Though the Gathering has evolved in many ways over the last three decades, its emotional impact on me seems always the same. The music, poetry and camaraderie of friends heightens the senses, sandpapers the synapses, to leave me vulnerable and more fragile than I’m used to. A catharsis, or cleansing that strips away my everyday defenses to become more uncomfortably human, even on stage.
In yesterday’s session with Amy and Gail Steiger, it was like getting hit by a Mack truck as I informed the audience of Amy’s accomplishments as an author of three books, winner of a Willa Cather award for the first, ‘Rightful Place’, when all the pride I felt for her stuck in my throat, leaving me helpless to speak, helpless to read the poem I dedicated to her after I finished reading ‘Winter of Beauty’. Completely surprised, I was swept up and away into a blurry sea I couldn’t navigate until Joel Nelson in the front row said, “It’s OK, John, we got all morning.”
His steady voice righted me, and after much fumbling for alternate poems, I finally read the piece. Just one of many emotional moments, and just part of Elko’s annual rejuvenation for me.
Prior to the Gathering, I was interviewed by a writer for the Smithsonian: where apparently I failed to truly express the impact of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on me.
Woke up to snow this a.m., more forecast.
Try as I might to get to bed early, alas I was in an apparent minority as we reconnected with mutual and distant friends via current technology.
Looking forward to reading with Amy & Gail this morning at 10:00 @ the G Three: ‘Writing the Future’.
A big part of the draw to National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for Robbin and I is reconnecting with old friends. Denise Withnell and David Wilke of Cowboy Celtic, and I filled-in last night for an ailing Wylie Gustafson at the G Three Theater show featuring the dynamic Paul Zarzyski. Little notice and no real plan, four dear friends had a ball before a great audience.
Unwinding afterwards in our room, Dave, Denise and I say goodnight.
Familiar faces gather,
make camp where it’s warm
in the middle of Nowhere,
Nevada for a song
before the winter sun sets
and the lights come on.
It’s been years since we’ve seen much snow in the Great Basin, and despite its potential hazards and inconvenience, it’s a heartening sign of better health. January is a time of daily feeding for cattle ranchers in Nevada with temperatures hovering around zero — a pretty tough breed of man and beast!
Not quite déjà vu, Saturday’s sun set under clear skies after another half-inch rain, illuminating the sycamores again, but with less intensity. This is the perspective I wanted for yesterday’s post, but by the time I got to this position, the light was gone. When you’ve got grass and rain, you’ve got time to think about other things.
The light changes quickly after breaks in the weather. We had just received a half-inch of rain by Tuesday evening as the sun was setting behind the ridge. Overcast in the canyon but clearing in the valley west of us, the sun found a thin slot between the ridge and clouds to spotlight the sycamores along the creek, our dancing girls.
We know the sound, feel it
pound our flesh, reverberate
in our skulls, draw sinew tight
to hold on—to the moment
fleeting, bucking, kicking loose
the last of common sense.
No ordinary ride in the park
upon watered lawns spaced
between pampered shade trees,
we recognize the scent
of rain on sudden gusts,
feel skin shrink, follicles lift
us up, and the sweet cud
swirling above bovine beds,
flat mats of grass awakening.
Not quite wild, we are captive
in a maze of weathered hills,
fractured rock and families
of oaks where shadows slip
and voices stalk—whisper one
more metaphor upon our lips.
Puffs of cumulous on blue,
naked sycamore ballet, backdrop
of granite rock on tender green—
January after a month of rain,
muddy froth upon the creek
greet me like an old friend.
We pick up where we left off
as if drought never happened,
each afloat in one another’s eyes
applauding our survival—and
the genius of persevering seed
clinging through the years of dust
without rain—our moment now
just to look, inhale the scent
of breath and flesh, alive again.