Category Archives: Poems 2011


                    He chooses a slim volume of Sapphic verse
                    from the nightstand, imagines skinny girls
                    on a Greek isle in the middle of the Mojave…

                                        – Red Shuttleworth (“Gabby Hayes (1951)”)

Whir of feathers from the brush, moments
can escape like quail in all directions—
the heart leaps backwards, freezes

as they buzz off to fractured rocks, or
we can read long-limbed verse, watch
sycamores shed enflamed leaves,

first hard rain after the first hard frost,
near the solstice, to dance naked
in the mist of morning, most years.

Beyond the bright lights, a man can
go a little crazy, make do and make sense
of things he thinks he sees, believing.

Somewhere in our brains are big
empty socks that hang from a mantle
with impossible names yet to be filled.


Looking forward to the last cows
among the fractured rock towns
and a wild band of oaks, at ease,

a Red Tail shadow streams
silently along the new green
between trees, suddenly—

as if playing tag, counting
coup with our silhouette: man
and beast. Why look up?


After awhile the hills wrap
around you, hold life secure:
the rock, hawk and oak tree

still, sharp ridges holding
our eyes. At these corrals
we are both small and safe,

always. It takes years
to be taught, to wonder
and recognize good fortune

with the fade of old faces
and all the good horses
that have danced here.

                                         for Earl

Kyle Loveall & Douglas Thomason. Earl McKee photo


                    A little too abstract, a little too wise,
                    It is time for us to kiss the earth again.

                               – Robinson Jeffers (“Return”)

But we may not have the currency
to invest anymore, now that town
has rebooted our minds, changed

the circuitry, on feed in Fat City,
right off I-5. Not even a glance up
at the smooth Coalinga Hills

to graze old times, find a canyon
to get lost in. We may be too
well-bred to return and get by.


In December’s amber light, the sun
stares beneath the limbs of trees aflame
again. And from long, crisp shadows,

a few wild gods dance with winter’s chill.
No call for calendars when every canyon
rings with the bellows of bulls looking

for work, or a fight, reducing fences to
barbed wire nightmares, splintered posts
with long excavations either side of tangles.

During nights of no moon, the big talk fires
testosterone and fence repair, purpose here
as the sweet fragrance of cows fills the air.


seemed so long, and weeks eternities
between recesses and vacations, lifetimes—
especially when ranch work replaced trouble.

Through the gate like cattle counted now,
they pass six or eight deep—heads, backs
and tails eclipsed and so blurred, we

might have missed one, or miscounted since
the beginning of time. There is a place, like
here, just after that, days had neither names

nor numbers, great herds grazing the planet,
eras when we might have lost a year or two
under endless skies guided by starlight.


                                 …and yet God she’d scarcely got to know.
                                              – Rainer Maria Rilke (“Eve”)

In our minds we have tried to recreate Eden:
worry-free and unabashed as we disrobe
and stride the creek, lounge with the beasts
and birds in harmony, grazing as we go.

And ever since the golden quince, we yearn
for ignorance, for distance from the news,
for the discarded leaf to hide beneath
during thunderstorms of more information.

All becomes a garden when the serpent
leaves deep portals to the underworld
to crawl among the sweet and sour berries,
as Tihpiknit’s right-hand man—to keep us

honest, dispatching the deceitful—where
rivers of fish, wild meat, bone and hide
fat with acorns see through the eyes of trees
and listen to the birds to forecast weather.


                        …we walk the bottom of an ocean we call sky.
                                                – Jim Harrison (“River II”)

It is our nature to believe in more
beyond the surface—though we toil
for plenty here upon the ocean’s floor,

a hierarchy of bottom fish, both slim
and fat—wanting to believe in something
more attainable to all, a free place

for the spirit to try its wings in the light,
beyond the murky depths shadowed by
darker silhouettes of sharks and whales.

How deep the sky! Unnamed on maps,
near Coyote Pass, 10,000 feet above it all,
‘CRITES LAKE’ perforated with an ice pick

in the tin, square bottom of a five-gallon can
placed near the outlet jammed with dark
green backs of rainbow trout spawning,

every one a pound or more in those days.
Just before the moon rose and the granite
glowed like a lantern, there seemed no end

to the stars—far, tiny bubbles glinting
near the surface, our passenger jets
and sputniks streaking beneath them.


A short and easy fall between
summer and winter, oak trees
heavy, woodpeckers overstocked

for cold, every crack and post
full, a left over crop drops
in circles beneath the trees.

Briefly disrupted, coveys of quail
return to bob upon ripe, black
mats crushed along the back roads.

Dark rafts of wild pigeons
rake the sky between the ridges,
deer fat and blue. It seems easy

to adapt to plenty, larders of pocket
gophers packed and planted
for spring, dry oak and manzanita

stacked beneath the eaves. Like hawks
sequestered to leaves when it rains,
we’re ready for almost anything.


                           The world is not what we thought it was.
                                             – Jim Harrison (“Suite of Unreason”)

Much done behind us, I listen in the dark
for predicted rain—like an old friend
I don’t expect to arrive on time, if at all—

wondering if this day is mine to spend
without the human dramas spawned
on flat land for sudden hillsides, or will I

retreat, once again, to cows and calves,
to the chain saw’s whine, go deeper under
the covers of this landscape to pray and

commiserate with my gods, those plural
and lower-cased forces at play that are
indeed the living wonders of this world:

groaking in the tops of gray oak trees,
scarlet hybrids, red-chested sapsuckers
none had seen this far south—bright

harbingers for a cold winter with the bumper
crop of acorns, black upon the ground—a
slim chance beyond that still makes sense.