Ellensburg, Washington

Kapala Press is the Vajrayana tributary of dPress (www.dpress.net) which is a literary press, established in 1967, to produce books of my own and my friends' writings and now has over 300 titles in its backlists. At present, the main focus is to create saddle-stiched, short-run, 20 to 40 page editions with color covers utilizing the modern copy machine.     

            Jampa Dorje, aka Richard Denner




The Gap

Lisa Norris


D Press  2017  Ellensburg

"Belief" and "Goldfinches" were previously published in Ascent. Many thanks to editor Scott Olsen and also to the stalwarts who so generously critiqued these poems—especially Joe Powell and Gyorgyi Voros. Joanna Thomas's creative spirit in bringing poets to my 'hood via the Inland Poetry Prowl made me want to raise my voice to join in. I was able to do so in part because of Fred D'Aguiar's well-timed advice to write a poem a day to break out of writer's block and Gyorgyi Voros' suggestion to try the Daily Grind. Thanks also to my son Will Stauffer-Norris for the cover photos.

These poems are especially for my mother,  the Eng who taught me to love language.








Motion attracts me: the birds especially—

goldfinches dip and rise—musical

breaths of air push at the trees, boughs


bow and nod as if to say

happy birthday.  Outside, I still celebrate

two dogs I buried under a fossil


from Virginia—trilobites preserved in the rock: bodies

buried, filled in.  Truly, I don’t know

how it works, except that it’s miraculous


like the osprey circling without wingbeats,

calling to her fledgling.  When I plant a seed,

green comes up, thin as an eyelash:


can you tell it is Spring?—a good season

to be born, I think, though the long dark remains

in mortal cells.  This morning, I recalled the hurts—


someone’s back turned—a lover's

(or was it Mother’s?), but then

those bright winged bodies flew across the yard.




The Gap


I can't name it—

dark absence        shadow—whatever,


a sound between your mother's heartbeat—

that motor of love carrying what moves you toward

the day she'll be gone, her smell of musk

               and basil become yearning—


and silence like that between one lover and the next

when you wake at night to feel what isn't

under the sheets with you—and sometimes

what isn't takes your touch


between one leg and the other, back to a place

you can slide your fingers into—

that cavity like the space

from which you came: you know

the explanation, but it makes no sense,


journey of egg to sperm to produce a you

who sprouts like a grape on that umbilical vine

til the day of harvest when that ripe infant falls into

what isn't there


between what you don't remember and being

you who grew as fruit from your mother's parts

and emerged as that membranous someone,

between the absence of her and you:


you squalled at the suddenness

of separation, and you will squall again, tears ferocious

as waters in the swirl of that hurricane

taking her, not you, into the gap


you long to fill with light and love

in its purest form you have known only

from the one who goes ahead into what

you cannot know until you enter it.



Dear God


Art Thou present even as

our intestinal walls contract—

living within the bloated belly,

the rashy skin, the pigeon toes?


We look for Thou in the sublime,

but what if Thy beauty is inside

the transubstantiation—rotting

vegetation, steaming excrement piled

by the roadside, bloody exit

of liquid life to feed the big cat

tearing at the flesh of lesser things?


Art Thou in the movement

of water splitting the rock

obliterating hillsides, houses,

the little girl who, breathing mud,

then becomes the muddy thing?


Dost Thou flare in the gaseous neon

on that sign over the strip of spilled trash and those

hungry for needles—taking up residence

in putrid feet, stew of maggots

in diabetic flesh, whatever

takes us down until the skull is

picked clean, bellies of vultures

filled with what was, whilst the winged

Thou flyeth forth to take up

the next transitioning thing?

After Reading Rilke's Book of Hours During

a Season of Explosions & Absurd Politics


The burn at my neck is of Your sun glaring

on the hanged and the unhanged.


Even the blackbirds don’t turn my head.

I look instead at the dog, pioneering


this old railroad bed between stalks

of browning cattails dying to match the hills.


Then I have to leash the dog again,

and we’re back on the road: petunias


populate the flowerpots, ripe apple

falls on the path.  You’d say don’t


pick it up, though you made it

just to tempt Eve.


Skirting the sticky tar, I recall

that You and I haven’t spoken


for such a long time—so I think

of Rilke in love and beckon You

into ordinary days of ragweed,

despite armored tanks,


trucks run amuck,

and body parts scattered


on that same old road.



Big-Beaked White Birds


My clever dentist has me looking out the window

to see swallows or geese, osprey—or

wild pelicans, even—on the pond

before he leans me back,

hot neck wrap, light chatter

with the girl who congratulates me

on my selection from her menu:

bluegrass at 7 am to keep us all



“Those pelicans

don’t come too often,” he says,

and she, “Aren’t they the ones with big beaks?”

He nods, propping my jaw open

and passing little tools,

stuffing and unstuffing my lips with cotton.

“Those pelicans are all over Moses Lake.”


I think of the Biblical baby in the bulrushes,

little dark Egyptian surrounded

by big-beaked white birds

looking down on him, wondering

if he's edible, before Miriam swoops down

for the rescue: in my mouth, they’re closing in

as the ceremony progresses,

and something dark flies over the pond

beyond the flat tv where a pretty blonde

glibly details disaster (cop shoots

unarmed black man again), and I close my eyes

behind the glasses that shield me, thinking

pelican     pelican        pelican

as the dentist wiggles my cheek and moves the needle

so I don’t even see the point before it numbs.



Sleeping in the City


You know how you can’t move

sometimes, dreaming, when eyes

are looking down on you, as in

a horror movie: rustling

in the walls.  Maybe rats.


Is that thing perched

on your pillow going to gnaw off

your nose as you lie

paralyzed, or is it just

some leftover synapse, your brain


firing memories—there was

that rodent in the park,

huge, crossing the sidewalk

to lurk in the bushes.  Even

sleeping, you’re aware


that you're in someone else’s

house: how can you be safe

so close to the homeless?

Under the bridge, it stinks

of piss.  A pile of wet clothes


on the sidewalk.  There was that

figure under a blanket

at the curb.  You take

an Uber to the movies,

where you're made to feel


compassion for someone

whose house burned down.

Walking back later

in the cold rain, you imagine

those without shelter might wish


for flame. How hard it must be

for them to look in from the dark

at lovers drinking champagne.


The walls are alive

with sound.  Rain tinks

at the window.  You have to know

what that thing is moving

on your pillow again, shifting—first

a rat and now it’s feathery, flying at you

from outside the window.


In this new light, it’s an owl

with fox ears and big yellow eyes

rimmed with mascara, saying

let me in, let me in, I have a message.





When your bare feet in the mown grass gather

little blades between the toes—and your nose opens


to summer's scent—rubbery dodge ball,

briny gallop of friends pretending to be horses,


leaping over ditches behind houses

that lead to the murky pond—or you knock


on doors to sell candy for a good cause

until you reach that old man inviting you in


to see the foot without the toe, after which you escape,

breathless with fright, to romp under the parachute in the backyard,


squealing until you brush up one against another

under that orange dome and briefly touch


skin against skin through such a thin cloth—oh,

    that jolt of static!



That Wild Place


Sculpted in sand on a wide beach,

the little foxes looked like infants, still

and cleverly placed.  Circling eagles


searched for the wee red cubs.

but they’d tucked themselves in

behind boulders and driftwood


in that wild place

where everything was big—


except the ones with tiny ribs

rising and falling.

On the other shore—far off,


grizzlies grazed among wildflowers,

cubs trailing by the waterfall gushing

from a glacier. I will preserve it,


I thought: I was sure I had it all fixed

in my lens.  I will center

the sandy foxes.



I will focus.  Zoom in.  I’ll share this

in email.  On Facebook.   Another small miracle

like the herds of wild elephants


who came from afar to honor their rescuer,

big ears like giant petals

and trunks reaching out


to comfort their young, but

before the shutter clicked,

the foxes rose, shook off the sand,


and ran—even better (I thought) to catch them trotting off

toward the woods, red tails flaring.

But they were too quick, or


I was too slow, for now I understood as the water rose,

covering the small safe places

where the foxes had been,


their log shelters floating light

as matchsticks, as if they weren’t

dense, and all the sand was drowned,


the rocks too. Water crept into the dark woods

up the hill so fast, I couldn’t freeze frame it

on my small screen, couldn’t keep

the chilly world chilly instead of

my mouth agape and my own legs ready

to carry me away when the water came—


and wasn’t it a shame that only I

got to see that odd brief loveliness

as the ice broke off and the warming chased

the wee red foxes on that wide wild beach?



Kittitas County Fair

Ellensburg, Washington, 2009


I wanted to touch the nude pink pigs,

two to a pen, asleep, unembarrassed,

front to back like lovers, legs twitching

in their clean litter.  They did not budge

when we spoke, and all the while


their snouts curved up, their dear ears pinked

and curved, hooves spiked—

quadruple high heels that took them

wherever pigs go in dreams—


oh, I would like to know!—for no matter how close

I get to the bewhiskered and beleaguered—lop-eared

bunnies made fat for the butcher, roosters

with their quivering combs—I find

in those piggy ears and fleshy toes


some brutish blessedness far beyond

the Blue Ribbon Best of Show.



The little plane lifts—a lark

at first—from that Idaho runway,

to get you into wilderness—only

one quick way, engine turning

like a lawnmower’s.

You watch wings’ shadows

diminish.  Angling high,


you who left church

for Sunday hikes remember

the Psalmist moving

through the Valley

of the Shadow of Death, supposedly

fearing no evil

as the pilot buzzes the peaks

at the level of fire towers:


one down draft

as you pass over the treetops,

and you’ll be wreckage—oh, how tippingly

he turns that plane in the narrow

canyon, so the river flies

sideways.  In headphones, he cannot hear you


cursing, singing hymns and working

any other desperate remnant

of remembered religiosity

returning in a rush

of panic: you can't watch,

though it thrills you—

you prefer the dark, shift into

follower gear.  This


is how it happens: you first

must be deeply afraid—then

if you fall to your knees,

won't the rest of the descent

be easier?  Faith is


an updraft, that gusty tale

making the prospect of crash

less terrible as you fall.

You close your eyes to pray

as the plane goes down

the air’s declivity.



Though I hear my voice as a clean wind that comes

from the north, the odd shape

of the mole on my wrist still frightens me.  That’s all

part of it.  This instrument is not yet purified.

Paint on my arm, broken nails—skin dry

as spent wheat stalks, and still I walk


the hills as I did last night.  A strange bird appeared

at dusk—red on the underbelly, warbling

without melody.  The deer paused, turning their heads

to listen.  Spring calls forth new leaves

with serrated fingers.  Alone, without an agenda,

I’ll just see what's over the next

brushy slope, just press on, explore the trail.


Unity is what I'm after—the way the last

light works to fire what's still or call out the lilies

offering their luscious bodies.



Larchlight in Fall


Something in me yearns toward gold

of larch trees and cottonwoods

when Autumn sun illuminates those leaves.


I wander the curves of trails or ron some pedestrian way when a cylinder inside me fires,

responding to color.  It splits me open


right at the chest, and some good alien

thing flies out to merge—as if that cast

of light compels me home.  Is this the same impulse


drawing moth to flame—incandescent trap—

or is it more like desire built from old

circuitry?  When I look up from my bootprints,


what felt fisted loosens—I spread my arms

like limbs, turn my face toward that yellow warmth,

and my words fruit into little red berries.