My Last Goal

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Soccer2

My first goal was for the wrong team,
practice at San Marino High School,
Mini Titans I was five years old.

I dribbled the length of the field,
scored it beautifully…

That team was undefeated, I never
scored one in uniform during league
play, got close, started to score
the next year…

Fourth grade was the last AYSO
season for me, made All-Stars,
was a big deal…

Gave it up, moved on, then in
the middle of college between
sophomore and junior year a
friend calls me and says, “Let’s
go to South America!”

So I went, and it was great, and
among other things I fell in love
with soccer. Before that I liked
it, but Argentina… It’s a feeling I
still can’t stop, as I root for
Leicester City Football Club
on my radio link every week.

I got back from Argentina and
started juggling volleyballs in
volleyball practice, my coach
eyeing me a little funny.

I joined a club soccer team in
Santa Barbara, looked at the huge
mountain I wanted to climb,
which was becoming a great player,
and I started to climb…

I left the team, the coach not
playing me enough, kept training,
went to every World Cup game
played at the Rose Bowl in 1994,
played with friends, the passion!

I scored a good one at the Alumni
game, something some still talk
about, for me a midterm exam…

Then I overdosed on drugs, got
depressed, left everything and
everyone, lived in hospitals, let the
ball drop.  Was hopeless!

(It’s called alcoholism)

I got sober, found the ball again,
started to play, found a team fifteen
years after I had last played.

Guess how long it took me to get
into real competitive game shape?

It took 365 days to get into real
football shape, to that place where
I wasn’t thinking about fitness, just
goals and winning games.

***

The coach looked at me one day,
said, “Bill we need you to score some
goals.”  That’s what I was waiting for,
as I didn’t really think they cared until
then. He was of course younger than
me, my whole team with players younger
than me, I was thirty-nine on my last
competitive leg.

Truth is I had retired twice already,
then I’d keep coming back when I
was shopping in the market and
emotion would come, tears that
meant I was not done yet!

“Okay,” I told my young coach,
and next game was on a good synthetic
field in South Central L.A., facing
a good league team with supposedly
one of the better goalies.

A couple white guys on their side,
goalie included, my team all Latino
and me, the lone white dude, playing
Striker, hungry for my first goal
on the team, green lit by the coach
to get it done.

The action was hot from the start,
we pressed, me and my striking
mate, criss-crossing, zig-zagging,
switching play, press, press.

Not long before we broke through,
three on two, I’m in front of the
touted keeper, too close, blast—
he blocks it and tackles me,

Rebound… my mate taps it in
for goal number one, 1-0!

Goalie’s cleat is an inch from me
and he looks disappointed he
didn’t connect.

Our team is pumped in our
Spain colors, an early lead—
almost too early for some of them,
who knew we needed the win to
secure a spot in the Playoffs.

From the back I heard, “It’s zero-
zero!”  I said, “What?  The goal didn’t
count?” And they said, “No!  Play
like it’s zero-zero!”

They were wise for their age, those
kids, and I nodded, kept our press
going to try to get another…

Switch, switch, I criss-crossed from
side to side more than my striking mate
preferred, but the energy was there,
and it felt right to seek space wherever
it called…

Coming from left to right, I tracked
a long ball into the center of the pitch,
ten yards outside the opponent’s
eighteen yard box.  It bounced a couple
times, and by the time I got to it,
their large center back had pushed up
to make a play on it, along with another
defender, one of those times you figured
less is more, let’s do something quick
before the big man has time to show
me just how big he is…

It’s near 50-50, the ball just about
equally between me and the big back,
close enough to him that he starts to
dive in—

Instinct and speed, I got to it first,
chopped the ball out of the scrum
between or by the big defender’s legs
and into space.

He dove, missed, I stayed on my feet,
caught up to the ball I served up to
myself, now just me and the keeper,
as the center back was out of the play.

Best keeper in the league, they said.
And me?  No goals for fifteen years,
finally in shape, just green lit by
a knowing coach,

I never moved my eyes from the lower
right corner of the goal, the ball at
good speed to be left alone as I jogged
at measured pace behind it.

The training’s all done, from San
Marino High School mistakes,
to an undefeated first season to
a spattering of goals, all-stars,
a long break leading to a South
American escape and falling in love.

Pinning the guy to his left, eyeing that
right corner like I was married to it…

I’m close enough now.

Pass it in, the left corner, goalie stuck,
2-0, my last ever goal, we won the
game 2-1,

I shouted afterward, my teammate telling
me I was blessed, and perhaps I was,
that was it.

My coach kicked me off the team a couple
months later for insubordination; I didn’t
let him yell at our team one day after
a hard fought draw 1-1 with a nine-player
team, yes nine on our eleven.  But they were
good, their coach in coat and tie, they
thought they’d show up and take care of us
with their nine…

We fought, it was tense, a great game!
Down 1-0, we fought back, scored the
equalizer, and were pressing for a second
and winner, had it been me I would have
climbed the fucking fence.

But we did not, and we ended in a draw,
the coach blasting us, saying he was
embarrassed.

I stood up and patted our team on the
back, wouldn’t let him berate us.

He called me that night, suggested I
find another team to play on, as we
had different ideas on how to compete.

I switched teams, played a bit more,
stood tall and walked away knowing I
had scored the goal I needed to score.

I had climbed that mountain I started
climbing in club soccer in the Central
Coast of Santa Barbara; I never played
professionally, tried to get a tryout with
the Galaxy in 1999, but they never called.

The goal was enough, on that South
Central synthetic field one day in
December 2011, my hands became fists,
pumping at my sides—

Celebrating life

Orange Court

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Orange Court Image1

I hope it’s Wednesday, ‘cause
then we could see the pro’s play.
Hov and Dodd coming down,
I’ve called some friends from Costa,
Torrance Volleyball Club yielding
fun in the sun, for me a trip across
downtown worth the traffic, this
is Orange Court.

The Beach is Manhattan, the view
always pretty, the picture… snap it
like the wrist on top of the ball,
another off the lip, the wave breaks,
sometimes clear enough we can
see a fish, swimming with the tide,
Rusty boards,

I’ve got a five ten in mind, dude like
a stick figure conjuring Reggae music
on Brett’s boombox, gathered under
Bobby’s umbrella and chair, waiting
for the pro’s to play, finding a court
for our game, maybe Dodd will set
some hitting lines—

This is Orange Court.

The eighties were fun, full of color
on the beach.  Fluorescent memories
to match the vibe heading for college
dreaming of aces and gold medals—
championships, maybe from right
there off Marine Avenue, make a line
down from 23rd—

This is Orange Court.  Hov’s court;
you want “on” it, pay the price, get
through the traffic, play like the fish
with the tide, snap one off the top
of the block, pick your Frohoff one
surfing the other carving cut shots,
waking up as the Pasadena over-
achiever challenges all-comers
to play their A game.

That’s all I ever had to show for
it, rated “A” in SoCal because I got
to the Finals of an A-rated Marine
Avenue event, Cooker from Costa
on the call, chased down an impossible
ball, picked it up, like Andy McGuire
at home against BYU,

“Billy Watkins from Pasadena” yells
the man, Tomy from Spain, we took
it very seriously our game, never forget
the 6-4 side switch with a grunt they
could hear on Highland, the grunt that
says we’re winning this match.  I took
my A on Marine,

On Orange Court.

No Mistakes Too Great

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Awareness is all; Truth paramount,
Words trying so hard, give them
a chance!

Where were you at the middle school
dance?  Were you trying to be cool?
The truth is…

We were all made perfectly, like a
Christian Scientist would say, things
are just right.

“Nothing useless is or low, each thing
in its place is best,” why anyone wrote
poems after

Longfellow is a mystery, to improve on
genius one needs to study history, admit
each feeling.

No matter how bad things got or whatever
mistake or crime one commits, there is
always a way…

A way back, forward, out in overcoming
the problem, give the body and mind
a chance.

I was blinded at the dance, the devil in
my life since I drank with Dad, his last
sip of bourbon,

then I had a first crush and never told her,
the devil happy because I was a liar.  Third
grade!

So when other crushes came down the pipe
in middle school, I was a master liar, looking
for what?

How do you improve on the first girl the
LORD gives you to love?

Haha!  You cannot!

You live a life of lies, until you admit the
truth in a 12-step meeting or somewhere
else safe.

Truth wounds all heals, sews them up,
heals all wounds, over time all mistakes
and sins!

It’s never too late to change, to make
amends, to live the true life where Truth
itself…

becomes your best friend.

She Won’t Be Home For Christmas

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Native15

-by Don Kingfisher Campbell
and Bill Watkins

As Matoax sailed away in the
Spring of 1616, she spent the day
packing her things and wondered
if she’d ever return to Wingandacoa,
a place the English called Virginia.
She’s on her way to another life,
but how can she ever forget her land,
her people, her father?
She cannot, still she goes on ahead…
She traveled to England, a world away
from home.  She makes a new life
as a new wife, but wonders if there can
ever be more than one…
She arrives to find a new world—
That’s what they say, but is it?
She knows her life has changed for good–
That’s what they say, but has it?
She can never return from this place,
The rivers and streams of her
home are her blood.
She walks down the streets searching,
London calling a clash of cultures
She sees someone who can help…
Is it the Great Spirit?  The great
Mother of her own land calling
her back?  She has found a way,
a path… A new way?  One Christmas
in England is enough;
She has received a gift for living.
Will she get one for dying?
She believes her destiny is history;
At Gravesend she was promised
Christmas at home.
She remembered all that she
experienced, before she died in the
Spring of 1617.  She became a legend
in song—
She won’t be home for Christmas.

Where God and Earth Meet

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Mother Earth2

The bible was law, among
other things, code with rules
and goals set for students
and readers to follow for
spiritual fulfillment, and as
a guide to reach heaven.

Civilization needs law, people
packed in together, concrete
and asphalt beginning to take
us away from the Earth, nature
itself being our first and only
needed book to guide us…

The smile is within, the bloom
on the field, many plants in
limbo needing more sun or
more rain, the cycle of life all
around us—including paper
and ink, laws and rules fine…

God, good orderly direction,
higher powers, the Supreme
Mover of all things; it’s a
relationship we may have
with a simple ask, or a prayer.
Use a book or the tree to

help you overcome your fear.
What unifies is a proper guide,
what separates in negative vibe
from a lower power, as my AA
sponsor would say, powerful too—
Pick one, it’s up to you!

Thanks, Grandpa

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Life Cycle1

What are the last words you
want to hear?

Thanks, Grandpa.

What is better than a doctor’s
room, full of drugs?

Thanks, Grandpa.

Letting go does not have to be
a horror or bad—

Thanks, Grandpa!

Or if you are just a dad, that’s
okay, too!

We live our lives honestly, and
our rewards, too, will be true.

Jump on board the cycle, the
pure life is ours one day at a
time; flush out fear with a higher
power, pray often, turn it over,

Love completely and without
guards, deny the fear that locks
us into someone else’s version
of life and be you.

The true life still goes to heaven,
work and wait for it, love it,
and never fear the body’s
expiration date not troubling in
any single way to the soaring soul.

Living free of fear is the goal

Vex Not

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Freedom1

We smile heading up the hill—

Vex not!

Life is but a game of thrills—

Vex not!

Every ill and fear is false evidence
appearing real, go to the mountain
top and tell God how you feel—

Vex not!

For the grave, as Longfellow did say
is not life’s goal, ashes to ashes and
dust to dust cannot cloud nor dirty
the soul—

Vex not!

Climb up or down do work every
single day.

Work is force multiplied by distance,
don’t worry!

Physics and science meet with the
spirit too,

in a place both artists and scientists
equally call truth.

Call on major forces to align and
believe, honestly

it’s the youth we want in you, not
the jaded adult

so off we go another day today,
doing everything we can

to be as children to enter heaven,
quoting gospels,

Then native American chiefs are next,
wisdom flows like waterfalls, good
luck trying to catch one, like sand
through hands, each rock a boulder
of cells in the universe under a
microscope,

Searching we seek,
Finding we found,
Asking the key step
after admitting we
can never do it all
alone…

Vex not!

It’s not as late as you think…

Vex not!

Time is such a relative thing…

Peace is at the end if we live and
love now like a child.

Be about it, and I’ll be rooting
you on from the clouds…

Vex not!!!!!

Not on my watch.

Vex not!

How about a game of hopscotch?

Vex not, love today then strong
and sure, read Longfellow, with
a firm and ample base—now,
And ascending and secure, Henry
and Henrietta—

Shall tomorrow find its place;

Vex not, or do, it’s whatever makes
that smile in you, do nothing.
Do everything.  We have to give it
all away sometime, so why not
grow a tree!

Vex if you want to, go with the
flow of all you dream to, there’s
the cycle, once on we live forever,
a comfort to the vexing type,
Give up all to get everything
tonight.

The Pritchard Effect

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Robin Williams1

You go from workshop to workshop,
hone your craft with experts in the
field, who tell you when something
you write works or does not.

You’d like to please some people,
sell some books, write “good” stuff,
where the deciders of “good” are
your teachers in that impressive class.

You pay them some money, they
show you their credentials, but
strangely leave out the Pritchard
Scale for good poetry, a mistake.

You are ready to graph your efforts
against the “best” in the world, where
the “best” in the world are of course
decided upon by experts in the room.

I shall be telling this with a sigh some-
where ages and ages hence; two types
of poetry diverged in the soul of motives
to write, and I, I finally write to please

my higher power from dreams no
classrooms can touch or inspire.  I
refute right and wrong in poetic
adventure, deny your “expert” status,

But Love you and encourage you to
strip your titles away to write and perform
the totally free way; I wouldn’t pay a cent
to sit in a workshop by Robert Frost,

but I’d pay a hundred to see, hear and
watch him perform.  Better yet, I’d bring
a poem, for the best readings are free,
the best poems from the heart, that aid

in the warming of oft’ frightful night.
“Read to me some poem, some
simple and heartfelt lay,” read Longfellow’s
“Day is Done,” then have an open mic.

Lost and Found: My Interview with Poet Sara Berkeley Tolchin

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Clovers1

-by Bill Watkins for Bill’s Poetique 12/8/2019

Since I lost the seventy-two minute recording of my interview with poet Sara Berkeley Tolchin last night, I wanted to jot down what I remembered in a hopefully true and poetic way.

Sara is originally from Dublin, Ireland, and started writing poetry at nine years of age, after her parents gave her a lined notebook and writing set that seemed to her magical.  It reminded me of my start in poetry at twenty-three years of age traveling through San Miguel de Allende, Mexico because of the “magic” part.  I prayed for poetry to come, Sara was gifted it by circumstance, parents’ love and youth.  The bottom line is that I see the magic in Sara’s work.

In last night’s call, we went over some poems in her latest volume, called What Just Happened (Sentient 2016), a title that of course with a question mark would be one thing, without the question mark another.  We spoke of being reporters of fact and truth as we see and experience them plus beauty, the idea that poets are fancy journalists in some ways.  We jot down facts, figures, and in Sara’s case sailing terms and Geological terms for ice formations—stuff she likes to look up and use in her work—then we throw them together in hopefully a beautiful or clever way. Maybe we exult, something to memorialize the moment, as she does with geese flying over a shopping mall in her poem “Swan Geese” on page 22 of the volume.

Sara has been prolific and has received lots of awards and recognition for her poetry.  I found her in an anthology edited by Joan McBreen called The White Page/An Bhileog Bhan: Twentieth Century Irish Women Poets (Salmon 1999), searching through the poetry section at my local library in Pasadena, California.  I was doing an anthology myself, before I considered the hard work of getting permissions, and I chose one of Sara’s poems, “Emergence,” featured in Ms. McBreen’s book, to be in my volume.  I never published my Hooked on Poetry book, but I did contact Sarah finally last year, asking and receiving her permission to publish the poem on this website.

Having made contact with a poet I admired, I asked her to be on my podcast, Bill’s Poetique, which she agreed to do.  Then my neck went out, and I had to postpone… Last night, we finally got together for the podcast… It was a great conversation and reading by Sara, and lo and behold: I used the wrong app, and though my phone told me it was recording our call, it was in fact not.  That will make you sweat a bit more than you wanted prior to publishing a podcast that was supposed to feature an interview, and prior to going to sleep.  Sara and I talked about sleep a little, a she shared she struggled with it; though a few years her junior, I presented my humble advice to she and all my podcast audience of how much help writing and sticking to a daily schedule has been for me.

Write your highest power or inspiration at the top of the page, then the things you want to do, decorate it all with love, and for goodness’ sake: write “Sleep” at the bottom of the page, something that will come as a welcome rest if and when the day you planned goes at all like you planned it!  Horribly pretentious of me to advise anyone, but the daily schedule has been a great tool to help me out of alcoholism and suicidal depression—so why not insomnia itself!?

I loved talking with Sara about her work and life; she is a hospice nurse, which is something that instructs and informs her lines—both the self-admitted wrinkles that come with age, and the kind poets write!  When we started with the first poem in the volume, What Just Happened, called “Cracking Open,” it was a revelation to me that the first stanza referring to “lines” did in fact have those two meanings, not just one.  As a Shakespeare fan, I see “lines” and I get locked into poems and verse, but Sara had very cleverly used the word as pun to open “Cracking Open” and her whole book with an invitation to read both her physical signs of aging and her lines of poetry.

The woman is brilliant to me, and each compliment like that I make I’m patting my own back because I think we write and think alike… to a point.  Her favorite poet is Dylan Thomas, which surprises me because I figure women will be inspired by women, men… men.  My big three are Shakespeare, Longfellow and Frost. I love women writers and poets, but I commented with Sara last night that while I loved them, I cannot live with them.  There is a limit and a roadblock to full emulation because I am a man, they women, and our experience is all so similar minus a couple things.  Those couple things keep me dedicated to emulating and aspiring to those dudes, while Sarah and many other writers I’ve talked to about this are perfectly comfortable inhabiting the opposite sex’s point of view all the way.

In discussing “If I Met You Now” Sara and I spoke of sailing terms, and at first my being convinced she was a sailor herself after reading her material.  In my second whiff of the interview, she said she was not a sailor at all, in fact didn’t like her only memorable experiences sailing with Dad (I think it was) in Dublin as a child. “Cold and uncomfortable” was her general experience with it… But as a poet, and someone who loves words, she dives into sailing terms and analogy, does so in “If I Met You Now” beautifully, connecting it with writing poetry, divorce, and a “certain call among girls” to do those things to be free and to “sail alone.”  We spoke at length on this “call” and whether it was universally a female intuition to leave a marriage, and in Sara’s experience, she felt it was more a womanly thing than a manly thing to want to break free something like that.

I’ll say now that this theory of Sara’s may be like mine about men liking men authors, and women sticking with women!  Both our theories might need more research and polling, as Sara and I agreed at some point! Writers deal in truth. What is true for us right now is what we need to write, express, and say.  Therein lies our story, the “certain call” of all inspired poets from San Miguel de Allende to Dublin, Ireland… We jot down truth, add beauty and exaltation, even cleverness and a puzzle, of course metaphor and analogy.  Sara does all of that, and so I think do I—why complimenting her is so narcissistic!!!

There is reference to futility and darkness in Sara’s work, why she said she started the book with the optimistic “Cracking Open.”  “Sitting with the Art” has architecture and the Murphy’s Law-esque finale:

“You need proofs, and when they’re ready
you need to tear them up and start again.”

“Crown of Vines” exalts and expresses joy, also the very astute comment that “age is an earned reward, a shared joke, a consolation.”  Sara and I talked at length about the “consolation” part of that, memorably for me that a life well lived heads toward a final, deserved rest.  Our bodies change, break down slowly, but our wisdom, experience, even sense of humor can overcome those things.  As a hospice nurse, Sara is in contact with “the other side,” you could say; has daily reminders and experiences with the body’s end, and her writing shows readers what she has gained by facing those challenges.  The hardest things in life turn blessing, I reflect now… Last on that poem, the ending refers to playing music so that a neighbor joins your revelry!  My recent living experiences in Los Angeles would always make me temper such thoughts with “Great, as long as you keep the bass on the music down please!”

“Outliers” deals with stuff, battles the darkness, fights off divorce and negativity, depicts the light in dark, and definitely the dark hiding under the light: “…the thunder’s always there lying low beneath the sunlit evenings.”  More memory, aging, nostalgia, pain and love but never bitterness, thank God.  There is always something celebratory and exalting under even the darkest depictions in Sara’s work that I’ve been blessed enough to study (more compliments and self-congratulations).

In “Sun and Standing Tall,” a great title, Sara refers to “caged birds” which I starred, as myself someone who fights for the rights of birds to fly and be free.  Sara agreed that caging is no way to treat nature’s animals. In “Things That Keep Me Awake” and “King Tide,” we get some geological terms for ice formations and more hints at troubled sleep, that I pray like the rest of the cares that infest Sara’s and audience member’s day, “Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs, and as silently steal away.” (Longfellow, “The Day is Done”)

We skipped for a moment “What We Seek,” for I wanted Sara to close by reading that one.  “Swan Geese” captures a moment when geese fly over a shopping mall:

…Something should arise
from their regal passage over
the cheap jewelry of Vintage Oaks
mall and parking emporium,
even if it’s only this.

Indeed, a wonderful reason to write a poem, take a picture, draw something, paint a picture.  “Remember!” John Boorman’s Merlin told us in Excalibur (1981).  “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”  Yes, write it down, exalt and celebrate it; see where it might have something to teach us, tell us that story please!  “Most nights are broken but the mornings mend them,” Sara  goes on in the poem, “and who cares anyway what mad jumble the past has to show for itself?”  All from geese over a parking lot and a pen willing to write…

I asked Sara to read “Sailing” and the aforementioned “What We Seek” to close our night of hanging out on a non-recording phone call that was supposed to be a part of my podcast.  In “Sailing” Sara copes with her day to day as a hospice nurse, notes the pain she sees and feels, the types she comes in contact with and why.  Her breaks and moments of peace are key to getting by, “a cello joins the piano solo in the house of their tomorrows,” reminding me of “Emergence” and its musical references, the poem that brought me first to Sara and that is on my website.  She finishes the poem with another sailing metaphor, though when I first read her material I was, as I said, convinced she was quite the sailor!

Sara called “What We Seek” a divorce poem, but I just find it rather beautiful. Something brings her to depression’s cliff edge, she considers what all despairing humans consider, that fatal jump, but finds within herself a “true north,

the secret heart of all things,
and willed the red glimmer
of dawn to the tips of my wings.”

A great ending to a great conversation with Sara.  Though my recording failed, we certainly did not!  We covered a lot of ground, held a candle high for poetry, the “why we do it,” the “why it’s worth it,” and the “Why we have to do it.”  Poetry is beautiful truth, I contend, and Sara embodies that as she scratches, claws, scrapes and glides ultimately sailing with a smile down the craggy cliffs of Dublin memory, family gifts and relationships with nature.  People give and take, as some speak of God; nature the same.  The light and dark, positive and negative, music and noise come all together poetic and perfect, in that effort we poets make to organize, make sense of and exalt the moment.