Tag Archives: Gary Snyder

BACKCOUNTRY WAY

                               We were following a long river into the mountains.
                                                  – Gary Snyder (“Journeys”)

On the outskirts of the backcountry,
the foothill hem of the Great
                                                            Western Divide
we head upstream, drifting closer to
                                                            the Kaweahs
where the Big Arroyo falls to the other side.

Ko said, “Now we have come to where we die.”

                    How many aged, hip shot horses finally look up
                    from dreams, asleep on their feet, not wanting
                    to wake into our fenced realities, recalled
                    to mountain meadows fed by Sierra lakes
                    and snowmelt? We saved her once, fallen
                    off the High Sierra Trail, but Jane escaped
                    and stayed the winter on the Big Arroyo
                    with only scattered bones to show.

We become the animals that have taught us
how to forage and gather for the future,
the fang and claw of predator and prey—
we relearn the language and how to think.
We hold no fear of death.

Two young black cows, calves trailing
a long steep bluff of trees and rock
to the sound of my Kubota with alfalfa,
a flat spot in a short canyon cove I own
where I’ve never fed before. Here
I am the interloper without a history.
A gray Prairie Falcon glides low
overhead, treads air to inspect me
in his territory, falls to perch on a clod
for another perspective as the cows eat,
then returns to the top of his oak tree.

When I was a boy, I might have shot him
for a closer look, like Audubon inspecting
the feathers of his handlebar moustache.

                    But now he is my totem,
                    both on journeys upstream—
                    “This is the way
                    to the backcountry.”

                                                  For Sylvia and Matthew

UNDER TOUGH OLD STARS

                                        In the shadow of bluffs
                                                            I came back to myself,
                                        To the real work, to
                                                            “What is to be done.”

                                – Gary Snyder (“I Went into the Maverick Bar”)

Little sermons to myself,
seldom sure, but ready
for a swim of details,
never twice the same—like
a trout facing upcanyon.

Every hoss has a hole
somewhere, a place for
training, for a rolling spur
or word to remind him
of the real work to be done.

Out here, we wear gruff
so well that we dismiss
any other way to dress,
as if survival was enough
to endorse our ignorance.

Out here, a man can forget
there is another world
he can’t escape—living
within him—a place to
write a poem to himself.

JUST RIGHT!

                        Scrambling through loose rocks
                        On an old trail
                        All of a summer’s day.

                                    – Gary Snyder (“Milton by Firelight”)

What better place to read
than by firelight, each word
flickering into the next.

Slow progress in the harsh
landscapes of our mind’s
eye, to linger there and read

Snyder aloud to friends
around white coals, shadows
and sound, starlit night.

It happens then, the wind
in pines, off edges of granite,
the bell mare and coyote

interrupting lines,
feeling poetic
just at the right time.