Bumper crop of damn-near everything
thriving since last season’s rain
that bogged us to a standstill.
Red oak galls on the Valley Oak,
Tarweed yellow on open slopes.
Earth alive with frogs and rodents,
she moves with grace beneath
a new summer dress I haven’t seen
before—or perhaps I have forgotten
or ignored. A man must be careful
with hackneyed compliments
like ‘wild’ and ‘beautiful’.
Perhaps it’s only those
who pay attention
– Linda M. Hasselstrom (“Coyote Song”)
“He looks, but just don’t see,”
Tom Homer’d tell of a part-time cowboy
when my father learned the mantra
of established cowmen after brandings,
when the work was done.
I heard it often.
Out here, one can lollygag himself
to death, early on—before he sees
the snake in the trail, before he sees
the coyote watching him.
Deaf to the gun but only once,
we improve the breed,
fine tune scent and sight
into long lives of good teachers—
always a coyote’s song.
‘Through the Looking-Glass’. Illustration by John Tenniel.
How could we have known
when we were young
that verbs have a temper,
not like docile adjectives
hanging like ripe fruit
to be picked and used
in a line? Words come
easy these days,
some so overused
they sound suspicious,
like baiting horses
into the corral
with flakes of hay—
so often meaning more
than what they say.
It feels like it should rain
upon dry feed, golden
this autumn evening,
long hair combed
on the gusty breath of breezes,
All colors brighten
between dark shadows.
We have seen the worst
and endured it:
100 days of 100 degrees,
a four-year drought
and too much rain,
and the deranged.
The sun retreats
as always, yet
nothing stays the same.
I drop my sword and shield
and yield to time, genuflect
before mortal idolatry, take
a knee for all the fallen poor
from forgotten wars and submit
my helplessness, my sorrow
to endure imperfectly
while the band plays
and flags wave
before the battle
for ad space scores first—
for the freedom to consume
ourselves to death, I yield
with peace in my heart.
Silhouettes at eventide,
trailing first-time mothers
across old feed haltingly.
Wobbly babies at their hocks,
they forget themselves—
let instinct override
social wants and needs.
Heifers to mothers,
instant maternity waiting
Out of the brush and rock,
the shade of trees, fresh
pairs pass one by one
toward the water trough—
small stage separate
from Main Street,
a different script
almost every night.
In the afternoon, the hills are yellow now,
turquoise oaks, the buckeyes’ tan leather brown
claim equal space high up, but daybreak clear
but for a rosy raft of smoke on a monsoonal trail
alone, last of fires let run to consume the drought
and bug kill: scarecrow cedars, naked pines
pitched for flame. My eyes climb to the near
ridgeline for clarity—for a sign of what’s to come
within the hazy world affairs well beyond us.
Robert’s shadow, I followed my father
from vineyard to orchard behind tractor
and disk, stomped clods in the fresh-tilled
ground, inhaled the damp earth turned,
blackbirds like sea gulls diving behind us.
I dreamed of driving the once-red Cornbinder,
leaky muffler loud with each explosion,
each spark to gas vapor, its lean cowling
layered white with years of Parathion
in the 50s, before making perfect furrows.
That well-kept look of cultivation turning
the nitrogen of weeds and nettles under
with tankage and manure for California gold
when farmers worked the earth and added
more to the soil than chemicals and drip
irrigation. To this day I make the sound
of tractors in my throat, remember
the Case 300 disking steep orchard rows—
and just before it stalled out, front wheels
lifting off the ground—the dependable lurch
to the left to make another round.
have come to dine on quail
while Cooper’s Hawks
work elsewhere. Low
sleek glide behind
a whir of wings
and feathers aflutter.
@ 70, you try
to save steps, weigh
pick ups and deliveries
against carrying capacity
and memory hoping
not to forget
the grand plan
along the way—only
to find repetition
a good mental and physical
exercise in reality,
like it or not.
Shuffling his Florsheim wingtips
towards the hospital doors,
my father quipped, “A man has to
get used to being
not first in line.”
Change has not run off
and left us without humor,
without our backwards perspective
and subsequent syntax,
but thinking too far ahead
to save time, to insure
efficiency, we may miss
the moments we have
chosen to live for.