It’s dark and I think of all the branding fires
in barrels, 55 gallon drums yawning smoke
outside corrals, handles waiting, reaching in—
and the one I’ll start with an old Western
Livestock Journal and redwood kindling split
with an axe, a little diesel added to short chunks
of dry Live Oak, belching flames. How we get
to white coals doesn’t matter to anyone but me.
The calves sleep quietly with their mothers,
like any other dark morning, unaware
of what’s coming, dodging long loops
and whoops of men before the iron
and vaccinations, tag, ear mark and castration,
nasal swabs of DNA on cards and nubs of horns
removed in less than two minutes of their lives—
like going to the doctor. When it’s over
they’ll tell their mothers while being licked.
But by tomorrow they’ll forget it ever happened.
Never born knowing how to run
like fuzzy killdeer and quail,
nor how to crawl like frogs,
or swim like tadpoles and fish,
we heard from the old men
and learned the hard way that
if you want something done right,
do it yourself. But what could we know
then? Now we are the old men
with more jobs than we can do easily,
or well. While we pull 220 feet
of submersible pump hand over hand,
a distant neighbor asks,
‘Don’t you have a Mexican?’
At 74, you grin back,
‘We are the Mexicans!’
We have given up our silent space
and sold it for security, for the sounds
of machinery and ever-ready contact—
the oil shale rigs and cellphones
are closing in, there is no distance left
where we might walk alone
and talk to ourselves, no quiet time
where we might hear the echoes
of our fathers and those before them.
Who are we now afraid to be alone?
afraid of loneliness and that process?
Who will we become but children
in cages waiting for the piper
to lead us out of Egypt
unable to think on our own?
Checking in on my daughter’s blog forthe archives, I’ve begun to weigh-in with questions close to home, concerns for a long time that triggered this poem.
As if we never left,
the cows remember us
as we gather to brand
to the pasture they
first calved. At dusk,
the whole bunch comes
to stand at the fence
to listen to us plan
the week, food and crew
and who can come to help—
as if they’d never left.
Feeling close and safe,
they’ll spend the night
on this fresh feed
and dream as if
we belong to each other.
2/13: Adding to the electrical problems in the kitchen, flat tire on the Kubota, helping Clarence pull 220 feet of 1″ tubing with 1 hp submersible pump to replace with solar yesterday, our dear heifers broke a water line to the house.
We’re just beginning to learn to take and incorporate videos for the blog. We kept this one simple, without close-ups and from a distance. Robbin had a little time to catch us sorting cows from calves before Jody Fuller’s branding began.
You will never hear the late-night
conversations in motel rooms,
or guitars picked and strummed
without the stage lights
and never learn to listen
before asking questions
for the folks in town—
on assignment in the cold and snow
to get some news in God knows where
to sandwich between silly ads
and the latest mass murder.
The camera hums—
and all you want to hear
are poems about guns.
for Al Jazeera
Dear Gary, Thought I’d share the news
your muse set free on Bubbs Creek
damn-near fifty years ago proclaiming
space with words the common man
in all of us can hold in our hands
and use for the real work, if we want
to learn to live together, understand
that we grow smaller upon the mountain.
Two bronze cowboys look-off on a loose rein
from your shelf—sweet accolades
that sustain a solitary art that we can never claim
as solely ours. What great joy it’s been!
How rich the life! And should the stars
align just right, we have a place for you
at our table, at that grand Oklahoma City
shindig this coming April. —John
And ever-thankful to the old man on the coast:
If God has been good enough to give you a poet
Then listen to him. But for God’s sake let him alone until he is dead;
no prizes, no ceremony,
They kill the man.
– Robinson Jeffers (“Let Them Alone”)
Somewhere, someone grins
since we’ve been rejuvenated
reading poetry in the cold, tipping
hats to hold one another one more time,
to raise a glass to something other
than the obvious, sing the old songs—
and planted ‘No Parking’ signs
lit like torches for over a mile
in our headlights, like an urban
‘welcome home’ at the beginning
of Dry Creek Road they changed
to Drive years ago, declared Scenic
for the tourists, and as a token
for the enviros.
Safe inside somewhere else,
someone is blinded with this brilliant
satisfaction, this line of reflective lights,
this declaration that begs reprisal,
that dares the riff-raff with a six-pack
and nothing else to do but prove
they are alive, sensitive to any
officious sign of what they can’t do.
It all plays out down the road
without me, without a letter
for the record no one gives a damn
about—or can afford to enforce.
It could be shown in film
festivals around the world—
this microcosmic vignette that
celebrates what we already know.
We can’t contain our excitement and proud to announce that the Western Heritage Award for Outstanding Poetry Book for 2012 has gone to:
to the particular pitter patter pattern
on the tin roof, that has never been
and will never be again. Amen.
– Neil Meili (“Rain In January”)
Some days, it does rain
after the work is done,
when unsaddled horses
let the sweat run, before rolling—
when the dog stays close
to appreciate whatever it is
that holds your attention—
proud to know you.
We tip our cup
to random days, listening
to an ever-changing rhythm,
dry beneath a tin roof
as yesterday washes
down the draw—and
in the gray distance,
tomorrow waits its turn.