Fuzzy hillsides float
upside down since the drought,
since the dry and dusty waterholes
overflowed with more rain
than we dared pray—as if
the machinery of the gods
locked long before
the celestial mechanics came
to break the cogs loose.
It is a wonder how
these miracles and mistakes
seem upon reflection.
So much rain the Sabbaths seem
like any other day, banked dreams
and basic routines squeezed
between storms, while the hard
work waits beyond in time:
opaque weeks ahead crossing
an angry creek when the melt
of soggy hills sets hard enough
to ride, to gather for brandings
saved for sunny days. Until then,
we believe what we see—watch
the morning sky and pray.
Each appendage strives for grace
angling its long reach for the light
dressed within summer green
canopies that shade the pools
along the creek. But some trees
drink too much, consume
more weight than limbs can hold
before snapping like rifle shots
that echo in the canyon.
Gray chorus line of winter nymphs
locking hands, dancing naked
at a distance, up close show
the scars of younger appetites
for growth, blueprints for bigness
that challenged gravity—yet
decomposed broken bones
leave open holes for nests
to incubate a clan of Wood Ducks.
Always looking down
on the road, on the creek,
all my life measuring
the downstream flow
of morning traffic—counting
cattle, birds and coyotes—
it draws the eye to vast
diversities of purpose
beyond the moment,
twigs and branches
etched into the sky
begging a longer look.
When I was young and lived alone
she kept me company, silhouette
stretched along the ridge waiting
for the moon upon her breast,
long hair falling into the creek.
Some nights she stirred in her sleep.
Alive, these hills still welcome me,
draw flesh and eyes away
from the bottomlands of man.
So magic a time it was that I was both brave and afraid.
Some day like this might save the world.
– William Stafford (“Malheur Before Dawn”)
Following another inch of rain, snow-white cumulus
float blue at dusk, take the shape of swans and dragons
trailing to join the thunderheads stacked in the mountains
darkening. The gods have swept these hills an iridescent green,
flushed the draws and creeks of loose debris and on their breath
stirred the air with blinding clarity. As the sun falls behind
clouds and ridge, this part of the world scanned by rising shadows
is fresh and clean as a Canyon Wren’s whistling. With fires blazing
western skies, sailor and shepherd survivors rest easy, yet
tremble to embrace the color of Armegeddon in their dreams.
The sun is setting under gray thunderheads
after ninety days of rain and we are talking
with the camera, its long thick eye closed,
but at the ready as the landscape changes
clothes in the crisp, clean air, every shadow
sharp. ‘Art,’ he suggests, ‘may be the only
way to save humanity.’ I submit to my son
that creativity comes from constantly rubbing
against rural realities begging a hands-on plan—
of pumps and plumbing, leaky troughs
and fences, all the languages of livestock
and the wild we try to translate, an art
from and on this solid ground as it changes
with the light. I walk and click as I speak,
searching for an answer to savor later.
So many places near at hand where lovers slipped
into the afternoon shade, dark upon the green,
lichened rocks burning beside small oak trees
beckoning, begging a pause for conversation.
The grandfather oak, arms wider than he was tall,
a Red Tail’s roost, swooped to clutch a wounded
squirrel when I was a boy, both talked to me—
we made a deal. Leaking from the gossip rocks
worn smooth by women’s feet, a chattering
melody claims the air, of centuries layered
and bared, freckled granite gray to the sky.
Always horseback in these steep hills,
the old cowboys before me were drunk
with what spoke to them, would rather ride
the unpredictable wild and tell the tale
than slap backs among the civilized. This
was their place in time—all the sharp eyes
I remember and recognize by the cut
of their descriptions, all the stories saved
by their fathers’ fathers, secreted away
and still waiting to be told, near at hand.
The old Fox theater, stars
blinking high above the balcony,
Tarzan swinging from a grapevine
for a dime when we were small—
but now, I want to slow the movie down
to a crawl, freeze the frame and rest,
digest the shit-rain of hearsay,
let the cloudy water settle to see
that my rippling reflection is more real
than what the screen is offering.
We are old children watching
an older script unfold, a motley cast
of bad actors vying for the lead.
But there is no holding the planet in place
just to wait for me.
Tonight in California
I will read this in the rain
when I am full and fed-
up with the news—
and listen instead
to it storm upon the roof,
to the impromptu chorus
of croaking tree frogs,
to the ever-tumbling roar
of water gushing down
a muddy creek
if I’m smart.
It’s all runoff
saturated ground, yet
the uncontrollable sound
pleases the primeval place
I need for reassurance
beyond the posturing politics
of way-too many men.
Besides, when living
off grass, it’s sacrilege
to ever complain about a rain.