Monthly Archives: January 2013


All the lines designed in constellations,
our max bet with each button push,
we gamble rides through time and win

a little friendship here, or love that lasts,
to find we’re human. How glorious is that!?
Some things need not be said of courses

taken, of slow gathers of the same ground
differently. It’s a random pull of the handle
where time and space spin in silence—

where the only things we know for sure
have been said before. Yet we believe in more
than what we see to choose our direction.


As an email precursor to our session at the Elko Gathering, suggested by Sean Sexton with Linda Hussa and Teresa Jordan, “Agriculture and the Creative Muse”, we’ve been discussing our topic hoping to offer a little more to our audience and learn something about what moves us to write, at the same time.

Sean Sexton: JD, I want to hear more about the cowboy muse, what that means to you.

JD: Of course, I love these kinds of questions when the answers can take different shapes, depending on the day. On some level, my muses and senses are one in the same, whether livestock or landscape, it is the feeling of knowing something intimately, or just thinking I do, that ‘prompts’ the poem. Once in a while, two unrelated words collide in a sound I like while I’m working that I end-up writing around, but for the most part, it is some rare, and not always wonderful, sense that I become aware of that kicks things off.

I think that to be open to one’s muse, we have to believe that there is more to life than what we see, that there are many levels of things at work as the words surface, just as there is in the natural world: an ever-changing balance of details that influences the whole. The rest becomes a game for me, frankly, playing with the words, the rhythm, not always knowing where the poem is going—an exercise or process I can’t truly take credit for, especially if I like the poem a lot, or much later on.

Posting them fresh to the blog is risky business if you take yourself too seriously, but I can edit them there if there’s something to salvage, otherwise it’s part of the journal of our life on the ranch that we utilize along with the photographs and rainfall records, like when we got grass, when we branded or shipped last year, a part of all of that, combined with my inexplicable need to share this ground and this perspective.

But this morning, it is your question.



She comes through time and hangs
in the boughs of trees, on peaks—
in intermittent streams of awe.

How you found it odd I wondered so
nearly fifty years ago, fumbling
with love, in another life alone

with wild skins on the Siskadee
seeing it all for the first time—
small, like a child exploring, only

to rest upon her grassy breast.
She leaves a broken trail of words
for me to find leading to surprises:

meadow epiphanies hemmed in pine
beneath a scree of granite ironies
above a river roaring constantly

at peace, not just anyone can see.
What muse are you that calls
through me to open space?


When the bias is bad,
they crowd and push
like children to play

the upside-down game,
turning it all on its head
to find a silver lining.

Out of the brush
like thin cows
to the hay truck,

they come on the run.
We feed our future
miles from the road

to hear the native echoes,
like old Joe Chinowith’s
who ‘knew a man once,

made lots of money,
tending his own business’,
or so my father said he said.

Out here,
it’s easy to look away
to find them busy

at what they do best—
as if they didn’t know,
hadn’t heard the news.


Some days the cards start
to fall into place, each move
opening-up another, like

sorting cattle from your desk
without help—except cattle
have sense to read your mind,

wait their turn in an order
you might not understand
about yourself, as it becomes

a dance on an invisible plane
only approached with time.
Some days the deck is stacked.

But religious or suspicious,
we begin to believe
in something we cannot see.

Best make friends with it.

                                        for Zach


An all-red heifer kept to breed
as an afterthought that calved
and strayed over the mountain,

run through fences by ATVs,
corralled for three weeks,
udder tight before shrinking—

before the brand inspector called
to pick her up in a muddy flat
between rains. We saw it all:

the errant pair chased
by determined desperation,
to miles of separation

when we loaded her big-eyed
silliness in the gooseneck,
“Where’s her calf?”

No one knows, looking dumb
in the face of the obvious.
We haul her home and hope

she finds the heifer
that looks just like her—
and damned if she doesn’t

come back into her milk.


The two sisters undressing by lantern light
in a tent at Ranger Lake, you belly-crawled
like a brave over pinecones and rock

to the edge of their screen, at fourteen—
then gone from us all by thirty-five.
All the broken hearts that saw it

coming, daring the wild and envious
gods you teased repeatedly. How
could we not love you for it—all

that we were not despite our tender times?
I only half-believed you were not gone,
riding ridgetops, this quarter century—

only half-believed you’d be more alive
than myth within my befuddled mind
looking for help to brand some calves.

                                                     for Craig



Limited Edition of 76 copies, 26 of which are lettered and signed by the author for presentation to friends.

$10 (cash or check only) includes shipping.

Dry Crik Press
P.O. Box 44320
Lemon Cove, CA 93244


Solemn-faced, they helped
run the cable under the pickup
hooked to the red, homemade

tilt-bed trailer I paid
five hundred dollars for
thirty years ago, to winch

the Champion bull I bought
over-budget four days before—
his grain-fed weight,

the weight of all of it,
on the back-end lifting
as leveraged against the front

pushed down by the cable
that groaned, strained
against the grain as we pulled

him into place to haul
and cover with a plastic tarp
to have examined by experts

who couldn’t help him now—
who couldn’t help me call
the man who raised him.

                                   for Loren and Terri


                               …this is what agony wanted,
                               these wildly colored birds to inhabit
                               my mind far from pain.
                               Now they live inside me.

                                                – Jim Harrison (“Oriole”)

Over sixty years here
and I don’t know the names
of my closest neighbors,

and taken their blurring
presence for granted, like
tourists speeding up the road.

I see now why old Harrison
is fond of birds, independence
so often missed as souls

prepare to fly. Yesterday
driving back from my brush
with the outside world,

scattering its frustrations
like litter along the barbwire,
he cut through the cold air

for a quarter mile
beside and a little below me
to pace the pickup. For

those playful moments,
our gray and graceful flight
owned both earth and sky—

a sense the untamed envy
in this, or any other life. How
could I not know his name?


January 10, 2013

January 10, 2013