A Common Ancestor

by Marilee Richards

New California Voices Series, Book 3
ISBN #0-917658-31-0

Available for $11.95 from your local bookstore or

About the Author:

Marilee Richards grew up in the desert landscapes of Utah and Southern California. She has been awarded grants and residencies from the California Arts Council and the Centrum Foundation, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Her poems have been widely published in anthologies and poetry magazines including Southern Review, Cimarron Review, and Southern Poetry Review. She lives in Sedona, Arizona with her husband, two sons, and dog, April.

From the book A Common Ancestor

Cows Remember

Cows remember a time
before the time of cows gone soft
in the shank, before the drone of machines
tugging their utilitarian udders, when
they were untamed animals who roamed the savanna
on muscled legs, winded and crazy
as birds. Now, in their Plexiglas barns,
filled with warmth and light,
cows sink into the pampered folds of their leisure
where it is enough merely to register
the predictable tide of meals and sleep,
the uncomplicated pattern of neon sky,
where their gentle anonymous eyes,
knowing nothing of snow or wolves
descending in packs, blink confusion
at the simplest events, and what is left
of their wildness comes back
to haunt them in dreams unbroken
by famine or the lapping of winter
against their flanks. But

in the darkest part of night
when cows turn to each other for comfort,
they remember with minds gone soft as mud
the ancient times,
when there were only cows and beasts,
and they moo legends to the calves
about the beginning of the beginning
when cows were brother to the mastodon
and galloped with pride in the yellow grass.

How An Older Man Makes Love

Not as if seeing Jupiter through a telescope
and, holding his breath transfixed, he marvels
at his first heavenly body, orbital
and unclothed. Nor
as a boy who leans out from a train gathering speed
and tries to face the wind, but its strength
tears his eyes and the birds, the flowers
whizzing past are a kaleidoscopic blur. No.
Realizing timing is everything, an older man polishes
the same smooth stone. The country
of strawberry skin is safe in his patient
hands as his dusty breath shuffles in and out
from the warm nest of his lungs. Each
valley and fold help him remember where
he has been, which faint scent to follow
next, and I have to admire how friendly
shadows collect, slightly wavering, almost ready.
When he is tired he rests, knowing to hurry
is to fail because anywhere
is the same familiar place he has returned to
again and again. Through shutters his cry
exfoliates summer gold from trees.
A blue vein over softening bone
I kiss his pulse.

Book Reviews

MARILEE RICHARDS writes about the discovery of darkness in us all: in the family, the personal as well as the wider family. But in that discovery, light is struck. Keen perception, language that makes sacred the mundane, respect for what is, make even the scars shine and the joys gravid with subdued shadows. Hers is poetry with power to change the light through which things are seen.
Rafael Jesus Gonzalez, author of El Hacedor de Juegos/The Maker Of Games

A Common Ancestor is an uncommonly rich debut. Marilee Richards makes connections in the ordinary world that are extraordinary and right.

The trick
is to sink like a stone
into that primitive eye,
its perfect wavering solitude,
measure the world from the bottom up.

She bides her time, hovers beautifully, plunges in. Her aim is nothing less than the sky that is everywhere. Wonderful stuff.
Gary Gildner, author of The Bunker in the Parsley Fields

In A Common Ancestor Marilee Richards does the work of loving the world, the things of the world. The book in its organization and argument mirrors the ways the world's various parts argue themselves into being, then organize themselves into beauty.

Where collectible bears have been tortured
from soapstone, a man and a woman move
slowly among their furnishings…."

The people and the things equally tortured into being, equally delighted, on occasion, by the touch and the tenderness. This is a book of daring, a book which says "touch me there," as a lover should.
Bin Ramke, Editor, Denver Quarterly.