Tag Archives: William Stafford


                                        Every day, every evening, every
                                        abject step or stumble has become heroic—

                                                – William Stafford (“Waiting In Line”)

What once was wild play
when we could right ourselves
and dodge the ricochets,

reach and rope a dream
that danced on a long twine,
is no less heroic now

measuring each hoof beat,
every swing in the branding pen.
I have watched old men

ride closer to the center
of concentric circles in time
spinning quickly on the outside

to find their dot within
a slow-motion bull’s eye
just to inhale the details

that make each moment rich—
and dammit, that’s just what
I’ve gone and done.


“Hay for the Horses”


                              Now I carry those days in a tiny box
                              wherever I go.

                                   – William Stafford (“Remembering”)

I feel for pocket-knife, keys and wallet,
handkerchief, cigarettes and lighter
before I pull on my boots, find my glasses

and pick which hat to meet the day’s
surprises, but this tiny box is always
with me. Before daylight, I crack the lid

to see what wants out on paper: a river,
a lake or Sierra pass take shape, pine smoke
curls through cedar boughs and I am

there with coffee before an eager fire
on another cold morning. Here money
buys nothing, and no more than paper

to ignite wet kindling after a thunderstorm,
all other urgencies are washed away, shed
downstream to mix and pool in the Valley—

like the Christmas flood of ‘67, when
they shipped food and freight into Visalia
by boat in May. We think we have

seen extremes, but the San Joaquin
has always been changing—begun
in the mountains, days above it all away.


                        “If you keep the faith I will exist
                        at the edge, where your vision joins
                        the sunlight and the rain: heads in the light,
                        feet that go down into the mud where the truth is.”
                                – William Stafford (“Spirit of Place: Great Blue Heron”)

In a dark corner of my cerebrum,
hangs a painting framed like a window
to a bright summer’s day, a Blue Heron

fishing from the steep concrete bank
of the Friant-Kern Canal, legs braced
at the edge of snowmelt snaking

through foothill orchards south –
faded black stenciled letters saying:

Far from the noisy rookery in the tops
of sycamores above the bogs and frogs,
a tourist, an opportunist, this old will

adapts to all kinds of weather to outlive
our politics, our genius and mistakes –
as good a place as any to hang hope.


                              …close, reliable friends
                              in the earth, in the air, in the rock.

                                 – William Stafford (“Father’s Voice”)

Go hear the voices echo
from common ground, watch
metaphors unfold, alone –
and close like petals, day after day
before they die to scatter, ripe seed
for rains, months or years away.

Tom Homer got the credit
each time my father said,
He looks, but just don’t see…

                              a nod or intonation
                              after years of repetition
                              planted in our brains
                              as a landmark to go by

whether riding fence for wages
or surviving the future – each twisted limb
has something sure to say.

Among them, there are no lies.
Deception and miscalculation, yes –
but all the truth that has endured
our wild imagination is still alive.


                        Under the bank a muskrat was trembling
                        with meaning my hand would wear forever.

                                      – William Stafford (“Ceremony”)

We were those days we envy now
with time to cut and paste around
the scenes that needed editing,

our thin thread stretched into a thick
lariat wrapped in purpose – yet,
we were much more consumed

in the loose meanderings of our
sweet naïveté, the unresolved knots
and tangles without ends – like

David Lee’s colloquial roll
in Barbed Wire, before ‘them pliers’ –
like Stafford’s Ceremony under the bank

in that river, our blood flows red
among the roots of things still living
along the oxbows towards our beginning.


                        Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
                        You don’t ever let go of the thread.

                                      – William Stafford, (“The Way It Is”)

Out on Highway 99, silhouettes of semi-trucks
appear in the fog, grow into tiny lights ahead
or leer, big-eyed from behind in a blind rush –

up and down the Valley – like trains submerged,
caravans tunneling this thick and gray resistance
to time’s unfolding as the road grows longer.

The Real Birds came visiting in their Cadillac
and laughed at how I measured miles to Fresno
by the clock, grinning from a grounded dimension.

Our thread is not a straight line connecting cities,
but meanders more like a creek with gravity –
with the flow or against the current to its source.