Blessed are we with the diversions
of spring in bloom: colored orchestrations
of multisyllabic assonance rhyming
with short-clipped awe: an ever-changing tune
that steals the senses midst tumultuous times.
Blessed are we to be alive with work to do.
Always the War to measure the world by:
patriotic hawks enlisting reluctant doves
as fodder that shocked us into an explosion
of lyrics and melodies—an awakening
for music, a renaissance for humanity
we pray may come this way again soon.
The telephone line goes cold;
birds tread it wherever it goes.
– William Stafford (“The Farm on the Great Plains”)
He was old, but younger than I am today,
digging earthworms for a rusty coffee can,
cane pole and cork bobber for the bass hole
on the Kaweah where he pumped water
for summer pasture before the Flood of ‘55
took it all, but memories, downstream.
In those days, we were rich with time to spend
on foolishness, watching water and bobber
in the warm morning’s sunshine. I call
back occasionally, but there is no ring
on the other end for anyone to answer,
no one left at home, no fish in the bass hole.
with rain enough to restore
dry hills green again.
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.
– Robert Louis Stevenson (“The Land of Nod”)
Gray days, low clouds hide
green horizons, the divide
between us and the bizarre
business of Coronavirus
nightly counting corpses
like sheep to fall asleep
in the Land of Nod.
Sequestered among the heavy
heads of Fidddleneck
bowing wet with rain,
our dreams unchanged:
sweet grass enough to keep
cattle fat and happy,
to keep us hungry with
high hopes for humanity.
Watching the corrals from a distance:
young men a horseback dancing in the sort
of cows from calves before branding
amid a discordant chorus, the same
plaintive song of years worn thin
that holds the heart in place as the eyes
fade and the mind wanders a far
ridge searching for the first split
in the trail that leads to this short
moment of chance and circumstance—
apart and beyond the world’s fear and all
the raw conflicts that feed it senseless.
A man rides by the seat of his pants,
pockets of memory that reach for the rhythm
of a horse collected, the singing twine.
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.