I am growing downward,
smaller, one among the grasses.
– Wendell Berry (“Thirty More Years”)
Irrigator until the end,
the vines were his children,
more easily trained than those
of his flesh.
Water flowed in furrows,
slowed to soak with checks,
his art with a hoe stretched
across eighty acres.
Quixotic silhouette against
a rising or setting sun,
hoe in hand,
he found peace deep within
his vineyard rows, red-seeded
table grapes, long ago dozed
for citrus on drip.
Bred to be resilient, this earth
and all its faces, from stern to joyful,
offer sustenance to each of us
unequally. We find our place
into the fertile mulch of mankind
always ready for a storm.
Close to the ground, we trust
upon the old-time gods
to herd the winds our way
with young deities-in-training
to gather the renegades, black
clouds refusing to settle
against the Sierra’s jagged grin
to feed our rivers, creeks and streams—
myths more cryptic and credible
than today’s gadgetry designed to be
tomorrow’s useless obsolescence, yet
with the all the right apps
we can give-up on dreaming,
even believing in ourselves.
Dark theater, gentle applause
spreads from roof to balcony
beginning the Gig of the Decade
Janis Joplin at the Shrine,
all-electric, deafening wails
of agony and fury released
to storm the canyon, swell the creek
with memories: every rig hip-deep
in a frappé of clay, a daisy chain
of pickups and winches leapfrogging,
churning chocolate pudding
to the asphalt, warm woodstove
and loud whiskey replays
of how we learned the hard way.
Big Brother’s tuning-up
behind the black curtain,
yellow and green stage left
on the radar as we wait.
A fruitless exercise, I assess the scales of justice
teetering in my head, the sensitivity of the beam
like a perpetual motion machine connecting dozens
of other juggling acts dependent upon one another
for balance—not like drafts of cattle weighed
to be paid for, no easy answer with a number.
Inside the dark cavern of my skull, a three-ring
circus juggling facts and intuition with the low
and silent grace of a Red Tail on the kill,
with poetic conversations with the gods and all
my angry rants at play—I am prejudice, too long
reading bovine thoughts and equine attitudes
to ignore what I see beyond the hard evidence.
Well out of the mainstream, far from the current
innocence, I am biased and about half-deaf.
Rough Fire – July 28, 2015
The beauty of things—the beauty of transhuman things
Without which we are lost.
– Robinson Jeffers (“Granddaughter”)
I claim the disheveled refuge of age
addled by magic devices beyond
the amalgamation of basic elements,
the dirt and water, the living foundation
from which we spring and are akin,
intriguing as a relative to trees that dance
and rocks that talk about the past,
solid and lasting. A balancing act:
my slow retreat just short of the attic
I am promised, mercifully sequestered
‘Someday Soon’ with Ian’s tune.
I want blaring sing-alongs to leave upon!
I’d be down that road in a cloud of smoke
For some land that I ain’t bought bought bought
– Guy Clark (“L.A. Freeways”)
photo: Jaro Spichal
I steal a look into the blurry morning mirror
after a second cup of coffee: a gray Medusa-do
replacing decades of darker curiosities
that recollect the Brylcreem coifs, the forelock
dip, loose strands dangling like my connection
to rock and roll—to the replaceable, double-A hearts
of Ricky and Elvis inside my Zenith transistor
a long ways from town—from the here and now
before I turn away from the worn-out look
that chuckles back at me. But this is the way
to wake up to reality, like Perseus, with only
quick glances into Athena’s shiny shield.
photo: Jaro Spichal
Wherever the mind dwells apart is itself
a distant place.
– T’ao Ch’ien (“Drinking Wine”)
We have been there, idling across pastures
like cattle to ridgetops with focused eye
turned blurry with the mind’s appeal to wander—
an easy trek in open space, we gravitate
to isolated places where granite rocks
take the shape of animals, where oak trees
dance with sweeping boughs and speak
a language without words we comprehend.
When we come home to flesh, to the clatter
and complicated clutter of more mortal busyness,
our senses shocked and fogged with dismay,
we become the aliens for a moment on this planet
returning with translations, with fresh offerings
of peace and poetry—we nod to all the animals,
leaving little gifts of good-will along the way.
Like quail before a rain, like deer
we gather in the granite brush
that yet survives the times and us—
around a fire. Lift a water glass
to the first ones here, a jam jar to
the pioneers that spawned this bond
of swirling smoke we nose at dawn
within our clothes and grin, trying:
to remember when
we loved life, or one another more.
photo: Bodhi Rouse
Never figured on a sunset,
children, grandchildren around
a smoky Live Oak fire,
the SoCal storm bleeding north
above a frost-bitten garden—
dry stem tomatoes
and peppers hanging
like ornamental gifts
I thought I escaped California in 1970
to ride back through time, didn’t think
I’d camp in one place this long.
Never figured on iPhone photos,
satellite dish for shade—
or planning for a future
that depends on water
The wire goes cold.
Red tail-hair hangs by a barb in a tangle.
Horned-bull bellowing in the flats
among the heifers close to the Solstice
half-moon waning—mark it somewhere
on a mind wall,
potential trouble in a poem
filed in cyberspace.
The wire goes cold.
A trumpet blares from my buttoned pocket,
beneath a zippered vest and heavy Carhartt
look-a-like advertising Purina Hi-Pro,
coils and split-reins in a gloved left hand,
small loop in the right with a flying U ready
to remind the bull he’s half-way home
and it won’t stop bugling
as if nearby
was just over the rise.
The wire goes cold.
We text and vox from the ridgetops,
from what our eyes have gathered
from the ranch. No emergency—
Cowboy Celtic wants to Facetime.
As we push the heifers another field away,
I call them back
and we yak
and they ride with me,
see green country
and cattle to the gate
just above the ears
of my horse.