No trace, no drizzling mist—
she will really have to rain
into the night into the dawn
into the draws into the creek
into a rising frothy broth for weeks
to address our growing list of jobs
unfurled, saved for a rainy day.
We’ve emptied the barn: ‘making
hay while the sun shines’ available
to hungry cattle far too long
to remember all the work postponed
to keep them alive—the basic
little jobs that maintain the machinery
runs smoothly, heart and mind
intact. But first, the oil and grease
to lubricate the old joints: time
to rejoice and celebrate, to marvel
with the miracle of a rainy day.
Shrinking tribe of cowmen
and women at funerals play
the same songs, like
Riding Down the Canyon
in ever-changing light.
Otherwise alive and alone,
we glide miles of ranges
and ridges between us—
let the mind’s eye roam,
slowly digesting landmarks
on landscapes reminded
with details we had forgotten
until the song, until the stories—
the desert sun go down.
Abandoned hay rake resting
in the sycamores has not moved
in my lifetime, unless with silt
under floods that rose against them
when farming across the creek
didn’t pay. How long have they
danced, changing clothes, adding
and subtracting limbs, courting
the moment to begin again?
With no puddles or streams
to wade, the Great Blue Herons
frozen in pastures wait
for movement of earth like
sentries over gopher mounds
all summer long. A Harris’s Hawk
claims a rock among a million
cow chips daring a squirrel
to make a living outside
his burrow. Everyone grounded,
we crave ascension—to leave
in a haze or rise with the dust.
Like poetry over whiskey, neighbors
in from feeding, first day of two-fourteen,
glasses raised to the native cows and daughters
we prize in hard times. Another language
where words roll near the edge of vulgarity
and descriptive gerundives ricochet around
the kitchen like ice rattling our empty glasses.
But always the allusion of something more
that holds us to this ground, this watershed
we can’t shake, yet celebrate daily
for as long as we can. Crass and basic lines
I try to remember, steal for a poem
in the morning—always another way
of looking—seeing that it is
no small miracle, this earth adapting.
for Craig and Ronnelle
Some reason we
moves and dangles
beyond dry leaves
into the new year,
this side of the Kaweahs
baring granite teeth—
some logic yet
to focus clearly,
every soul hungry
to fill their bellies.
in fragile air before
the haze and dust—
to our plodding
like old horses
What star has fallen
from dark heavens, what
holds the clouds back?
Some reason we
remain to see.
Golden hours before the haze
rises from the Valley, all shades
of yellow and brown without green
blaze beneath a deep blue,
cloudless sky—old horses hesitate
to notice, find remarkable, shuffling
the same words day after day.
No one listens to the forecast
over coffee anymore. Dusty hills
wait for a plan. You suggest
we brand some calves—best chance
we’ve ever had to bring a rain.
Remember when it used to rain
for days, too wet to plow
or leave the asphalt? In 1983,
every rig around was stuck
in the yard: one horse truck,
two fuel trucks, three tow trucks
and a dozer making chocolate
soup of the driveway, neighbors
huddled in the dark rain,
commiserating. The creek
will rise again and again,
spill its banks, cut new channels
to old sycamores and oaks
waiting centuries for a good drink.
Remember when we cried
with glee waiting for a raft
of leaves pushed down its dry,
cobbled bed, raindrops streaming
our faces, holding hands
in ecstasy? Remember when
we believed in miracles?
This is not the end, of course—
we promise ourselves another day
when earthen hills turn wild with color,
cattle fat. We search photographs
for details begging to come alive again.
We circle back to bring them with us.
This dusty trail goes on and on,
and yet there are places the earth grins
defiantly in the draws and north slopes
thin with spears of green, curled by frost,
reaching gleefully for the warm Solstice—
unafraid of the future, unafraid of us.
Sing me a dry song, something
somewhere else you learned to chant
under your breath. Mesmerizing,
they stand half-dressed in morning light
in a pool of golden leaves, Solstice
peeking low under the door, showing just
enough bark that I forget the words to this
chorus of sycamores, my dancing winter
nymphs trying-on new outfits—posing,
having fun showing me what I have not seen.
Sing me your dry song, share the mantra
of the plodding before they prove:
a drought can be beautiful and soothing.
But better yet, bring me a hard rain, so
we can get naked and start over again.