A fruitless exercise, I assess the scales of justice
teetering in my head, the sensitivity of the beam
like a perpetual motion machine connecting dozens
of other juggling acts dependent upon one another
for balance—not like drafts of cattle weighed
to be paid for, no easy answer with a number.
Inside the dark cavern of my skull, a three-ring
circus juggling facts and intuition with the low
and silent grace of a Red Tail on the kill,
with poetic conversations with the gods and all
my angry rants at play—I am prejudice, too long
reading bovine thoughts and equine attitudes
to ignore what I see beyond the hard evidence.
Well out of the mainstream, far from the current
innocence, I am biased and about half-deaf.
Rough Fire – July 28, 2015
The beauty of things—the beauty of transhuman things
Without which we are lost.
– Robinson Jeffers (“Granddaughter”)
I claim the disheveled refuge of age
addled by magic devices beyond
the amalgamation of basic elements,
the dirt and water, the living foundation
from which we spring and are akin,
intriguing as a relative to trees that dance
and rocks that talk about the past,
solid and lasting. A balancing act:
my slow retreat just short of the attic
I am promised, mercifully sequestered
‘Someday Soon’ with Ian’s tune.
I want blaring sing-alongs to leave upon!
I’d be down that road in a cloud of smoke
For some land that I ain’t bought bought bought
– Guy Clark (“L.A. Freeways”)
photo: Jaro Spichal
I steal a look into the blurry morning mirror
after a second cup of coffee: a gray Medusa-do
replacing decades of darker curiosities
that recollect the Brylcreem coifs, the forelock
dip, loose strands dangling like my connection
to rock and roll—to the replaceable, double-A hearts
of Ricky and Elvis inside my Zenith transistor
a long ways from town—from the here and now
before I turn away from the worn-out look
that chuckles back at me. But this is the way
to wake up to reality, like Perseus, with only
quick glances into Athena’s shiny shield.
photo: Jaro Spichal
Wherever the mind dwells apart is itself
a distant place.
– T’ao Ch’ien (“Drinking Wine”)
We have been there, idling across pastures
like cattle to ridgetops with focused eye
turned blurry with the mind’s appeal to wander—
an easy trek in open space, we gravitate
to isolated places where granite rocks
take the shape of animals, where oak trees
dance with sweeping boughs and speak
a language without words we comprehend.
When we come home to flesh, to the clatter
and complicated clutter of more mortal busyness,
our senses shocked and fogged with dismay,
we become the aliens for a moment on this planet
returning with translations, with fresh offerings
of peace and poetry—we nod to all the animals,
leaving little gifts of good-will along the way.
Fresh-picked fruit waiting for family, friends and rain to arrive. 1.30″
Like quail before a rain, like deer
we gather in the granite brush
that yet survives the times and us—
around a fire. Lift a water glass
to the first ones here, a jam jar to
the pioneers that spawned this bond
of swirling smoke we nose at dawn
within our clothes and grin, trying:
to remember when
we loved life, or one another more.
photo: Bodhi Rouse
Never figured on a sunset,
children, grandchildren around
a smoky Live Oak fire,
the SoCal storm bleeding north
above a frost-bitten garden—
dry stem tomatoes
and peppers hanging
like ornamental gifts
I thought I escaped California in 1970
to ride back through time, didn’t think
I’d camp in one place this long.
Never figured on iPhone photos,
satellite dish for shade—
or planning for a future
that depends on water
It’s habitual, looking to the mountains for our future, the Kaweah Peaks over Remy Gap in the southern Sierra Nevada above, not completely dressed in snow from the last storm on December 16th— another forecast for the 23rd. Ideally, the snow is laid in while it’s cold enough to freeze before mid-January, then slow melt to feed our rivers and replenish the groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley, once the most productive agricultural region in the world, or so I was told in college.
Much has changed since the 60s when Visalia was a town of 16,000. Now a city populated by 124,000 people drawing on groundwater resources year-round. The growth of Valley towns has also displaced some of our best agricultural ground in a short span of fifty years. The implementation of flood control structures on nearly every river on the west slope of the Sierras since, regulating surface water flows, have also had a severe impact to groundwater levels in the Valley. Add the wild cards of drought and more deep wells, less low snow as the climate changes, ours is not a hand to bet on long.
Well-meaning, but onerous, water legislation will not create more water. Nor will the monies set aside to build more dams, especially since we haven’t filled the ones we have in years. But for us, and most foothill livestock producers, we look to the Sierra snowpack this time of year for our future summer stockwater, the small leaks in granite cracks that feed our springs providing water for cattle and wildlife.
The wire goes cold.
Red tail-hair hangs by a barb in a tangle.
Horned-bull bellowing in the flats
among the heifers close to the Solstice
half-moon waning—mark it somewhere
on a mind wall,
potential trouble in a poem
filed in cyberspace.
The wire goes cold.
A trumpet blares from my buttoned pocket,
beneath a zippered vest and heavy Carhartt
look-a-like advertising Purina Hi-Pro,
coils and split-reins in a gloved left hand,
small loop in the right with a flying U ready
to remind the bull he’s half-way home
and it won’t stop bugling
as if nearby
was just over the rise.
The wire goes cold.
We text and vox from the ridgetops,
from what our eyes have gathered
from the ranch. No emergency—
Cowboy Celtic wants to Facetime.
As we push the heifers another field away,
I call them back
and we yak
and they ride with me,
see green country
and cattle to the gate
just above the ears
of my horse.
Other worlds beyond,
beneath the canopies
of the woods gone wild
to shed their leaves,
naked near the Solstice,
unending limbs entwined
unseen unless I move
outside my cluttered mind—
ignored and warmed
by the murmured songs
of smaller gods
I sense when I am gone.
It is a mistake, you know,
to map your favorite fishing hole—
to let trout leap from photograph
to fire in the company
of hungry strangers. Best
leave your luck to the mystic
and the magic of cryptic poetry
felt before it’s understood.
I imagine a narrow wild rag,
your gift of Raijin thunder
and lightening coming—
an angry Japanese print
I might wear anywhere
outside to get attention
from stormy weather,
for the bladder full of water
slung over his shoulders
we might all profit by.