The bulls are out among the cows
claiming territory high on ridges,
testing misty air with muffled bellows,
testing fences and plans on paper,
as usual—we respect their wishes,
broker treaties where we can
to get cows bred for next year.
Everybody wants the same thing:
full bellies, sex and freedom
without too much work or trouble.
Last week’s virgin bulls have slowed
to moan, learned names and calculate
grazing circles in open space to make
love richer with rhyme and assonance—
write the kind of lyrics fit for music
that brings herds closer as families
traveling together, saving energy
and time where tranquil matters more
than bragging rights or twisted politics
keeping pundits fully-employed
with slogans selling most everything.
The cleaning lady
came to sweep the dust away
finally with rain.
Too few days of rain to save for,
the special jobs on the list of extras
when too wet to get to anywhere
off the road and you choose jelly
while it pours. The pomegranate tree
I pruned too much bore fruit
with volunteers now big enough
to finish filling gallon jugs with crimson
juice pressed from a jillion seeds
and saved in the freezer, now thawed
waits for sugar and that special
pectin brought to a boil to fill these jars
of translucence sealed to give away
to family and friends for Christmas.
Who saves these things for rainy days?
Wind bangs against the mountains,
cold on warm rips and tears
cracks in air as crooked fingers
touch the ground with ‘lectric
yellow light to spark a roar
upon the metal roof in panting
pulses beneath soft gray
as if the gods were making love
in a bass drum, small canyon room
upstairs spawning muddy rivulets
towards a dry creek bed between
wet sycamores undressing
long white limbs suggestively
spilling November tans and browns
upon the green to stand naked
before an eager flow gathering
rafts of clothes upstream—
or as angry as the 60s
marching to make love
instead of war, or vice versa—
or with the best intentions
for all we’ve done today,
come to wash the dirty laundry,
our tracks and waste away.
1.81″ @ 7:30 a.m.
Goodbye to this house and all its memories
We just got too old to say we’re wrong.
– Tom Rush (“Child’s Song”)
I follow your poem
to Google all the Tom Rush songs
my unaccompanied tongue could imitate—
turned gravelly since that 60s feeling
like an LA outcast, like an Indian
forced to die in a bluecoat army.
Nothing noble in Dakota,
the booms and busts
from Deadwood to the Bakken
claptrap towns on ground
that holds the gold
and light sweet crude—
that make a man
just want to run.
I gravitate towards native poetry,
mostly half-breeds now with hybrid-vigor,
steal the epigraph you borrowed
to seal the dreams we had in the bad times,
the loves and lust we clung to knowing
they were too good to last.
after “Corrective Interlude” by Adrian Louis
I stumble out of an old dream panicked
about cattle I haven’t checked in months
on a hidden ranch I can’t place, connect
except they were not grazing vineyard rows
with no fences, not loose in town this time,
but on some hard-to-gather rolling ground
you can’t see from the pocked asphalt road
snaking through blond summer foothills.
Last time, they were OK, bull calves
too big to brand breeding sisters, but alive
on good feed and water. It may have been
the turkey dressing drenched in juices,
or the cranberries fermenting fear familiar
that I recognize more than this imagined place
to wait before saddling a horse, loading-up
asleep to tilt at impossible windmills.
I’ve been here before, rusty wire on redwood
posts askew, exploring canyons, finding old
rough-haired families too weak to be wild—
all the guilt and disappointment I need
to torture my subconscious. Too old for that,
I roll over to let my weak knees hang before
testing with a first step towards reality:
cigarette, coffee and a poem for Black Friday.
Dark morning without moon or stars
before the first winter storm, the day before
Black Friday rains deals and discounts
for Christmas, for our economy and I am
ever thankful that the bulls are out early
courting cows, meeting kids and family
before dirt roads get too slick to travel—
ever thankful for the drought that felled
two big Live Oaks on the gate and fence
we corded-up and stacked beneath the eave
before the girls drove posts and spliced
the barbed wire on a mat of green
to leave the mess looking like a park—ever
thankful for them, for you and this ground
we’re invested in together, for good horses
willing to get the cow work done—
black skies without moon or stars,
you and I alone before the storm.
Unloaded into a new world
from the soupy end of a semi,
three clean, black and fat young bulls
spend their first night bewildered
away from home with alfalfa
to rest before I brand and turn them
into families of cows and calves
strung in a line on hay waiting
for their awkward inspection.
It takes time to learn the language
of making love, a prolonged foreplay
of mistakes and miscalculations
as I remember shadows in the 60s,
a fractured bravado ready
for reconstruction any time of day.
An old man worries nonetheless—
checks their progress before dark
confirming they’ve been to water.
Still working on their approach
to young mothers, no seed planted yet,
nothing banked into our future.
A light rain arrived before daylight and continued through yesterday morning, 0.12”, not much, but enough to brighten-up the grass while the girls fed and I fixed fence around the bull pen, trapping the last of the bulls at large for the past week in the riparian along Dry Creek—beyond which our replacement heifers selected for Wagyu bulls are only a narrow pasture away—all the usual testosterone tension and shenanigans that’s hard on fences as the calendars in their bullheads suggest re-establishing the pecking order before it’s time to go to work on December 1st. We will acquiesce, as we did last year, choosing to put them to work a little early rather than fix fence until our target date.
A decade or so ago at the Visalia Livestock Market ‘Off the Grass Sale’, I was admiring some Angus eight-weight steer calves in the ring that belonged to Art Tarbell, perhaps the best calves offered that day. Retired as the local brand inspector, I’d known Art all my life, a kind and honest man. I asked him when he put his bulls out, suspecting that his calves might be a little older than ours. He chuckled saying, “Oh, they sorta put themselves out!”
So much for trying to manage bulls by the numbers.
More rain has begun to appear from several sources in the forecast for Friday and Sunday after Thanksgiving, no gulleywashers, but hope for a little more moisture to add to our meager 1.50” so far this season. Our own unscientific forecast has storms arriving Sunday through Tuesday, close enough and reassuring. Nothing I’ve seen or read indicates that this will be anything but another dry year for the southern two-thirds of California and the United States.
More disturbing news from Daniel Swain’s ‘The California Weather Blog’ http://weatherwest.com/archives/author/thunder: “Over the past few weeks, a truly extraordinary “heat wave” has been taking place at a time of year when temperatures should be plummeting to bitterly cold values after the onset of “Polar Night.” Near the North Pole, surface temperatures have been at or near the freezing point for an extended period of time–around 35 degrees F above average, and not cold enough to allow for the formation of sea ice. This extreme warmth, combined with unusual wind patterns, have combined to produce record-low sea ice extent across much of the Arctic Ocean basin. In fact, (apparently) for the first time in the observational record, significant multi-day sea ice losses have occurred during the peak freeze-up season. Meanwhile, in Northern Siberia, extreme cold and incredibly deep snowfalls have been observed–itself likely a consequence of the lack of sea ice to the North. This has led to a rather incredible atmospheric setup where actual temperatures currently increase as one goes north from Eurasia to the North Pole.”
That’s the latest, we gird our loins, but ever thankful for what we have.
a patient willing descent into the grass.
– Wendell Berry (“The Wish To Be Generous”)
Hemmed in silver moonlight, scattered
clouds linger over hills, no wet reflection
of the porch light. She has come and gone
without waking me with thunder, pellets
on the roof, not a leaky drip from the eave,
leaving nothing to remember her passing
by—not even her musty petrichor perfume
in the damp dark air to soothe my senses—
gone without a thought of waking me.
From a distance in the daylight, islands
of purple filaree look like dirt in graying
green, rolling dusty plumes follow cows
into water, yet they don’t seem to worry
into another winter without rain. Too
familiar, I read the signs with each synapse
shortened by the hard and dry. Too long
in the same place, I can see the weather
and the world have changed around me—
changed me as I retreat and try to adapt
like summer weed seed over time:
impervious to thirst and political herbicides.