at The Whitman-Stein Poetry Fest
Nixson Borah

Nixson Borah retired as a professor of art from Fullerton College in 2003 and moved back to the Central Coast where he was raised and attended high school. Since his return, his photography, painting, printmaking and sculpture have been widely exhibited locally, including shows at the Steynberg Gallery, GALA and SLOMA.

He is a member of Poets on the Edge, has been a featured reader at Corners of the Mouth, Second Sunday, Poet's Night Out and the Los Osos Library.  He has been a selected and featured reader during three SLO Poetry Festivals and his poems have been published in the Tribune, New Times, and the inaugural edition of if&when.



Nixson Borah reads Robert Peters


Iris Planting

A click of struck rock and a shock

to my shoulders mark an abrupt end

to the pick’s swing.

Lifted again, redirected, the tool arcs

overhead, striking deeper this time,

with a satisfying crunch.

I pull back hard, and the topsoil

breaks into clods—damp earth holds

a tangled web of roots.

Repeated, my labor’s rhythm

releases memories, a reverie broken

by another sharp sound from stone. 

Shifting to attack from the side,

I get beneath the thing. Indirection

pries it loose and into the light.


When I was eight or nine, my father

dug through black clay to make

a hideout in the back yard.

Wide as this flower bed and deep

as his six-foot height, it perhaps

fulfilled a latent wish of one

who never knew his father.

Complete with hinged trap door

and ladder, it was a fantasy trench

from which he expected my friends

and me to stage games of war.

There were a few that first summer,

but usually he’d find me there alone,

reading Batman comics, wearing

a towel as cape.


Now, gripping a shovel to lift

earth into a wheelbarrow,

adding softer mulch and sand,

the tightened muscles of my back

remember when, a few years

later, I filled that pit with dirt

in a rage to bury a leather suitcase

packed with Mom's spare hats,

nightgowns and high-heels.

I thought I was temporarily hiding

the part of me he disliked.

My plan was to dig up my life

when he was dead, but then I went

away to school, married, forgot.

The burial lasted thirty years.


Iris rhizomes are sideways stems,

sending roots down and shoots up,

floating half-submerged in soil

like anchored ships with hoisted

sails. Returned home to find

my cache of resentments decayed,

the costumes turned to metaphor, 

I dedicate this garden to Dad,

with all his fears and scorn.

Next spring, my granddaughter,

radiant in rainbow dress,

will dance among the blooms,

applauded by my partner, a man

who does not flinch when I wear

a shirt of flowered silk.

Nixson Borah