Caley O’Dwyer


Caley O'Dwyer author photo

Photo : Audrey Mandelbaum






Light, Earth, and Blue

after Mark Rothko


We were multiple,

like the edge of water breaking

into currents, each waterway

forming a channel, all

concurrent under the bridge.

There was no center to our city

but a series of connections,

sidewalks that meet each other

as time around them flowed.

We stayed awhile. Looked out

beyond belief. Possibilities

rose through the foundation.

We felt the shade warm as minutes

departed in waves, racing

between lane markers, their sure,

dark ascriptions of what has been.

Despite never being able to get

all of time lived into time told,

it was important to tell the story.

We consumed the moment

in which we drove, pushing

close to the present’s edge.

It bore our grief as we shifted

into another night on the town,

another lost star blinking out

over the shimmering river.

There may be a way to tell

what happened, but never

the whole way, the whole

life sliding across the polish

of what was. In the gap

between what we knew

and now, we hold an inch

of what we saw, yet are

each one more than one

can bear. Change unfolds

in the medium. In a dream,

we gaze through kitchen curtains

at the horizon. Somewhere

out there, out beyond the age,

dark matter, nothing

then something. Someone sighs.

A leaf turns golden in the sun.

Crash of the ocean. So full of jasmine

are the days we have only to

breathe to know we are here,

our compounding light shining

more and more as we come close

to where we touch the ground.




White and Greens in Blue

after Mark Rothko


A time to be

in time. Being

placed in time.


Being careful

to maintain features

so as to hold time near


so as to hold the salient features

near to time. So as to be in a place

or remember there was a place.


So as to stay at the center

where one is most

nearly a self.


So as to be near

the blue-green horizon,

the wandering white cloud.




Orange and Brown
after Mark Rothko


To say there is a start is to say

at one point none of this existed.

But a point includes itself

and that which bore it out, each

extending backward and forward

so much so there is no point

that is the common anchor.

There is what happens one time,

what is said that was never said before,

whoever is wondering around the saying,

as the palms open a little, revealing

vast charters of gulls in the troposphere.

A curve in their ascent points to a world

that is somehow beyond what we thought

we could say or what we know,

who I thought I’d never meet

but found my heart in. The reason

cannot be retained. It matters

but not in the way road signs forewarned.

The way the canoe changed as it entered

the sunlight, how it implicated the body.

Everything could slide into the next

and find more alive there. The risk was that

we’d run amok and find our travels

good only where the sunlight hit

just right on a dark outgrowth of branches.

In the soundless noise of human laughter

I hear the could-be-great hopefulness

surround me, then slip away again

several steps at a time into the understory.

There is nettle and descending night.

The river drifts by with people who insist

on saying hello. Floating beer cans

rotate and bump into the margin.

In good times these points are re-mined

for whatever flickering sediments can be

knocked loose, often years later when

when they happened has been forgotten

and there is only a collection of moments

sandwiched together like particleboard.

Beer pong, looking back,

wasn’t the end of civilization.

Nor were ants glistening in the potato salad,

dying in a sugary gloss, their little

wiggling arms and final speeches

much like our own. The path to redemption

depends on house rules, those notions

that espouse surety but emit confusion,

then disaffection. Things come back

in the rhythm, consoling and refreshing

as the water level lowering and lifting

life vests under a tree. Those sureties

that rotate and depart from the shoreline,

lifelines floating away from us,

bright orange on dark sienna, toward the sea.




American Proverb


It was there you could walk a long while

under the celestial canopy laughing, enjoying the erosion

of ideals, like the pliant, small round reeds unbuckling

from a rattan frame, the bewhiskered points of disjuncture

no longer subject to repair. You could hear the arcing music

in atriums, the elegant leaves of Paradise Palms


opening into shadows of the interior.

What would they think of next, now that all ratios

of Sweet Alyssum and other groundcover to bare earth

had been tried? Same thing with all the concrete slabs.

The surface is paved or not. There is so much left of Earth

or so much gone. So much sense or so much not sense.


The order was spurious, but the people were calm,

untangling their legs from holes in trampolines,

as the mockingbird could stand no longer to be itself,

midway up the air, electrified. There is a famous saying

that encapsulates all or most of this. Happily,

I cannot remember what it is.




Derby in Polymer


Martha was there, Bertha was there, Helen was there,

Tina was there, Sam was there, and so was Steven,

but where were they? Each reassurance sign

duplicated one before it on the roadside

between banks and churches, or high up

on cantilevered gantries. Other indications

were less clear on stretches of America

wept by, three at a time, with bolts

of fabric unwound and truckloads of people

hauled off to institutions of higher earning.

The blues could be heard in branched polymers.

Due the abundance of wrong-way concurrencies,

we could be traveling in nine directions at once,

as the stars reveal their plasma, and our own,

that which appears in the night sky as lightening.

One had to make a decision in life—yet there was time

for worrying in small doses. The distance between Earth

and its destination was closing and would probably

reach the node by May. Getting along had been

suggested and there gathered a faint memory

about why, but it was no brighter than the smallest

indivisible quanta of light. It had to be trapped in a funnel

then photographed to be seen and was too much bother.


While it would be wise for all players to defect at once,

signs so clearly indicated what the world offered each of us,

were we only to see what is possible, what is still

the best way to unwind. It is this distinction between

clean outlines of arrows in retro-reflective sheeting

and sheer confusion that has us jetting ever faster

toward the end, throwing paper bags full of French fries

out the window, singing country love songs,

songs about ski areas and commercial parking spaces

that can be used for a maximum of five minutes

and which are missing wheel chocks.

Songs of food packets jammed

into a jagged crevasse. Fruit jelly portion control cups,

rails of condiment dispensers. Dark cups

of BBQ sauce that go with chicken fingers.

Two grapes still connected in the window

of a Lunchable. Ripping open the packet to find

there’s nothing there, just folded plastic pressed

into contours of air.


Where the curlews are screaming

and the antelope groans, we press ever harder, heaving

and pushing, trying to fill up the universe.


Traveling at such speeds as bends our faces back

it’s hard to see the exit quickly, and many times

with all good intention we find ourselves perplexed,

looking for pills in the glove box, stopped in the roadside

shadows of interchanges.


Somewhere beyond

the place we meant, the clouds jitter along their rails.

Lovers spin in the circling doors of closeout sales.

Your hair is like an explicit flow of information

which takes a while to parse. The Cartesian method

will not do, and the next parking lot’s in Denton.


In your purse I find a pair of special passes

with directions to a telethon. The map

is ripped and there’s an empty Cola in your lap.

Maybe this is exactly what we wanted all along


but lacked the ability to accept; the final sale

of an item to zero inventory. Let’s crank back

the bucket seat and let our fingers do the racing

even though it’s the lines around our smarts they’re tracing.

So far the air is flowing like it was the real world

and we just got back.


In rest areas,

we flick mountains of peelable catsup packets

at passersby, hoping for help, hoping for a good time,

but there is no satisfactory place to put the dispensed,

darkened goo. It bleeds through napkins and is hard to see

where you are going. The road goes this way not that

so even when you’re on a non-directional ramp, trust me,

you’re heading for the Super Bowl. It’s spring there

and someone’s playing—what’s your favorite song?




A Desperate Situation


A shadow crossed the football game

and took all the cheerleaders. “Shit…

wanna get some weed?” But it was

too late. Skirts were whirling in the air,

cameras rising on their cranes,

the field snowed with information.

Like a rug infested with fleas, you could see

news jumping up your legs. Not as funny

as the ultimate outcome, though. That,

they said, was going to flatten Kansas,

the part where Betty and Ingrid live, they

and their so many cousins. Two were lost

and it was night three times hence before

anyone arrived. There in a pasture

of autumn where you’d rather find love,

things are lost that cannot be retrieved.

The door closes and each of us becomes

what someone cares for and cannot find.




“Light, Earth, and Blue” is the title poem of a collection I’ve been working on for some time, which is a series of interactions with Mark Rothko paintings, but this particular poem is roughly about human connection as well as the way in which we exceed both ourselves and the stories we carry about ourselves. “American Proverb” comes from a series of poems called Bikini Factory (which may end up being a section of another MS) and this poem along with “Derby in Polymer” are more about calling out disconnection in American life and concerns I have about the effects of capitalism and media in contemporary American culture. They are perhaps arch, but hopefully speak to the deep feelings of frustration and resistance I have about some aspects of American culture with a sense of humor.













Caley O’Dwyer is poet, visual artist, and teacher living in Los Angeles. He teaches creative writing and psychology at Antioch University Los Angeles and was previously an Associate Professor at the University of Southern California. His poems appear in Alaska Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Cream City Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Warwick Review, Curator Magazine, Ekphrasis, Washington Square, and others venues, including the Tate Modern Museum in London. He is a winner of an Academy of American Poets Prize, a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize, and a recipient of a Helene Wurlitzer grant for poetry. His first book, Full Nova, was published by Orchises Press, and his second, in progress collection, Light, Earth and Blue, features poems written in response to the abstract expressionist paintings of Mark Rothko. He is also working on a novel called The Hollywood Kid. Alongside his teaching and writing, Caley produces visual art at the Brewery Art Complex in downtown Los Angeles, where he also provides postmodern, strength-based psychotherapy as a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He can be reached via or


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