So little water, we left
pasture gates open, turned
ranch management over
to the cows until
stirred and mixed
to leave with dust devils
for four years straight.
Then so much rain
the rising water
took every fence between
neighbors, cattle free,
to graze up or down
twenty miles of stream
too high to cross
to cut the bull calves
as late as April aspirations
bellowing and packed
into a swaggering
We wade the creek
with black plastic mesh
designed to herd humans,
an experiment worth trying
to run a ranch.
How many pass without notice
as if chained in black caves
away from ordinary light
dressed in the shadows
of where we’ve been, shades
of time filtered into the present,
the parade of memories
and forgotten faces begging
a name—how many pass
From creek to ridge alive with spring,
churned and feathered urgencies abloom,
from pink to purple petals opening
to the sky, to its great white ships
passing after a sunlit shower’s rainbow.
Perfumes stirred inhaled, this canyon’s
air is shared with two golden eagles
hunting for hungry hatchlings high
in granite outcrops, sailing low
to snag sunning ground squirrels
more frequently now, imagining
young yellow beaks in sticks
open to the sky. It is the beginning
of the end, the ripening of the seed—
the dramatic performance of scripts
with fresh actors little changed
in my life, in my flesh—dependable
feelings somewhat akin to love.
There are boulders even
in dry creek beds, obstacles
for water to flow around – make
the sounds that soothe us so.
Easily identified, some are bolted down
like the mountains with sharpened edges
eerily singing new refrains each night.
We know them. Sometimes we curse them.
We even pray to God to remove them
from our channeled way of going, yet
not believing the music we cherish most
comes from rubbing against them.
Poems from Dry Creek, 2008)
© 2017 Dry Crik Press https://drycrikjournal.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/obstacles.m4a
Noting repeated references to ‘granite’ in my poetry, a dear friend emailed an audio link of Thobar Phadraig reading his poem
“Stone” that reminded me of “Stone Poems” by Douglas Skrief published by Starhaven (London, 2009), who also published my “Poems from Dry Creek” in 2008. Relating this ‘granite’ thread to Robbin last evening, she remembered my poem “Obstacles” and the circumstances that spawned it.
The Poem Notes from that book:
Written while haggling over the language of a conservation easement intended to preserve the ranch, this simple poem was, and continues to be, a solid touchstone for difficult times. After approximately three years of emotional discussions, we abandoned the concept to concentrate our energies on improving the ranch and our cowherd – tending to the business we know best. Included in “Still in the Mountains,” 2004.
Our notion of a good poem is not dated, so we have decided to post some of my earlier poetry here from time to time.
Exposed slopes sculpted by eons of storm,
like smooth flesh cut by canyons, worn
wrinkle into wrinkle, creek to river run,
speak quietly of patience on a Sabbath
after-rain, after yet another cleansing,
glint of dew upon the green at dawn.
When the Bird and Animal People
created man, gathered up the earth
to mold in their hands, they thought big
at first, but left the hills undone for us
to live within. You can feel mountains
breathe, hear the heart beat underneath
your feet, and in the moonrise see
movement in their sleep, waiting
to awake some day when we are gone.
‘On the make,’ my mother’d say
of springtime sojourns, the lone tom
between gobbles of rafters a strut,
the fan and drag as damp earth warms
to steam the green to flower skiffs of color,
to dress the oaks in tender iridescence
while finches softly fall aflitter, giddy
with the fun of it stirred within the air
we breathe, inhale into our flesh.
Like quail paired, couples nested
near the creek in the old days, empty
cars parked along this quiet road
Do Not Disturb signs, lovers drawn
by April’s pounding drum to taste the wild
just beyond the sagging barbed wire.
We spoil them, I say—
give them everything they need
to breed, to become mothers
to their first calf—a chance
to prolong life facing nature
together, year after year
like us, and our neighbors—
like good maternal families
our future trails behind us.
Upon redbud bloom, the earth
awakens, windblown pollen
stirs the flesh anew, colored
petals dress the drab decay
of summer’s dehydration
brightly, bring bees to work
and birds to play
house, raise young families
and sing—it is this time.
Thatched and lashed with horsehair
thread, even well-built nests
have casualties, tip in a storm,
spill family overboard, and we
remain to make repairs – find reason,
where so often there is none.
If we have love, we have no choice
but to fall with them, over and over
into the void – and we do it,
not to savor grief, but to collect
what parts we can, to piece our nest
– for Alie and Jeff
Rocked by tragedy, we repost this poem for our community. Originally dedicated to Jeff and Alie McKee in December 2010.
Without a script
I am an extra in this movie,
a face on a crowded street
in some big city—
or feathered Indian that dies
circling a wagon train West.
I drop my rifle,
grab my bare chest,
lean back and slide
down a paint horse hip,
tuck my shoulder
and roll to a dusty stop—
an expendable example
on the trail to progress.
I used to get by on less,
but I need the money,
so I play the part:
grimaces of futility,
but in my eyes: