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December 31, 2006

“…plain old rain…”

she waves and says
somewhere south
of the Chesapeake –

no hurricane, thunderstorm nor
tornadic conditions on the colored map
beneath her palm – just plain old rain.

No drizzling mist nor frolicky burst
that rainbows spring from, but old,
re-circulated passion from Noah’s flood –

steady, solid stuff I picture
as a dark gray blur of cats & dogs
good sense observes from a shed,

as I wait for a peek at the Pacific
jet stream, for any shade of green
along the eastern San Joaquin –

willing to do penance, even
something religious or barbaric
for a generic nuisance rain

to hold these leaves of grass
alive within me – Oh, but
how I’d take it plain!

December 27, 2006

ON THE ROAD

They say before a rain
        that tarantulas
move away from the creek –
or towards it before a dry spell.

Either way, they seem to know
        the shortest course
        across the blacktop
that interrupts their forest
of thick, brittle grasses.

Never lost upon the hard,
gray plain of oil and aggregate,
        they do not yield
        to the flow of traffic,
neither sidetracked nor distracted
by the churning current
of rubber-tired turbulence.

On the cusp of weather changes,
the asphalt crawls with spiders.
At the last minute, I swerve
to avoid their certain
        octo-ambulation
– hairy, high-stepping appendages
        inspired by something
        worth risking death.

December 22, 2006

HOME

Long-haired horses watch the house
exhale smoke that spills off eaves –
taste oak and manzanita, listening
for the screen door’s slap awake.

Gentle nickers with each step closer,
they fidget and angle for the first flake
of alfalfa to shatter in their feeder,
while the bay horse waits with hoof at rest

on the bottom rung of his own gate.
At twenty-six, he knows my walk
has slowed, no less impatient
than I made him. Looking back

from the barn, the house breathes.
Through its eyes I can see you moving –
feel all the years compressed into one
sure moment of belonging here.


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Feeding with Grandpa

Continue reading "HOME" »

December 16, 2006

HAZARDS OF FLIGHT

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When I was younger, I could fly
from the peak of the old barn
and land in granddad’s garden tilled
with the vineyard disk and tractor,

but on the ground the world grows up
like weeds around us – seasons circle
until we can’t see out. I still fly
in my dreams, soaring over orchards

to light in exotic spaces to expire
valiantly as I wake to unbuckled knees –
backbone grinding as I make coffee
in the dark. I still fly to places

in my mind. Yesterday, hauling hay
up canyon, I saw Wilma in the rest home,
infirmed and impatient with her frailty –
heard my promise of three springs ago

for one last drive up the Yokohl
to be humbled by its blue Lupine,
white skiffs of Forget-me-nots
between the poppies and the golden

Fiddlenecks. My sky goes black!
Wings fold into freefall until I believe
            that she can still see
the brilliance of her poetry.

December 3, 2006

WHILE WAITING FOR RAIN

                      Stand on your shore, old stone, be still while the
                      Sea-wind salts your head white.

                           - Robinson Jeffers, (“Watch the Lights Fade”)


Gray day,
grandfather oaks reach
with strong arms and leathery fingers
to catch the sun –
            a slow posing frozen
through centuries of seasons
on an elliptical track
to outlive the bickering of small birds,
            the raven’s escape
            or the ravenous eye
            of the dark hawk at dawn.


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Now the color of sweet caramel,
near slopes of bleached dry feed
            melt into the creek,
into the string of sycamores burning
            after a freeze –
white limbs aflame without a storm.


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Older than emotion,
cold granite teetering,
keep your naked secrets
and let the lichen hide
on your dark side.


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November 19, 2006

SOLACE IN FAR PLACES

                      When people are dead and peaceless
                      they hate life, they only like carrion.

                              - D. H. Lawrence, (“Dead People”)

The new calf, drawn with the others to me
from where he sucked and his mother laid him down,
bawls from the maze of razor sharp gooseberries
like concertina wire sprung in neat circles.

As the sun inches below us, his fresh black coat glints
with each urgent breath to the dozen cows and calves
at peace around me – my trusting congregation
waiting for a sign that I may deliver something.

Poor dumb souls with eyes so deep and sentient,
they read my movements, my pride, my love –
for I come with nothing else but a gun today. Up
in the rocks his mother stands and answers sternly.

I have been hunting quail – first time in twenty years –
and not quick enough to hurt the coveys much.
Afoot, I am even with uneven ground – feel the details
missed a horseback – share their eyes and wear

the landscape like a home. Between rockpiles, a severed
femur freshly stripped to the hoof. Deep in the hollow
of a live oak, white cage of bone disrobed – I know
the cow whose fevered eyes hid her here – remember

last week’s bear tracks in the road dust,
the coyote slipping manzanita into thin air.
In this far place, there is no room for guilt
or blame, to hate the way some people do.

November 8, 2006

NOVEMBER

With my step I stir the dust
of ten thousand head
that have crossed here –
cattle, elk and deer.

And on the knoll above the creek,
the charcoal of a million fires
padded finely into dirt
that flows like water

to rise above the heavy feet
of the present passing –
to hang and drift
up and down the canyon,

mixing tenses with each breath
ingested through my veins –
alive again in this place
in my mind. Loose seeds

of thought dislodged
from beneath my feet
waiting to germinate,
waiting for a rain.

September 17, 2006

SEPTEMBER 11, 2006

Certain smells won’t wash off.

She’s three, bred at a thousand pounds
to a low birth-weight Angus
and the calf’s breech. One big hoof
swollen – upside down if it’s head first
which it obviously ain’t – protrudes,
but the chute is close-by. A rattley
old Linton too low for today’s cows
to poke their heads through. Just
try to save the heifer. Long pull
with lot’s of stretch – ninety-five
pound black-whiteface bull calf.
         Down, a coyote pack
         gets her in the night.

I’m so mad. I’m so mad.
I’m mad, I’m mad, I’m mad.

Smoked a half-grown pup
trying to wind me in Section 17.
Too close to focus in the scope,
I squeezed on fuzz. As he folded,
         said in my head,
         “That’s for Robbie – ”

There is no easy grief
to sort silently into sanity
amidst the primal echoes
of each soliloquy for the dead,
but to hear one’s own voice
in the chorus of hate
becomes alarming.

I undress on the way
to the shower outside
before dusk, lather like
Lady MacBeth and swear
I can hear Eric Clapton
up in the live oaks singing,

I’m so mad. I’m so mad.
I’m mad, I’m Mad, I’m MAD.



More than likely, I will continue to edit this one online as I have some of the other pieces turned-out into cyberspace. Due to it’s timeliness and Robin Bois’ “9/11” insight on the neighboring weblog, I’ve weaned it early. -JCD

August 27, 2006

BARBECUED BEEF

After ten years of fat
grain fed steers,
my fifty dollar Weber
           gas hibachi
has flamed-out
and rusted-through.

It’s fall
and Lowe’s stock
is falling to new
52-week lows
and they got to move
the riding lawnmowers,
patio sets and barbecues
for the cash flow,
to make room out-front
for bigger, better-selling
winter weather wares.

Last week,
my neighbor Tom
rotisseried a Costco
boneless, standing rib roast
I didn’t even have to chew
on his brand-new stainless,
           four-burner,
           forty-eight thousand BTU
           Perfect Flame
that looked like an ice box
and shined like a Grecian Shrine
           Made in China
           he got On Sale
for two long-haired Benjamins.
           I had to have one
and damn-sure had the need.

Leaving early Sunday
to beat the crowd in town,
I caught the crew at Lowe’s
moving sluggishly.
           Bought it On Sale
for one Ulysses more.
Bigger than Tom’s,
a fully-assembled,
           five burner,
           sixty thousand BTU
           Perfect Fame
           on casters
triple-trucker-hitched
and lashed to my dusty flatbed
with one hundred forty feet
of braided soft nylon rope
for thirty nervous
freeway minutes
out of town.

Slow and easy
on Dry Creek Road,
seven barren heifers
with ninety-days on grain
looked up – recognized
the sound of my truck –
           but not, I trust
the shiny prophecy
I hauled home.

                     for Tom Magan

August 23, 2006

IO

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August 22, 2006


On the horns of an infant moon,
the creek shrinks and pools
between sycamores and live oaks

as babies come to first-time mothers
bringing the bear tracks downcanyon
on the scent of spent placentas.

Black progeny of the river nymph –
white heifer driven by Hera’s gadfly
Oestrus to madly cross continents

and populate Asia – find maternity
perplexing at first. Yet, lick and nuzzle
a stumbling wet struggle to stand,

suckle and rest that ignites instinct
in all flesh. Worthy timeless worship,
no better mother than a cow.

August 13, 2006

SUNDAY MORNING PAUSE

At the speed of light
the seasons change
wet to hot and
dry to cold again

that through young eyes
seemed like lifetimes, when
each minute hung-on
the black hand of a clock.

Horses bend to morning hay,
red heifers graze the fence
along the lawn, the sun’s
white blaze beyond the ridge

comes later each day.
Nothing stays the same, yet
damn little's changed
except for my perspective.

August 12, 2006

AUGUST

Days shorter,
alfalfa in the barn,
babies waiting to be born

as the full moon wanes
within the jagged edges
of this canyon

that has not changed
but for the names
of people grazing cattle

since the women left
their gossip rocks
to the leaves and rain.

August 9, 2006

BEFORE SHIPPING

Health Certificate,
Brand Inspector,
Trucks.

Corral dust
          watered-down,
steer calves
          shaded-up,
early-morning weigh,
          mañana.

Nothing left to do but worry
what might go wrong
with tomorrow’s paycheck.

August 4, 2006

DEGREES OF LAW

Hot, cold, wet or dry,
how we whine to Washington
about the weather
as if consensus ensures comfort.

They name hurricanes
like outlaws as if we might
imprison them, but short of that
we’ll find an acronym to blame.

Never at peace, the planet breathes,
gouged and throttled as it flinches –
we are the flies and ticks on its hide
making a living and carrying disease.

Still, there ought to be a law
against gypo lighters, plastic
shrapnel across the dusty, desert
battlefield of my pickup’s dash –

          a little Lebanon and Israel
          parked with windows up
          to keep the tomcat out
in one hundred ten degrees.

July 17, 2006

SUMMER STEAMING

The creek slows, thick green moss floats
and fades beyond the shadow’s reach
of sycamores – and at its edge, a bleached

white blanket shrinks upon the cobbles
to conceal an urgent world that cooks
and feeds upon this July moment.

Between rocks I watch Kim Jong II
claim a damp spot, antennae flailing.
Between two others, the Hezbollah

and Israelis tangle on their sides.
Tiny nameless creatures scramble
into dark caves, yet our nature teems

before my eyes. Soon the creek will stop
and pool in places to wait for winter rain
where nervous people will scurry like bugs.

June 9, 2006

MAY SABBATH

We’ve not vanished, no catastrophes – just weeks of early to bed and early risings as we’ve gathered and shipped our pasture cattle, weaned about half our calves, preg checked our replacement heifers and we are about two-thirds completed with our hay barn, corral, horse pens and office projects as we’ve made a little progress everyday. With seasonal warm weather we’re tired and naturally the blog site has taken a back seat to preconditioning our calves for our once a year paycheck sometime in late July or August. The calves are weighing-up well. Now it’s a matter of getting all their shots to qualify for the VAC-45 program, keep pinkeye under control without antibiotics and put some pounds on in the process.

Though there hasn’t been much photo-taking nor poem writing, I found one to post that still needs a little work. Looks like we may be scarce here for the next couple of weeks.

MAY SABBATH

One may see another soul
for a moment in the eyes
of cattle, and try to hold

that melting feeling, that
connection of loose atoms
leaking like water cupped

from a clear creek through
calloused hands. Wonderfully
humbling, it can be frightening

to be so transparent, that
perhaps poor dumb beasts can
look through mind-cluttered hearts

to feel our fear and see why
God stays so busy taking care
of those who know no better.

April 9, 2006

LOST GOSPEL

Soft blanket of violet, vermillion trim
mending ragged rips of blue as dawn’s
white fire smolders along the ridge again,

splotches of poppies wait to wrap
green slopes with gold above the flats
of forget-me-nots like skiffs of snow

in the still and silent chill before
the birds begin to stir beneath the eaves
of another April Sabbath buzzing

with the deafening hum of making love
and feeding babies. The low and quiet
glide of a pair of ravens in the half-light

remind of itinerant reverends counting
heads before their sermon starts in earnest –
before the wild hymns whine with spring.

April 2, 2006

LITTLE THINGS

Lord knows where I come from
to draw back into this canyon
carved by time’s dull knife,

my distance fenced with barbed
epithets, taunting a few town dogs
to howl in the moonlight.

At daybreak, a blacked-caped Junko
poses on the crimson-clustered twig
of the Red Bud beyond my window

and I think of Michael McClure
adjusting his reflection between
classes of poetry – while the busy,

female finches claim timber-space
in my eaves – little things that fit
and flutter with wild sweet grace.

March 19, 2006

LOOK PAST DARK STORMS

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              Old violence is not too old to beget new values.
                         - Robinson Jeffers (“The Bloody Sire”)

1962

We met the mayor at his home in St. Vith,
shaking hands in pigeon French – my father
returned to a modern town and a monument
at the crossroads to his endless war.


May 4, 1970

We left the SDS to burn the bricks
of VKC in a borrowed VW bus, tripped
naked in Little River before I was to graduate
to an M-16. Kent State brought the war home
five years before the last Americans
fled Saigon.


2006

Except for platitudes that don’t endure,
I know little else of war – unless battles
to run cattle in these hills instills
nature’s future before man's. What instructs
the feral hog his tusk, the coyote to persist
suburban streets? Has our dominion passed
for peace, or has progress spawned another
straining for power? Don’t grieve or cry –
look past dark storms and let them play
beneath dawn’s puzzled sky.

                         for Fannie, Bill and Peter

Continue reading "LOOK PAST DARK STORMS" »

March 18, 2006

EUREKA

                   “Your job is to find what the world is
                   trying to be.”
- William Stafford (“Vocation”)

Condensed in time, a disheveled classroom rich
with history’s track of an urgent occupation
to hold ground on the far edge of the New World

that armies and armadas could not maintain
without the religion of freedom promising space
to everyman that has not changed. Jeffers’ horseman

on a far coastal ridge above a highway widened
now. Steinbeck’s ghosts walking the furrows
under sprawling railroad towns trying to become

one long city growing into and away from itself
at once – half-afraid to leave the heart of it
and half-happy with an old hope gone sour.

In early March, we plan the summer garden,
rotate onions and tomatoes, savor the first spears
of asparagus to break a fresh layer of manure,

raw like epicureans as we place our present
in this canyon in perspective, mending fences
and tending what we can within them.

Continue reading "EUREKA" »

March 14, 2006

SIERRA MEADOW

One day you may wake into a meadow
with no one in it: dark blue sky severed
by serrated granite worn razor-thin
from freezing weather, constant wind

and it will seem like heaven. Snowmelt
creek chortling in the sun, retelling the same
jokes to itself and the tall bunch grass
flashing its lighter side to gentle gusts

and you – alone. There is no one else to
feel it lift you apart from all the hands
that tug and beg, make fists and pray
so easily, yet you know you cannot stay

forever. At night, you will fall asleep
as you talk across the stars to someone dear.
Silently your mind speaks all the words
you couldn’t seem to share together.

January 29, 2006

I-99

An endless river of cars
dicing time and distance
into shrinking instants
of back-spun air,

mile and a quarter
of three lanes changing
bumper to bumper
in less than a minute

makes Daytona
look tame �
and I pray uselessly
not to drive this road again.

Elliptical duals,
more skid marks
than pavement
without potholes

only the crazy
navigate intrastate
everyday � only
the numb or desperate,

the suicidal or enslaved
spin the cylinder
and squeeze the trigger
to start and end this way,

the same route
John Cutler took
two weeks to ride
five generations back

�Visalia to Sacramento �
to camp the river banks
and pen a verse
not so long ago.

January 22, 2006

EROSION

One long arm
with hydraulic muscles of the backhoe move
like a willow limb nodding in the wind �

bite after bite
at the foot of the hillside beyond the house
and into the truck to dump down below

to smooth and roll into a pad
for a horse barn and hay.
Two flat spots where there were none.

And nothing was here, twenty-five years ago,
but the slope and the game trail between the canyons
of quail and deer, bobcats, coyotes and cattle that

stopped in the breezy shade of the two oaks
in the garden hauled, a bucket at a time,
from the highwater edge of the channel.

Old mountains left behind to now hold roots
of red tomatoes and onions, green peppers
and squash, asparagus, artichokes, and herbs �

much of which we give away.
Yesterday, we tore the old shed down, saved
the bats and one by twelve boards salvaged

from the old Bequette house down the road
to build a shelter for the generator � took
three days and worked for twenty years.

Short walk to the knoll between here and the creek
where the geldings stand with heads together
in the summer swishing flies in the shadow

of a half-cave rippled into rock
as if drawn to the form of the woman in granite
extruded from this hollow ground, echoing

under horses� hooves between the pictographs
and mortar holes of acorns, leaves and rain �
where women stayed to heal one another

by the moon � where glaciers stopped
to stack and grind large boulders round,
now thick with velvet green.

With grace, our mark will hair-over �
lost and washed from this sacred place
gathering forgotten remains.

January 20, 2006

VOICES AT DAWN

Rain revisits morning black
upon my metal roof, gentle to begin with
like Drum�s Borderlands poems.

Vast landscape at dawn
awaiting the sun to erase the stars,
to clear the mountains� silhouette

         from under a blanket
         in a young cowboy�s worn
                  reclining chair
         when I could not sleep
         on the bunkhouse porch
         of the Gray Ranch � steady
         rumble of combustible snores
         on tour
                  stacked in beds
                  inside the door

as I wondered why I was there.
Why I had no horse to saddle, no
place to be beyond the dawnlight

but an Arizona airport - where I would leave
the keys to my pickup parked in Fresno
sixty miles from my canyon home.

         �You let �em catch and brush
         your hair the right way, snug
         the latigo up and steal a ride
         just to see what they know,�
         Gary tells me the next day.
         �But you can always
         change your mind.�

There is a way the landscape chisels
characters, shapes word and thought
from the hands that echo succinctly
         off the mountains
         at the brandings
         burnt in your brain.

         More than once, my father
         would credit old Tom Homer
         with saying, �He looks �
         but he jess don�t see.�
         How the simple wordplay
                  tickled him,
                  time and again

and through their eyes the sun rises
and sets in our dreams as we listen
and wait for each day to unwind.


I continue to edit this poem online. It may sound as if I�m unduly promoting Drum Hadley�s poetry, the reading of which has triggered my trip to the Gray Ranch on a Nature Conservancy tour of the Malpai Borderlands Group several years ago. Since writing the first draft, I ran across Drum's poem "Swallows" [page 330] written from "the Gray Ranch Porch before Dawn." The sun rises slow and easy in New Mexico, unlike our side of the Sierra Nevada range with sudden, blinding light.

January 15, 2006

McCLURE'S GROCERY

We know how it was
without traffic
gathering pop bottles
in a rusty wagon
along the road

in the weeds
discovering clear
crystal treasures
a mile or more
to the country store �
how it was to be rich
when you got there.
Two doors
beneath a red Pegasus,
the Flying A
brand of gas.

One opened darkly
beyond the neon blue
Burgie high in a small
window with cobwebs,

vague outline of
a few grumbling men
hidden in a cave.

The other bright beside
a stand of Marvel comic books,
inside walls of canned goods,

Sunbeam bread,
Marshall�s milk
and farm fresh eggs
in a brown paper bag.
On the counter
penny candy, accounts
in a shoebox with
everybody�s name.

for Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel





I never know where the muse is headed when I start to write in the morning. This one goes back-aways to an all but forgotten time.

January 3, 2006

ON THE EDGE OF EDEN

or
MAKING FRIENDS
DOWN AT THE MITIGATION SITE

After forty-five years of storm, collected silt and
sediment, they�ve raised the dam twenty-one feet
to flood volunteer willows, alders and cottonwoods
rooted down to minimum pool
that now require mitigation:

an orchard
along the road
along the creek �

tangled rows of sycamores,
blackberries, twiggy oaks, mulefat
and much more jungle beneath
the canopies
of a half-dozen trees
centuries old.

For a little honey and a chance to visit over
a few glasses of homegrown, fresh-squeezed
oranges cut with 100% agave Cazadores
a day or two before Christmas,
Gabe Arroyo keeps his bees on me
next door to this mitigation eyesore,

when they�re not busy
making money in Montana,

resting-up in their white two-storey hives
on pallets stacked alongside new hogwire
stretched so-so � damn sure not tight-enough
to keep bees home when December warms
after an inch of rain to seventy-three degrees.
They�re thinking spring and out-looking for work.

Headquarters � the powers that ultimately
persuade � called about the bees, how
their buzzing bothers the government�s gardeners
planting even more trees. Could I move
the hives to keep these docile souls
out of their trucks? I suggest they wait
for colder days or that they might try
rolling their windows up.


For the record, Gabe�s son-in-law moved the bees up the road a couple of nights later, but as warm as it�s been, I suspect they all didn�t make the trip. Now instead of looking for work, they�re probably looking for a place to live. Baxter could get more rhyming-mileage out of this renewable wealth of material, like the electric fence they thought they finally had �up and working�, but failed to notice that there were no longer any cattle on the other side of it. The beat goes on and we try to get along.

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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