Somehow, all the smart men forgot
that the only measure of our health is not
GROWTH, that maintenance of the body
is not only necessary, but creates jobs.
It is arrogance, of course, that manifest
DESTINY, that old code of the West
to build another somewhere else, appears
prosperous as the old digs crumble. It is a
GAME, these graphs and long equations
plugged with values damn few share.
There’s plenty of work everywhere you
LOOK! Why make repairs disastrous?
We are encouraged by storms
along the Mediterranean, thunderous
footsteps, masses of legs tangled with torsos
and arms waving, reaching beyond
rejuvenated eyes on the shores of Cairo
and Tripoli – encouraged by humanity.
The earth has quaked, floods have become
a work-in-progress – some ranges rise
while other mountains melt into farms.
This sun illuminates an instant age
of transparency – where secrets sell quickly,
and information cheap for Everyman
reaching for a dream. The despots fall
like fences under hoof as the herd
grazes fresh feed for a little while.
6:30 a.m. – 35 degrees, .81″ rain overnight, since Thursday, .94″, season 18.70″
All gone before my feet, the gray Kaweah raging foam
to the rumble of boulders underwater, scent of sulphur
above the cutbank, 1955. A black & white photograph
of lightbulb strings above the dance floor walled by sad,
round eyes of dark cars with real fenders, simple grins and
children, secured in my mind before washing downstream.
A temporary place deposited along the river, croaking cattails
with bullfrogs, fuzzy moonshine shadows, smell of slow water,
gasp of lovers steaming on a warm breeze beyond the fiddling
and motion glowing within a black and buggy summer night,
I imagine I might have liked before the war changed everything,
and nothing, at the same time. The rumble of certain words
resonates beneath the surface, slow roll and grind, a winnowing
of cobbles and sand suspended in floods of feeling – when chunks
of cold, molten mountains remade the riverbed before the dam.
Trying to meet me, eye-to-eye,
the old Red horse wants to go –
not knowing where, or how long
like the Bay horse years ago,
left behind the first time: gallop,
stop and turn on the fence
for an hour on his own, within
earshot of cows and calves
bawling at the branding with
old friends and neighbors
down the road – time takes us all
for a ride. Shed, grow winter
hair, play before the gusty storms,
they have no fear of the end,
nothing other than grand purpose
now. “But after awhile,” my Dad
once said, “you have to get used
to not being first in line.”
Snow tomorrow, clouds low, wind bites
high on the mountain, on the Homer,
south side of Remy Gap. Cinch-up,
big calves. Black cows crowd the gate
for each four-hundred pound baby
to escape ropes and smoke, horses and
men before the storm – to find her close,
waiting to go back to steep home in the
hollows of brush and rock, seeps of water
ponded, to look straight-down on town,
river, and the mesmerizing highway where
cars trail up and down like ants towards
unknown purpose steadily. Shed
cumbersome coat sleeves, build and swing,
loosen-up right humerus and clavicle.
I was the young man here, once upon a time –
never thought it’d last – never thought
I’d ever weaken, choose slow instead of fast.
– for Brent Huntington
Talking snow in California,
most calves branded, cows
milking heavy on the green,
we look ahead to spring’s
tall feed, hills painted
in flowers, everything
they offer in heaven, yet
it all depends on half-inch
rains, every three weeks
‘til the end of April –
a hundred pounds away
from doing it over again.
It’s supposed to be a business,
but bulls stray and take out
fences, leave work at home.
Then one year in five, the rain
forgets where we live, coming
down to the next sixty days.
Early afternoon on the
way up the mountain,
the past phones ahead – says
she is Margaret, my dead
mother. Are we
too busy for a visit?
We can start anywhere,
hollering hellos and goddamn
profanities as pickup doors
fly open to handshakes and
hugs. How long has it been?
Mule packers, horse lovers
wearing outdoor eyes –
who’ve caught God
drooling at his easel
on every horizon, every
turn of King’s Canyon,
Rio de los Santos Reyes,
guffaw at our little bit
of Crown and Jack, got
one in the truck, want
nothing, but help speed
the recycling of glass
– unscrew new jugs
to a list of things to do
before dark, up the hill
and narrow road, nearly
empty weekdays without
the caravans of Christians
and 4-wheel drive crazies
racing towards heaven.
We catch up with highlights
of kids and grandkids,
weddings and fencing jobs,
pick fruit, swap books
and make promises to
rivers of fish, to the future
trails we will cross.
– for Tim & Maggie
Scrambling through loose rocks
On an old trail
All of a summer’s day.
– Gary Snyder (“Milton by Firelight”)
What better place to read
than by firelight, each word
flickering into the next.
Slow progress in the harsh
landscapes of our mind’s
eye, to linger there and read
Snyder aloud to friends
around white coals, shadows
and sound, starlit night.
It happens then, the wind
in pines, off edges of granite,
the bell mare and coyote
just at the right time.
Rifle asleep in its case under the seat,
he reads me through the windshield –
winter coat at dawn alone, calves
too big to bring him down – now,
squirrel towns busy cleaning burrows
after rain. Free in February to fill
the seams, he reinvents our deserted
homesteads as we move closer to more
comfort and speed – front door jam
his scent post, our rusty bucket, home
for mice. He lopes the other way,
laughs over his shoulder, going back.
Posted in Poems 2011