The canyon quiet by the fourth dawn, heads buried
beneath the waves of blond dry grasses, behind spears
of wild oats arching empty husks, first-time mothers
grazing like we expect our perfect world to be.
No plaintive calls, no searching draws, no panicked
pleading to canyon walls for their weaned calves
they have almost forgotten. We are relieved
of guilt, unburdened from their guttural mourning,
the harsh cacophony of maternity, of eighty
broken bonds rasping, wild wailing around us.
Aging skin grows thin imagining the magic
of companionship delivered from the womb,
of nursing, of mothering the first-born and losing it.
Emptiness and sorrow for a lost friend gone,
these cows giving voice to my unusual confusion.
Spring lingers into May, empty
blue clouds in a pink sea at dawn—
an ancient armada claiming sky,
this canyon that yesterday’s Navy jets
left thundering, practicing, maneuvering
for war. Here along the shrinking creek
Egrets and Killdeer wade, we measure
global tension, hear its roar, primitive
and deafening with no retreat.
Two sections of grass,
twenty-four tons on the hoof
leaving for your plate.
A season teeters
on the beam, calves condensing
strong grass on the hoof.
Ants in the anthill, we feel the quake
of giant footfalls, cloven hooves
and rubber tread approaching, yet
stick to the business of our survival
unabashed, sorting the wild grain
packed by caravans for winter’s cold.
Our one mind is not cluttered
with news beyond our borders,
the fallen oak and swollen creek—
of all the peripheral shenanigans
delegated to orators and generals,
to pundits and playwrights busy
with dramatic scripts to entertain
themselves. We serve another purpose
dedicated to feeding ourselves.
Why do we
invite the world’s rancors and agonies
Into our minds though walking in a wilderness?
– Robinson Jeffers (“Going to Horse Flats”)
All the props in place, the stage is ever-set
for calamities, for the struggles for power,
for deceit in scripts yet unwritten, but predictable.
Two Red Tails strafe a passing eagle
reluctantly retreating to a steep hillside
to stand his ground, claim his space
to face their withdrawal. We watch snakes
squeeze and swallow one another whole
as the bobcat waits upon the tailings of a burrow—
this world, and that beyond it, turns on violence
despite our protests, despite our compromises,
despite the logic of compassion to dissuade it long.
Flash of tender bloom
for a single day each year
when we remember.
“Let the Mothers Decide to Make War”
When awaking barefoot in the dark,
we try to keep the reptiles out
of the house and our hazy dreams
knowing that if tree frogs can slip
through the cracks beneath our doors,
so might the snakes investigating
their whereabouts or ours. As early
surveillance from the underworld,
the Natives let the rattlesnake be—
to help keep everyone honest
by dispatching the evil among them.
Best be good, but keep your eyes peeled!
Killdeer spread their wings
over indentations in the crushed
gravel, over four speckled eggs
that look like granite washed
off the mountains and mined
from an ancient alluvium,
then hauled up the canyon
and spread like a blanket
in our driveway to keep
summer’s dust down
or getting stuck in winter’s
mud when it decides to rain.
Sometimes in the spring,
we mark them with a rock
to avoid lest we forget
little puffs on toothpicks
born on the run for bugs
and the cover of the creek.
Half-a-dozen Great White Egrets
fly up the creek to light
in a sycamore to plot fishing
a slow pool for frogs and minnows—
pick their stations before
wading in from the cobbled shore.
None here when I was a boy,
they also hunt gophers, stand
like sentinels scattered in the pasture
with the Great Blue Herons
atop tailings from spring cleaning
waiting for movement to impale.
There are no borders south of here
where they come from, no racial
tension with so much else to do.