Monthly Archives: January 2012


                                                                                 I love
                    this misfiring of neurons in which I properly
                    understand nothing

                                                            – Jim Harrison (“River IV”)

All the loose wires on the floor, the tangle
in dark and dusty corners, saved or forgotten,
left raw or undone when the synapse jumps,

when the air is right, crisp before a rainstorm
or just after, inhaled just enough to forget who and when
we are, where the outside takes us in and we become one

of the naked oaks waving on the run, like woodland children,
dry leaves at our feet where we built forts, dug foxholes
towards China, deep and wide enough with GI shovels

to sink a tractor beneath great walnut trees, ammo
the gleaners missed when I stuck the pitchfork in your arm,
the purple dot on its underside, short of through.

Bare wires of emotion, all the incomplete circuits set aside
for these moments, if we’re lucky, fire into a fleeting
lightshow when all or nothing makes unusual sense.

                                                                                for my sister, Ginni


We have come too old for wishing wells,
too long in tooth to wait for sympathetic gods
to ease our minds and hearts, too impatient now

to endure their juried verdict that is still the only law
where coyotes lope looking over their shoulders—
where time and gravity never sleep and wear

their work clothes everyday. Yet there are places
to hang a dream, become small and overwhelmed
with awe, weightless moments that shroud all things

for awhile. Save and savor them. Man’s progress
cannot break away from conventional currencies,
cannot shed its shackles to stockholders, cannot

rest until we consume and commercialize
every secret hide-a-way. You are on your own
to learn to float and soar like hawks in spring.


Fences and corrals, we have left
tracks of old people going slowly—
not a bovine thought of escape,
we have more time to walk
out of respect for all of us:
cattle, horses and human thought.
Tight wire and gates that swing
are luxuries, wages for the moment.

Someday, bankers will come
with some young buck dressed
to whip and spur, to hurry time
and change the landscape into
that Wild West dream they share
of pioneers, improved upon with all
the obscenities of modern times
and plant them here forever

beside the slick rocks near the river,
near the creek, near the spring, atop
all the long moments women ground
together: daughters, mothers and those
before them—a crescendo in common
swirling towards a waxing moon
over Sulphur that still rises above
the most recent magnificence of men.

                                             for Hussa and Hasselstrom

A.M.—Ides of January 2012


                                                                        where once I could
                                             have been a ghost for all the care
                                             I paid to flesh and bone until
                                             some hunger turned me home.

                                                          -Wendell Berry (“2005, III”)


Choosing light shoes, I’ve let my spurred and ready
Boulets stand outside the door for days, dusty, empty,
twelve-inch uppers like the bottom-end of the headless
horseman, dare spiders and scorpions until I’m needed
horseback. Gone are the days I was a careless ghost
keeping three rode down.
                                                          How hunger for the dirt
draws us closer to the fire, old bones cold and slow.
My feet slide now, closing contact with this earth
where I once flew with wild gods scattered, making room
for a roughshod dance against the wind upon my face—
against the odds, or so it seems, on this piece of ground
along a creek between steep hills that claims my flesh—
the dust of lifetimes since inhaled with each breath,
this ground claims my eyes as our dark lens to see
between dry stalks of grass and to look beyond the limbs
of gray sycamores. Their curled bark peels like skin.

It’s all I know for sure that calls me closer to home, like
the young boy hurrying before darkness falls around him
to family, food and fire to warm and absorb, comfort fear—
but now there is no fear, left alive, to drive me any faster.


Yet even this old earth stirred by harsher generations
of men and beasts, even these old trees and rock dressed
in lingering myths become new to me, each moment fresh,
richer now than ever I could imagine without conclusion:
other than it will go on with what we’ve taken, and left
behind, after it takes us in as it always has. That is
the wonder: breaking trail beyond the well-worn groove
of contemporary urgencies—each twig’s snap, proof
and protection—I am called home by circumstance of age
and it welcomes me.
                                                          This is a cowboy’s calling
that dares and wears the flesh into old cowmen, if
lucky, the measure of which grows greater daily,
a marvel in this age of consumption, belching fire,
to be embraced by the boughs of oaks, see from a hawk’s
wing and dance slowly with the sycamores along the creek.

I watch the horned bull plod, have pictures young, him
dwarfing me, a mass of Hereford muscled calmly,
he strides slowly now, keeping cows in sight. We share
a peace of mind, that endless space reserved for old men
listening, hearing only parts of tunes that keep them fresh,
catching better glimpses of the permanent inhabitants
making the proper preparations for all our lives here.


Before we multiplied in our minds,

memorized the product of two
simple numbers, usually naked without
the baggage of emotions, clean and sterilized
figures crossed together, bred together
for one, and only one, right answer—before
we came civilized, we watched clouds

change shape, lingering after rainstorms
against an endless clean and blue sky—
the stage where new stories played out
in the afternoon when children took naps
and dreamed of possibility. Some of us
never came back, and some pretend

they’ve always been in Numberland.


The dilemma here, of course, is how
without a diagram,
without the sense God gave a cow
or trust He gave a lamb,

to graze that ground man can’t plow
into a traffic jam—
the dilemma here, of course, is how
when no one gives a damn.

I used to think there were two sides
to every silver dollar,
but more and more to my surprise
their gaining cash and power.

And in due time, they’ll have it all
before tomorrow’s born:
new babies with a margin call
on oil, or gold, or corn.

And when we hang our saddles up
and turn the remuda out,
no bell or whistle will interrupt
what we’ve been all about.


Robbin tells me the story Charlie told her,
on his way to Mariposa, Chukchansi
drummer for a jazz band thirty years or more.

Retired forester, he told me how his grandmother
sent him up oak trees to shake limbs from acorns
like a little bear—the animals taught us how to live.

His wife is Chukchansi too, knows Sylvia, neither
of whom participate in the proceeds of the casino
beneath Yosemite—don’t have the lineage to fit

tribal politics. One day her grandmother found
a well-rode horse in her empty corral with a note:
Look under rock. All-sized rocks everywhere,

she finally found some money, fed and cared
for the horse until it disappeared, replaced
by others with money left under the rock.

It was a mystery for years after the Mexican
bandit’s head was hauled in alcohol, displayed
in Stockton for a dollar-a-look, after the Rangers

got their five thousand and Arroyo de Cantua
became a historical landmark—but Murietta’s
sister claimed it was not her brother’s face.


I have lost track of the circus
—Wall Street, Washington and Cairo—
traveling round the globe, elephants
raising tents for another clown show.

When I was a kid it was communists,
socialists with big hearts feeding a world
in line for their daily ration, a man couldn’t
get ahead—do no better than the next.

We were afraid of Khrushchev, and Castro—
stirred-up like squirrels-in-spring digging
bomb shelters for generals a long ways
from nuclear warheads and missile silos.

Slim Pickens fanning his hat, spurring
our last act all the way to down to the earth.
A Cold War warmed-up in Vietnam,
and we became the enemy at Kent State.

These old oaks, nearly leafless, arms
turned-up like natives ready for a rain
take human shape in our dry delirium,
searching for sign, for that detail

that might unlock it all, help us
understand. Nearly naked, dry sycamore
leaves carpet the creek bank, the sun
ignites white trunks—it’s beautiful

without the rain, and somehow cows
and calves are fat. No one complains
or prays beneath this high-pressure haze—
we just watch and wait for the next storm.


There is no need to measure time
in prolonged moments of routine—
old hands remembering rope and rein

at Mankins Flat, branding calves,
a porch of land open to the Kaweah
peaks, bared granite teeth cutting sky.

Earl with another twenty stories
etched I’ve never heard before,
our history in his head, all the forgotten

characters and landmarks removed
with horses, dogs and trees—
Onus Brown with Brewer looking down

upon the Valley across to the Coast Range.
Some call this work, menial and mundane
in this un-commonplace they’ll never be.