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December 18, 2008

MANWOOD

Red sawdust on new, blue denim
cuffs powdered by four old men that
no longer must endure another season

of new green circumnavigating gray-
faded limbs laid down, brittle fingers
dug into the grass. Black cows and calves

have given-up and gone before a month
of manzanita heat is cut, crimson
ends exposed to the living again.

Brush piled neat on stumps for quail
would please a gardener somewhere
out there – as good a possibility as any –

or more good feed but fewer ferns
that the old men caged and shaded.
Tonight’s dew will erase my track

on tomorrow’s grass, damp sawdust
will bleed upon a few green blades,
come morning. Half-a-cord to mix

with oak, a gift – small luxury
reviving embers back to life as flames,
chunk of limb to hold the coals by day.

December 11, 2008

GET ALONG

                    You must have gone crazy out there.
                    - Mike Burton (“Night Rider’s Lament”)

They were wild when we were fresh and lean
as young bulls first turned-out to service
what the masters couldn’t reach without work.

We were for hire, I’d say, weaned on Roy
and Gene, and rose to ride where truth and proof
met up, where myth was forged with luck

that we’ve forgot. Horns in the brush, we matched
both eye and blood and won most times, I think – fresh
and lean as young bulls first turned-out to service!

The steep we stirred alive with hooves, the rock
we scuffed with steel, as old oaks shared grins
from limb to limb and the near hawks watched until

we learned to let cattle think ‘escaping’ when
they ain’t – when ‘quick’ is cut in half by going slow
enough to heed what’s best for men and beast.



With summer’s long days and the physical part of fall feeding behind us, and with Elko ahead, I’m having fun and writing on a roll during these dark and foggy mornings. This is about as close to a cowboy rhymer as I’ve been for awhile – I still crave the iambic lyrical line.

December 5, 2008

IRONWOOD

Dead-standing, twigless skeleton among the green
and leather-leafed Live Oaks begs a chain saw,

hard heart promising to draw sparks, each heavy
section easy-split to catch a flame. Grandfather

Blue Oak, a century of energy released
in mesmerizing blue tongues upon white coals –

each tight ring, each dream and memory set free
from time. And when they cut and cord us up

we trust that by our word we shall be remembered
around the pyre – lasting moments idly shared.

                                            - for our fathers

December 1, 2008

RAIN POEM

We change the names
of things to rhyme, add
syllables for distance –
and lulled by the assonance

of forgetfulness, perhaps
we sing too much.
We built a barn for hay
and horses, three pipe stalls

and a tack room under roof.
There is an art to rolling
and forking alfalfa
every morning, once the hay’s

been through the horse.
Yet another pen to find
sacrifice with satisfaction,
repaying times and heart

the old bay gave
anytime I asked –
my wheelbarrow dance
steady under rain on tin,

my open gate rake
between sound legs
pushing twenty-nine,
I shovel shit

and write poetry
at the same time.

November 15, 2008

BIAS

Finding a forgotten classmate
or shaking hands with old friends
summoned to court, we knew
the cops and their foibles –
sometimes even the accused.

Judge Freddie McKenzie once asked
if finding Tommy Estrada guilty
might be embarrassing, or would
knowing the arresting deputy
favor the People’s case. Her gavel
quelled the laughter of those days.

It’s still difficult to impanel twelve
impartial people when college kids
can’t miss a class, or Hispanics
can’t speak English – mothers
with sick babies, young buck rednecks
squirming to escape homogenization.

I understand how anger works –
how my father worked me with it,
how it can rip the heart apart
from caring – a relentless river
that can’t be stopped, it still worms
with leaks that shame me, yet

I judge this man gone berserk,
charged with three felonies
only the ambitious and the vengeful
might not settle with a misdemeanor plea –
plus damages, instead of the potential
of twenty-five years in prison.

Weighing it all for three days, I drive
one hundred and eighty miles in silence
to judge this young man not unlike me.

October 19, 2008

ONE FALL SABBATH EARLY

October goes quicker than November waiting
for the first rain, less dusty than December praying
for the second, most years feeding too much hay

to keep the cows in shape sucking baby calves.
Sweet abbreviated days not cold enough to cut dry oak
as sycamores turn color, when teasing wind gusts

rush like water through their brittling leaves.
Every sign now seems symbolic as the sun sinks south,
as natives wake from crisp shadows growing longer.

The coyote’s dry head the dog drug in, forever
severed from its wandering, relocated to the saddle
in Belle Point with silent apology – but not for the bullet,

dropped mid-stride among the calvy Herefords.
A man must be right with his world for a rain here,
respectful and reasonable, lend a hand when he can

to the spirits as well as his neighbor, find voice
among those stalking his periphery, chant and sing
before it gets too cold for the grass to get growing.

October 9, 2008

GOOD SENSE

Easy now to retreat to
the eyes of animals and trees
looking out, listening

for the sounds of something
sure – something different
than games men play

for fame and power. Easy
to ignore the assonance
of empty rhetoric,

the jingle of politics or
the cacophony of promises
they cannot keep.

Easy now to hear voices past
when the wind is still, sweet
melodies off the ridges home

to forgotten gossip rocks
worn smooth – rough hands
dressed in the dust of acorns.

Easy now to see the seasons
stretch within shadows cast
upon these loyal hills, each

cycle sealed within the rings
of the solitary oaks
shedding summer’s leaves

like golden coin at their feet.
Easy to believe the ones
that have seen it all before.

September 18, 2008

BAY

At 28, he sleeps standing, head heavy
in September sun, inches from
its shadow. He cannot hear me

for the sounds in his dreams:
the sudden crack of manzanita
or the chorus of bawling calves –

and men. I see the faces gone,
shake hands again and ride within
the old horizons on the edges

of our eyes – and grins. We were
the band that ran these hills
with cows. We were the hands

and proud to hold the wild within
these dark shadows, come alive
as he shrinks into the ground.

September 4, 2008

STONEMASONS

            The beauty of things was born before eyes and
                sufficient to itself; the heart-breaking beauty
            Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.

                                    - Robinson Jeffers (“Credo”)


Each stone fit into a wall of words
works across the landscape, holds
sweet notions close and chaos out.

A remnant seam along the draw,
where you saw rattlesnakes rise
entwined, kept the Bequette hogs

fat on acorns so their Durham cows
wouldn’t slip their calves, remains
after my father hauled smaller rocks

into a wall of his own. Only boulders
left, I marvel at the days and years
inched-out of the bottom with bars –

the deliberate rhythm of a heart
working at the edge of a moraine
shaping poetry to last a century.

August 22, 2008

HORSE POETRY

The current irritants
like flies light
just beyond reach,

indefinable swarms
on the outskirts
of my mind.

Rearrange
coffee cup
and ashtray –

stack scattered
yellow notes
and nameless numbers –

make space,
inhale
and write

like horses head-to-tail
in dreams washed
rhythmically across

closed-eyes.
It seems a poetry
we might emulate:

sweet diversions
to seductive places
that brush the flesh.

August 3, 2008

FOR CUTLER IRL BAUSCHER

Hint of smoke from northern fires
holds a pink glow upcanyon, dawn late
upon dark ridges near trimmed in white

ribbons rising – lifting the purple cloak
of night into another Sabbath morn.
Without sound, it could be Day One.

You may not ever see it so, or feel
as forgiven – relieved of the complexities
coiled like barbed wire of abandoned fences,

old strands rusting years in the grass.
With your short clock, third day nosed
upon my daughter’s breast – you feel it now

waking in and out of shapeless dreams
you’ll paint yourself in time – in times
where space alone may not be enough

to let the day dawn upon you –
or let the gloaming ride into starlight
with all the endless universes beckoning.


Continue reading "FOR CUTLER IRL BAUSCHER" »

July 18, 2008

LIVESTOCK

                        I learned the other tongue
                        by which men spoke to beasts
                        – all its terms and tones.

                                      - Wendell Berry ("Horses”)

A murmur of words at the saddle rack –
an easy mind’s awakening in the dark
before the first light of fearful news
spreads into summer heat by afternoon.

A good horse listens well, drops an ear,
scoops the sound of breath and heartbeat
from the mantra of familiar words
for their meaning at the moment.

Finding inconsistencies easy to spot,
even cows can tell you what you don’t
truly want to know about yourself
crossing the wild range of their eyes.

Once I grinned at old men in dented pickups
rising early to feed a dozen, fat cows –
watched them cling to the tailgate, anything
to keep their balance and to stay upright.

                                                  - for E.J.

July 13, 2008

RESIDENTS

More than hands can grasp or minds
undress completely, there is no religion –
no one-god-for-sale for everyone, yet

a tree frog lives in the dark overflow
of the new bathroom basin, perches
on its ceramic edge when the faucet runs,

then leaps to the higher ground
of towels draped loosely in the corner
to watch me brush my teeth. Sometimes

he explores beyond the door looking
for someone, but quick to retreat
to the sink, his home. Even the smallest

have dominion woven with man’s – and we
each bear the weight of the sky like ants
in a world without coincidence. The Red Tail

greets the 4-wheel drive with a low glide,
recognizes hay truck from the rare hunter’s
loud gunshots and the flutter of crippled quail.

June 29, 2008

DROPS OF RAIN

For some
it comes down
like a sprinkle of rain
as if from heaven –

a slow soaker, shirt
matted to the flesh, that
bare-chested feeling
reborn again – even

spun in summer’s clutch
of dust and drought.
No urgency or rush
to that last embrace

when winter waits
for everyone, each
moment counts
like drops of rain.

May 25, 2008

ODE TO MRS. HORSE

            the cow that died to give its hide
            to make you look so shiny...

                                                - Ed Brown

And you did, the sheen of your synthetic
leather-looking top gathered tastefully
below a deep crevasse of tanned flesh,

Ed’s blue ballpoint upon a napkin cloth
in the half-lit darkness of the White Horse
bar, on a roll after dinner and a reading –

the complete poem framed on the wall
reminds you of that evening twenty-five
years ago: cowboys come to entertain

when were young-enough to be irreverent,
but with scars-enough to know better.
A crossfire of fresh rhymes ricocheted

around the room, as around the West
in those days, but Ed had the pen
and final say as to what went down.

                                                for Jeanie White



Parallel retrospectives in the rain, Elko’s 25th and where Robbin and I were twenty-five years ago…a pensive day.

May 18, 2008

MOWING DREAMS

I’ve wanted to be a tractor driving man
since I was six – wear an engineer’s gray
and white, striped cap and be someone

who could get the job done. I helped
put this pasture in right after the Feds
condemned the top fifteen feet of clay

for the earthen core of Terminus Dam –
right after a summer of lifting rocks
into the ’42 dump truck, flathead Ford.

Took thirty years of water and cattle
to make topsoil again –I cut deep swaths
across it, riding high atop the diesel’s

steady monotone. Each new round leaps
into the headed rye to fix upon a fencepost
or notch between oaks, holding my thoughts

in a straight line. I feel my father grinning
in the middle of this green mowed field –
keeping me busy at sixty still on the ranch.




Very near to weaning, it’s been over a 100 degrees these past few days as we finish-up cross-fencing the irrigated pasture where we’ll background our calves with a regime of vaccinations before we sell them. As an experiment, I’ve decided to mow the pasture, hoping to keep the tall grass and seeds out of their eyes and thereby reduce doctoring for pinkeye. The flies are horrible – worst I’ve seen in decades. I think the mowing will also help the pasture.

I borrowed a wheel tractor and rented a mower and found a few rocks that we missed in 1961, (or that have worked their way up to the surface since). From the summer 1991 issue of Dry Crik Review, Jim ‘Tex’ Raths’ poem, “John Deere Dreaming” also came to mind more than once. But our country is not the smooth sandy loam of the Valley, and as with most tractor-driving endeavors here, used farm machinery succumbs to our harsher elements. Half-way done, I’ve got a rental tractor coming while we try to fix what’s wrong with my neighbor’s machine.

5.21 We start weaning the first bunch this a.m. - Still editing the poem online, adding a stanza and changing the last line slightly. High temperatures forecast down into the 70s through the weekend with a chance of T-showers. Crazy weather!

May 10, 2008

EVERYBODY KNOWS

It could be everything
has heart and soul
of some dimension,

like the lupine in a pot
trying to grow – it
could be even the dry

hulls, the hollow stems
and skeletons of old
feed, claim some residual

brilliance yet to be realized
by summer cows this fall
in a healthy, suckling bull.

Everybody knows –
even the mosquito
ever-probing for a pulse.

March 23, 2008

OPEN GATE

A parade of shiny cars
twenty feet apart descends
the mountain road
much slower than their ascension
to the Christian camp
in the pines of Hartland.

A dirge-like procession
less eager than their speed
uphill. It feels as they pass
that someone may have seen God
in the narrows alongside
one of two gravel trucks,
late Good Friday afternoon
and testified – witnessed convincingly
at the campfire as they waited
for the full moon’s rise
over the Great Western Divide.

Perhaps last night’s red lights,
flashing only. A solemn respect
for everything in place
by how the herd moves
in unison – a bunched-up, yet
evenly-spaced slow dance
on this most glorious morn:

three shades of gold flame
eclipse green south slopes
in a side-canyon
above flailing limbs and twigs
of white-barked sycamores,
greenhead pair preening
on the creek bank – Hereford
cows and calves congregated
at the water trough, warm
bellies turned toward the sun.


March 18, 2008

SPRING MANTRA

Dressed in color, she is pretty in the rising light –
poppies torch hillsides where granite meets clay
mixing gray outcrops that hold and decompose

high above the oaks pushing light green leaves.
Smiling brightly, she seems to miss the murmur
of grasses requesting rain. Yet in the air, the mass

unrest builds within this hard crust hidden beneath
the waves of emerald blades bolting for the sun.
At this moment, this juncture, this balance

of sun and rain, anything can happen as she shifts
to leave ahead of eagles north for the summer.
We are attentive to every gesture tossed our way.


Cool is all we got over the weekend, missing several good chances for errant thundershowers, dark cells sailing around us. Light frost the past few mornings – its thaw teases, raining briefly as the sun lifts over the ridge (7:50 PDT). A better grass year than last, the calves are fat – rainfall amounts to date are not that much more than last year’s totals. The south slopes north of Woodlake, “W” Mountain, have turned already and in the steep granite on Barton Point at the start of Dry Creek Road, the grass turns dull. 10-day forecast clear into a warming trend.

March 15, 2008

IDES OF MARCH 2008

Random script of bad news, a network spin
of possibilities, a click away to cyberspace
waiting in the dark for a promised shower.

Clay crust hard beneath the filaree, long
needles reach between plumes of fiddlenecks –
each head’s arch of golden horns trumpeting

the sweet equilibrium that may
hinge on dawn’s gray cloak up canyon.
No wind upon fresh green oak leaves –

the Hereford’s idly graze first light, nurse
fat calves among the forget-me-nots, white
bellies deep, it seems, in drifts of snow.

Two bulls bellow through a fence
half-a-mile across the creek away,
pace and paw to protect this moment

that eclipses memory of any other – each
nanosecond stretches into eternity as
each molecule reaches for a trace of rain.

March 11, 2008

FIRST SONGS

Early morning in, he’d exclaim
that spring had sprung, a jillion
blades of grass jabbing skywards –

hillsides, roadsides, outside spilt
wildly with bright colors – down
by the river, all shades of lupine.

As I grew older, I felt it first –
tasted air to long beyond the wire.
Buckeyes out, redbuds start, bare

oak twigs swell – and in the thatch,
red-chested finches gather, flit and
prance to the first serenades of spring.



Last week, we branded two bunches of our own calves followed by an all-day affair at Frank Ainley’s place up the road on Thursday. We’ve got a couple of small bunches left to mark. With a slight chance of rain this coming weekend, this could be a rare wildflower year. 76 degrees yesterday, as we head into a cooling trend.

February 22, 2008

WOMAN RAIN

The fence over the hill goes on –
meets another at an oak tree near
the section corner you can’t see

from here. It’s not as old as the walls
of rock along the creek, or the granite
potholes worn into slabs by smooth

phallic pestles passed hand to hand
by generations of women. Dad and
Harvey built it in the 40s after

the atom bomb ended the war –
mushroomed in the dreams
of everyman. It kept us honest

for awhile, and left unpressed
the cattle stayed at home
and the neighbors got along.

Joe Bruce calls to say it’s a 'woman
rain' he’s driving through somewhere
near Colorado Springs, soft drops

on his windshield, his wipers clear
a heavy mist in six-second sweeps –
yesterday’s same sweet tenderness

that lingers now in iridescent greens.
Yet the fence over the hill goes on
and on within the minds of men.

February 16, 2008

NATIVE KNOWLEDGE

With crystal drops, the frost rains off
the roof at dawn – shadows reach
across the canyon, red-chested finches

flirt in a thatch of leafless twigs,
buds ablaze in silence – sweet silence.
There is no other news to know

except for the felling of an acorn swelled
four hundred years or more ago
in a manner of minutes. Chisel teeth

gush sawdust with certain ceremony
of wedges and angles – crack after crack
into the gunshot’s last snap of oak.

The Castros undercut the five foot trunk
that held eagles up above us all, laid
the dead gently down when out of the dark

cavity of broken limb, a snow white owl
leaps for open air like a dove released
in the morning’s deep blue horizon.

Its gray mate rides the timber clear
to crunching ground. We buck it up and
talk respectfully of trees along the creek –

old sycamores and the Valley Oak Dad saved
in ’59 when they built the dam, of the pirate
Drake in for repairs when this was

a landmark for Charlie’s distant relatives.
Like a bear cub in the thick of limbs,
I hear him say how he shook acorns

onto a tarp for native women in Yosemite –
these two strong, tree-climbing sons
doing what they’ve done for centuries.

                        for Charlie, Gene & Butch


Continue reading "NATIVE KNOWLEDGE" »

February 15, 2008

FUNNY AND STRANGE

            How could I have expected
            that after a long life I would
            understand no more than to wake up
            at night and to repeat: strange,
            strange, strange, o how strange, how
            strange. O how funny and strange.

                                - Czeslaw Milosz


Leaving the ranch to darkness, to
the half-moon and sparkling starlight
pressing to see through black February –

leaving it all alone to listen inside
to the TV news, the pusillanimous
and picayune for Enlightenment

this Election year. Lost my hearing
at the Shrine in ‘69 and lost my
patriotism in May 1970 – but still

I remember the long-haired revolution
that forever changed foreign affairs.
Children then, waiting for our M-16s

at graduation. Have you forgotten
how it was and why we’ll not have
another Draft – nor draft dodgers,

draft card burners, protests, peace
candidates and more than enough
love to go round a couple of times?

Spin of wind, terror and the weather –
fear upon fear the night outside ignores
as it adjusts to a Mayan calendar

helps sell new drugs with the catchiest
nomenclature – and legal enough
to stone us all the way to the grave.

January 22, 2008

HOMER COVE

First the windmill, then the salt house
folded into the earth below the old road
that followed the creek around the hill.

Board pens gone for pipe corrals, I still
look off between calves stretched
for marking – to inhale the calm

across the canyon, mountain steep
clear into the sky. My years know now
how to welcome something

that can’t be seen – to breathe deeply,
thank God and build another loop
to hold the moment a little longer.

                                           for Jody

January 1, 2008

SPRING OF 1978

Waking to listen for rain in the dark,
for even a whisper upon the metal roof –
straining to see what can’t be heard

is normal from October to April,
despite night forecasts and maps of
computer models in living color,

in every farm house beyond town
well-before the lights come on
like clockwork – like a religion

connecting pagan souls shivering
under bear hides, underground
and waiting for the perfect season.

The drought in 1976 and ‘77
thinned the cowherd to match
what little grass the hillsides had –

they licked the clay and lived on seeds
with whatever kind of hay we could find.
One after another, the warm rains came

all spring long, covered the slopes with
sheets of solid gold. Nora Montgomery
pushing 100, played with native children

somewhere near Pogue Canyon, said
she couldn’t remember another year
with so many California poppies.

Worst and best, back to back,
Ralph Merhten admonished my delight,
reminding strong feed can’t coexist

with wildflowers, that the business
boils down to pounds of flesh – yet
we still harbor wild dreams of color.



A beautiful day to begin the New Year, clear blue sky, snow upcanyon peeking over Dry Creek’s greening ridges from Redwood Mountain in the Sequoia National Forest – Rose Parade mumbling in the background – Pasadena exceptionally clear as California awaits a forecast 4-7 days of rain.

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