The birds move in and out as they please,
but some stay, like you and I, to watch
the arrival of guests bringing something
to the party. Even the town pigeons fidgeting
on the barn roof beneath a skyful of hawks
can bring humor and drama to a dirt farm—
to bare ground fenced and cross-fenced.
These are repetitious, pastel days of browns
and grays washed one upon the other
preparing for winter rains that never come—
like all the Mallards and Pintails waiting
somewhere north for a storm to follow.
Meanwhile, we visit with the Phoebes
feasting on a new hatch of gnats. The earth
seems to slip as the quail roll in from the hill.
Roadrunners snag the last of the butterflies
while hummingbirds and honey bees
get down to their buzzing business
upon fading purple plumes of Mexican Sage.
Some leave early and some leave late—
we just don’t know who’s coming next.
We know how to live
day to day,
from if to if—
the first word
to begin each thread
we follow to connect
elements and trends
of hay, grass and rain.
We come to despise
the empty promises
of weathermen at night,
see thin cows in our sleep.
The light is low,
leaves on fire
as cotyledons hesitate
on naked hillsides.
No one knows
and only a newcomer
or a fool dare predict
weather in California.
Despite yesterday morning’s red sky, our forecast for Thanksgiving has diminished to a slight chance of showers. Alerted, Red is also watching something from his the pen.
A little rain and two damps days,
the heifers have left for the ridges,
for the first grass,
before the cotyledons spread their hands
above your father’s ashes—it’s glorious
before the light of dawn.
Outside my den, a falcon watches
from the snag, surveying hillsides,
listening to far calf’s bawl. Our world
moves to another beginning
we cannot stop—it’s glorious
before the light of dawn.
Too poor to pay,
Too rich to quit.
– Velvet (“Gunsight Ridge”, 1957)
We tread water in a river of time,
run a ranch against the current,
raise cows and write poetry
in the gloaming—
know no better
way to stay alive.
We know they are more than dots
on a hillside that changes color
constantly, no matter how much
we wish it would stay green.
Sometimes we serve them
the best alfalfa hay we can buy,
read their habits and listen
for instructions. We even pray
to their gods for relief, for grass,
for rain. Given time, we learn
to think like they do, understand
what it takes to get along
with the weather, with politics
and the price of beef, but
most of all, with each other.
Back then, it was just men
doing what they had to do
and white faced cattle waiting
– Neil Meli (“Pulling Pipe”)
You will never know how we were blessed
time and again as men—the haze, the dust
of progress on this shrinking planet clouds
clear view. Hands like hammers hard as nails,
we were heroes as white-faced cattle waited,
day after day, bellies deep in green. We slept
soundly dreaming of tomorrow’s victories
and if the gal down the road ever noticed
our existence. Always work and little time
to socialize, party lines and little privacy,
and we learned to grunt, lift the impossible up
together—and how to howl at a rising moon.
A still reflection in black night
on redwood two by sixes outside
the window at three could be
the top of a deep pond, but it’s not.
I listen, but only the tinkling
of tiny drops in the downspouts
of just-cleaned gutters, all-day Monday
worn on your hands as you sleep—
one last ritual to please the rain gods,
or throwback penance if we’ve sinned
by feeding cattle on the Sabbath.
Chimney swept, woodstove clean,
waiting for Manzanita stacked
beneath the eave—all checked off
in case it rains. We’ve done all we can,
been good Boy Scouts, heard our fathers’
voices a thousand times in this drought—
they would be proud. It’s nothing, really—
but it’s wet.