During hot and dry times
the little birds gather
around the house—
leaks and irrigation—
to timed misters
at six o’clock,
quail rolling to a stop
at the water trough,
and swallows plunging
into the ‘sip and dip’.
But the thirstiest of all,
the nervous Oak Titmouse
at the dog’s dish,
one drop at a time
all day long.
We leave winter’s ice and snow
on the other side of the Sierras,
find spring colors waiting,
poppies and lupine in canyons,
yellow mustard claiming gentle
slopes of green, green grass.
How we worry with the bloom,
feel the leer of summer peeking
already to forget the drought.
When were children, we ran half-naked
through July and August sprinklers
where the tough Bermuda grass
always needed mowing. We spurned
shady places and lay instead with girls
getting baby lotion tans. As my flesh
cooked, I would close my eyes, fireworks
beneath their lids—my imagination ran
to places I knew nothing about—
just disconnected flashes of flames
within the black. No one seemed
to mind the heat in those days.
A man gives up early in the summer,
too warm for wine, too hot for evening
poetry to endure, before darkness closes
the oven doors to bake in the black.
The Kings River calls, trout singing
from the riffles, asking why, when
trails of natives and early settlers rise
into the mountains, spread like webs
into the pine cabins and camps
beside the mantra of running water
through the night. I go early to bed
to get there in my dreams.
My pagan sunrise hangs over the black ridge
reaching for the saddle this side of Sulphur
Peak with blinding light, this native place
where women healed themselves—to endure
this longest day of hundred degree heat.
Each day shorter, we move with confidence
towards October, imagine gusts beneath
dark clouds that bring the storm gods closer
to bless this dry and dusty dirt with rain.
Outside, early summer heat stifles
the mind, bakes a hard crust
upon the brain beneath straw lids—
eyes roll and detach within flashes
of white light, falling towards delirium:
I cannot breathe or see connections,
I cannot think, I cannot write.
Small comfort that I am not alone
within this fuzzy circumstance.
Harassed by a squadron kingbirds,
a Great Blue glides and lights
upon the gravel, stands tall
to claim any open space,
grounded for battle. All supposed
sentiments have escaped to shade,
gone north to cooler climes.
Summer in the San Joaquin,
a damn hard time to write.
Dawn bears down early,
sears flesh exposed,
blinds eye and mind
into a fuzzy daze,
fiery-white as hell
must be. We plod
slowly with heads bowed
to mantras of water
keeping the living alive.
Like cattle, we bed with
welcome breezes moving
shade to shade.
I’ve little time for wonder—
warm days plod circles,
wear dust tracks in thin dry grass
we follow like cow trails
without looking beyond them.
There is no adventure,
no endorphin rush,
no epiphany other than
one more summer
to endure, to survive
like lichen on rock.