Monthly Archives: June 2012


                                             The world we all came from reaches out; its trees
                                             embrace; its rocks come down ready to cover
                                             us again. Moss clings to the feet and climbs
                                             carefully, protecting its own. It wants us back.

                                                                – William Stafford (“Over the Mountains”)

A moment’s escape, I scaled the fence, left the sand box
to the feral cats for the voices of men in the vineyard,
toward the purring of the 8N Ford pulling a wagonload
of grape stakes, toward the loud camaraderie of unshaven
Okies in faded bibs—‘Can’t Bust Em’ before I could read.

Cross arms and wire, box of staples and galvanized braces,
hatchets, hammers and cast iron mallets, tools and men edging
down each dormant vine row, drawing me, one gray December
day to leave my comfort and reach for some unique conceit,
ever-reminded of cat-killing curiosity, I stepped lightly

after the wagon wheel turned over one of my U.S. Keds,
soft cultivated loam beneath them both. It doesn’t matter
now that I swore I’d never tell my father, or what drew me
away from the fields under the guise of education, or how
my parents tried to raise me like a crop, worth something,

or why I returned to the ground that reached out to hold me,
to pull me safely within its vital truth and maze of intricacies.
That world I came from owns me now, keeps me busy believing
in more than man has built for God or profit, for speed
or convenience, just to become obsolete—it wants us back.


Waist-deep in blond
and empty-headed wild oats,
black cows shine,

fat calves buck and run
like young fullbacks
against the grain

off the mountain
in a dusty cloud
to the corrals

to be weaned
and shipped—prices:
blue sky high.

In 1978, my father
sold his cows, claiming
that a man gets a year

like this only once
in a lifetime—
and he’d had two.


The sun bears down
to peel another layer,
despite the sunblock,

gray whiskers and
my dusty Atwood—
despite the two

hundred fifty-seven
dollar plastic jug
of hydrocortisone

to get the red out
of fresh new skin
stretched across

my cheekbones
without the canyons
time has cut.

I was invincible once,
dared the elements,
cussed God, my father

and humanity—
not always under
my heavy breathing.

O’ sweet youth,
what did you prove—
or improve—really?


Old men talking:
cigarettes and coffee
well before day breaks
over the Western Divide
to blind us all, before
that flaming fireball
spills off the mountains.

No one wants to hear
about those old days
in the saddle when time
was cheap—plodding
with us like a shadow,
working for a dime raise
like it was worth a dollar.

All the bundled string
and brown paper saved
in drawers for another
wrapping, tomato seeds
drying on newsprint—
everyday was routine
with few accolades.

We take license
as survivors now
driving stakes in the ground:
like crank to cell phones
when there were no secrets
on a party line: we listened
for two longs and a short.

what we valued then
and now, how the wind
has changed direction—
how our future spins
just out of reach
and we still chase it.


The early light of summer, the
soothing coo of mourning doves
before day breaks over the Divide

with fireballs of flame cascading
down ridges to blind us all—that
long moment before the body stirs

outside, distant ravens squawking,
up early to survey its flesh, last night’s
leftovers on the road. Even longing

complaints of calves having spent
their first night without mothers
fade on a cool, down-canyon draft,

a quiet stillness but for the doves’
gentle awakening. Time to take
inventory—plan for another day.

Black On Blond

Crows’ Roost – Live Oak Skeleton

2012 First-Calf Heifers – Grazing in the Gloaming


Working together again, we had many
unfinished conversations, while pulling
our philosophical wagon in different directions—

like old times, but reveling in the space
we shared before us. How many years
have I kept the door closed, resenting

responsibility, all the loose ends left
for flexibility, all the sagging fences
and old equipment moaning for attention

and repairs? Each time I’d wake
to the dog’s bark, to the big boar coon
in the fruit trees, I’d jump back in,

run to catch up and join him fishing
up river, sneaking low like a soldier
behind hairy cedar trees, behind rocks

to cast to the next pool of rainbow trout
before their stampede to the churning
foam—last night, I slept like a baby.

June 4, 2012

June 4, 2012

One last peek of the sun setting under cloudy skies. A dry and windy, errant storm system passed over us yesterday bringing high temperatures down into the low-70s today. So damn cool this morning we wished for jackets, but actually got two days’ work done as we continue to gather and wean our calves.


Avoid the rockpiles, rotten logs and tall grass
where springs seep small drinks of water—
keep your eyes peeled where little people

wait their turns and congregate to serve
their hungers. Like the rooted Live Oak,
leaving is not an option, I have no desire

to see the world, to brave the claustrophobe,
squeeze up the chute to fly off to any better
business or pleasure than what surrounds me:

all the heavy heads of first-calf heifers,
dark eyes questioning. Among such trust,
our small following knows where we live.


Perhaps it was the war after all, or
all its protests—a lasting glimmer
of the moon traveling through pine

trees before sleep, and when I awoke,
clarifying details within my darkness:
that first rattlesnake coiled upon the flat,

water-worn boulder of speckled granite,
upright tail a blur I could not hear
for the roar of the Tule River—she

grabbed my tiny hand. Fear or despair,
I believe in the gods around me: delight
in the flycatchers riding the backs of hawks

to erase the ugly cat we tortured as boys—
always that shameful joy on the way
to manhood—real raw material for these

goddesses with better natures to improve,
touched and saved by their layered
melodies so: that I can no longer hear

the holy chorus of hate and prejudice,
cannot participate in that war dance, lend
one synapse to any cause organized by men.