Listening to cattle speak
with your eyes helps see:
we are not so different,
not so smart,
not so unique.
standing in the open gate
watches her calf play
at a distance for an hour
before dark, before bed—
makes no sound.
Cows hear no clock ticking,
have no hands to chase,
take all the time they need
to the rhythm of grazing—
to ruminate in shady space.
These huge beasts come
at their own speed
when they want—
nose a pant leg,
reach with rough tongue.
Some become pets
to put big heads
in my lap.
someone has to go to town.
These late calvers,
have begun to shine,
look like cows,
we weigh the market.
we hold them
a little longer, until
the calves grow up—
so much depends
on a little rain
After wet holidays,
cattle high on hillsides
slick and leaking,
stray snow flakes dance
like tiny leaves
over the fence between
neighbors making plans
to brand and celebrate
another New Year’s Eve
punctuates the cold
and red scarf wrapped
beneath your eyes
like a terrorist
off the mountain
when you would rather be
reading a book
by the fire
with nothing else to do
on the Sabbath.
Despite advice, nobody tells us
where or how the journey ends—
how deep the dark holes
or demons living therein.
Cut to the hollow words
of war drums to follow
bright blood trails back
to the stench of burning flesh
on diesel smoke released
to every shade of jungle green—
home of all the unknown
souls that there remain.
Or winter phone call
from your trailer banked
behind bales of straw,
pistol on the shelf—
we decided to wait
twenty years ago,
I would come for you.
There is nothing left
to save today, but
floating above it all—
your separate stream
of chuckling wit
still laughing at the sun.
Feeding horses winter mornings,
I turn the key to hear the click,
watch the fuel gauge needle flinch
as glow plugs heat for injected diesel
before the Kubota fires to make my rounds
and save old legs for another day.
Backing into a swirl of first exhaust,
I pause to inhale the unmistakable
past that reappears in freezing air:
taste and smell the smudge pots
along every road and dirt avenue
between Exeter’s citrus trees,
battalions of flaming sentries purring
beneath the roar of wind machines
and ever-twinkling frosty stars.
I become where I’ve come from
and roll towards the barn cats’ bowl,
faces of horses waiting patiently.
has begun so many blank sheets,
overlooked details that could, and do,
make all the difference in a life—
or our perception of it. Even the great
magnificences of nature are attended by insects
and disease. Only one of the Seven Wonders
left to see. The oceans dine at shorelines,
valleys rise and mountains crumble
as the earth breathes. No moment is permanent,
even in poetry, and especially in dreams
when sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference
as we progress into a perfect world of change.
We have become the little people of the planet
hanging-on to whatever busyness sustains us,
entertained by dramatic storylines designed
to sell more of the same—and we buy it,
invest in it, hoping someday to escape
our choices, which we will in due time.
Overnight between rains, the creek has returned
to clear its bed, pushing rafts of sycamore leaves
before it. We are, once more, rich for the moment.
Maerten van Heemskerck (1498-1574) – Panorama with the Abduction of Helen Amidst the Wonders of the Ancient World – Walters 37656.jpg
A science which does not bring us
nearer to God is worthless.
– Simone Weil (“Waiting for God”)
I follow the raindrops up—
a tricky ascension from wet ground
to a cold, leaky cloud held
in place by the Sierras,
yet gravity keeps my feet in the mud.
I send my mind instead,
pummeled by pellets
until it rests well above my flesh
in a swirl of cooling gases
to float upon fresh water
risen and distilled from the Pacific,
from around an impure world.
Our breath and flesh is washed with it,
leaves and landscape, yesterday’s
tracks erased when the sun shines,
the earth renewed once more.
I step off on Sulphur Peak
and slide through poison oak
into the East Fork, then follow the creek
to the smoke from our woodstove.
If cows know rising from their knees
in new feed, it doesn’t show—faces
of calves matted with milk grinning
with greed, speak opulence, satisfied
with rain, everyday a holiday it seems.
Horses wait at mangers, nip, kick and claim
their places early for the same leafy flakes,
from the same alfalfa field as yesterday,
as if unruly children jostling for ice cream
and homemade chocolate frosting—
like any other day. No one has told
the hawks on gliding surveys of the dawn,
nor the Rock Wren gleaning the window screen,
nor the gray wave of quail on patrol, spilling
from rockpiles, that it’s Christmas morning.
They have no sins, no savior, no gods
other than the ever-changing feel of things
that move them from moment to moment
to make the best of today—they have
no need to celebrate any other.
To the hollows between the flats and mountain peaks
they have retreated, made homes of nothing and revere
their privacy, neither shy nor powerless, prefer
the wild and all the undefined sensibilities
to glide with Red Tails investigating each new intruder.
You might not ever see them, yet you feel
their presence in the crowns of trees, around rockpiles
and upon the ridges resting, watching—another ethic
here among them, for the living, for all flesh they envy,
yet neither slowed nor burdened by. A flutter in a bush,
a glint of sun on the wing, a glimpse of more beyond
a moment’s pause with endless time on their hands.
A political poem wants equal time,
begs for space, but by the second stanza,
I cut it short of hopeless—you see
what’s happened, we turned it over
for someone else to run, like the garbage
and sewer, keeping our hands and noses
clean while chasing rainbows: all the new
ads for comfort and joy that we believe
we deserve. I’m guilty, turned my back
on the dramas and the bad actors
who have forgotten their lines, forgotten
who they’re working for or why.
Mud and wet outside, short glass with ice,
Straight Kentucky Bourbon afternoon
between rains forecast for the next two weeks—
cattle fed and work done around a nap
and half-a-dozen postponed phone calls,
greening ridgetops cut sharply out of a gray sky,
I play self-indulgently on paper. Naked,
white slope of Redwood Mountain peeking
downcanyon at the pool of Blue Oaks, all
but undressed when the ground drinks
and promises prosperity: add water to
instant grass, lush color almost every year—
yet no two the same. The old sycamores burn
fat flames in the cold along the creek, loose
fire at their feet, glow in the woodstove.
It may be unnecessary to cut the dead up, stack
and pack the ashes out just to stay warm, waste
hours that could be spent consuming, charging
more for energy other than our own.
The sun finds a hole, sets pink on the snow
like an iridescent beacon at tunnel’s end
upcanyon—summer grass for Cutler cattle—
not bad today, even though the world has
gone to hell and won’t last long at this rate,
playing policeman for the planet. Everyone
has a big gun nowadays. It doesn’t pay
to have wealth, fame or power when the game
is ‘bout over, if there is no future left.
We manage somehow, patch the hull, survive
the egos and evolve quickly—seldom a good sign
unless you are a ravenous pest or mutating disease.
We mustn’t forget what has forged and tempered us,
drawn our genetics to this spot in time and space—
assuming reason, purpose and the all the rest of it.
We try once more with another miracle of rain.