Tag Archives: Wendell Berry

GOOD LUCK FISHING

 

                         Don’t pray for the rain to stop.
                         Pray for good luck fishing
                         when the river floods.

                                – Wendell Berry (“Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer”)

And we will fish reflection pools
with Egrets and Great Blue Herons, wade
cloudy skies when the creek subsides

listening to the glorious chorus of tree frogs
croaking symphonies from fresh verdancy—
the canyon clean, all tracks erased

but for the moment to begin again.
What better luck can any god offer
a mad farmer, or mankind?

April 1968: my feet wet with fishing
the great white limbs of sycamores,
naked canopies reflected below me,

recording fresh soliloquies on war
that have not changed but for poetic
editing each time the creek rises—

hope still claims high water marks
beyond the creek bank, despite
clear-cut scars upon this landscape

after a decade’s invasion of machinery
from towns craving to become cities.
We pray yet for good luck fishing.

 

VISITORS

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                                                A song, not mine,
                              stuttered in the flame.

                                   – Wendell Berry (“From the Distance”)

I was awake and she was smiling,
eyes speaking through the darkness—
tears of relief in my own.

We have our visitors, hear the gravel
on the drive turn under wheel,
without warning. Or the dog barks.

Or upon the happenstance of a phrase
yet echoing, they arrive
around the fire we are warmed by.

Living beyond the life we contemplate,
they assure us with a sign, align
the flight of birds with words

gliding, or in a whir of wings
they clutch our hearts. Are we
but aging flesh measured by numbers

and graded like meat to be consumed
by the machine, or is there another
currency common among all men?

 

WHEN WORDS ARE DONE

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                                                                                     the world
                                                  lives in the death of speech
                                                  and sings there.

                                                       – Wendell Berry (“The Silence”)

 

We name landmarks on maps in our minds
so we can go there. Some to detail feeling
with art reaching-out to all humanity
searching for that common hearthstone

beyond man’s hackneyed adjectives
and political objectives. We press names
into place with indelible ink hoping
to get lost in the map’s open space

to touch the unnamable and soar
with the song. Those elusive, musical
fragments, those glimpses in trees, but
all we have when words are done.

 

Early Morning Writing

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Fellow blogger menomama3, Life in a Flash and Wuthering Bites, has asked that I share my writing process.

 

To begin with,

I get up early, my writing habit for years. It’s black outside except for one unobtrusive mercury vapor light at the horse barn, not a sound in the canyon. This is my time. No ringing phone, no demands from the outside world. My mind is fresh from whatever dream possessed it while I slept and relaxed. Often a dream lingers inexplicably, sometimes a day or two with vivid images and interactions or just a fog of feeling I can’t explain. But bottomline, my mind is all mine for a couple of hours.

Staring at a blank white sheet is not as intimidating as it used to be, and more often than not I already have a line strumming in my head, perhaps one garnered from my sleep. If not, because this is my discipline to write every morning, I have several collections from poets I admire on my desk that I may open randomly, and many on the shelf if the ones close at hand don’t help my inspiration.

In either event, the first line goes down. It may become the third line, last line, but in the process, that’s unimportant. By the third or fourth line of the first stanza, I’ll probably reorganize the first line anyway, or trash it altogether. I edit while I write, unlike many poets I know. My poetry is somewhat lyrical, and this jousting around in the first stanza or two, I think, is to set the meter or rhythm of the poem. I tend towards internal rhyme, it seems, and lean on it heavily to establish, or reestablish, meter.

I may approach the page with strong purpose, but most of the time I don’t know exactly where I’m going, and that’s the fun part. This grazing livestock culture relies heavily on metaphor, on personification, on anthropomorphic (new word, Suzanne?) explanations, and with that, a unique vernacular I also try to utilize in my poetry, as my own way of thinking.

I depend on details that I visualize to turn a line in a poem, a cause and effect, hands-on approach, and allow myself to feel the action, to become vulnerable and human, hoping to connect with readers beyond my world.

And why?

Reclusive by nature, the cattle culture has been under siege for generations. Hollywood has not helped our reputation, nor have a half-dozen well-meaning campaigns originating in town to oust us from the land, often in favor of development or other extractive industries. Our livelihoods are dependent on the renewable resource of grass. In it for the long term, we do everything we can to keep the ground, and our cattle, healthy. Land and cattle, we are one family, and that comes first.

Projects

come when time allows, I have several in my head: a chapbook with a working title of The Dry Years (surely to sell like hotcakes) and a perfect-bound, larger collection that will include the chap; also an eBook of photographs and haiku, when I can find a format as kind to the photographs as wordpress has been.

 

IN OUR BONES

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                                                                        memory
                                              speaking to knowledge,
                                              finally, in my bones.

                                                   – Wendell Berry (“The Gathering”)

 
On the staircase, generations stepped,
fathers above sons, as if a portrait
of success in stern, reoccurring dreams
that have no place for me
in the old house—a dark fortress now
with high ceilings and glass chandeliers,
Oriental carpets preserved in stale air.

Yet from my mouth they speak,
reverberations in my skull come true,
time and again, phrases on landmarks
in the wilderness of circumstance
for me to find with my own tongue.

The space between my bones
pops and cracks like knotty pine
bleeding into a high-country fire, bright
cloud of embers rising to the stars
above us all. I grow more deliberate,
measuring with my eye, tasting sweet
words that with plodding come
deliciously useful, beautiful notions
that with love have borne fruit.

Last night, the only two I knew
came back to me grinning, gray
outside eyes asquint and pleased—
but without praise, as always.
We have found our simple way
near to this earth and all its beasts,
learning a common dialect
that speaks, ultimately, in our bones.

 

WILD GOD

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                         By division we speak, out of wonder.
                              – Wendell Berry (“To Gary Snyder”)

Alone and small within
the Sierra granite, day or night,
I ached for more

than horses and mules
to share the deep
disarming awe at each turn

of the trail, pure snowmelt
reflections of heaven
rippling beneath me,

the infinite blackness,
as I lay down to sleep,
perforated with galaxies

that surrounded me
like lantern light twinkling
off mica-flecked rock.

Perhaps it was that Sabbath
when greenheads rose from the cattails,
drops of water trailing their ascension

and my father’s long pause
to speak beyond religions
that drew me to the wild.

 

IDES OF SEPTEMBER

 

                        I began to be followed by a voice saying:
                        “It can’t last. It can’t last.
                        Harden yourself. Harden yourself.
                        Be ready. Be ready.”

                              – Wendell Berry (“Song in a Year of Catastrophe”)

Two laps around the sun, the voice, it dogs me—
recalling tougher times, tougher men and their women
who bore it all, the earth and flesh as one.

We are ready—weary, but ready once again for change:
the stirring of dry leaves clinging beneath thin clouds,
long shadows as the sun slips south, the raft of Widgeon

freshly arrived rising at first light, circling back
despite me. The silhouettes of first calves gathered
in shaded nurseries around oak trees, knowing only

the voice and scent of mother, dust and dirt—
blissfully naïve of rain, green leaves of grass
waiting in ambush somewhere ahead on this dry track.

We give in to it, the certainty, and sink into the earth
emulating centuries of oak trees. The barns are full
and ready as the bellies of cows heavy with calf.

 

 

AFTER TALKING WITH GAIL

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                    what was done in blindness,
                    loving what I cannot save.

                         – Wendell Berry (“To My Children, Fearing For Them”)

No bluecoats, no cavalry trumpeting,
no loping long line of sabers flashing
to rescue what was commonplace before

we put ourselves first, drank the water,
pumped the earth dry, our children
abandoned to a new order in time

of scrutiny and enforcement. We believed
in magic, but their emptiness is mine—
a greater void than I can fill with poetry.

 

 

WPC(4) — “Silhouette”

Collisions in Place

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Though we don’t leave the canyon often, it’s always fun to speculate about moving to another place, like Victoria where summer temperatures are 25°F cooler than the San Joaquin Valley, where the urban pace is not as urgent as California, where the air is clean and clear. It’s been over a year since we’ve left the ranch on Dry Creek, the dust and drought, the cattle, but in Victoria our daydreams broke free enough to take on details, like trying on new clothes for a decent fit.

Concurrently, I was reading Wendell Berry’s “Imagination in Place”, a collection of essays that exemplify the concept of how belonging to a place can offer a more sustainable vision for it, our community, and ourselves. Reading from Victoria, it was clear that I had not exhausted what was possible on Dry Creek, despite a lifetime of observations, improvements and reams of poetry.

Unbeknownst to us, my daughter Jessica For the Archives who lives on the island of Kauai, was visiting Galiano Island with her husband and son. We’re lucky to see them once a year, so to have them near as the band rehearsed for their show on Salt Spring Island, to pick up where we last left off so effortlessly in a place that was not home to either of us (though Jessica had spent a year on Salt Spring Island) was an interesting mix of exhilarating emotions. We loved it.

Arriving home to the Islands just ahead of hurricanes Iselle and Julio, they were thrown into hurricane prep mode, boarding windows and stowing stuff. But living on a Noni farm with access to well water and a solar pump increased their sense of security, the whole experience enhancing their confidence to ride out most disasters—part of learning to live in a place.

She emails: “Curious how it’s been for you coming home. Sometimes it’s hard to return, other times it feels so good. Sometimes, it’s a little of both.”

It has not been an effort to fall back into the mundane routine of feeding and irrigating, checking stockwater and cows that will begin calving in a couple of weeks. The long shadows of August promise change, the monsoonal thunderheads in the high mountains and the gusts they bring to the canyon excite us to feel young and alive as summer begins its retreat into what we hope will be a normal year of grass and rain. We start over again in a place we know and trust.

REMAKING HOME

The dogs are barking now,
raccoons in the rocks—
chattering moon shadows

discussing the last of the Elbertas
they can’t see picked
in a bowl at the sink.

Stray Queensland waits
for daylight at the dog pens—
fell out of someone’s pickup

coming late off the mountain.
Then to the hitch rack, smell
of horse and hoof, sure

of a ride home. He knows
the dandy who can’t remember
where or when he lost him.

Loose four nights, pen door
open to food, his voice
grows deeper into the dark.