MIRACLES AND MISTAKES

 

20170212-a40a3037

 

Fuzzy hillsides float
upside down since the drought,
since the dry and dusty waterholes

overflowed with more rain
than we dared pray—as if
the machinery of the gods

locked long before
the celestial mechanics came
to break the cogs loose.

It is a wonder how
these miracles and mistakes
seem upon reflection.

 

SAVED FOR SUNNY DAYS

 

20170212-a40a3011

 

So much rain the Sabbaths seem
like any other day, banked dreams
and basic routines squeezed

between storms, while the hard
work waits beyond in time:
opaque weeks ahead crossing

an angry creek when the melt
of soggy hills sets hard enough
to ride, to gather for brandings

saved for sunny days. Until then,
we believe what we see—watch
the morning sky and pray.

 

“Storyline” by Andy Wilkinson

 

On February 2, 2017, Andy Wilkinson delivered the Keynote Address to the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. Addressing this year’s theme of ‘story’, his poetic treatise on the creative process received a standing ovation and is now available from Dry Crik Press in book form.

 

storyline-cover-12

ISBN-10: 1883081106
ISBN-13: 978-1883081102
50 pages

 

INTRODUCTION

For a long time now, I have been studying and thinking on story and narration, mostly in terms of how they are fundamental to creative process. So when asked to deliver the keynote address for the 2017 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering – with its theme being storytelling – I jumped at the chance. I chose poetry and song over prose, both to honor the substance and history of the Gatherings and to force myself to a finer, deeper understanding of the topic and task.

Then, all the while I was writing, an already-divided nation split even wider, adding not only a new perspective to the work, but also an urgency. For reconciliation, I now believe, is itself a creative process, one without beginning or end, inseparable from story and narration. And that, in turn, gives me hope for a kinder world.

My assignment from the Western Folklife Center also required that I write an essay for the event program, which I used as an opportunity to flesh-out the least-accessible part of the poem, that being the intimate relationship with the sciences and story and narration.

I mean for both essay and poem to be read, and sung, aloud. The line breaks, spacings, and archaic punctuation are there to facilitate oral performance, not for style and certainly not to please the eye. You are welcome to supply your own melody.

Andy Wilkinson

Keynote 

 

(to order click the sidebar)

 

MY SYCAMORE GIRLS

 

20170212-a40a2942

 

Each appendage strives for grace
angling its long reach for the light
dressed within summer green

canopies that shade the pools
along the creek. But some trees
drink too much, consume

more weight than limbs can hold
before snapping like rifle shots
that echo in the canyon.

Gray chorus line of winter nymphs
locking hands, dancing naked
at a distance, up close show

the scars of younger appetites
for growth, blueprints for bigness
that challenged gravity—yet

decomposed broken bones
leave open holes for nests
to incubate a clan of Wood Ducks.

 

BLUE OAK

 

20170212-a40a2925-3

 

Always looking down
on the road, on the creek,
all my life measuring

the downstream flow
of morning traffic—counting
cattle, birds and coyotes—

it draws the eye to vast
diversities of purpose
beyond the moment,

twigs and branches
etched into the sky
begging a longer look.

 

WELCOMING

 

20170218-a40a3145

 

When I was young and lived alone
she kept me company, silhouette
stretched along the ridge waiting

for the moon upon her breast,
long hair falling into the creek.
Some nights she stirred in her sleep.

Alive, these hills still welcome me,
draw flesh and eyes away
from the bottomlands of man.

 

AFTER A STORM

 

20170218-a40a3157

 

                                        So magic a time it was that I was both brave and afraid.
                                        Some day like this might save the world.

                                             – William Stafford (“Malheur Before Dawn”)

Following another inch of rain, snow-white cumulus
float blue at dusk, take the shape of swans and dragons
trailing to join the thunderheads stacked in the mountains
darkening. The gods have swept these hills an iridescent green,
flushed the draws and creeks of loose debris and on their breath
stirred the air with blinding clarity. As the sun falls behind
clouds and ridge, this part of the world scanned by rising shadows
is fresh and clean as a Canyon Wren’s whistling. With fires blazing
western skies, sailor and shepherd survivors rest easy, yet
tremble to embrace the color of Armegeddon in their dreams.

 

IN THE CANYON

 

20170218-a40a3143

 

The sun is setting under gray thunderheads
after ninety days of rain and we are talking
with the camera, its long thick eye closed,

but at the ready as the landscape changes
clothes in the crisp, clean air, every shadow
sharp. ‘Art,’ he suggests, ‘may be the only

way to save humanity.’ I submit to my son
that creativity comes from constantly rubbing
against rural realities begging a hands-on plan—

of pumps and plumbing, leaky troughs
and fences, all the languages of livestock
and the wild we try to translate, an art

from and on this solid ground as it changes
with the light. I walk and click as I speak,
searching for an answer to savor later.

 

NEAR AT HAND

 

20170212-a40a3015-2

 

So many places near at hand where lovers slipped
into the afternoon shade, dark upon the green,
lichened rocks burning beside small oak trees

beckoning, begging a pause for conversation.
The grandfather oak, arms wider than he was tall,
a Red Tail’s roost, swooped to clutch a wounded

squirrel when I was a boy, both talked to me—
we made a deal. Leaking from the gossip rocks
worn smooth by women’s feet, a chattering

melody claims the air, of centuries layered
and bared, freckled granite gray to the sky.
Always horseback in these steep hills,

the old cowboys before me were drunk
with what spoke to them, would rather ride
the unpredictable wild and tell the tale

than slap backs among the civilized. This
was their place in time—all the sharp eyes
I remember and recognize by the cut

of their descriptions, all the stories saved
by their fathers’ fathers, secreted away
and still waiting to be told, near at hand.

 

FREEZING TIME

 

20170216-a40a3057

 

The old Fox theater, stars
blinking high above the balcony,
Tarzan swinging from a grapevine

for a dime when we were small—
but now, I want to slow the movie down
to a crawl, freeze the frame and rest,

digest the shit-rain of hearsay,
let the cloudy water settle to see
that my rippling reflection is more real

than what the screen is offering.
We are old children watching
an older script unfold, a motley cast

of bad actors vying for the lead.
But there is no holding the planet in place
just to wait for me.