Category Archives: Poems 2012


                    Just write on my tombstone, Lord if I get a tombstone,
                    Or maybe just a honky-tonk wall,
                    That he was crazy for ladies, Lord, and guitars and babies
                    And a damned old fool for the waltz.

                              – Kell Robertson (“I Always Loved A Waltz”)

I imagine Kell and Scott have lots to talk about
in the poets’ corner of eternity, sorted-off
Bright Halo Street, jamming like they did
in that Durango motel, circling a gallon jug
around a dark, smoky room in gulps
of mutual approval, red wine, poetry and song
that no one will remember when I’m gone.

It will be good to see them on the curb,
guitar and backbeat drum, writing songs
for the small crowd down at Judas Tavern—
it’s an easy but sad place to write from.
We talked about it, asked honestly
if we don’t derail our own trains
just to have something new to write about?
Something good pulled from deep within
the desperate core of Everyman and Woman.

Ferlinghetti got it, saw poetry lose touch—
but not Kell and Scott: they kept the sweet
and weak away, didn’t play fancy shindigs.
Fence lines sag along the black bottom
farm land in southeast Kansas before
they become supermarket parking lots, but
“all I can see is what we’ve lost.”

                                        for Kell Robertson and Scott Preston

*     *     *     *     *     *     

from Dry Crik Review, Fall 1991


They escape to the central
Idaho Rockies
900 miles from the main office
in downtown L.A.
140 miles from the nearest
major airline
14 miles from the airport
three-quarters of mile up some
narrow draw
where they drop seven figures
on 6 or 8 thousand square feet
on a streambank
they’ll use a dozen times a year.
They install digital
burglar alarm & security systems
intercoms & push button combinations
that automate a massive gate
fashioned from the rustic hewn timbers
& a live in caretaker who doubles
as a trespasser heavy. Their
phone number is unlisted
no number on the gate
the driveway curves into infinity
six months of the year it’s
impassable with snow
& they bitch about why their Fedex
is guaranteed by noon instead
of 10:30.

                              – Scott Preston



Under the discount store
the fast food place
the furniture outlet
under all that asphalt
is one of the best chunks
of black bottom farm land
in southeast Kansas.
My granddad grew corn
wheat, oats and alfalfa,
rotating the crops by
his almanac and the taste
of the dirt, and there
under that corner
my grandma’s garden grew.
The house was somewhere
near the bicycle rack
and the barn was where
they have that bank
of video games.
Under all this asphalt and concrete
plastic and steel, I learned to cut
a calf, learned to drive a team of horses,
learned to work in this earth
and in that barn, learned
from a third cousin who
teetered on the edge of womanhood
another meaning for kisses
beyond the peck on the cheek
I got from grandma.
I close my eyes and see it,
butt my way under that old Jersey cow
squirt the hot steaming milk
into the cold tin bucket, hear
the hogs snorting around for slops
we saved for them.

I open my eyes and almost
get run over by a housewife
with a buggy full of disposable diapers
and sugar-coated cereals.

The security guard takes my arm, asks
if I’m alright, leads me out into the parking lot
asks me what I’m doing there if I’m not
going to buy anything.

I’m visiting my granddad’s farm I say
underneath all this crap
is the sweetest little farm
in southeast Kansas.

Walking away
into the shimmering heat
rising from the parking lot
I swear I hear
grandma calling us for supper.
There’ll be beans and cornbread
and iced tea…tomorrow we’ll start
plowing the lower forty.
Then we’ll come home and sit
on the front porch, watching the dogs
playing in the yard, dreaming
of going to town next week
to sell some hay and get
a store-bought hat
to wear at the dance at the Grange Hall.
Maybe my cousin will be there
and she’ll teach me more
about this kissing business.

Right now
Looking back at the parking lot
full of people doing something

all I can see is what we’ve lost.

                              – Kell Robertson


                                        Both man and cat are bathed in pleasant
                                        insignificance, their eyes fixed on birds and stars.

                                                            – Jim Harrison (“Searchers”)

And when we do look up, unplug our eyes from electronics,
disconnect and free our friends stored inside pocket devices—
the stage is a blur, a swirl of colors, tilting, we must navigate

and find a rhythm we can move to. Focus comes slowly,
footing falters and we are lost for a moment outside
ourselves to reach for the railing, reeling in another world.

A wave of gray rolls across the yard, a covey of round hens
and strutting fat cocks, topnotches bobbing, pecking, watching
for the cat, invading the brown winter lawn as if we were not here,

not responsible for this destination they act like they own.
Even the woodpeckers test the logs since we put the pellet gun
away. The wrens work the window screens, we have become

just another tree among millions, another weakening stand
in this canyon trying to get along with our closest neighbors,
who entertain us constantly. We are the audience, not the stars.


She wants to move from Minot
to a city that can hold her
attention, to have it all
within a half-hour’s drive—
and I listen, remember
gliding through L.A. in the 60s.

How we must crave
to be entertained, to feel
the latest and the best art forms
going down the road—
to find quiet neighborhoods
close to the action.

She is young with a baby.
The map unfolds, roads
like spokes, they focus
West away from snow.
There was a time, I guess,
digging postholes in the sun,

miles from town, I longed
to rub against the herd, to stir
the city’s fire. Driving home
the long way, facing headlights
of semis hauling oranges
before the rain, Saturday night

along the ditch we watch
for drunks through Yettem
and Seville—all the excitement
we want escaping Fresno
and Highway 99.
We crave our wood stove.

                                                 for Jamee


Great Western Divide from Paregien Ranch

Great Western Divide from Paregien Ranch

How many photos, how reassured
they haven’t left for other states
of deployment? Alta’s elephant,

Sawtooth, the Kaweah peaks
under snow like sharp teeth
tearing into the blue, always

a hold of heaven. Not far
in bird miles, I check my bearings,
my well-being, my insignificance

to become comforted, somehow,
with this affirmation, this renewal
of facts. Not the same as being

held in the land of awe, I look to
the Great Western Divide
for security—to inhale and breathe

easier knowing they always
have my back, that we both
are still in the same place.


The bulls have strayed, left steep terrain
where cows graze ridgetops since the rain,
bellyflopped fences to peruse the heifers

sequestered in the flat. Above the lake
I navigate translucent gray eclipsing hillsides,
calling blindly in the fog, listening

for an answer—almost like praying—trying
to gather cows and calves to hay before
putting one bull back, hoping a herd of his own

will hold him. A good exercise for the Sabbath,
before fixing fences. Everything moves slower
in the fog, I remember, watching the fuzzy

silhouette of a man in December driving a stake
with a sledgehammer, hearing the strike of steel
upon steel at the top of his next arc, when a boy.

A calf answers somewhere above, then unseen hooves
tumble sod nearby. Gradually from out of the ashen
gray, a few pairs materialize, plodding before me.










They can hide
sizeable investments
in self-indulgences—
over years—over
a lifetime.

Silk floral prints
at any price
men can wear anywhere—
but only fit
as not obvious
on the Islands
from the rest of the world.

What matters afloat
swirls in the air
around them—sustenance
from the elements—
all the ghosts and gods
forever trapped,
leak-out of the greenery
begging to dance
again with fire.




At two a.m., all the undone bubbles to the surface
from heavy sleep, from unfinished fiction folded
and put away on the closet’s top shelf for future
polishing—at two a.m. my perfect world rubs-up
against all the sharp-edged details of nonfiction.

I’ll be fixing fence by mid-morning, huff up the hill
with posts and barbwire, twice for tools and driver,
hoping a third for more will be unnecessary—but
it’s not the work that wakes us from our dreams,
that nags like a fly for the warmth of our noses

before winter, before gathering, branding
and all the old neighbors bringing what’s left
in their boxes of energy, grinning once again.
We’ll miss a few, we always do, and get them later—
we’re used to that. It’s the real stuff that gets away

that makes good stories. But what bubbles up
to interrupt dreams are the natures you can’t
change, and haven’t learned to live with—yet
must—no matter how many working dreams
you manage to put to paper before dawn.


Sunup at SFO

Sunup at SFO

Among the cobbles of a novel
waiting for the plane sent-on
without us, last night, vouchers

dangling at the end of a chain
reaction of late take-offs—midnight
dinner delivered to a Comfort Inn

for roaches, instead of falling
dead into our own beds
after the quarter-mile jog

to a shuttle and another terminal—
bushy-tailed guard at the gate,
arms folded like a Samoan

before our parked aircraft.
A novel about efficiency
and how we got here—

how we’ve become helpless
as cattle in a corral to make
work-enough for everyone.


Like old shoes, life seems
to fit my feet, make me
calloused, gradually.


Dogs bark in the dark.
I scratch on white sheets
‘til the sun comes round again.