Shaking hands with my former self
in these chaotic times
may not be progress. The clock
ticks backwards to dust clouds
and loud hurrahs, to whoops of youth
and muscles flexed to hold
the heroic buck and run
of someone else’s dreams—
a reckless swagger into smaller light.
I could have died several times
and learned nothing—my grip
to meet myself eye-to-eye.
From out of the smoke
raining with ash, white egret
at standing water.
No social distancing, evening conversation
centers on introductions as sorrel horses
welcome first-calf heifers coming to water:
no politics, no economic woes, just
domesticated souls touching nose-to-nose
before shadows crawl across the canyon.
We are enveloped for prolonged minutes
within their quiet reverie, forgetting
all the bad news they’ll never know.
A pair of precocious little gray birds I’ve never noticed before have spent the summer with Robbin and me, drinking several times a day at the dog’s water on the deck. Smaller than our Western Flycatcher and with a slight crown like a Kingbird, we assumed they were juveniles. At 111 degrees they water more frequently now, arriving open beaked, the female seems shier and more bedraggled than the male. The best ID I can come up with is that they are Wood Pewees, but I defer to others more qualified.
Besides the livestock water troughs that are difficult for many birds to drink from, our inadvertent plumbing leaks draw a wide variety of birds from all around. Now that the spring Bird Wars are over, a territorial drama where the eggs and babies of one nest feed the babies of a larger species, they seem to have found peace in the shade of our yard. Woodpeckers cling to sprinkler heads to get a drop at a time, coveys of quail include a pipeline leak on their daily rounds and Towhees cool beneath the mist of our garden irrigation. It’s quite a show if you can stand to be outside.
You can almost smell them curled
asleep or stretched across smooth rocks,
shining shades of earth, charming
and deadly. They don’t want trouble,
come home each year to make a living,
to together stand above the grasses
wrapped in urgent procreation
as the dry seeds roll in painted gourds—
the dance begins, as they collapse
and rise again. To stay connected,
I’m told that the penis is shaped
like a T —barbs both sides— and
that she can draw upon the sperm
as needed for years. Generations
of brothers and sisters know
their way home. Grandmothers
carry the future and grandfathers watch
and listen, crawl into your mind
to know your secrets, to hear
your confessions to all the ridgeline
men long-gone before you.
clutch the fate of the planet
with thin filament.
It was impossible to make it through the tragedy
– Joy Harjo (“Becoming Seventy”)
This other world of cows and calves,
of motherhood exemplified, and bulls,
like men, trailing wire of down fences
is yet to be expected. A bumper crop
of rodents and snakes surround us,
the full moon coyote count of duets
and trios draws closer around us
in the half-light. The metaphors
and similes come easily to favor
humanity ‘midst the tragic chaos
where the latest issue of the truth
has come to be disbelieved.
Sometimes I sell ‘em ten bucks at a time, but mostly
when I give ‘em away to friends, I tell ‘em
like I tole Baxter a few months after he signed
“Croutons on a Cowpie” for me years ago in Elko
where all the cowboy singers and poets meet
in the dead of winter, everbody huggin and shakin hands
like famly, new boots and silver glinting coin piled
in rooms like warm cocoons to listen, safe from the outside
news, just to sing and tell stories with roughshod poetry.
First time I went in ’89 to read my stuff I was skairt
until I run into Ramblin Jack who I hadn’t seen since ’66
at the Ashgrove, plumb skairt ever since Sunday school
stage plays screwed my face up so tight to where
I couldn’t say my lines. But seein Jack made ever thing
all right. Now that Baxter’s older, he understands
that it was a compliment, ‘specially since he’s a vet
and knows how the body sometimes works best
when the brain is busy with something else,
busy and out of the way of regular business.
I wrote to Baxter that I’d took his book off my desk,
pulled it out from under loose stacks of poetry
for my top shelf—so I mean it when I tell ‘em
my poems are mostly short and will work best
if you take and leave ‘em in the bathroom.
for George Perreault and “Bodark County”
Having slain hundreds, another battalion digs in
to undermine the well and water trough, to scout
the garden for an attack on the last tomatoes.
The quail have made a comeback in coveys,
strings of babies trailing on training wheels
making circles, mornings and evenings.
Before our eyes, another lifelong mate
in the making, Roadrunners packing lizards
and snails to their nest in prickly pear cactus.
The heavy-limbed sycamores shade a ribbon
of green along the dry creek bed, sub-irrigated
Bermuda grass a few bulls graze between bellowing.
Black cows shine on a side-hill grade, either side
of the canyon, or silhouettes in shade gossiping
and grinding cud, having shed their babies.
SUVs, RVs, camp trailers and fifth-wheels
escape the confinement of cities to dodge Covid-19
and logging trucks on a narrow mountain road
to the pines, and I don’t blame them—with
a thousand ways to go, why not migrate
where no one seems to worry about dying.
There is an easy beauty in the bronze statues
dredged up from the ocean, but there is a worth
to the unshapely our sweet mind founders on.
– Jack Gilbert (“The Secret”)
Even the old fence posts, split redwood
from the coast eighty years ago,
serve a purpose more than by design,
unexpected dividends through a lifetime
that can’t be spent or bartered—saved only
in our minds. I had stopped to photograph
the White Tailed Kite’s extended hovering,
treading air against gravity while searching
dry, blond grasses for the movement of a mouse—
expending more energy, it seemed, than a rodent
could provide. My feet grow heavy now
as I circumambulate this uneven ground
following seasons of grass with cows and calves,
praying for relief of flood or drought, hoping
to generate enough to do it all over again.