at Length

Hydrology of California

—Brenda Hillman

You can also download “Hydrology of California” as a PDF.


An ecopoeticical alphabet        

There’s a river      of rivers      in California      beyond    all earthquakes

bringing    coiled water   from the north  It is grammar when we are anxious     

in our days    bringing tumble     from freshets    north  of Klamath    where   

redwoods  release fog drops     

ceaselessly from filtered tops   Steelhead     Coho    salmon  the few that do  

to Humboldt   past dams   hereafter   known as   /   where streams/  like 

colorless   green ideas leap  furiously/ where the Eel River  flooding 753,000

feet per second /sees

fewer eels than before   

Future of poetry    there’s a stream  between  a & b as i write this   a dream   

of a west    that would  outlast us/   if we were life   which we are    drops  

from Trinity  ice storms   to Smith River  & down   North Coast regions  

brighter   seaside towns with   

two waitresses named Pam 

Future of poetry   i  saw a black-faced gull    a juvenile   awaiting neap  tide   

We use the word neap   to mean    purple runnels/   Banks gathered wild force  

at the edge of names  Mattole  Navarro /Hearts  gathered wild force  electrons   

trading energy for food

Future of poetry  Let’s move   between emotions in hydropoetics  for i   am a

pilgrim with no progress  recalling rivers   when we were anxious       

past   wetlands needing  every turning time/ more than people   need

little dams for arugula      

Many had lawns    They had to shower/ They had to eat    i said to main brenda

Now don’t start    just ignorantly criticizing state    dams   the whole time   

You drink gallons of it you know you do / We followed creeks  through decades

left of where eagles  

can eat whole  deer    

Stopped    near Fort Ross   We looked up to redwoods   releasing beads  fog

drops    The women so kind in Mendocino    They took the beyond   & ran

with it  You  wrote on the memory tablets/ Blind sticks arranged themselves   

Water-bearer was your star  

Our settlements   didn’t last    

nor should they have   nor should they   There were economics & lifestyles  

after    explorers made possible  the cogs/  .00001  percent in rain fell 

down /We stood & loved    south/ of the delicate  eerie  lighthouse at

Point Arena   where griefless

the sea lions loll



There’s a quiver of rivers    the Sacramento   We saw a pleasant pheasant

near a pylon in the Delta    its back a walking rainbow    in 100,000 acres  

they saved  the they   who can save\ We don’t hate developers or do we

We hate their greed 

those butt-ugly buildings   Actually  

butts are adorable  compared to  Gated communities/ the poor buildings  

can’t even cry   though wild radish loves them   Raphanus raphanistrum   

“common in disturbed places”  Maltese crosses  each  flower a shadow/

violet    in its means/

We ran near  why-worry

levees & one  time one of the developers said  Well  you wouldn’t want

to  live in a tee-pee  now would you brenda   Future of poetry   we saw

dactylic glomerata   Leaves of grasses\ i don’t honestly mind the word

introduced   as in introduced species between c & d  dogtail grasses cynosurus

echinatus  Near the Capitol 

assemblymembers were drinking Fanta 

near a fanning flood-plain/ coots with white beaks east of Feather River

between e & f    trace horse gold rush \boys picking pyrite  from  the North

Fork &  2 waitresses named Toni   Gold  must be so glad in heaven

glad & gold  are

brothers w/ different mothers 

The lovely    & a bit dammed  American River\ mergansers & brome/

buffleheads like reverse Oreos   rice fields\ algae from phosphates  Such

afternoons    might seem owned  O unrushed  dream of time i saw some

earthly  flapping  in the

rushes/  swallows eating pounds

of gnats/ &  both shall row  My  love  & i  leaned    on our tailbone  The

Giants were ahead   for a change in someone’s earphones  A fundraiser for

fucked-up rivers  History  turned  half our faces  golden  for a change\A

day so bright

we could not hear

the paradox  set  up by Being   Then Gary  yelled Hey    & a tall cloud

passed by  like a yoga teacher    Inside each seed\   didn’t look like

competition  but  floated  forever  from us  to you  Future of poetry

We wanted not   to fear  human life   to know as molecules  know  like 

water from a book



There’s a shiver   of rivers  north of Shasta  that melts   when we are faster 

storms split    the plus signs    lava    flowed from night caves    marshes   

with magpies    that dipped like punk nuns    we kept the word “beauty”

in mind for Shastina   

that upside-down bride  75%

of H2O slides   from north of Tahoe\ 1685 feet deep high into nothingness

Twain wrote   where some say   the dead  sink frozen in their costumes

Future of poetry we entered   the howling edges of a dream   looked back to

Celestial City    texted each

other & soon  whole

words will be gone    c u l8r   will remain  But rain loves the day like haiku

River goes out   river comes in  like a cat\ googled eutrophication  for June  so 

that   no word should  die  New words shall sprout   in dreams beyond time

Trout  spawned  chasmistes cujus/ 

We saw some types   

of knotting    in nature between  g & h   What  should we  call those  silvery

gray parenthesis-type things   hanging off   lodge pole pines  Don’t colonize

that tree by naming it   a nameless poet said   Lucky  he doesn’t  have to

hunt for his food

a naming poet said

The pine  at the end    of the mind   Life from Life   Form  from  Form Be-

gotten not sprayed    Of one being  with the Mother   Through Her  rough

cones were made   \We hiked  Desolation  noted streaky granites  moraines

condensation   infiltration evaporation chanted

Byzantium past Shirley Lake  

You pronounced it Byzanseeum    needleminer moths  what peeves you  David

said a fly-catcher said perched in blister rust   bitterbrush needing mouse-

shit  for its   pilgrim’s process/   under fluttering twisted braids   cirrus clouds 

Leaves of grasses’ panicles   

reduced  in mountain air  

slowed  down  between  i & j   ice  age relic trees  populus tremuloides     

we worried less    Glaciers  beneath  Boreal & Tui chub  melts down to Walker

Lake    pelecanus erythrorhynchos if not  too salty for them   if not  but  extinction 

lasts forever  in its

rivers from a book



There’s a sliver   of rivers     west of Napa  which rhymes   when we are happy

its timed  relation    to high heat   makes cuneiform  of  grapevines   snappy

sharpshooters’ wings are glassy   hills blonde as conference coffee/   tawny

paws of mountain lions

trout declined   Lake Berryessa

our hope for the good\ Dragonflies with six ankles   over lightest summer

Entered a cool winery   saw oaken caskets   in earth’s wild force   You pushed

on in your shivers    don’t make pilgrim’s progress /please   greet us forever 

between k & l

sages & mugwort where   

nostalgia happens forward  / County Fair  not Vanity    Sweet girls in black

hoodies   alienated labor &  Karmel Korn  a cloying   smell tho’   Karmel

Korn is also nature    Future of Poetry  an oak spoke to me  as i walked   

on the mountain  not

like God speaking to

Bush about Iraq   The creek  was full of trash & origins/  It said search between

m & n  for what we have destroyed   & both shall row on  Papermill Creek   my

love & i   saw huge   orange  nonsense dragonflies  like fire  engines medium

bluets   like tiny folded

pool-cues  &  western green

ones of unimaginable luster  On winter Fridays  paper snowflakes  taped

on Inverness School windows    County funding drying  up so only  one

snowflake  per child    Seeds of herbs dreaming in their packets  at Toby’s   

Future of poetry  Everything

feels everything  i don’t

just  think so    i  know so  Lagunitas Creek  feels  ridged horsetails push up 

from the Precambrian   Beetles fringed gourds fleabane   under July sky   feels

big old  see-through ferns   red currents  There are  half-emotions between all

officially recognized emotions  i

said to the lady

in  buckeyes’ sacred grove  syncaris pacifica   sulfur butterflies  California sisters 

cabbage whites  west  coast ladies   western tiger swallowtail  riparian rhymes 

with carrion   cowbird  w/ the oil-spill  neck   walks   like  a hieroglyph\

at Coast Camp  near

wood-rats’ nests like

water from a book



There’s a giver   of rivers   the Central coast  &  you would go  almost 

if you    were a you instead of a Future    which you are   w/ all the santas   

Santa Inez   Santa Cruz    An owl waits nearby   cathartes aura  14 bones

in its head   directional

hearing     owls aren’t really

wise   they turn south to hear   poor kids’ guns going off   at Travis Airforce

orders are given   between fogdrops/   money flies &  money wrongs

the Pacific    This pilgrim   makes no progress  in her flight   a marbled

murrelet feeding at sea    

nesting in old growth redwood  

Future of poetry i

saw shorebirds     choking on shy crabs  shaking sand off  bull kelp  tossed 

from the deep     Gulls look like girls   quickly judging    each other’s purses   

Now Democrats  also say offshore drilling  isn’t too bad/ You came to me 

in a dream beyond

time\This life you

sang  in  your offkey way  between o & p    old moon-laden & tawdry  we drove

near Salinas  a river Steinbeck called “part-time”   fields of garlic  red-legged

frogs in flood plains  Sang  to me quite tenderly between q & r  Carmel  had

steelhead once   & pond

turtles their    necks ridged

like destiny   The stream flowed right past Tor House  steelhead your  onchor- 

hyncus mykiss    funny that trout has mykiss in its name  Yes i know i know 

humans can’t not play golf    Geese pull worms through agricultural  runoff  

pooling on side lawns  

Does use feel bad

i asked the worms   being pulled    Silver butterflies  feeding  on deer shit  

parasite  anthopleura elegantissima   My love & i so busily drove  to a poetry

reading past    fuzzy artichokes  near Gilroy    Prophet thistles  w/streams    

that drop  near Santa Cruz     

How shall we live

& they indicated   as if John Muir replied  so low a human voice cannot hear  

you  want  your tomatoes  don’t you  You want  Almond Delite   &  golf  

You want   to drink Sprite   w/runnels    of gravy   at Denny’s\faces in

laminated menus  wind-surfing widows This is the price   the stream went     

refugees in aqueducts like

water from a book 



The deliver of rivers     the San Joaquin    that blends when we are minor

with broken strings  & finer  in port towns  near Carquinez saline marinas    

south Delta bevels   near 57 levees  the age  main brenda is  now writing this

The soul is the

water & the aqueduct

transferred to the slough  at some point   i love the word slough     Could

write it all day long   Slew of sloughs down off 99  Saw rough- cut Berenda

Slough   pumping    H2O costs more than it makes\ under Hetch-Hetchy    

they named after seeds 

2.1 million acre feet  

into   the Aqueduct past Merced   Papery onion skins  flying off trucks    A 

billboard signed by Jesus   Desire saved   the Chinook  130, 000 &  now only

100    in Tuolumne\ 2 waitresses named Debbie    bad snowpack year so

almost no veil at

Bridalveil Falls but delicate

mists   tumbled & a

Clark’s nutcracker flew thru them   Future of Poetry  between   s & t   We saw

a meadow spirit   a high vortex  in the years of writing  this hydro-ecopoetics    

Snow sparkles/  Thou shalt flow down after dusk  Vernal Falls  downvalley

Cusumnes/  Fields of sticky

tarweed    pressed ham   in

convenience  stores  & the H2O tastes   a little chemically in Fresno  We

miss    Larry Levis   crystal music of his  forms/   Future of Poetry This is

your Watershed  said Pam    We saw rain enter a saint’s mouth  Interviewed

an irrigation ditch  Pray           

for us San Joaquin

alleged granddaddy of Jesus   Pray backward like a feeling   Pray for  river

Merced  Pray JS  keeps some world in a poem   so fertilizer won’t kill him

Headwaters hitched to Slurpees  7-11  swimming pools in Stockton  Saw

chlorine clouds of infinity   

we drank from Pardee

Reservoir  Sweated w/ enchantment  90 miles away   Hitched others in the

watery beyond/ Hitched to the others we drank/   If you think you’re alone 

You haven’t learned the language    i gave you  snow ^^^ from sugar pines      

falls to you in

water for your book



The    forgiver of rivers  near Tulare   that flowed  when we were sorry

His vocabulary  didn’t do it all/  Drinking  did a little  A central

California basin\  that couldn’t find the ocean   Why do you write like this

a man asked me   

Because sir  i am

a sorceress  looking for my sources    Because sir  we were diverted/ like a 

river to mid-heaven   by early salt & late capitalism  We had a progress spasm/

snowdrops to  Kern chasm 13,000 feet   Does use  feel bad  i asked my love    

as dark cast its

opening    salma aquabonita  &

groundwater spun  below    desiring to tender us perfectly unexampled  6.5 acre

feet  per year  to an aquifer  It did not flow  from the grief  tent  Tule

River   Skunks & badgers   willow flycatcher  epidonax traillii   we

want to see u

between u & v

yellow-billed cuckoo/ Agribusiness did it to our vocabulary   Preoccupied 

the joy w/spray   & amber waves   of gray  A woman stands    over  her sage-

brush  with a hose   in the heat   we drive through Bakersfield  & one time

at a truck stop

i observed the flavored

condoms  on a twirling rack  could hardly wait  to tell Mary   i’m not fucking

kidding u   hot-fudge  coconut cream pie  condoms & piña colada ones also

/We read in the guide book   elegy words  once formed  as in “once formed

Tulare Lake”  That made

me mad as Jeffers  

What about one itty-bitty bomb on a dam  *pow- *  Use asterisks instead 

No ecoterror for the coyote   it had a hurt foot   for even rats are scarce  

Designated Wilderness    go river-rafting/ They’re shooting deer   not for

food    We carry the burden not the act   i did not break our noun  yet i did

drink from that well

i drank to the

end of  time   Took way too many showers for my lifestyle  that’s my least

favorite word     4500 gallons  per day   Went we we wee  all the way

to Tehachipi/   & amber waves of avena   & i who had seen was implicated  all    

the way home like  

crying from a book



There’s   a trickle of rivers   the  South Lahontan     that  exits  from

a fountain     Mono Lake’s  three-salt condition    chlorate sulfate   &

carbons   Trout came back thank god   When this poet says   god   she

means god of   particular

daughters/   Owens north fork 

River   god of bitter waters /  god of  half- existence   desert god  so

so erotic  you know you’re loved    already  by god  of tumbleweed  god

of truck-stop coffee   god of  better get over it   get over Sarah Palin 

In the Quaternary Period

when i  was almost

living   i prayed to Mary Austin   crinkly places  in her spirit  Mulholland

stole   her water/ L.A. poets  knew  it   power rhymes w/shower

poor Mojave River  & Earth will  know the source   When this poet says 

god  she means god

of pupfish  god of

Joseph Reddeford Walker  survivor in the spine/   Some folks   think malls

in deserts are nice  grasses pretending  to be native   brine shrimp will return  

/flies of alkali   Ephydra hians  lowest  meets the highest   Mt. Whitney  &

Death  Valley    soul & 

soil  exact same word   

except for u & i      

Future of poetry i saw  the great heart  in a mirror /Land grew  around  it   

but  i have not seen the Amargosa vole  found there    i have not seen  vireo

belli  pusillus   i saw inland seas   Osiris fetched from  hydrogeologic edges

from  Barstow balmy Palmdale

an Affordable Housing Aqueduct  

It does not serve water to the region/Put on  Sleater-Kinney  to drive there   but

never  quite arrived there  diverted in  1940  like a good lie  think  Faye Dun-

away in  Chinatown   don’t abandon what you hope for    when you brush my  

teeth in Hesperia please

turn the faucet off

Visit us now o vole  before the w & x   visit us now rhinichthys osculus   visit us

now  alluvial   alluvial  bearded  spangletop   bees in  their boxes  & we who

had lived were implicated between  slopes  We climbed the dome & went

home w/a history of

glaciers in a book      



There’s a river of nevers    the South Coast     where some would like it

most   if there   were a river   which there were     by gum by the fall of

capitalism    The banks crash as we write this  We had a pilgrim’s regress

crazy brenda & her

sorceress  She ran with

her love on the boardwalk    The marine layer grows fatter/ over 13

million travelers   You know that part  in Vertigo  when Kim Novak  jumps

backward  in the Bay   It looks like a set  he said but it was filmed  on location

That part   on the

other hand   he said

holding her other hand   was filmed in a tank in Los Angeles  We are  about

out of time   O three-spine stickleback  O word riparian   O valley oak

over Santa Monica   o black walnut  plowed  under long ago   Visit us now 

in our   maritime routes    Visit us now Tetradymia spinosa   cotton-thorn

Visit us now in

the hour of our

need  Visit us now in the hour of our seed   of cord grass & Gray’s fescue

Visit us now in the hour   over San Gabriel  short-awn foxtail & fluff grass

bent grass & blue grama    Visit us now in the hour of our native & non-  

tree that made Hollywood

Dear love i’m tired

Let’s go to bed  Maybe a college girl  is reading this  when we’re a little

dead  O girl   mind your watershed   Take care of crazy poets

Visit the inner-net    In the end    there will be a rupture  

said Walter whose arcade

thought up the Web

We are freckles of  sun    We are sleeping in the poem   Shoppers stand

in the little shops   They don’t know what to buy  We lie at the Shangri La

between z & y  No one knows   how this sentence will  end  in a dream

with a lyric   sky

Visit us  Joni Mitchell

Visit us   Future of Poetry  with a solitude of  streamlets into a local

pond  the mind at the end of the palm   Nothing was gone when we

saw that bird   We saw its feathers as water  It was in & out of time




Brenda Hillman is the author of eight collections of poetry, all published by Wesleyan University Press, the most recent of which are Pieces of Air in the Epic (2005) and Practical Water (forthcoming, 2009), where “Hydrology of California” will appear. She has edited an edition of Emily Dickinson’s poetry for Shambhala Publications, and, with Patricia Dienstfrey, co-edited The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood  (Wesleyan, 2003). Hillman is involved in anti-war activism with CodePink and teaches at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, where she is the Olivia Filippi Professor of Poetry.