned, 
accepts again its cage and perch or even comes back 
on its own to reclaim its low-ceilinged kingdom, 
will it be win-win all around? The owner regains 
a live-in jester. The crow can relax, take a load off its foot. 
And the alert-hearted Samaritan, who at first 
refused the crisp twenty, now slips it in 
with the other bills on the way down the back stairs.
It's almost like one of those Asian teaching tales-
how the unfortunate open window leads in as well as out.



Forest fires raged in Idaho that summer when you pulled off the Interstate 
east of Boise, parked, and cut the engine. Your whole body vibrated with

the churn of tires, slipstream of distance spreading like a concrete wake
behind you. The air was thick with char; sky, smoke-damaged the orange-gray

of an August steel town dusk. You held the wheel, didn't you, as if afraid to 
let go, watched plumes rising over ridges of evergreen hills, turned the music

off. A car door unlocked beside you. A woman stood, wary, pistol holstered on 
her belt, infant strapped to the front seat, belongings piled in back. You were 

faceless, weren't you, simply part of her scan. You walked behind the buildings 
for a better view of the fire; when you returned to your truck, she was gone. 

You can drive for days in this country, for static-filled nights on end, plotting 
the points on a graph of your restlessness-Albuquerque, Salt Lake, Reno, Yuma,

Bakersfield, Spokane, Laramie, Lincoln-assembly line of inter-
changeable destinations, miles strung between like troughs of wires. 

Sometimes people stop on these highways, never get back on, hole up, 
flickering, in disappeared motels to wait it out, adopt a mutt and a

TV Guide, hotplate dinners and beer cans. Not you. Because 
you think you will just keep driving, follow taillights as if Polaris, 

your life held to the right of parallel yellow lines (divided, then broken),
a bird that cannot sleep, its instinct only for migration, pausing 

to feed and briefly rest. When there's no arrival, what can leaving mean?
Somewhere the mountains are being consumed; ash is falling like souls.

© 2002, 2003, 2004 Jim Natal


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