I am traveling with a crowd on foot,
steep country new to me.
Arriving at the summit early
I follow the long ridge east
before returning to see the group has left.
I track them west to catch up
in a strange new world of wonders
where they are eating in a huge room,
cafeteria-style, but with glittering celebration,
streamers and bunting.
Across the room I see a familiar face
I thought was long dead
and hurry towards him, a short man
more full of energy than I remember.
He wants to show me around
and I follow, dazzled by all I see—
landscapes carved with care, misty
waterfalls and rivers running trout.
Growing weary, I can’t keep up,
and see him last descend a cliff
of loose dirt, brush and rock
like a young buck. I am afraid
and choose the long way ‘round
until I’m lost in the expanse
of a modern metropolis
of gray skyscrapers and elevated
thoroughfares from one horizon
to another. I stop blank-faced strangers
to ask directions to the place
where we first arrived, to family
and friends, to where I met him.
When I awake panicked, I am full
of his energy, stepping lightly
on the carpet instead of plodding
in the dark, tossing another stick
into the woodstove without pain.
To ease the pain of living.
Everything else, drunken dumbshow.
– Allen Ginsberg (“Memory Gardens”)
Chill in the dark,
the day before forever—
before eternity slips
into twinkling space.
Alone with ourselves,
we have no secrets left
to bury, only seeds to sow
for summer fruit.
Two owls are talking
across the yard:
promises of spring.
Dogs bark at the scent
of coyotes near—
neither know, neither care
It is our moment
to find diversions
in search of awe,
the small and the majestic—
to do the work
to ease the pain of living.
All the rest
Not with a bang but a whimper.
– T. S. Eliot (“The Hollow Men”)
A belly I may shed
before I leave this end—
my father wizened,
spending his before he died.
I yield to time,
to the absence
I feel ambition
and all its diversions
wane in the soft dirt
of familiar trails:
habits I cling to
so as not to get lost
in the grandstands
to watch the war
and any hope for peace
expire until I leave
the poetry to others—
the exultant songs
of living things
we may finally become
with a little luck
to be among them.
There is a knack to stacking wood
and wrapping packages in brown paper
you learn with time.
A metal pail for White King D
saved for picking blackberries
beyond the clothes line.
A drawer-full of safety pins,
balls of string with rubber bands
and paper clips held us together
in emergencies. She survived
the Spanish Flu of 1918
birthing my father, youngest daughter
of an Edinburgh schoolmaster,
arrived in Fresno to teach the Indians
English—and me the poetry of Keats.
Strobe flash in time, all the big
plans for man shelved in the pantry
to be replaced by figures in white
with spray guns and hoses, back-packs
leaking disinfectant, sweeping vermin
from city streets and houses.
Crop dusters out of mothballs. We see ourselves
on huge screens, ever-watched and judged
by new rulers with clean hands in latex gloves
sipping nectar and ambrosia behind the veil of Oz.
Even the old duffers will learn to march in line
or hide like wild game, escape to the underground
tunnel leading to a sunlit, pastoral nirvana
that makes a living in nearly everyone’s mind.
New plane and playing field, we will learn to live
within ourselves without touching flesh-to-flesh,
without feeling the prolonged kiss that wanders
and explores new territory of an uncertain future.
Gasoline makes game scarce.
– William Stafford (“From the Move to California”)
A honk in the dark under clouds,
a lost goose circles the canyon’s walls
as it listens for an answer,
as I listen to the creek
rush instead of gurgle
since the rain.
Turkeys gobble over the rise
I cannot see, pausing like tree frogs
to join the chorus.
Not a car on the road
with headlights dancing
between posts and barbed wire—
there are no bounds to the black,
no interruption to the sounds
as if we and our machines
have abandoned this canyon
to its own devices.
Orange Harvest Mural by Colleen Michell-Veyna—Exeter, CA
The valley sinks with pumping
deeper and deeper
into investor’s pockets
before they take the write-off,
before they turn the ground
for a profit.
It’s a clean deal
with no hands dirty.
We are the immigrants
from another time
growing closer to the soil,
dreaming still of rain, bumper crops
and markets high enough
to pay the bank off—
mom and pops
who stay the ground.
The natives heard them coming,
saw the woodsmoke,
left rabbits on the doorstep
to keep the guns inside—
to not spook the game
that fed them before
the tule elk and
antelope were gone.
Mid-afternoon, after-rain beneath cottony cumulus
with sails set north trailing the long-awaited storm,
a lone coyote’s husky bark, cows and calves
across the creek frozen alertly upon the green—
I must assume the feral pigs now have had their fill
of the young bull I had to kill two weeks ago
with broken leg sunk deep into a squirrel hole
while sparring with his mates passing idle time
with unemployed testosterone awaiting the long,
hog-truck trip home to a feedlot in Idaho.
Stiff hide and disconnected bones don’t care
having filled the bellies of our sanitary engineers.
Reading this, you
have survived the wars
by wit or luck
to suffer more.
It is our nature
that eternal dark emptiness,
remains the same—
Inside my rabbit hole:
last spring’s late rains
killing quail chicks
while turkeys thrived
This spring dry
a carpet of golden
beneath hard hills
Beyond my hide-away:
a scuffling of men
(and women, too)
changing places in line—
some running for election,
some running for cover,
some running in fear
to empty shelves
to stay alive.
It is our nature to endure.
She didn’t stay long
or leave much in the way
her fine gray mist
to brighten green,
and relieve the pain
for a well-begged rain—
a sniff and taste
to lure us closer
toward our reward
like this cold dawn’s
flat to the ground,
February 23, 2020