Yearning is an easy look
backwards, a slow-moving canvas
colored to taste, shaded by habit.
Our war whoops but echoes
fading in canyons on trails of broken
brush long-overgrown, mocking
our wild-eyed blindness
since sharpened and tempered
by scars upon scars and time.
Now is the moment we begin
to be all we can—to revel
in its rich accomplishment.
When we quit questioning,
when darkness falls
upon the wilderness of wonder,
are we afraid
of our imagination,
of other possibilities
among the night songs?
How full and fresh the child
that asks and asks, that sees
the disconnected weave
a vibrant tapestry!
How stale is he
that wears the answers
chiseled in a cave
to recite by braille.
The clichés rained
when I was young
like hollow outlines
I was destined to fill
with real details—
sayings tested with
bullets with agility
and dumb luck
to get old enough
to speak at funerals
of a few good friends
who rode with me,
or saw it all
from a distance:
no straight track
in the senses. But
no longer hackneyed
hints for youth,
they become fresh,
reborn with answers
at our fingertips.
Posted in Poems 2015
Tagged age, life, youth
A boy’s bed upon the ground,
I stared at stars and wondered
if I was worth keeping alive
as I slept, if I could trust
the darkness to hold me
safe until morning—
looking up through
all the bright holes
of a rusty bucket sky,
with a greater light
beyond the night—
I drew lines in the sky,
instead of counting sheep.
Exploring with a gun alone, oak trees
spoke to me—Red Tails swooped
to the wounded and buzzards trailed
at a safe distance when I was ten—
half-wild, I thought, circumambulating
the endless draws and canyons that called
for company and conversation—shooting
squirrels and hunting rattlesnakes in rock piles.
They would have jailed my folks today.
The first butterfly I saw batted by a bobcat
played better than Walt Disney, better than
the Space Race, Cold War or Sputnik.
Sulphur & 17, 2014
It’s all new ground, this branding in the dry—even though Robbin rigged and ran a sprinkler from a spring-filled tank the day before to keep the dust down. Conditions were delightful. Still feeding everyday, but wearing down as we and our neighbors try to get a few calves marked as we go. It’s time, a month later than normal. Naturally, the calves are lighter, not the big and bloomy kind that draw compliments or test the ground crew.
Age and youth, the cowboy dream alive and realized in the same pen, at the same moment, under perhaps the worst circumstances of weather to date in California. Surviving the Drought of 1977 early in my career gave me confidence during the many dry years since, but these historical dry times will impact the future for man and beast for years to come. Busy with the basics, we have yet to imagine some of these far-reaching impacts.
But it’s reassuring to be in the company of neighbors, all of us in the same boat with the same decisions to make: whether to buy more hay or sell more cows—usually both that can’t last forever. Most our brandings roll ‘old-people slow’, just right for us and a few throwback kids that might want this kind of life. What they don’t know, of course, is that they invigorate and inspire us, help keep us going, make it all the more worthwhile.
Even now, the news glides like manes
and tails over me to pass beneath the sun—
sometimes precursors to a good rain,
a dark storm, but mostly mean nothing
to horses and cows, to the bobcat planted
at the outskirts of Squirrel Town, haunches
frozen in the filtered light. There was a time
I yearned to find my legs elsewhere, test
the edge and taste the wild among the crowd,
lust in love and make news of my own.
But born in the sticks, more like a coyote
than a house dog, I crave the space to grow
gray within my nature, stay to the canyon
and let the headlines pass like one more
empty cloud and save my howling for the moon.