It wasn’t wet December and a season’s worth
of gray rain when I got my secret wish, but March,
in like a lamb and leaving us half-a-season more,
plus our unemployed bulls rubbing thick skulls,
horns and winter hair upon the plastic pedestal
in their pasture down the road – brittle, sun-faded
to a milky green – foreign obelisk, aboveground
junction box for a hundred tangled, tiny colored-coded
wires wound with stripes like bitter-tasting candy canes.
Medusa’s bad hair day intertwined with wet and lush
fiddleneck and filaree that delivered the dead short
between us and the outside world calling, interrupting
my jam jar glass of red with Robbin in the garden,
in the gloaming, our private, slow train of thought
to wait three weeks before calling Verizon.
‘Barefoot kid in overhauls right off the train from Tennessee,’
she told me, ‘come to California looking for work,’ to Exeter
– The Emperor Grape Capital of the World – a long, lifetime
ago of narrow rows and teams of mules skinned for a dollar
a day. Old to me in ‘56, driving slowly his fairly new, green
Chevy pickup full of vegetables, crates of lettuce, melons
and fruit from the alley where the red brick Safeway stood
for prosperity, when he passed by the bus stop in wet, winter fog,
to wave between his place and theirs, between the big house
surrounded by roses on Marinette and his twenty acres of citrus,
alive with roving bands of multi-colored chickens stirring leaves
with the meowing peacocks (less the one on the chimney Granddad
shot and had hell getting out), stray pigs, goat and milk cow
mowing weeds – a free and loose menagerie making a living
in the orange grove growing around his house and poor corrals
where he fed spoils from town. On cold nights with smudge pots
lit like glowing soldiers, their red-feathered hats down every road,
around every orchard in the frosty black, stars twinkling quickly,
roar of wind machines, flat-head Fords with props on towers turning,
stirring the air, Dad and I would visit his lean-to shed, straw bed
along the road, brandy and his two red-bellied sentries posted
to keep him warm, that finally caught fire – bright ellipse over
silhouettes of orange trees – we drug him out alive. It was
the dirty cheesecloth when he skimmed cream every morning
that inspired the new bathtub she ordered and had delivered
to his house and her walk next door, some months later to
investigate why he was not clean. Chickens pecking at
the table, billy goat beyond the open door she found it installed
outside to make moonshine. Saved his money and died a millionaire.
…close, reliable friends
in the earth, in the air, in the rock.
– William Stafford (“Father’s Voice”)
Go hear the voices echo
from common ground, watch
metaphors unfold, alone –
and close like petals, day after day
before they die to scatter, ripe seed
for rains, months or years away.
Tom Homer got the credit
each time my father said,
He looks, but just don’t see…
a nod or intonation
after years of repetition
planted in our brains
as a landmark to go by
whether riding fence for wages
or surviving the future – each twisted limb
has something sure to say.
Among them, there are no lies.
Deception and miscalculation, yes –
but all the truth that has endured
our wild imagination is still alive.
Runt of the litter, long-haired gray tom
that will never make it here, bent tail
riding parallel beside him, you plugged
into whoever’d take him –
now whines high on a log end
beneath the gutter in the rain, alone
disgruntled with the weather.
His family has abandoned him again –
not even the dogs are interested
in a stare down, each meow complains.
There is no mistake that we are here
to work together, to hold the fragile in
abeyance and focus on routines we know –
to care with sure and calloused hands
and sort unspoken grief to unseen pens
to haul home like our own stray cattle
when it’s done. Scattered by distance
apart from the world and its tragic
consequences – its sad ambitions
and addictions – we come to celebrate
and revere our skills with the unpredictable
and rise to persevere as one. Sometimes
the heart, or is it the soul that shudders,
or is it the moon at its perigee that pulls
emotions up like swirling tides around us
that we dare not speak for fear of hearing
our own voice quake? Is it age worn thin?
We work around raw and tender parts,
find new ways to hold our rope and rein
until time heals the hole in each of us –
neighbors for a long time – it is our time.
The branding pictures show gray
on most of my face, translucent quill
of Great White Egret stabbed
into the band of a worn black hat
among the young men – boys really,
full of it – all that tension stretched
like calves between horses and saddle
horns, turned loose to find its way.
Mostly, I forget – wing feather streaming
jauntily – an oxymoron on creaking knees
overlooked as another evolving casualty.
Like your bouquet of turkey feathers
we collected, scattered in the grass,
reunited in a living room vase after
a frantic death, each new feather
becomes a sign of surviving friction
in my mind – a prolonged life worn
with respect and envy for flight.
How he had hoped his words might
turn a smile, eyes cast down to rise
and meet somewhere beyond
with something new to share. But
she hid her face behind her hand
instead – as he stared off, pursing
lips into a silent whistle, picturing
it all again, replaying and weighing
each enunciation, wondering why
space between their horses grew.
Portraits, not wide-looped long-shots,
but up-close expression zoomed
across the pen through loose reins, tight
ropes and smoke to the peripheral asides –
faces to later read between the lines.
February 6, 2011
After another all-night rain, the creek is up and snow low enough to close the Grapevine, the Interstate between the San Joaquin Valley and L.A., and Deadwood, the steep and curvy stretch falling-off into Oakhurst where Robbin’s brother operates a snowplow for Cal-Trans. Also Priest Valley, CA 198 & 25 west of Coalinga in the Coast Range is closed. No surprise that a chunk of Highway 1 through Big Sur lies in the Pacific. 1.68 inches of rain in the past 24 hours, 2.22 inches in the last 3 days, and still raining, clouds hanging below Sulphur Peak at 3,000 feet, our ground has not dried out since the middle of last December and more rain forecast for the next ten days.
Gray, we’re sequestered inside once again as the late-month pattern repeats itself, the garden half-tilled with implements waiting, standing, planted ready in wet soil. Weeds on the periphery are making a comeback where I sprayed a few months ago. Getting off the asphalt, Dry Creek Road, with a pickup is a non-productive option, and crossing the muddy creek I can see from my desk this morning would be foolhardy.
Getting Kenny and Virginia’s calves branded Friday instead of Saturday looks like genius now, and apparently their ‘bulls too big to brand’ and hauled to town instead brought good money. We’ve got damn little to complain about and thrilled to have something other than world politics to discuss.
Thank God for the Weather! I have my desk to clean-up that after tax accounting, endless mail and disheveled stacks of books that looks like a junk yard – stuff I know is there, somewhere, but I can’t possibly find. Plenty to do as we await T-storms this afternoon that threaten the Valley’s deciduous fruit and nut trees in bloom – peaches, plums, nectarines and almonds especially vulnerable. Obviously the planet’s in revolt, reacting to something big. Our hillsides are oozing, moving with the weight of water, I suspect – nothing to do but wait, because we’ve seen nothing yet.
This gallery contains 12 photos.
With more visits than ever, we’ve found more photos: © Robbin Dofflemyer 2011
Bless these hills that lend perspective,
teach gravity and train the eye to look
upwards to find horizons truly blue
above black dots of Angus pairs, grazing
as they grade emerald grass between
the oak trees clinging like whiskers
to every crease in their faces – home
a hundred years, it seems, centuries
inhabited by a few who still linger near
old slabs of stone. A man can hide,
grow deaf to the din and stay – busy
as Sisyphus with his rock, or not –
most accomplishment erased by storms
that have worn them smooth and
exposed their crumbling, granite bones.
These hills that embrace in the rain,
holding humble ready as we age
to wear with them, as well as we can.
Posted in Poems 2011