Monthly Archives: January 2018

Warming Up

IMG_0807Good to see Ernie Sites entertaining at the Red Lion lounge last night before the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering officially gets underway.  Though pleasant for this time of year, it has been unseasonably warm, high 20s to low 50s.  We’ll try to keep posting from the cell phone.




I still remember
spring Sunday mornings
rustling covers and dreams awake—

“Great day,” he’d say,
“for the race,” emphatically—
as if we knew.

This cheery departure
for our father waving
at dawn streaming
from the Kaweah peaks
to mottled cottonwoods
along the river,
its glistening steam
rising into the light
had to be special.

“What race?”
I begged an answer.
“The human race,”
he’d say.





                                        I hope that the weathered horseman up yonder
                                        Will die before he knows what this eager world
                                                will do to his children.

                                                     -Robinson Jeffers (“The Coast-Road”)

I wonder now if Jeffers grins up yonder
with his horseman looking down
at the bluff-chiseled road they cursed

in the building, failing once again,
cut and fill slipping into the Pacific
after fire and 83 inches of rain.

Damage done, where have his children
gone to join the present, to succumb
to the latest newness man has wrought

to sell as necessary convenience?
Moving mudslides have closed the road
to the outside world to heal in private,

to rejuvenate the majestic ruggedness—
the awe and respect for the weather-carved
shaping always the character of man.





Tree and stone, earth and grass,
among them we must ask,
‘what is our place, what is our task?’

Stumblebums, we lack the bounding grace
of deer, the keening hawk, the tree limb
turned by wind and sun—we detract,

I fear, so out of touch, so out of step
in the earnest dance around us.
Stepping lightly as a boy in US Keds,

gun in hand, I left my marks for dead
that fed the buzzards trailing me
in thermal glide, for Red Tails watching

from the oak tops for the wounded,
for the cripples crawling desperately—
and I thought I’d found my place

where the wild could reason
and adapt to trust and think
enough of me to follow closely.





Riding the High Country as a boy,
I fished snowmelt lakes
beneath sharp peaks of scree,

found clarity around a fire,
played dot-to-dot with stars,
and dreamed on hard ground

that I’d awake unscathed,
but for my craving for space
beyond the hand of man.

A lifetime addiction,
betting on the weather
and a herd of cows grazing

foothills below, we wager
borrowed money, but don’t know
how to quit gambling

with the market and the politics
this close to heaven—we’ll
role the dice until we’re gone.





Hunting in the rain,
the hawk is back
hungry for quail

tittering in the bottom
of the brush pile,
casualties and prunings

I would have burned
but for last year’s lake
of constant rain.

Summer outpost
for ground squirrels
that robbed the garden,

a lair for thieves
packing peaches, pears,
apples off

to feast in peace—
battle lost,
the spoils of war

we’ll never win, but wage
with fire when the grass
turns green again.





In our three score and ten,
we haven’t changed the world much—
though we marched for peace,

married and twice divorced
during continuous conflicts overseas,
over who knows what

philosophy it paid to exterminate. Now
it turns too fast for us and we retreat
like old bucks before the hunt.

                                             for JEG





Young ladies bathing beyond the cattails—
it could be the Nile or the Kaweah
pooling slowly in the summer heat

before the dams, before man began
to turn the earth around. We can’t
ignore the pesky fly in the ointment.





Beyond cell phone tethers
to the urgencies below,
we float beneath the clouds

with cattle in patched pens,
with the skeletons of oaks
stealing one last look

at old ways remembering
Effie Hilliard’s white horse
leading cows and calves,

her coywolves trailing,
through the gate to be
branded in these corrals.

A world above
she rode alone to leave
her ghost at peace.





O’ humanity hidden
within the moldy leaves
we’ve swept in piles

waiting to be burned
or bagged for clean yards
this time of year—

we have forgotten
our shame, we have forgotten
how to be human.

There are no secrets
among the tribe of trees,
no judgment either—

they are cursed to return
in spring, cursed to care
again with the possibility

of peace among men,
yet all they have to offer
but leaky shade and shelter

is persistence, the outside
chance we may finally learn
to love ourselves.