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December 26, 2007

WEIGHMASTERS

It’s not a cartoon, yet the main character
seems to be a courageous mouse, a clean
and ingenious rodent who dares beyond

the thatched breastworks of his nest,
out of his clutch of dry grasses into
the real and dangerous world.

I open the scale box as he leaps
to the ruled beam and disappears like
a fireman down the connecting rod

onto the long arms that will hold fat
steers suspended in air, above the small
rattler curled asleep in the dark cool.

He starts back up the rusty rod, poking
his nose through the square hole of the box
as I sweep his home aside with the cobwebs,

leaving nothing to impede the full swing
of the scale beam. He watches as I oil
the sliding counterweights that have measured

a life’s work: each May weighing the season’s
grass harvested from hills since before I was
born – he hangs there twitching whiskers,

but every third draft, moves back into the box
as I balance, trading-out his high-rise rent
just like the generations before us.


January 1, 2008: One of the interesting aspects of publishing early drafts of poetry online is the ongoing editing after the fact. Knowing full well that not every piece is a keeper and not satisfied with this one, I considered deleting the entry altogether at one point during our busy, but delightful, holidays with family. Generally deaf to suggestions from others in this regard, I received the following as part of an email:

Wow. This verse so sounds like you. And yet!?! It sounds of a new voice too. I’m not articulate or knowledgeable enough to have a clue why, but it does. Every day I’ve snuck back to reread it a couple of times as I do my daily internet stuff.

Today in the savoring, it hit me that I’ve been reading about your mouse starting with the third stanza. Huh? So I paused to pay attention, and questioned the habit. While this is just the thought of one errant broad in Reno . . . . For me the verse really holds up beautifully without the opening commentary. And, I’m tempted to wonder of the title being just “The Weight.”

I have posted the original version in the ‘continued’ section below for anyone interested in where we started. She is right about drop-kicking the first two stanzas, my early-morning warm-up lines that became separate from the poem early-on in the writing only to find their way back as part of it before I was done. My reasoning for keeping them was reinforcing the ‘conversational’ tone, perhaps the ‘new voice’ she refers to. Dropping the article, I’m sticking to the title to reinforce the make-believe partnership. The voice actually reminds me of “Cattails” published in the eponymous chapbook in 1993 and reprinted below.


CATTAILS

Bobcat, bored with squirrel meat and Valley Quail,
watched Great Bear snag Salmon in the cobbled rapids
below the many mountain forks of the Kaweah River.

Following bones & fishtails, he schemed of how to taste
fish without getting wet. He thought to emulate
Rattlesnake's slow movement that enticed Field Mice to him.

Above the sandy cutbank where Salmon swam, dark & green,
Bobcat hung the black tuft of his long tail, teasing Salmon
to investigate & leap from the water onto the dry rocks.

Having such great fun making angry Salmon jump & churn
the water, Bobcat forgot all about eating fish. Rolling
in the willow shade with laughter, he forgot about his tail.

Babcat screamed and ran, dragging Salmon into the sand,
his pretty tail clamped tight in the sharp teeth. In pain with
tears, he begged Salmon to let go, promising not to eat him.

Salmon broke Bobcat's tail to speak, "I shall die soon
anyway to be pecked by Ravens & eaten by Raccoons, but
you, Bobcat, shall never fool anyone again with your tail."

Ashamed, Bobcat hid in the hills to hunt only at night.
And there, where the Kaweah slows below the mountains,
Salmon died to rot in the sand with Bobcat's pretty tail.

From that day since, for every child of Bobcat's children
born without tails, & for every child of Salmon's children
never spawned, here cattails first began to grow on tules.


THE WEIGHMASTERS

Little things are important to a dream,
all the intertwined details rearranged to make
sense of what we see through the knotholed

fence surrounding each new construction –
keeping us out of the way and safe until
completed, or so it seems these days.

It’s not a cartoon, yet the main character
seems to be a courageous mouse, a clean
and ingenious rodent who dares beyond

the thatched breastworks of his nest,
out of his clutch of dry grasses into
the real and dangerous world.

I open the scale box as he leaps
to the ruled beam and disappears like
a fireman down the connecting rod

onto the long arms that will hold fat
steers suspended in air, above the small
rattler curled asleep in the dark cool.

He starts back up the rusty rod, poking
his nose through the square hole of the box
as I sweep his home aside with the cobwebs,

leaving nothing to impede the full swing
of the scale beam. He watches as I oil
the sliding counterweights that have measured

a life’s work: each May weighing the season’s
grass harvested from hills since before I was
born – he hangs there twitching whiskers,

but every third draft, moves back into the box
as I balance, trading-out his high-rise rent
just like the generations before us.

December 19, 2007

RENDEZVOUS

Late summer, the creek draws back
into familiar sand, special cobbles
worn smooth and caged in a tangle

of sycamore roots, half-exposed
where water pools. Sometimes
these are few and far between.

Here we are vulnerable, approach
sweet sustenance with caution,
yet learn to relax within old skins

and grin at our survival. Some days,
we own the waterhole, make music
until the stars fade into dawn light.


Quite sure this one’s triggered by an email from an old friend. Right at an inch in the gauge.

December 14, 2007

On Top

With another small bunch branded yesterday ahead of a series of ‘forecasted chances’ of rain slated for early next week, it’s easy to relax and consider important things like friends.


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Whether work or some ceremony to be studied by future anthropologists, the shared sense of accomplishment in this wilder part of the ranch is special to us all – nurturing despite our ages. Beyond the reach of cell phones, the outside world slips far away.

Oak smoke, smell
of bacon in the branding pen,
Kenny breaks out his new riata
braided by a woman in Mexcio –
takes a day off from sewing oats
in his ‘dobe ground in the valley below.

December 11, 2007

"Walking On An Old Road"

My friend Jim Chlebda has just announced a new collection of Wilma McDaniel’s work. Check-out the download.

Download file

Back40 Publishing

For addional information about Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel's life, poetry and prose, check out: http://www.back40publishing.com


December 9, 2007

"This Ground Owns Me" by Trudy Wischemann

Page #7: The Geography of Home, Part Two

Notes on books that help us know we're home.

"Do you know John Dofflemyer?" I asked my friend Rob last week, pulling John's new book of poetry out of my bag. Rob and his beautiful wife Sissy Morton of Lemon Cove live on the opposite side of the Kaweah from John and his beautiful wife Robbin. Sharing that geography, I thought there might be a connection. "Yeah," said Rob, "but I didn't know he wrote."

It turns out that Rob and Sissy had been a part of the Dry Creek Citizens Coalition with John and Robbin and many others a few years back, a community pulled together to try to protect the remaining integrity - a sycamore woodland - of that part of our watershed. It struct me that many here in this part of the world may know John as more of an activist and rancher than a writer and publisher. I hope that's about to change.

I got to know John first on the page. I was living at Davis at the time, working on a Humanities project in the Valley bringing poets and photographers together in small events in our rural towns. Someone told me about Dry Crik Review, so I contacted them. "Them" turned out to be him.

He sent me several copies of that lovely journal, which published cowboy and cowgirl poets from all over the western states, work that earned him the Wilbur S. Shepperson Award from the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada. Eventually, he also started sending me small chapbooks of his own poems, which I loved immediately. Here's one from Cattails (1993), "a true story" John adds every time I mention it.

In Rust We Trust

Unwrapping the Great Blue Heron
from a trout line
of twenty #4 Eagle Claws
took two men and a boy
to wrestle still

to snip the monofilament
disappearing somewhere deep
down his reptilian gullet

hoping
that Iron-Eating water
of the Kaweah
might oxidize
the effort.

This new book, Poems from Dry Creek: New and Selected Work (published by Starhaven in London with next year's date) is a collection of some of his best work, old and new together. Many of the poems are set in the foothills along Dry Creek where he's lived most of his adult life, and they speak of the glories and hardships (often bound together) derived from ranch life. See this beauty:

Ides of August

                Coyotes are circling around our truth.
                           - William Stafford ("Outside")

Time before the calves come
to fill the canyon
with the scent
of limp placentas,
wet hides licked
to stand and suck
for the wobbly first time -
time to smell milk
on their faces.

Time to find the rifle,
oil the dust away,
locate that brutal place
and stow it
with a box of shells
in the pickup
until they're big enough
to fend for themselves.

But some of his poems are also from his childhood on the Valley floor. Reading them altogether shows us so much more the connection between these two sub-regions of our watershed. Hear this one from Exeter:

I Owe My Soul

Few secrets in a little town, kids
brooming sidewalks after school,
fat-tired Schwinn's slung with bags

of county history we thought was news.
No one felt anonymous, not even
the lean Okie kids from Tuleville

that rode the bus with the rest of us
they hated. The older girls claimed
the long black seat and brayed

gospel songs as the bus filled-up -
but then someone behind me
would always start it to rocking:

erupting with Tennessee Ernie Ford's
"Sixteen Tons". Lyrics you could see
as they got off at the company store,

three dirt streets of clapboard shacks
with broke-down wrecks looking-out
so helplessly that we all sang along.

What I love most about reading John's poetry is feeling the tenderness of this poet's heart as we look through his eyes. That tenderness makes him (and me) laugh and cry sometimes, and sometimes it makes us both rage. But it is a heart that has come to know over time that loving a place is the only way to truly live in it.

And the result is worth the price. In the notes at the back of the book, he ends with this clear statement:

"I have been blessed, despite battles, by investing my life on Dry Creek, being spiritually and physically dependent on its well-being. This ground owns me; the poetry has offered other eyes by which to see it."

This collection allows many more of us to bear witness to that kind of life. Here's to the hope that more of us will become so owned.

-Trudy Wischemann is a landless but not homeless poet and writer who works at the Book Garden in Exeter. (Sun-Gazette, December 5, 2007)

December 7, 2007

Greasy Creek- December 5, 2007

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Irons ready.


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Jeanie Magan, Virginia McKee and Jody Fuller ready.


IMG_4211a.jpg
Clarence Holdbrooks bringing the first bunch into the branding pen.


IMG_4213a.jpg
Brent Huntington, Chad Lawerence and Kenny McKee ready.

December 7, 2007

After branding a little bunch of calves Wednesday and getting the rest of the bulls out to the cows yesterday, it began raining slowly at noon through the night – a beautiful gray morning with about an inch in the gauge. With very little runoff, most has soaked in, Dry Creek yet to progress from its position upcanyon. More rain promised, but for now it’s smiles all around.

The opinions expressed in the Western Folklife Center's Deep West online journals are those of the online journal participants and not the Western Folklife Center. The Western Folklife Center does not moderate these journals and as such does not guarantee the veracity, reliability or completeness of any information provided in the journals or in any hyperlink appearing within them.

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