Monthly Archives: January 2012


Winter hills, new grass gone brown between
short fuzz of last year’s feed hasn’t changed

day after a two-inch rain, but we believe we see
a tinge of green, ridge tops cattle-dotted,

holding moisture as our minds search knowing
what the color of these hills, will and ought to be—

like cows and calves leaving bottoms in the storm,
forgetting hay, ground turned soft between their toes—

climbing to where grass comes first, all believing
they can taste the green that comes from a night rain.

Naked Now!


                               And much I grieved to think how power and will
                    In opposition rule our mortal day –

                               And why God made irreconcilable
                    Good and the means of good…

                                        – Percy Bysshe Shelley (“The Triumph of Life”)

Damn-little new under the sun, our shadows stretch and shrink against
an ever-changing light. I remember the power I had as a boy, the cat
I couldn’t quite get killed and then remove from its misery, high in a tree.
A lesson not quite buried, now after sixty years. But they’ll have it all,

debating state-to-state, trading insults I hope the world is not watching,
in case one of them is elected, representing us, fresh from these playground
antics of one-upmanship like when high-school boys playing grab ass
to the mini-skirted girls in the bleachers—all trying to be cute and cool.

I hear no philosophy, no consistent thought, no high ideals, no change
in the stagnating economic status quo of amended statistics we’ve grown
deaf to. No flag, no bumper stickers on my hay rig—perhaps I am too old
to get excited, find a cause not fraught with non-sense, but good

is not bestowed like candy to children, not a blanket to wrap our fears
within, nothing permanent we can’t improve—instead it grows
miraculously right out of the dirt, upwards with water, roots down deep.
You can nurture it, tend and grow with it everyday, or just eat the fruit.

January 27, 2012

Hawk’s Nest


                    I watched with envy as my brother swung wired hay from
the business end of the baler by the hook, stacked bales neat and swift on the
pure symmetry, muscle, motion, my summers spent inside a book. Where
does it all go, all that ability, buried desire, unused metaphor, the collective art
that elevates us from all creation?

                                  – Twyla Hansen (“Leap of Faith”)

Apart from piercing space with tiny needles packed with blinking
sensors and paneled instruments, one might hope that same gravity
that ties us here, that holds billions of bugs beneath the tread of thin air,

would keep it all around us—there’s no escape even for our aging flesh
that pauses now to trace a twisting limb in search of grace, a home
to store our yearnings. I can’t remember if she followed me,

towel tied around my neck, off the barn roof into plowed ground,
both believing that if we believed, we could fly. Those grand conspiracies
as children. What evil germ crawled inside my ear, suggested

I cut my sister’s hair smeared with paint and Vaseline before the mirror
where mother harrowed it, pulled forehead and all into a tight and shiny
pony’s tail? That same day I smashed empty Coke bottles on the doorstep,

pulled-up Granddad’s fresh tomato plants—even now, events fade,
sorted-off to single moments to be dematerialized, subatomic dust
into the atmosphere. We must be careful what we breathe and trust

that there is more good than we can see floating out there—raw
material to be received and recreated—so when humanity pauses
to inhale the dawn each morning, it can take a long deep breath.


Twyla Hansen & Linda Hasselstrom have conspired together in a wonderful new book of poetry: Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet from the The Backwaters Press. Review


Don’t tell the neighbors I’m up early
reading, writing poetry behind this light
off the road, not addressing deskwork
stacked around me, where Jeffers, Harrison
& Berry rise to the surface of a puddle
of papers from beyond my dark world—
here Stafford flows a gentle stream.

Loud and profane, it don’t make sense
to most—impatient and quick to be critical,
it doesn’t fit all they’ve heard
and I’ve forgotten, embellished seeds
grown wild and entangled on this uneven
ground beneath the sun’s harsh light
that I can’t claim for the life of me.

A man can’t ride naked in the brush
and expect to make it, can’t run with the herd
and find fresh feed unless he’s up front,
better for aching knees to graze away
early mornings when everyone’s asleep,
just dreaming, not adding to the traffic
on what seems to be a one-way street.


Just before the rain, my neighbor calls
that he’s got my bull. ‘Had him around
Christmas, but he went back.’
Now he’s grumbling in his corral
two crow miles away, but a thirty-minute
drive through town around the mountains
after the all-day fight with his king
of them all grousing now beneath a tree.

‘They’ll be alright, just limp sore,’
he tells me on the phone. I get
the picture only time will cure. ‘Sorry
to complicate your day, John.’

Sorry too, I recall my Herefords
the last three years on him, scouting
more after two months out with my cows.
He says he doesn’t care, but I know
better and apologize.

Before I leave, I feed cows
on short grass, scratch my head
over a second set of twins,
three sucking a single cow now—
surely a daughter of old Ghost,
dark circles around her eyes
the exact size of the hollow holes
in a cow skull, yet more refined:
less ear and better bag.

The old aluminum gooseneck rattles
behind me, patched half-a-dozen times
since ’86 when I bought it new, drug
up and down hills with thousands
of weaned calves now—it rattles
as the brakes squeal empty
at the canyon’s end stop sign:
gray from the Kaweah Peaks west
to eternity, where all the storms
come from over the Coast Range
we can’t see anymore.

Woodlake’s four-way intersection
slow with a line of yellow buses
hauling restless kids home, pressing
at the windows, a wave of hands
in a cage like writhing snakes
ready to be scattered and released.
I drive slowly up Valencia, the main drag
past the hardware claiming half-a-block—
but all that hasn’t changed here
since I was a boy. I try to be invisible
and inconspicuous, dried cow dung
slung down the trailer’s sides,
I keep the rattle low without
a place to fit a license plate
since I’ve owned it.

My neighbor finally got the County
to fix the road beyond the gate
to his place—damn-good job
and smooth as thick black glass.
But the potholes getting there
are still bad, will grow more grass
when it rains, I’m guessing
he’s the one that did the fixing.

Best place to load a gooseneck
around, I swing up and back
like a pro to a rock and gravel
platform, a railroad tie high
at the end of a gated pipe lane.
My Angus bull in the pen on water
moans, backed bowed, head low
watches me without taking
that first step to see how bad
he’s hurt, waiting to see
just what the hell I want—
he’s in a bad mood, and turns
up the volume for one last grumble
goodbye to the shade tree
as he steps gingerly through
the gates and into the trailer.

His weight keeps the rattle down
back through town, and I take corners
quicker through the orange groves,
but feel the sore ton of him shift
and slow all the way to the gate
to the bull pen and a handful
of late-calving cows, plus the old
horned Hereford who’s had his onus
on them all for years. He looks
at me and then down into the pasture,
stepping out reluctantly. Standing
in the middle of the road, he can’t help
himself but bellow, grumbling as he goes.

                                                  for Tony Rabb


She has arrived with wind and rain, singing
gusts lifting leaves first up, then down canyon
after weeks of trapped gray haze silently holding

the other world at arm’s length, a dull weight
blurring details, concealing brown hills of cattle—
after weeks of blind confinement I watch gray

clouds sail between ridgetops, collide and collect
into a roar of hail to pelt the metal roof. She is alive
and full of dark emotion loosed roughly upon us

all, undressing trees, last year’s dry leaves
hung on, patiently awaiting this crescendo before
circling the sun, begun once more with storm.

She walks the edge of violence, this canyon her cauldron
of low clouds stirred with a pinch of fear, bare oaks
swim against the wind, wild door cracked to swinging

off its hinges as we ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ like children
through the window from the woodstove. After
she moves on at dusk, I want to watch a movie

with rough ‘n tumble characters, broke horses,
good cattle, gunplay and sex, no advertisements
and a jug of wine to cap and celebrate the day.


All shades of gray, low clouds race
up canyon at first light after an all-night
rain, a tinge of green between the fuzz
of last year’s feed, short-cropped,
bleached-blond tufts upon steep clay slopes,
red as wet mahogany. I smell all the old souls
turn upon the wind gusts howling gleefully,
upon the log ends, their rise and stretch
finally free of their encasement, hills
like concrete holding skeletons of trees
in place for hawks for centuries.

These old Blue Oaks, charcoal gray after rain
gathered to the shady side of every draw,
have seen all kinds of weather, evolved
to survive and give back more
than they take away—bare circles of dirt
stirred beneath where deer have pawed
before the cattle and feral hogs, woodpeckers,
jays and pigeons, squirrels and rodents
between occasional bears come pruning.
They have fed us all, one time or another,
remained in place for emergencies.


Have I forgotten my lines on stage,
so engrossed in parts that others play?
So sad, so enraged, have I forgotten
the earth that serves us everything?

Beyond my sight I see the places
cattle congregate and call, not for feed
but for my being, silently—not for
company, but for the feeling:

doing well beneath the hawk’s
wing, the brown eagle’s glide
above blue oak and manzanita
clearings. I hear a calling.