Western Folklife Center

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December 10, 2010


Is there something here, lost among
layers of damp leaves across the creek,
mixed and covered, year after year –

a forgotten voice, perhaps, like old man
Steadman’s? Maybe a little left behind
after his hogs cleaned-up, rooted through

the floorboards the last time he fed them.
Gone for days, he must have kept to himself –
no one remembers his first name.

Or the old Indian hanged in an oak
up the next canyon for killing his white
sidekick who repeatedly beat him.

The odd lot when Visalia was
a long day’s ride around the swamps,
Bald Eagles dotting the tops of Valley Oaks

where the Kaweah spread and hesitated
for centuries, lost its High Sierra steam
and lingered, beckoning the brave.

December 9, 2010


Like steel-jawed traps slightly buried
and camouflaged with leaves and grass –
like land mines half-way ‘round the world,

we step around them, waiting
for the old horse or dog on the edge
of suffering, or the crippled cow,

before pulling the necessary trigger.
We cannot pretend we do not see
gophers in the garden, the endless trail

of ants, the rats’ nest - we deal death
as we wait for our own, always hoping
our compassion might outweigh the facts.

Killing is not for old men who have lost
their focus, who cannot pull the blinders up
to eclipse themselves. A man can endure

only so many squeezes, so many crosshairs
before he begins to step around insects
and spiders, avoiding the snakes in the road.

November 30, 2010


It was important once
to climb the peak –
avoid looking down
and imagining the mess
after the fall.

My name is in the book
with many others:
the pregnant girl
I held in thin air,
in the chimney

near the top – we know
she had no business there,
no reason other
than keeping-up with him.
It was important then.

We were close
for an instant
above Rae Lakes,
mules and horses
grazing between them,

gripped intensely
by the next step down.
Her name and face are lost,
but not my promise
to stay off peaks.


November 29, 2010


Truth lingers in tracks stamped in the earth
by the water, by the gate, where the breeze
plays steadily on the ridge. She is shy,

half-embarrassed that you have not seen her
naked, that you can’t relax, that you may be afraid
to know her, afraid to look through her eyes

if she shows herself. Each print embossed
repeatedly, you can see where she fumbled
with the latch, changed her mind and left

you to yourself, yet you can feel her
watching through the manzanita leaves
from the far hillside. There are no secrets

here. Wind and rain may work old tracks
away, but now that she has seen you,
you have become the hunted.

November 28, 2010

DECEMBER 10, 1967

                    Every so often we hear the current of night music
                    from the gods who swim and fly like we once did.

                               - Jim Harrison (“Midnight Blues Planet”)

Few at a time, we learned words early, felt
them resonate coming and going, leaving
and landing like planes and rockets
through a sea of amniotic fluid. Some
keep listening in the dark for more, yearning
for an explanation – good Girl and Boy
Scouts busy before their transformations.

Through the jagged granite teeth at the top
of the Sierras, the wind can whine eerily,
pass through the flesh, reach for another
chord as flames dance. You begin to grin,
being small is so pleasant – and you listen
carefully, hoping to bring the song home
just to lose it coming off the mountain.

In love with the flesh, we understand
the physical, the dust and dirt decomposition,
all the micro-elements ingested by roots,
seasoned with a dash of soul dispersed
in fruits and so on… forever one – a song
too long for the movie they’re selling, even for
the gods who swim and fly like we once did.

She says it is so quiet here, so black at night –
and I remember walking beneath streetlamps,
waking to the purr of a city sleeping, distant
sirens, another song of being small, but more
helpless than insignificant in the big cage spun

– Otis Redding and the rest of us, just
waiting for our numbers to be drawn.

.54" rain

November 27, 2010


It doesn’t rain much, red skies rare at dawn
with snow on Redwood Mountain peeking –
overseeing rows of ridges folded into the creek

like an accordion greening, left on its side beneath
a new battalion of clouds pressing eastward,
blushing scarlet off the barn roof, the autumn

sycamores and this keyboard for an instant.
Quickly science fiction, I am an alien awash
in ever-changing hues of crimson, just arrived

on a cloud, glowing now like a light bulb
as the sky turns gray. ‘A sign,’ I say silently
to myself, ‘for any damn thing to happen!’

November 26, 2010


Sometimes it pays to look a way off –
go alone, trace the trail, find the spot –
practice being there from here. You

are naked and warm, nothing else –
no watch, no phone – just you,
whoever you are, just you.

You will hear voices there, even
from here, but if you dare disconnect
your lifelines and go in the flesh,

it is indeed another world
that takes you in, accommodates
your clumsiness, or not, it’s wild.

As you learn to look close-up,
old words come, old voices –
woodpeckers bickering in an oak.

Pretty soon, someone says, ‘Look
at me!’ and you remember
who you were, what you dreamed.

Sometimes it pays to look off –
nothing monetary, but like poetry,
you may not want to come back.

November 25, 2010


Blue Thanksgiving, a raft of fog at dawn
between the peaks drifts upcanyon, drips
off lime and lemon leaves – no white frost.
Last night’s logs, gray ash – old smudge pot
cold but ready to reenlist, don flaming helmet
to purr like a kitten beside the grapefruit,
a month away from ripe red juice.

The earth has opened-up, deep with rain –
it breathes off trees and grass, all exhaling
a damp, azure veil between us and the world.
About the harvest, packing the last bushel or
lug box to the shed – pass the jug and grin
with familiar faces, between swallows, lucky
and humble to look up at once upon a time.

November 24, 2010


Somewhere in my head, twenty swords drawn
at once by a ruthless, toothless bunch, one-eying
my reticence – not all my reasonable excuses,

not the rainy holiday traffic stacked and smeared
red across a pickup’s windshield, not the calf
that needs doctoring, but more like the everyday

broke horse in the far corner come saddling –
I’m fine where I am. Visalia has become a city
trying to survive on services spread across

a thousand acres of farm ground planted
to houses, many empty boxes. Just off Lover’s
Lane where my mother must have parked

in high school, the Hmong’s ripe late-tomatoes
staked in tall green rows, lit like Christmas trees,
will fill a lug where the construction stopped

on sandy loam – he’s a second-class throwback
even the city fathers have to admire. I prepare
to walk the plank: need jacket, hat and glasses,

cigarettes and messy cup of coffee as I map
the long way in to see if he got his crop off –
something else, something more than business.

.49" cold rain, 40 degrees at daylight

November 23, 2010


How we crave to celebrate
each small accomplishment,
raise a glass to the outside gods

who let the music happen.
The sycamores want to turn
yellow, orange and brown,

let their water run backwards
into the creek, get naked and bare
gray limbs against the green,

the blue and white cumulus,
after rain. Come Thanksgiving,
each day becomes a marvel

in the making, the prolonged
undressing with eyes wide
beyond beliefs, beyond self

to find meek and humble
comforting, to be absorbed
by a landscape changing.

.25" more yesterday a.m. 3-day total: 1.31" - just right!

November 21, 2010


Even the sleek, young cows
like having time to think, more
willing to help get the job done
to stay awhile longer
in these hills – the sort is easy.

Except for a single set of tracks
through the dew on new green,
first light glints, each blade afire
and twinkling like starlight
to turn the world on its head,

to stop the clock and pause
for a breath or two, for the flesh
to ingest, for a glimpse
in this poem for going slow –
an unfinished noun, like home,

like the Kaweah peaks dressing
and undressing snow, each sheet
slipping downstream a little,
revealing granite, or stripped
at once to flood – we never know

what is yet left to see of wild
extremes, of truth, of natural
beauty – the sole business of
– before we go. Even
cows like having time to think.

.81" more, still wanting to rain

November 14, 2010


                            These lakes and cliffs
                            still remember me...

                                      - Norman Schaefer (“Upper Basin”)

Imagine the people they have known –
feet felt slipping in the scree, the dreams
released within the reflected light of stars

off granite, near the top of the world.
The air is thin, the Milky Way a smear.
Time is kind, it wears so slowly

that each peak is a monument to young
memory etched upon its face, interred
here. Awesome! to be so well known.

                                      - for Norman

November 11, 2010


It was one long poem unfurling
like a river in half-sleep, wrapping
the planet in a ribbon of voices –

old and new, foreign and domestic
accents, a rolling glint of silver
peaked upon each aquamarine

wave like the beat of a song
flowing above the clouds, sounding
the last groans of unknown soldiers

calling home, impatient lovers
and the outcasts cursed to howling
mixed in peace with the sublime.

When it rains, when windows streak
tears of grief and joy, we are relieved
to be human, to be vulnerable again.

November 9, 2010


It was my mother’s father
in the green Studebaker pickup
that towed our Buick
out of Mill Creek in Fifty-five
who first named Owl Peak to me

and I ask her if she knew him,
old Indian woman with the story
born back then on the Cutler ranch,
as If I could peek through the years
to see the man with a man’s eyes.

Afraid to ask too much, I
touch gently a willow clavicle
as she remembers with surprise
and grins – running back across
the field to the forest of oaks

along the St. Johns, little girl
past the barn and the great Valley Oak
with four-foot rounds I split
for him when it laid down –
both looking up like children.

                                    for Marie Wilcox

November 5, 2010


Ideals, so simple, in that slice of time
war babies were hatched, Rockwellesque
imprints that don’t fit the hydra-headed,

loose ends of our contemporary minds
looking for the quick and convenient,
something new to do. No old hats left

to wear outside, no black or white
designations, even the Snidelys have
shaved the look in their eyes. It is easy

to wander off to work alone, let the mind go
to make its fortune, to face the Herculean
with golden sword, red kerchief slung

with enough for the long way back
renewed, with something done – a living
art within the shell of the more mundane.

November 3, 2010


I remember now when we rode together,
the rock atop the ridge in Buckeye
for serious conversations – all the trails

that lead to Railroad spring, the miracle
of water. Mallards rising from the cattails
on a cloudy Sabbath missing Sunday school –

real-live ascension, places almost holy
once you got there - got to get away
from duty and responsibility. Sometimes

a part of us is left behind like tracks.
It hangs in the oaks, sticks like colored
lichen to the rocks with others, places

that have drawn best thoughts together,
and we go there, revisit all the generations
who have come to feel the same thing.

October 31, 2010


            you can usually be free some of the time
                if you wake up before other people.

                             - William Stafford (“Freedom”)

One must be free to follow a river
like mountain men, fishermen – like
children, first or last time, remembering

the smell of bear clover in the cedars
that hasn’t moved in fifty years, or the
velvet moss, mist and roar, the translucent

cave you hid within that still churns
at Soda Springs – your huge, flood-worn
rock awaits another string of rainbows.

Otherwise, we forget where we come from,
forget the fine details of dreams, forget
to rewrite our stories in the mirror, or find

connections where there seemed none.
It can be a quiet time, or not, but when
it’s black outside, no one else knows.

October 29, 2010


We must be certain, it seems, of certain things –

to have a map of where we’ve been, photographic
evidence that we opened the shutters to let the light in.
Everybody’s got a camera on them – given-up

the lease on that open range in the brain
where we branded the extraordinary action,
the irreplaceable peace to become subjects –

given-up our memories to become one
star in the universe, light years away calling,
drawing us closer like moth to flame.

October 28, 2010


Not quite like sheep,
our leaders are decoys
dressed like us, agile
with words that taste good,
but lack the seasoning
that gives feed strength

and we are grazing.
They all have that
same look in their eyes,
showing shallow puddles
like children telling lies
and we want to believe

them. We turn to face
ourselves, wander off
in twos and threes, get
small from the herd
and all the clichéd calls
for a better tomorrow.

My protest poem with six more days to go. Ad campaigns that all say the same thing: NOTHING! I'm afraid my absentee ballot is going to have a lot of blank boxes - so disappointing when times are tough.

October 27, 2010


The same naked trek into first light
as you sleep, my sound of heel upon
a wooden floor for fresh shirt and socks –

all the possibilities of a day’s work align
with the necessity of trying to stay ahead
of trouble, breaking trail for tomorrow.

We paint by day, small strokes now, details
that can be washed away in a heartbeat,
in a storm, in the unlikely – despite the joy

of being able. How I wish I’d known
when I was young and hard that this
was it – that we could make it true.

October 15, 2010


It’s another cartoon where the canon booms
a perfect hole in the character’s chest – healed
and forgotten by the next pane. Grief is not

like that. We are alone a long time, adrift
as we should be, taking inventory of what’s left
of who we are. We feel around the jagged cavity,

tie-off the severed arteries, sew-up the flesh –
try to make something of living, or not.
But we’re never the same character again.

It is so easy on the page, adding color and
filling-in with emphasis. Easy to draw upon
the paper, put words in a balloon and let go.

October 14, 2010


We stand on what God gave us,
what has not worn away with time,
like trees, some better than others –

hillsides of protected acorns awaiting
their trial of light. Some will survive
the droughts, but all will fall eventually.

Do not look to the stars for equity.
Better to grip with what’s left of your roots,
hang-on and try to keep your balance

in the wind. Each slope has old ones,
some for centuries surrounded by progeny
thick as hair on a dog’s back.

October 6, 2010


We have options like optometrists, lens upon lens
to look upon the world, within ourselves, and when
the rough edge sounds redundant, I find Stafford

trapped in a cage with a wild woman farmed bare –
and I remember my first jolt, where my eyes fixed,
trying not to stare. Even as the Romantics pine

with illusion, truth with beauty, each detail rises
upon a landscape stirred with passion – where
mountains heave and rivers rumble in our throat.

There are options at the State Fair, every barker
with a crowd gathered ‘round, offering sweet
oddities, peeks into another world we claim as real.

October 4, 2010


Follow the shiny track, unroll thoughts
atop the dust dulled by an autumn shower,
after the quail coveys danced the sun down

and left for the trees. She stopped here,
turned, looked back frozen for awhile –
replayed it all until it did not matter,

could not hold her still, then moved on.
She does not know what drives her away
from the others, to a safe and private place

with shade she knows she can ruminate
in peace. The landscape within the print
is delicate, each fragile ridge and valley

erode with every breath of a breeze –
grains of dust like boulders become unstuck
and roll into landslides – she is close.

I see generic possibilities, black silhouettes
against dry, yellow grasses or hidden within
a tangle of faded, fallen limbs – head bent

to the ground or still down struggling. Slow
into the canyon, I search the familiar, look
for the flick of an ear or little one, up sucking.

October 1, 2010


We had a time along the trail, heaping wood
upon the fire, howling with the coyotes as we
passed the cup, knowing then it would not last

our lifetimes – that vast desert out there
unexplored and unlearned – never to return
to that ignorant moment we loved so,

yet have forgotten over years of chasing
something other than the sun that I await,
even now, for an early start in the dark.

The old bull knows his pasture, plods
at ever-changing angles, measures steps
and waits to make his circles sure despite

the news, those bellows ringing fear. We had
a time and know where we’ve come from –
how luck has let us live to say goodbye

to the flesh and hello to the taunting faces
of ghosts gathering at the finish line.
‘Great day for the race!’ Dad used to say.

September 30, 2010


Our perfect world, ahead of schedule - let
the horses water! Check-in with the black
Brown Bear in the meadow before you turn

them out. Rattlesnake will be in camp
‘round five to report upon our Character.
Let him be! Tell the children to be good

and careful, Quail will watch and keep
him honest. All we have to do is feed
our families, share with the Ravens

and get permission from Mountain Lion
to stay awhile before we start-in farming –
let him have some calves for his trouble,

for our presence, for this dream of ours,
this perfect world. Last night, it was cold
star breath on my face when I awoke from

the other side of space, that Great White
Light beyond that answers all things with
distant voices, glimpses of faces, leaking-in.

‘Listen to the Wind,’ they say. ‘Smell the storm’s
approach. Watch the animals, you may learn
something new – it’s all you need to know.’

                        after Richard Hugo’s “Three Stops to Ten Sleep”

September 6, 2010


The metaphor of the forest is thick
with shadows, fleeting spirits lurking
in textured detail of hairy bark and moss

fuzzed on the edge of town, of commerce,
of self-indulgence – it’s how we are. But
without the pocket gophers shaping boroughs

between rooted toes, or the screaming
scrub jays preening pine nut tresses,
we might not know how to survive.

Not far from here, Mountain Lion
sat down with all the animals to create
humans. No one can remember why.

September 3, 2010


                with usura
                hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall

                         - Ezra Pound (“With Usura” Canto XLV)

Bent beside furrows like rivers boiling
from beneath the skirts of the first orange
tree, we set free regattas of twigs and leaves,

before mud-dams rechanneled our father’s water
for scrap, two-by-four barges hauling freight.
We explored cobwebbed corners of the barn,

played pretend aboard dusty wagon seats,
took turns driving winged steeds into
dancing particles afloat in the splintered

sunbeams. Flame in the cave, our shadows
flicker on the wall, dancing like cathedral
angels from paradise - the places we shape

beyond the grasp of governments and time,
beyond the baited traps of the same insatiable
perchmates: Mrs. Greed and Mr. Power.

August 25, 2010


I am reminded when sweet Impatience leaned
upon my shoulder, breast pressed and whispering,
‘Hurry!’ – when I could not shake her, could not

ignore the reverberations within my flesh, mind
blinded and muscles bunched to get done early.
No ceremony, no blue ribbon bonus, no awards

glint from the shelf for short-lived pleasures,
but these blond slopes, cured and carved by time,
breathe easily as the living leave their shadows

under trees to graze the gloaming until full,
to find a soft bed and dark sleep. Here, another
language speaks to the world – you can read

it from a distance, short poems like colored
leaves or dandelion seeds riding a breeze –
landing between us that say who we are.

August 17, 2010


The industriousness of insects
seems least changed by the news
that no tree grows to the sky –

            the hollow reach of limbs
            collapsed on fences, even
            the old oaks have succumbed
            to gravity, feet tangled
            with cordwood, amputated
            reminders of too much.

Time brings us to our knees
once again for a closer look –

            my father’s crawl
            across ten acres,
            jubilant to discover
            the melon vines
            my brother planted.

It’s where we go for solace,
for proof of the hereafter,
for a future without our genius
demanding shape and space –

where a troop of ants can erase
our track in the dirt, packing
sacks of seeds somewhere
underground, overnight.

August 15, 2010


On the other side of the wire, my reflection
leans into a black-clawed cane, gathering dust
in a Garberville restaurant before I limped in.

Ramped for wheel chairs, no pretending
here in the redwoods along 101, where tips
must get you through months of rain – kind

gesture from two logger’s daughters, hard years
past heifer prime. The ninety-pound cashier
in her eighties says that she knew the old

gentlemen who won’t be back to retrieve it.
Too much magic to believe, I’m not sure which
is which and just who is a reflection of whom.

August 8, 2010


This side of the wire,
the summer weeds
I couldn’t kill are dying now –
light-brown, brittle, little
trees shedding seeds
for next year’s spraying, tough
immigrants from farm ground
camped along the right-of-way
that can’t stand grazing –
germinating late,
but lopped-off early
after the grass turns blond
on hills beyond.

Azure, pungent little canopies,
mourning dove under mullein
ripening, the August song
of long shadows streams from ridges,
stretches darkly from blue oaks down,
before the acorns fall and deer
collect unseen. Listening,
I lean against my rock like Sisyphus,
watch an oriole and wren agree
upon the pickup’s bumper, preening
the grill for thistle seeds and
cleaning the chrome for bugs
as if I wasn’t here at all.


It dawns upon me,
first light streaming into
shadows cascading away
into pools of heat or rain –
everyday, no two the same.

He awoke me, drug
my eyes to see another
place to put my poetry.
I understand my father now
that he is gone and I am old.

August 6, 2010


After sixty years on the same ground,
a man talks out loud, listens to the timbre
of his thoughts tossed in space, ricochet off
rock piles to settle in the dust and grass –
a discussion among friends. No one cares
if spider overhears, or snake escapes
attention, the trees know who I am.

Saluting hawks and nodding to bullfrogs
holding court in warm stock ponds
is more natural than polite as I pass,
like complimenting the mother of a good
calf, yet not the same as talking just
to yourself, hanging options like clothes
on branches, to see which way to go next.

August 5, 2010


Packed mules all-summer of ’66,
either side of the Kaweahs,
over Franklin, over Blackrock

leading a string along the sandy track
between the steep scree and beaver dams
at Upper Funston, anytime in my mind –

            gentle thud of hooves behind me,
            long strides rubbing loads and leather,
            jingle of snaps on loose draw chains –

my ears were eyes. Sometimes
you could feel the beasts inhale
before the ropes got tight, before

the story you hoped to tell exploded.
But here an excited calm collects and
glides with rainbow trout in clear pools

beavers made – here God takes
His vacation away from the phone and
leaves desperate prayers to angels.

USC after Watts was surreal –
young women in crinoline, kegs
of beer, everywhere – a little

world lost in the black
asphalt and concrete, a long
day’s ride to earth left alone.

Before the war and the Sixties
came down hard, we’d slip off
to the Ashgrove on Melrose,

displaced country boys
listening for a little bit of home –
John Hammond, Lightening

Hopkins, Ramblin’ Jack
on stage, two dollar ticket,
four dollar cover, two

drinks served before the show –
and Jack is young, forty-four
years ago. Hat, boots and acoustic

ready to jump off stage and whip
the usher interrupting ‘912 Greens’—
he hollers instead, ‘Hold that gate!’

                        for Joe Botkin, Parker Kennedy & Jack

August 4, 2010


                She tweaks her shorts, peels back the hem
                like a fruit rind, smiles over her shoulder,
                and there it is, branded on her rump: an open fig.

                                   - Henry Shukman (“Step”)

The pickup’s parked for days, and only leaves
the canyon to get mail once a week on the way
to a half-dozen stops in town, appointments
timed and mapped in my mind, thirty miles
away. Peel off the hay dust, mission objectives
detailed in the shower, clean shirt and shoes,
tall glass of ice water with lemon wedge or
plastic coffee in a leaky travel cup, I am fortified
by routine – troops at attention, assembled
for deployment as the diesel engine purrs
for combat, gray Buckstop bumpers, front
and back. Push off the buzzing sensing eye.

The gravel drive empties onto asphalt
with no white line where caravans of tourists
and the Ainley’s can bring freeway speeds
and urgency right up the middle, gooseneck
loads of faces lit with terror going somewhere -
matching mine in the mirror. A man must
ratchet his courage up, hone his eye to read
vehicles like cattle and be content to ride
drag and slip past the traps with the same grace
as pairing cows and calves. A necessary art
when living in the future that is not unlike
a rattlesnake passing through the garden.

I have begun perusing ‘New Poets of the American West’, just released from Many Voices Press and edited by Lowell Jaeger. I open books of poems somewhere in the middle, a serendipitous custom that is especially practical and rewarding with this anthology. I’ve yet to be disappointed with any of the editor’s choices: Henry Shukman from New Mexico was one of them.

August 1, 2010


We have these conversations, you and I,
about those spawned after the world was
saved –
            back when Rosie left the factory
            and some of the men came home

heroes. We had our war – remember
what it cost? And before that, Crazy K
shipping missiles to Cuba, JFK

shot down in Dallas, Bobby in L.A,
MLK in Memphis on my birthday?
Conspiracies or the crazed among us

driven by something that will not die,
that fearful and dissatisfied undercurrent
we nurture, turn commercial, profit by.

Hear the hatred rattling in the grass?
Old war babies crying in their sleep, still
believing they have had a say and glad

to have a black man now to blame. Bad
times, hard times, yes – but we’ve seen
worse immersed in self—gratification.

The rock doesn’t care anymore, rivers
laugh off the mountains, but the deserts
remember every word in our heads,

every conversation wishing more to
help find a way to keep the wagon moving
without the weight of hate.

                                               - for Robbin

July 31, 2010

July 31, 2010

Not far from here, wild oats run like cream
around granite outcrops, off hills to the creek.
We are specks in it, in this canyon melting,

early morning. Blond empty heads bow and
kiss our shoulders, as four, first-calf heifers
circumambulate a far ridge, discuss at length

which trail to take, if we have hay. The breeze,
cool and friendly here as you call them closer,
as they remember the taste of fresh alfalfa

plodding along the track from tongues
in heavy heads of bone – grinding leaf
and stem, sweet rapture rumbles in their eyes.

Last year’s calves grown-up to be mothers,
a deep and careful look within the churn
of something new, alive within them.

July 26, 2010


Silver-lined thunderheads at dawn,
a sign banked for my myopia,
or the ambush crouched beyond

the mountains. Set afire, set adrift
ships leak west – runaway prairie
schooners cast across a purple sky

pursued by paint horses in my mind –
over the head of the watershed, a little
north of where I wait for another day

of 100 degrees in the shade. We feel
for a connection, for wild expression
as harbingers of hope for mankind,

and entertain the change in weather
that may save our children
from having to learn the hard way.

July 25, 2010


Drifting far from the main
we retreat to new movies in our dreams,
that illusion that we are central,
as individuals, in the survival of beings -

investing in empty games,
embracing moments with nothing to show
from our hands, hearts and intellect
except a greater distance from the whole,

we have become islands – even
as a tree frog clings to the door at dawn
on his swinging, perpendicular plane
after harvesting the glass and a light left on.

Our tracks from the dark thicket
have been erased. We are free to forget
where we come from, untied
to drift upon every sea of regret.

July 23, 2010


The sun slides within
a narrow plane between the eve
and the top of the ridge,

a blinding crack of light,
later now, moving south
from Sulphur Peak,

sneaking south towards
shorter days, cooler nights –
towards less urgency

to saddle horses in the dark
where white-haired winter waits –
a frosty grin, a chance of rain.

Imagine the curiosity
that measured days off peaks
of pyramids, off spikes of stars,

tiny wedges of days
to make a moon, circling
full while Apollo rides

the ridge and back again,
again and again and again,
no matter the news.

July 22, 2010


Dirt lot six days a week,
pens empty five,
no place to park
among the pickups, goosenecks
and aluminum big rigs –

no stanchions for assorted sizes
waiting for a load of cows
bred up-close for
a seven hundred dollar calf
this time next year.

I hear my father in my head,
'When the parking lot’s full,
go home and bring a load to town,
but be buying when it’s empty -
the majority’s usually wrong.'

Robbin and I went to town to see some bred-heifers, that we sold last year as yearlings, sell – to see how they compared with their mates at home bred to the Wagyu, due to start calving next month – wishing we had them back with plenty of grass left. Of special value to us: native cattle and our genetics. Knew when we pulled into the parking lot that we couldn’t afford them. Damn, they looked good, fetching $1,425 – 1,485 ea. Wow, what a market!

July 13, 2010


If you ever decide to quit
looking beyond the asphalt
buck-stitched by barb wire,

if you can’t see either side
to your current destination
since you were a kid,

if your everyday is
planned and paced
to the drum of a clock,

you may not notice them
moving quickly to hide
just behind your ear.


I weed around a square
smudge pot from the Forties
between the lime and lemon

to remind me of cold nights
and its red-hot pulse for hours
on nickel-a-gallon oil,

saving Christmas oranges
for wooden crates of gold.
Its bottom full of starlit

pinholes, swamping lugs
at night down orchard rows
of nettles stinging

the face of a 10 year-old
craving manhood – the real
close and lasting past me.

July 11, 2010


Nonsense drones like bumblebees
in the Palo Verde busy upside-down,
clutching yellow petals
before they fall to carpet ground
where weeds won’t grow.

For a month of evenings, two
ravens claim the top rail
by the well, black silhouettes
edging into one like lovebirds
pressed into a summer’s night.

At the gate, a rattlesnake owns
the loading chute we seldom use.
A leaky trough keeps grass
for cottontails green and
ground squirrels from floating.

Overnight, a weasel stacked our
two mama cats and a dozen kittens,
we gave away, atop a bale
of oat hay in a neighbor’s barn
full of mice and rats.

Good year for ducks, the creek
has run into July, evening Vs
pump down canyon over
Snowy Egrets wading warm
with Great Blue Herons

beneath new emerald canopies –
sycamores dressing for the heat
below the dark-blue smear
of leather oak leaves
on bleached-blond feed.

The Kaweah foams cold
with snowmelt, an upstream
drowning, another body lost
along the way-too-soon
before our weather changes.

July 10, 2010


            Wood that can learn is no good for a bow.
                                                - William Stafford ("The Answers
                                                        Are Inside the Mountains")

Odd places claimed in the heart, evergreen
in steep, loose scree to where Wu Gang
packs his axe before the sun clears the ridge.

Each step slips where there is no trail,
no easy ascent from where the dirt track
ends at Ragle Springs. His every day,

every swing erased by starlight – myth
transplanted to fit my landscape, rooted to
a pocket on Sulphur like a permanent

boutonnière – it can heal from a distance
greater now than inhaling the pungent
blood of bark with crushed bay leaves.

July 8, 2010


Too big to fight, too slow to change,
the wheels on the outside are painted-on,
layers of faces disconnected from gears

that grind-out promises, grind-down reserves,
and grind-up dreams. It ingests us, growing
still, and almost stationary, always hungry

for power. We dodge cogs and rollers
in the sort to nest near broken welds and seams
for the outside light, praying to our gods.

You are old enough, now, to see where
we’ve come from, and what has become
of humanity dumbed-down with slogans

from the poets on the payroll, the quick
and easy assonance that lubricates
today's friction to absolve us all.

July 7, 2010


Good space is hard to find
On this earth – or in your mind.

Cherish it, protect it, nurture –
Take it for granted? Never.

Dirt is the forgotten truths
From which all things bloom,

But without heart, vision
And hope they become barren

And sparse landmarks between
Horizons. Love where you’ve been,

Trade your princes for kings.
Trust in what your good space brings.

July 5, 2010


A slow song lingers on long days
under a 110 sun, Apollo reins to loiter
in the blue stretched between steep

horizons. Mind on the fuzzy edge
of delirium, lyric mantras arrive like
friends from 1965. I am thirsty,

just as naïve as then, listening
through poor acoustics to my
reshuffled rhymes reverberating,

new words to a familiar tune
inserted as the forgotten fade.
By noon, I can’t look up to face

the light, blinded by harness silver
set afire, despite my Atwood palm
and diluted sun block leaking

down channels of emotion cut
deeper with time – the haunting
melody that begs to cry with,

and for, the persistent spirit
humbly camped within us
with a good lot on its mind.

                                    - for Tom Russell


July 4, 2010

6:33 A.M.


Sabbath 4th, horses wait
and watch the house
before the sun pours
over the ridge
like molten steel.

July 3, 2010


When dawn invades dark reverie
and hillsides rise to meet the light,
I take wing on all that could be
to find the grace for grounded flight.

            There is nothing out there beckoning,
            no tempting dreams rich with success,
            only circles ‘round a reckoning:
            that life is more when I am less.

Sweet the sound of wild awakening,
of forgotten souls that come and go –
I hear words to steal and sing,
meaning more than I’ll ever know.

As shadows dress blond, dry slopes
to hide the trees from July’s sun,
cities churns with human hopes
before it all becomes undone.

Come time I pass into that night,
into that cloud of timeless dust,
to be inhaled by grounded flight,
to find a grace that I can trust.

June 28, 2010


Hatch after hatch,
the bugs and quail
don’t loose sleep

over the economy,
don’t care about
the War on Terror.

One hundred degrees
in the shade
heifers shift bellies,

wonder where
gentle kicking
comes from.

Dominion over all
things – we couldn’t
run a lemonade stand.

June 21, 2010


Nothing left to extract for free,
the romance of living off the land
has been a business well-before

Kerouac rode the rails or Woody
rambled. With no stone unturned,
it’s been a myth since Turner closed

the Frontier Saloon, since the town
went bust and rats owned the street.
We are, at last, citified – cultureless

clones at the free-choice feed bunk,
safe diversions teasing senses for a price.
Call it what you will, but it’s gone.

June 7, 2010


Along the road, my old genetics
shine this year, Longhorn cows
to graze the ridgetops, calves

I never branded still producing
for someone else, I recognize
like lost children. Yes, Virginia,

these old girls remember: born
too late to brand, worked through
the wire despite the warnings

from strangers in Cuyama
before he arrived. Descended
from the Spanish kings,

old bluster and bravado
absorbed by time – recollection
rides on spotted hides.

June 6, 2010


Filling the hole – covering the other half
of the dance that blessed uneven ground
and unforgiving circumstance with heart

and elegance – took time, each scoop spilled
and built around your crimson rose petals,
garden yarrow ripening beside a bouquet

of purple brodiaea wound with pink centaury.
Domestic and wild, the mystic and suddenly
symbolic branded in brilliant colors savored

between each bucketful until the last full
moment was eclipsed with dark, damp earth.
It took time to find and feel hydraulic grace,

smooth and efficient gestures of respect
for the horse you groomed beneath the blue
oaks with dear words, a bucket of oats,

show sheen and fly spray on softest hair,
his forelock finally full. And as you waited
for the vet, the atrophied old man followed

to the lone oak shade near the open hole –
souls making promises on a cool breeze,
one last walk to the bottom of all things.

                March 21, 1980 – June 4, 2010

March 21, 2010


May 25, 2010


Beyond the stockade –
the global stage reset
for one more war as oil
leaks from the ocean floor.

Too big to fight, too big
to change, ‘let them play,
old violence is not too old
to beget new values’.

The earth quakes all over,
steaming Iceland,
spinning hurricanes,
demanding equal time –

listen to her, listen
to the old ways,
relearn the chants
of your mother tongue.

-reaching for the poem by Robinson Jeffers, 'The Bloody Sire'.

May 12, 2010


Ripening with time, I paint a face
that scorned the sun, that grinned
into the blaze of the San Joaquin

like Icarus from Crete. A daub of
grease between the gray smeared-in
the skin, remembering make-believe

I miss, mythologies I crave now,
before I leave this planet in revolt –
these displeased gods with clever

schemes of their own. Time, perhaps,
to listen to the Aztecs, Yokuts and
the Greeks, time to learn their songs.

May 10, 2010


No call to make –
no waiting until you awake,
we are freed from holidays,

you and me. Each busy signal left
on the answering machine,
I think of you as still

in the ‘museum’
as if it were jail,
as if it were penance

or punishment – your end
of days – final payment
for a practical life.

‘No services –’
you said, seeing beyond
the last drop of morphine

and the cemetery boxed
on top of Robert – just
the thought made you uneasy.

Few friends left,
the rest would come
from obligation.

Your last gift to Robbin,
no preparations
for the gathering after –

for the small talk and all
the emotional complications
you understood and hated

to endure. You are free
at last, I pray, from these –
we are not.

May 4, 2010


Off the mountain, the stone turns round –
sheds it edges and rests between pools,
between trees, between the floods

with nothing left to prove. It has not
taken long to fall from steep ideals,
far peaks like teeth tearing at the sky.

A steady roar of news pushes upstream,
ruffling willows, oaks and sycamores,
yet much is lost along the way here –

like the petty and picayune that don’t
sell much for long, or the slow drums
of the ever-fearful souls determined

that the world has gone to hell with hate.
What genius lets these molten fires explode,
leak out to cool beneath the ice, to create

these ever-changing clouds of steam
at Eyjafjallajokull? And we so pleased
that it’s not the end of a work in progress.

April 24, 2010



Fog along the creek –
sycamore silhouettes,
limbs without leaves
dance at daylight as if
guarding the threshold
of a medieval forest,
beginning unknown.

Woven with a fallen
branch and seasons
of the ungrazed, a
hay rake rests
among the trees,
not awakened
in my lifetime.

Perhaps Len Bequette
cussed it
when he unhitched it
the last time
the creek ran enough
to irrigate hay,
when the day came

it didn’t pay –
or on the edge of open
saved for hard and hungry
times, ‘just in case’
like old farmers do –
rusty monuments,
little clues.

April 23, 2010


Almost how we planned it, a slow
gather of first-calf heifers, both sides
of the creek, running muddy, to sort
and drive with calves to be worked,
weaned and shipped to Idaho –

old-people slow, no cowboy heroics
belly-high at the crossing, horses:
skin-tight fresh, muscles pulsing,
hearts drumming out of their flesh,
everything alive and electric

after two-day’s rain on tall green
under spent remnants of mottled gray –
handfuls. Young cows plod easy
on the edge of our future, grazing
places we’ll never go.

April 22, 2010


Secret cubbyholes for lush dreams,
hirsute hillsides flowered green, wild
oats combed in waves of heavy heads

bent unanimously. Sometimes
we forget where we’ve hidden
what no man needs to steal, what

becomes of our small contribution
to ourselves. Sometimes the rhetoric
clouds where we’ve come from.

I imagine dirty cave children
rolling log, twig and bone wheels
across a hard cavern floor, new

toy traps for the unaware, hiding
the smoothest like pretty marbles
for more important revelations.

Snow stayed all day, drizzling now, .05" more.

April 21, 2010


A fine sprinkling settles the canyon.
Dark ships anchor at daylight, yet
drift east to west, slipped-in from over
the Sierras, from Nevada – without sound.

No pickups rush the road, no horses
paw their mangers, no cows bawl, not
even the puppy asks out of her pen –
our gray song waits on a rainy day.

Snow down to 3,000', 1.91" rain

April 15, 2010


The raven gets away
with damn-near everything –
black coat shining.

The hawk lifts off
with a snake, wriggling
to land sixty feet below.

We blame the bobcat
for a house cat’s screams
fading into the darkness.

Coyotes circle the house,
want to invite the unaware
to dinner.

Wild West templates
not far off, my slick bull calf
bawling at the sale yard.

                         - for Awbrey Riddle

April 10, 2010


Beneath the naked oak with swollen bud
about to burst on twigs, I scan the stack
of limb wood stretched from trunk to granite

boulder set before my time, before cows
agreed on shady cud dreams, as I look for
trahundun – spy for Tihpiknit, keeper of

the Yokut underworld – my eyes prying
between each stick ahead of my grandson’s
hand and step as we chat around the fire pit,

gray ash cold. They find their names
etched in the concrete poured to seal
the dark abyss at the base of the rock.

A myth to share with my adult children –
rattlesnake dances and feathered baskets,
old Trudum whistling outside the den.

I'm done wrestling with this one, I think. The feel and rhythm have kept it on my desktop for several weeks now. Typically, I may edit a little more once posted.

April 7, 2010


The young toughs and pretty boys
with ducktails greased, loose coils
trained to hang like they just escaped
a well-combed mold of cool – loud
Buicks, Olds and Chevys, GM tanks
with new paint and chrome hubcaps
loitering summer evenings, idling
at the drive-ins, revving to go fast
as Paul Anka ached on the radio.
Warm beer in a paper sack in back,
under the stars down by the river,
willows whispering in our dreams
after weeks of hundred-degree days
in someone’s orchard, on someone’s
farm or ranch for a dollar an hour,
four burgers or five gallons of gas –
armies of us wanting more to do
in every little Valley town
from Bakersfield to Modesto,
a generation of young bulls pacing
the barbed wire everywhere to lurid
rock ‘n roll gyrations that moved them
to FEAR – all the preaching, all the talk
before and after the pictures in Life,
sideburns and all, gone for a moment
when Elvis got his hair cut.

- March 24, 1958

April 2, 2010


It’s a way to let the present tense
meet with the past, let the little irritants
sink and be absorbed by trees and grass –

these sojourns beyond dark mornings
to familiar places, waiting at first light
for metaphors I’ve not seen before.

They’re out there, the cops and robbers
at every stop light, every intersection
into their town. I try to be polite

and smile, try to like what I despise
of the games we play – find the patience
of a fisherman as I angle for my escape,

breathe deeply and drive towards
the Kaweah gorge and not let my
speedy relief draw too much attention.

March 31, 2010


Do you remember how the old road clung
close to the creek, narrow track in and out
of every draw, strewn with leaves? Loose

barb wire hung from old redwood posts
at ease, relaxed and patched at tangents
of each curve into the creek, hubcaps

peeking from the weeds. Part of the job
was looking off the edge for evidence –
grass laid flat, turned boulders scuffed

or splintered posts each morning, before
the cows got out into the long pasture.
Check inside the cab for corpse or dreams

of no better place to spend the night
than with cricket violinists and a tree frog
chorus with steam and water whispering.

You had to drive it slow, forty years ago –
before they straightened it for safety, before
the ambulances and vehicles we don’t know.

Rain: .04"

March 26, 2010


I hear me talking to myself, a mumbling
that strums like a song in my skull –
first daylight dew when I cannot move

without leaving tracks through settlements
of fiddlenecks, ridges skiffed with popcorn
flowers, boots of an old child sprinkled

with petal sequins, white and gold –
trapped in the middle of a melody
I can stretch into the sunlight waiting

warm ahead. A Red-Tail investigates,
and I believe now, recognizes me –
understands my business in his territory,

hears the song in my head. It could all
be a dream, clumped candelabras of golden
poppies folded in flames, marking our way.


My usual fear this time of year is that we can get so busy that we don’t get a chance to just notice and enjoy spring. The oaks are in a hurry to get leaves, cows in the shadow of bare trunks and limbs – this past week: highs to 80 degrees, redbuds crimson now against the green, fiddlenecks and popcorn flowers claiming much of the canyon’s hillsides, poppies burning holes high on the peaks. But there always seems to be an urgency in the air – this year, too, as we try to finish branding calves in places we couldn’t get to because of our great January and February’s rains.

Also a very nice memorial for my mother, family and friends last Saturday.

After branding a little bunch of huge calves yesterday and barbecuing grass-fed burgers, visiting and the clean-up, Robbin and I looked at each other last night with both relief and disbelief – wondering if we may be getting too old for this. Not sure what she’s got planned today, but I’m headed clear-the-hell up the hill on the Kawasaki Mule with some salt and my camera to check on the calves we branded, hoping she can see her way clear to come with me for a good, deep breath of space.

March 15, 2010


A boy learned that the truth leaves tracks
when we were young explorers
on the trail to understanding this world –

and when mischief leaped to stir our senses,
we could not hide our way back
with lies, without leaving tracks behind.

We may forget them, even – hope the wind
and weather erase the proof
lurking in the dark, waiting to shake hands

and be friends again. That’s who we were,
once upon a time before
talk got so expensive, so multi-syllabic,

so close to home. We have come to believe
that we are the assonance,
and wear our simplistic slogans like Nashville

sequins and whole earth ball caps, so often
that we want to become them,
hoping to hide the truth of being human.

March 6, 2010


I had no garden when I first came to this spot
behind the knoll the natives claimed, echoing
beneath horses hooves still – just wild oats

to the windowsills of the faded double-wide
I bought from a Sacramento bank and moved
along a game trail between two canyons

that only run water in a downpour. Offspring
of the two huge rattlesnakes, first night here,
still find their way back, following something

I feel too, clearing the cactus I planted then.
A coming home, shovel and pitchfork work
towards a different place to rest my eyes.

My flesh is drawn into the damp soil,
producing visions, different versions of future
fruit - sweet gloamings shared on a new stage.

March 5, 2010


No more Paul Bunyan dreams
of recreating landscapes, no ‘nod
and throw’ replays out of the box,

no horsehair hung in shiny rowels
to reprove yesterday – that fearless muse
sparks the rhymes of youth.

No hurry now, no impossible task
to subdue, to submit to, to tell the crew
each time wilder. I can see

myself farther off, out of this flesh
in your eyes, in the timbre
of each word. I flex inside

but grin, non-plused – listen like
your day was just another sunset
in this canyon – but keep it alive

with moustache rising. Then I beg
for details of terrain, of the cattle,
to picture it again.

We are so childlike,
even as old men grinning
among the young, strong hearts

so seldom sure - no guarantees,
but paying attention
to a lifetime’s run of good luck.

March 4, 2010


We’ve got rain and plenty work, stacking-up
across the creek, the garden always calling
for a visit. Nothing’s changed all that much.

Not like the days and nightmares, he left behind
when he took-off for parts unknown.
You made it easy, kept everyone away

with insistent wishes your friends ignored.
This year’s calves from your black cows
may be the best ones yet, with all this grass.

Take a look, first chance you get – I know
we say it every year, but they’ll weigh-up
like little bears. And the wildflowers, Mom…

it’s worth a visit around the equinox. The kids
are driving, flying-in to gather in the garden –
plant something special for you to find!

64 hundreths more!

March 2, 2010


I will be reading to the future, assorted
children at Lincoln School where I rode my bike
half-mile down Spruce to Palm Drive,

where the high school kids parked at night
either side of the Pogue house – dodging potholes
into town and past the hospital – all closed down.

Fifty years ago I learned to pledge Allegiance,
say the Lord’s Prayer, pick which version
to contemplate, ‘debtors’ or ‘trespassers’,

for many years after, but I kept my head bent.
Pat still remembers me as an incorrigible,
busy kid on the playground. No old, dead horse

poems, I’ve found my mother’s ‘Aesop
for Children’ and remember the Milo Winter
illustrations I searched hours in pastel detail –

the mouse gnawing the lion’s rope, the gnat
and the bull – still digesting: the smaller
the mind the greater the conceit.

February 28, 2010


Loren’s story of colored horses, the great plume
of dust rising into the sky as they descended
from Buckeye – the same high ridge and deep

drop into the flat along the Kaweah that Dad & I
kicked cattle off each June – I could see it
in his eyes from the hillside across the canyon.

Bays, sorrels and duns bumping, leaping downwards,
single file – Fred Ward’s gather for the cavalry
strung for half-a-mile. It happened then, he said,

when he wanted to be a cowboy. Gills, Salinas,
Arizona rodeos, knotted tail of a paint horse
disappearing with the crack of manzanita,

forsaking the bunch for a wild one – working best
on his own. Old and cranky, put his pocket knife
to Leroy’s throat for riding in front of him

on the Roble Lomas. You could see dying
come back to life in his brown eyes, a sudden
damp reflection riding up the creek to Ishom

atop a wagon full of carp dried upon the rocks
at Belle Point. We shared it gently, heard
voices in the same place for a long time.

                                    - for Loren Fredricks

Continue reading "FROM THE POHOT PLACE" »

February 19, 2010


It seems spring since November with
October rain and green, few frosty nights.
Just now, birds in the bare oaks practice

promising refrains, cows upcanyon quiet
with branded calves on damp, cool grass.
Not a hint of the buzz that marks the end

and we grin to one another, listen and grin
where generations have gathered, horses
tethered and irons grown cold, grinning

beneath Sulphur with a little spot of poppies
burning gold. Weathered smiles, we show
teeth and listen to our hearts howling.

                                             - for Spencer Jensen

February 12, 2010


Tall shadow on the morning wall,
like a person waiting in the dark
when I awake without a mother,

now planted atop my father
like shoeboxes in a black closet
I’ll never open – only to drive by

            with a nod to the gods
            in case they’re listening.

Cast from the desk lamp,
she comes alive when I rise
to get more coffee, changes

shape and grins with gestures.
The one she gave Robbin
has bloomed every year

since her father died, white
faces reaching for the light
when we’d return from Elko –

after ten cold days in a stale
empty house, looking out at Sulphur
as our sweet ‘welcome home’.

February 11, 2010


Little do we know of that ground
between the lush, iridescent hills
and that beyond them, except

it’s magical. How some days it
rains with coincidence when
we’re most vulnerable and open,

so helpless within ourselves –
powerless but to ignore the obvious.
You can feel the shuffling

of spirits, of ghosts, or angels slip
ahead to make the forgotten
connections to the old world –

set up camp and start a fire. The air
sings songs, one after another until
all harmonize to make you feel

like leaving your flesh, almost
blindly reaching out to touch
and hold what you know

very little about – like young calves
running, bucking across
the uneven green because they can.

February 7, 2010


Ranges of foothills fall sharply from clouds
stacked against Sierra snow, pastel ridges
washed pink and lavender under light gray rain –

I want to stop and paint them from the railroad
overpass, on the highway from Visalia – park
and stop time, freeze it all while I brush

powder to paper. Commuting for weeks,
I can read the leanings of the urgent
escaping work, racing towards something

somewhere I can’t imagine as important
as these mountains – a different meaning
in the light of every day. Wrinkled one

behind the other, I identify each dark line
as it jags into the Kaweah like the folds
of bedclothes as she sleeps, going home.

Continue reading "AS SHE SLEEPS" »

February 4, 2010


Today I remember the pieces, deep
reds and blues of my mother’s Imari
glued to Mary Hadley’s farm scenes –

a fractured clash of bright and pale
that fit somehow to make a landscape
I can abide, but better on the borders

of the garden. With each glazed shard,
we till and plant our grief, a glint of color
for tomorrow’s tomatoes and squash.

I want to plant something in her
grand twenty-gallon vase that’s only
held umbrellas on its carved oak stand

half-century in a dark and dusty corner.
I want to bring it back to life, make it
useful in a pagan coup d’état that sings

with art fading in the weather, as we
all do in time, a song that celebrates
owning nothing with this flesh.

A place she can visit for coffee
and a cigarette, make suggestions
while we work the earth.

cen⋅o⋅taph [sen-uh-taf, -tahf] – noun: a sepulchral monument erected in memory of a deceased person whose body is buried elsewhere. Origin: 1595–1605; < L cenotaphium < Gk kenotáphion, equiv. to kenó(s) empty + -taphion (táph(os) tomb + -ion dim. suffix)

February 3, 2010


Up the Middle Fork, high in the scent of cedars
below Alder, just past that first patch of bear clover
where young bulls catch their breath and inhale

the pungent wild steamed in mountain sunshine –
a jumping-off spot to Billy’s Cabin, where Allen Drury
left his autograph with J.G. Boswell’s, my hand

beneath them, on the wall boards, now all gone.
Burro Creek, Copper Mines or Cascades – naked names,
memories and dreams still pulse there.

Mom and I at first-crossing searching under
water colored rocks for hellgrammites, a history
of learning a river that forever flows,

and floods at times – clears the deadfall,
with changes below – cycles and circles,
the scent of cedars from the shade of an oak.

February 2, 2010


Plain as paper, one can explore
the blank sheet, the light clouds
stretching across the Great Basin –

snow upon the purple ranges,
time unchanging time. Here
the wheel was lifted by hand,

progress slow, each step digested.
In a bullet, we fly by at seventy
into hours of silent space, whole

thoughts shared between us
without words spoken – not another
near, but the old souls who left no trail,

who camped and crossed before.
No place for dreamers nor the heartless,
this plain sage-ness, not for those

afraid of coyotes, ghosts and darkness –
yet so accessible from here
as we float from Elko to Bishop, home.

Thanking Amy for the email that triggered here.

January 31, 2010


An eagle floating, feathers glint like
burnished brass above upcanyon green,
perhaps the same who claimed the breech,

coyote at bay and she, a black and helpless
silhouette under the tree where she labored –
a pitiful strain of motherhood to be admired.

I follow my eyes like the shadow I was
behind my father, tried to match his stride,
always listening, then asking more.

A few old men still remember the boy,
breaking clods behind the tractor with little
boots, or behind the four and five year-old

steers from Mexico, right off the train
across the bridge and up the road until
belly-high in heaven. But they’re not

my eyes anymore, I cannot own
the current that flows between us –
the peace that connects all things.

January 30, 2010



Already pictures in from London, Chip beneath
a lighter stack of books tonight, his burden
of literature lifting a little, shifting towards

his homeland and shaky California, but we
have yet to feel the darkness. Yet to see the wolf
clear the sharp Sierras between here and Elko.

We are all apart, each undone by distance, yet
together in tonight’s sky. I trust my mother
anticipates the proper moonbeam as she

trains her wings. Driving home at dawn,
the sun leaked like spotlights upon the Yokohl,
angling through low gray openings, snow

upon the Kaweah peaking into the light rain –
the kind of glory artists have captured in oil
for centuries. One must thank someone

for the real thing. She is not religious, despite
her hands folded across her breastless chest,
shoulders quivering in unison as she sleeps.

We imagine angels adjusting and attaching
feathers, a fluttering with the rising moon
we share with her ascension from this flesh.

January 29, 2010


                        My horse is not sure he can make it
                        to the next star. You are free.

                                    - Richard Hugo (“To Women”)

The burden the stork brought, you start it all
a child then filled with dreams, you bore
your fears and learned with me. Black soot,

roadways inflamed with smudge pot sentries,
red helmets straight for miles into the night,
always crystalline, dark rafts above by day,

for weeks. Checking temperatures,
starting wind machines, climbing towers
towards the props on flat-head Ford V8s

roaring in his ears, he was a bear asleep
before the fire, diesel sweater, when we
awoke into the smells of his dark nights.

Dialysis, thoracentesis you refuse and send
them packing, only to ask next morning
if you heard the Doctor right, ‘another day?’

‘Day by day,’ I think he said –
all of us learning together once more
how to die, how to live each breath, at last.


Great keynote, Hank!! Turns out we caught it live.

January 28, 2010


the flesh wears out, joints wear thin.
A man must learn to look ahead
and down at the same time –
slow-going for the stiff-necked.

Out here, it doesn’t matter much
where you’ve been, who you know –
no one cares. The rain gods own
this ground, you’ll soon find out -

here, no one figures getting old,
getting ahead enough to quit
what we’ve always done:
staying even with the landscape.

Out here, we choose privacy,
guard our space and distrust
all things new, slow to change
who’ve we become.

Thinking of the Gathering, Robbin and I wish we were among our friends, our other family. I can imagine the hoopla and hugging at breakfast after last night’s first handshakes, bought drinks, etc. Looking forward to Hank’s keynote I hope to hell’s on tape online, we’ll miss it live as we’ll miss you all! Have a great Gathering!

January 23, 2010


                “I can’t hear you,”
                I yell, just so he’ll shout it again.

                           - Verlena Orr (“Sixty-Nine & Pushing On”)

Certain things we need to hear
twice to sustain a mantra
that might stick, that might

someday come true again –
sweet delusions wrapped in time
waiting to be set free.

I have let the old horse
with nothing to do for years,
lose his manners, think we exist

to serve his memory when
we were kings a horseback,
hearts to grace the ground with –

Damn, both young and something!
He gets the barn when it rains,
feels the barometric pressure

falling, sees the halter in my hand
he thinks he doesn’t need,
nosing it impatiently.

I make him stand
to remember who we are –
two old men headed for the barn.

Rain: .14"

January 22, 2010


We pray for heart attacks, Mack trucks and lightening
as our way out, trading tales of die-hard mothers
like rattlesnake stories, each triggering another –

pouring wine with whiskey rants to laugh
at the sad truth we can’t improve, can’t make easier,
can’t change, but in ourselves. Out of the rain,

my great bay horse, a bag of bones at thirty,
paws the gate in the barn for more grain – an indignant
impatience I trained for years, my mother’s hands

in mine again. It’s rained five days straight,
blew the barn down, blew a tire in a rockslide,
got a ticket parked too long at the hospital,

and we look up into the gray wanting to escape
town and traffic, find home and recuperate
with neighbors and last night’s leftovers.

                                                - for Steve & Jody

Rain: 1.03"

January 21, 2010


                           I used to remember everything that happened
                           plain as the love on her face. Now it mixes
                           and fades.

                                      - Richard Hugo (“How Meadows Trick You”)

Sweet indulgences on the unimproved ground,
the picturesque, the rough and tough, entwined with similes,
lasting metaphors invested in the same place

that has changed a little on its own along the creek.
Was it my birthday in ’68 or ’69, twenty or twenty-one in love
with someone, or not – wet feet beneath the sycamores

walking after a wet spring, huge high-channel puddles
reflecting blue and cumulus through naked limbs – I may have
even cried, and they may have held me there

forever here, until the miners felled them? Canada
was the question, as I stole photographs to take back to school
to share, to hold before I gave that future up.

That’s how it goes along braided creeks, memories
that can be shaped and improved by lots of rain, rafts of deadfall
redirecting flows, carving faces in their cobbled banks.

Rain: .65"

January 20, 2010


Not the first time
the roof blew off
with half-a-stack inside –

moved it in the Fifties,
to patch and paint it half-a-century
beside the sycamore.

How many bales
bucked up and down
the years, how many mine?

How many heartbeats?
How much sweat and hay dust
in its rafters still alive on its side?


Rain: .51"

January 19, 2010

4 SOUTH 24

In the shadow of the fallen
limb, waist-sized carcass
the grass is swallowing –

on the dark side there,
something beautiful, ex-
citing, you’ve never seen

quite. We part green stems
like curtains and there,
a child again playing games

by herself – preferring
clear the hell away
from her mother’s shrill

pomposity fixed
on what she is not.
And her mother, the

teetotaler that married
the old judge who hid
in the barn with his jug.

Even now, I can hear it
pierce rooms through
the big house, the faux-

operatic screeched keyless
to hello yodels at the door
in those days – so senseless

now, but she’s OK
playing princess
for as long as she can.

Rain: .35"; barn blown down.


January 18, 2010


                  To be shaping again, model
                  And tool, craft of culture,
                  How we go on.

                              - Gary Snyder (“Axe Handles”)

The world is waiting for our next move,
anticipating the evolution we still trust
we will survive. The ospreys are back –

looking for a place to live since burning
the power poles down with their first wet nest,
since sycamores were swapped for progress,

since the Terminus dances washed away
in the Flood of ’55 – always looking
for a good high home near all-year water.

A good sign – gone thirty winters, maybe
shot with something other than my Canon,
– same aerodynamics of a ten-inch bass

in black and white, safe with Cedric Wright’s
photographs, a gift from high school, safe
on the bookshelves of lost memories. Again

and again, we learn the hard way, the pattern…
not far off
with each tool, each new technology
for a world ready to adapt with or without us.

Rain: .32"

January 14, 2010


Slow steps across distance growing
shorter, oak shade with springs leaking
out of the ground, cracks in the granite

savored now with the first breath drawn
by men, men and women, children after
children becoming part of the same

moment, a millisecond or so, back.
Their songs still linger here, echo
in the canyons, grow to the dark side

of rocks like velvet moss refreshed
by rain or grin defiantly with the lichen –
sparks of fire back towards the sun.

I don’t need to understand the words –
the song is enough – an old melody
holding ground just off the road.

Damn, I love it after a rain! Storm total: .97"

January 10, 2010


You’re not there, not among the anonymous
on the streets, not among the lean coyotes
owning the alleys, not upon the bloated

screen chasing air time – I’m glad for that,
I guess – but have we forgotten we were
the children sired and suckled on prosperity,

fast times, drugs and expensive whiskey.
I drowned out Richie Valens on my Zenith,
moaned and groaned each new emotion

to myself, imagining. Who took Otis away
from us when we were full of feeling
everything we could? But we’re not there

anymore, each retreating to safer places
in the landscapes left of our minds –
always leaving a bit of soul behind.

It may not be cowboy poetry per se (it might not even be a very good poem), but what better community in which to find those basic threads of humanity – not the advertised, hyped-up humanity, but those senses the poet hopes more common to us all – ‘a poetry of work, daily life and the land’ – little insights while trying to get along with it all.

As always, I continue to edit or delete completely – appreciating more that our accumulated entries have begun to work for us as a functioning journal, more dependable at this juncture than cluttered memories.

January 8, 2010




A man learns to fall back, ease-off when
the sudden squeak of wire sings that single
discordant note between staple and post,

the prolonged prelude to tangled visions
of cattle leaking, fence posts cracking,
barbed wire screeching, chaos waiting

to take shape before him – or the repairs
wear him down to going slow, going
thoroughly through life, discovering details.

Yes Joan, we were so sure in California –
sure as Jeffers’s Big Sur crags that it would last
despite and beyond the pressure

of our fantasies each time we tweaked
the ‘get-rich-quick’ machine. How many
can we pasture now building cities

on the farm ground? how many laws?
how tight the wire? how much whiskey
will we need to drink without water?

January 4, 2010


You could hear the rumble of diesels starting
downcanyon, the clack of grousers, the squeal
of steel upon the cobbles stacked in the creek

each morning moving closer to sounding normal –
you could feel the spirit die within you, leaving
upcanyon for a steeper place to rest and be

beyond the hungry grasp of mortals. But it was
the felling of old trees, the tangle of white sycamores,
thick stumps severed from their roots, green leaves

wilting, red flesh open to the road, all bleeding
in the bright Sabbath sunshine that cut the deepest.
Chain-sawed, erased - open sky clear to the creek.

To the prayers and preachers fresh from
Southern California, we became the gentiles,
the native heathens, the diggers and grinders,

the backwards shepherds dressed in dead skins
living and believing in more than we could hold
or control. I remember whispers then, waking

in the dark to rise and write, lend letters of logic
to a wilder perspective – longer term than the symbolic
suggestions from the monkey-wrenching men.

Silent at dawn, shadows shrink across the canyon,
the naked sound of ambition dressed in religion –
the quiet sound of coins on the tabernacle floor.

January 2, 2010

Morning After the BLUE MOON



Started the fire at 3:15

           Western Livestock Journal
           and broken fencepost
                      split thin redwood kindling,
                      oak and manzanita –

and left upstream
           after spraying weeds all day
           with the Kawasaki Mule

                      feed on one side of the wire,
                      weeds on the other –

to check on the neighbor
just out of the hospital,
           too sore to ‘rock ‘n roll’
           New Year’s Eve.

Shared a glass of whiskey wishes
and listened to the girls talk cattle,
bulls and marbling.

You and I back home alone –
red wine around the fire, meat on
when the moon cleared the saddle
           this side of Sulphur

                      top sirloins,
                      garlic cloves
                                 oiled in tin foil
                      licked by flames

under a remnant storm sheet –
           silver cloud reflection
           aiming higher westerly,

                      big bright moon in the V

           filigreed by silk oak leaves
           dry and hanging like feathers

until the meat was done.

Continue reading "Morning After the BLUE MOON" »

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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