Behind the gate, the dirt track starts
and disappears, glints again like a fish
surfacing on the hillside, then gone
beyond the beginnings
seeps and springs,
leaking Sierra snowmelt
for a long time—
Cows fall out of manzanita and chemise
to welcome, even the oak trees dance,
limbs bent and broken, holes for eyes
watching nervous strings
peck and watch
bobbing under oaks
each movement weighed
before the flutter and scatter
gives them away
and again, going on beyond
and before. There is no rule
of thumb here, too much to grasp,
too steep to hold
for men and machinery—
a place safe
beyond the beginnings
Days fall downhill in the west,
yellowing shadows the last sun left
to moon and stars – light melting
into golden flats, pooling in corrals.
In the east, darkness lingers in spots
stretching to the creek as first light
torches hillside trees – dawn
slower to dress before the heat.
Red-tails float between sycamores
and oaks for fuzzy-eyed, early risers
mapping a day’s harvest of seeds
connected to lines of poetry.
Zach, Clarence, Bob and Robbin got the steers to the corrals ahead of this morning’s sun to be weighed, sorted and loaded for Kersey, Colorado. A slow and easy shipping day, the steers weighed-up well, more than we anticipated when we sold them on the internet. A few cutbacks and loose ends to clean-up before new calves starting hitting the ground next month, we are pleased with our past year’s work.
In the dust, we stand watching the year roll on
big wheels, pull away slowly at first, leaving
tracks of winter-feeding when there was no rain,
clutch of neighbors branding, our gather, wean
and sort, each diesel leans into a season past—
a caravan, a shiny train down roads that grow
farther away. Confused as children in the chute,
eyes adjusting to a dark door, ears to the
unfamiliar, panicked slip-and-clatter of hooves
on a metal floor, they load to ride standing—
hills of home forever fading within portholes,
when would never choose to leave that way.
Check on the pickup seat, beer in the ice chest,
we slap the last semi-trailer on the ass and toast
them instead, find shade to reweigh a year’s pay.
A man might own the land,
but the land also owned him.
– Elmer Kelton (“The Good Old Boys”)
Years across the fire,
the underside of pine
licked by orange and blue
cat tongues, a steady dancing
reflected in our eyes,
we know what goes on
down the mountain
on the racetracks—
breeze in the cedars,
of the river, beyond
the static of their motors’
Afoot or horseback,
these steep reaches laugh
at the clock, at convenience—
each step in scree another glimpse
of permanence, another look
at the rock we dwell upon—
granite peaks like islands thrust
beyond the seas of changing times.
Years across the fire,
safe within eternity,
we are immortal—
long moments free.
Within walls of bare rock, no urgency
to improve the moment, no cell phone call
for plastic gadgets to hold us connected –
thin swirl of smoke, black and blue
coffeepot, wine jug passed— enough
and all we need to please our gods
circled ‘round the fire. From the ash
of a hundred years exposed, pine needles
and cedar cones piled for banked coals,
they have risen from this midden since
we were children— fathers and grandfathers
buried beneath our feet, free of the flat
dreams farmed with this slow snowmelt
leaking, slipping and dripping into the roar
and foam of the Rio de los Santos Reyes,
of the Kings wearing cold granite smooth
that dares and intimidates the soul— cures
the sinful and the satisfied with elsewhere.
for Tim and Maggie
Roaring River Falls @ S. Fork of the Kings River
South Fork of the Kings
Robbin & I got away for a couple of nights to visit friends, Tim & Maggie Loverin at the Cedar Grove Pack Station. River still too high to really fish, but we strung up our flyrods anyway.
Come close to earth, young Red Tails roost
on fence posts near the water trough
and rock pile towns of ground squirrels –
and the number of young, half-grown dumb,
diminishes. So addicted to these convenient
meals that fail to look up, the splotchy hawks
are almost tame, almost ignore approach,
feathers like a duster fluffed before they glide
indignantly to another easy, fast food perch.
Every spring we’d ride with sacks of yellow
grain slung from our saddle horns, 10-80
spooned to huge colonies that honeycombed
the ground, come alive, that moved in waves.
Our heavy thumb upon the balance beam,
the poison killed and killed again, coyotes
bobcats and hawks. Only the number of live
rodents and red-headed turkey vultures grew
with the stench from rock piles dressed in black.
No different than the duck and dally days
driving to a steer, craving horns in an average –
the heady rush of both cigarette and snuff
in the box before the nod, summer nights
addicted to a dream, going down the road,
leaving work and winter watergaps undone.
O’ wild, sweet youth that could not see
beyond the flexed and postured pulse
of faster times, fleeting moments so soon
forgot if cowboys make old cowmen.
Too clearly seen, I judge myself
in their reflection – distort my free
and easy disregard for life that
only time distills to guilt and luck –
and pray, as much, for all of them.