There is comfort here among dear friends,
despite the drought, despite the news,
despite a virus that grips the world
somewhere below these old corrals
where we brand calves—our common
religion around Christmastime
that we wrap ourselves within—
a joyous insulation from despair
where we can lend a hand.
Limbs dressed in flames,
they await the cloudburst
that will disrobe them
to stand naked
along the creek
until it runs—
until late spring.
Our chorus line of winter nymphs,
centuries rooted in the same place,
I stare into their fire and pray for rain.
The skid-steer bucket chatters
against the clay and decomposing
granite baked like concrete,
inching deeper into my mind
to the great bay horse dressed pink
and white with long-stemmed Centuary,
scattered wild petals I covered
with dirt—each shovelful a memory
for over an hour. Another hole
and granite headstone, we are surrounded
by the old and faithful we have survived—
another hole, hearts perforated
with each dear soul lost that now arrives
to attend this moment to make us whole.
Quick and painless after fourteen years
of alert devotion, I steal fine ground squirrel
tailings smoothed for the ‘good dog Jack’—
a winter blanket to sow for flowers.
No rare, sixteen-ounce
Chile Verde Rib Eye
leftovers to box for home,
no Iceberg Old School
wedge with Blue Cheese
crumbles, no red wine
bottle at twice the price
to finish before leaving
town—no spoiling us
these Covid days,
though we tire
of our own cooking,
of feeding hay without rain.
Bare acres, not a spear
of feed half-way
up the mountain,
these good cows wait
with their calves
at the gate for dinner.
The real old boys who found their weather in the stars,
within explosive storms on the sun, years in advance—
would be dismayed with how we farm today.
My father’s shadow, I followed disc and tractor straining
to turn the earth, blackbirds diving like swarming sea gulls
behind us, as we broke clods in lace-up boots to test the soil.
Trading energy, no one cultivates today to turn green weeds
and stinging nitrogen back into the ground—no one marks-out
furrows in sandy loam, no one irrigates with a hoe.
We spray chemicals (‘herbicides’ sounds nice and friendly)
in the naked space between the trunks of vines and trees.
We run trillions of miles of black plastic for a sip in drips
to save water for more crops we can seldom sell at a profit.
Still the perpetual motion of new money: each depreciation
offsetting taxes for urban investors on the next farm
they sell to one another like summer homes and yachts.
Why bother to predict tomorrow’s weather when farms
change hands in a swirl of smoke and yellow steel?
Hope rises from dark despair,
the jagged edge of acrimony
hurriedly honed in fear—
a pause to lay swords down,
for the blood to crust
and contemplate alternatives.
Are we conscripted warriors
for opposing forces,
or free to reclaim our sanity,
to nurture and heal
with the real work
the sun awaits?
Well, while I’m, here I’ll do the work— And what’s the work?To ease the pain of living. Everything else, drunken dumbshow.
- Allen Ginsberg (“Memory Gardens”)
One more cigarette
for the young dog
to piss and poop,
to explore the garden,
check-out the squirrel holes
before I load her up.
One more cigarette
to let the split oak set
before I stack it.
One more cigarette
and a cup of old coffee
to inhale November.
Dark morning chill stirs the flesh
to welcome winter waiting
for flaming tongues
to lick between
dry Manzanita branches
igniting Blue oak
in the woodstove’s glow.
I recall storms, the floods
and endless downpours,
creek too high to cross
for thirty days and pray
for anything wet enough
to start the grass
for cows and calves—
for my sanity, something
akin to normal
in these crazy days
of politics and pandemic—
something to trust
as right as rain—
something to believe in.