The Ninemile House

The Ninemile House

was renowned for

its T-bones and prime rib.

Max Huff’s recipes,


Roquefort dressing,

spaghetti with grilled

garlic-buttered French bread.

Butterfly prawns shelled


by hand, and the fries

like the burger patties

were pressed fresh daily.

That menu from the sixties:


the relish tray olives,

peppers, and pickled

veggies were canned,

only the carrots, celery


sticks, and green onions

were raw unless you ordered

your meat rare. The salami

was rife with peppercorns


and paired with Sharp Cheddar

or Swiss on Club crackers.

Of course there was a bowl

of shredded Parmesan on


each table and bread sticks

for the spa-ghett. A spicy shrimp

cocktail kicked off the parade

of food, but many just came


to the old roadhouse for fun,

the full bar and music every

weekend, a honky-tonk juke

box was loaded with country


classics by Hank, Patsy, Johnny

Cash or Paycheck, George

and Tammy, Loretta, Buck

Owens and Porter Wagoner,


Charley Pride of Helena and

the Sons of the Pioneers, you

could play three for a quarter,

watch the jitterbuggers swing


around the bar, order a ditch,

tuck four bits under the pool

table side rail. Some nights

Lillian Young and her Youngins


might be fiddling around

a table, Brownie on the spoons,

or if you were lucky, staged-up

to deliver the Tennessee Waltz.


Wintertime the knotty pine

lit by lamp light and warmed

by oil and wood stoves felt

comfortable-cozy like Christmas


at home with the extended

fam. For better or worse

we knew how to get along.

Those days are long gone


for me, but I do grieve for

those who still called it home

after hearing it went up in flames

last night. I remember the wagon


wheels, the only lights at the bottom

of Cayuse Hill on any dark

night of the year inviting you in

for a beer, maybe a shot, some


country cheer, a conversation

before heading home, a last call,

a six-pack, or a chance to warm-up

in the neon glow elbow to elbow


with a row of straw cowboy hats

telling tales of steers or stumps

or mud or snow, some goddamn

broke down piece of shit rig,


and laughter would roar. Somebody

would order a round. The sound of ice

cubes tinkling in glass made me smile

like the cartoon Hamm’s bear fishing


there in the land of sky blue waters.


Mark Gibbons

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Where else can you go

when the sweet dream turns on you,

hair up, baring teeth, eyes dead-

cold, the low growl from frothed lips . . .

as it slowly skulks away?


Nothing can be put out of its misery,

and who are we to decide

whether an abused bitch is rabid

or crazy? All we can do is move,

turn away and hit the trail,

put our feet on the ground, walk

down through the ferns in the cool cedar

bottom, watch for stubbers, Paintbrush

and Bear Grass, listen to the trickle

of water (or its roar) over stone,

the quake of aspens fluttering in the breeze

below a talus slope of boulder scree,

maybe caress the smooth bark

of a regal Piss-Fir queen—then cuss

her firey pitch-pockets that spit,

stick to, and stain the skin.


What else can you do when

death has betrayed you again,

wrung your love like a sour rag

you hadn’t noticed was wearing thin?

If you’re lucky it’s always new

when life plays you the fool. Don’t fear.

Go threadbare. Use it up. Let it take what

it needs, everything you’ve got.

Just hold onto what remains. Take that

up high. Go outside—call it fishing.


Bathe your wounded soul in Heart Lake.

Feel the flow. Bleed and sing. Know

this medicine—the cast of your line,

the sun shining, a slight wind, snowfields

still holding in the circ—is enough

to help sadness heal broken hearts . . .

in time. Watch your fly, eye the dark

shadows below the surface . . . disturbed—

alone, above, the mallard preens, dips,

and rides the ripples, scans the sky

turning and turning overhead, then flies

on to another pond of stars.

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In the Weeds

I am comfortable lying

in the weeds

looking at the sky

be it warm summer or musty fall.

I like watching the bugs

crawl, the flight patterns

of butterflies and bees, chewing

stems and smelling the grass-

earthy scent around me, contrails

etching across turbulent clouds

unfolding images locked

in my head. I listen

for any sounds: trains, voices,

planes, the occasional car

driving by, barking dogs,

chain saws, the thumping of

my heart, the wind in the trees

and in my chest.

No one can see me there

buried flat as a fawn.

Sometimes I’m with a friend,

but it’s best by myself

because the silence is all mine.

Those who jump to disagree

with my proclamation of loving it

“in the weeds” probably haven’t

been there face down

with the beetles and ants,

eye-level to voles, then rolling

over to watch hawks hover

in thermals against the blue.

I guess to those figurative souls

“in the weeds” is to be lost—

“at sea” or at least “in a funk”—

certainly it has to be an inability

to act decisively. Of course, for me

that’s the most interesting place

to be, literally in the here and now

of this constantly transforming

magical trip, that wonderland

we paid more attention to as kids—

uncertainty—call me Peter Pan

if you will, but I love it

deep in the weeds.


Mark Gibbons

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For the Life of Me


it’s all a mystery

what makes us tick


what matters

the whys


how we deal with each other

how we handle ourselves


one man cries

one woman hits


one billion-plus will never quit

two billion more don’t give a shit


what they say when they don’t

know what to do


so we work

we play


we busy ourselves

we poke and provoke


we make up stories

to entertain and explain


to teach our children the system

navigating the terrain


give them reasons to believe

they have a stake in this


and help them continue

walking through


what we don’t understand

solving the puzzle


one piece at a time

is the main motivation


for opening our eyes

once we become bored


with our distractions

and toys


with practicing



our place

in what we define


as this

space/time continuum


wrestling the messy

animal inside


that heart-pounding

Poe pendulum


swing of love

to fear


the roller-coaster ride

where art resides


gripping the load bar

blind enough to see


the possibility

beyond the trees


that molecular forest

where eventually


maybe there will be

some good reason


an explanation

for the life of me


Mark Gibbons

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Smut Poets

Sally opens the door and jumps on my friend,

hugging, kissing, and dragging him

into the kitchen. I follow. She yells,

“Polly! Mikey’s here!” tells my pal

to take off his shirt. Paul strolls

sleepy-eyed out of the bedroom, gives us

the brotherhood handshake. Billy Joel,

Cat Stevens, and Rasputin come to mind.

My buddy introduces me as “another poet.”


Paul blinks, steps in for a better look,

steps back and asks, “Who do you read?

Bob Hass? Jorie Graham? Lowell?”

I never know what to say, where to start

when asked that shit: who’s your favorite?

Name names, and there will be a follow-up

exam on what you know. So I spit out,

Bukowski, I guess. His eyes dance intensely,

“Yeah? Bukowski? He’s a smut poet.”

I laugh, not sure if he said “smut” or “slut,”

and feel the adrenaline pump, my heart beat

faster. Could be, I agree like some

dumb-ass sidekick at a fantasy salon

where the hair dresser runs her fingers

through the client’s hair while he grins

stupidly half-naked in a kitchen chair.


“You want a beer?” the poet-boyfriend

asks me. Sure, I say and sit down

on the worn-out love seat, watch Sally

press her pelvis against Mike’s side

then lean back and start snipping his hair.

Paul hands me a Heineken, and I quip,

What? No Rainier? He throws a questioning

glance at me, then says, “That’s all I’ve got.”

I raise the bottle, salute, and take a pull,

notice a bead of sweat in the hollow of my pal’s

neck, his hair combed down over his eyes

like Cher. She nudges between his knees

to get in closer to cut his bangs, and I see

one of her breasts loose and jiggling

through her baggy blouse sleeve.


“So you’re not a fan of German beer?”

Paul asks. No, just German poets,

I laugh. It’s good, but a little spendy for me.

We watch Sally straddle my buddy’s knee

then move in over his thigh. “You sell

weed?” he asks. Sometimes. When I have it.

I take a sip of beer. “We’re looking

to score a lid,” he says when something hits

the floor, and Mike grabs Sally around the waist

wrestling her onto his lap almost

overturning the chair. She screams and

pushes free, playfully warns him,

pointing her scissors at his crotch,

“Be nice! Or . . .” She snips the blades.

We all laugh (and watch her glorious

tits dance and sway) as she bends over

to pick up the comb she’d dropped.


“Okay then,” Paul grabs his double-breasted

P-coat, “Gotta go, Babe, I’m late. So

how much do you want for a bag?”

Depends. Fifteen right now if there’s any

left. “You’re shitting me, right? I don’t

want fucking ragweed, Man!” I shrug,

Does the job for me. He looks at me and smiles,

“Okay, Bukowski, we’ll check it out.”

I take another swig of his Heine.


Paul grabs his books, hooks Sally

and kisses her neck, gives Mike

the brotherhood grip, and flips me a nod

before lunging out the door—his hair

and coattails flapping. Sally finishes

Mike’s trim and brushes him off.

She rubs his arm and kisses his cheek.

They hug goodbye and agree to try

to get together more often. I thank her

for the beer—don’t mention Paul or pot

or the beautiful romantic poetry

I witnessed beneath her blouse.

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She Takes Me

edges and centers

rivets and feathers

nothing holds

ever so

let it ride unfold

slouching gyres come and go

laving on paint

thick as Vinny Van Gogh

from Top Sail to York

from Flagstaff to Cork

nobody sings like Aly McGee

when the moon rises fast

blood red over Atlantis

bow your head and listen

to your lover’s vampire lips

lilting the wash of sweet dog

bones still chasing birds

in the backyard of heart

nothing is buried

only finally forgotten

unless it’s scribble-sung

in stone keep on

digging the cool surf on sand

caress your toes

let it take your soul

way down below the ocean

follow your tow

headed sons on the beach

then kneel and watch

the red sunrise

kiss the sky

the color of their eyes

Oh Ghalib

it’s where you want to be


for JimBo

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What I like about Ray is

the way he notices the little

things that don’t count toward

the business end of the day:

peeled paint, mossy shingles, pine

needles & cones, the freshly dug hole

& mound of dirt beside the garage —

shovel leaned against the fence.


What I like about a Carver poem

is it reminds me of smoked salmon & blue

cheese, Guinness beer; walking the alley

after dark & running into deer; the way

a patch of snow becomes water dripping

from my nose & eyes, cold burning

like a blister on the palm of my hand;

my wife’s raven hair tossed by March wind.


What I like most about the poet

is his attention to moments

lived & buried; to necessary tasks;

to questions that question the answers . . .

no one else will ask. What I like

about Carver is the way he focuses

on pulsing blood & breath — on waking

& walking through the day: ordering


hunger into words savored long after dark.


in memory of Raymond Carver

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Throw things at the wall

and see what sticks!


My Old Man knew the artist’s mantra,

so he tossed my mother’s hotcakes

at the cupboard door, called them

“dough-gods,” “sweat-pads,” and “pot holders.”

He did it for a laugh, our nervous laughs.

Of course he was drunk and knew

it pissed her off—two birds, one toss.


That inebriated act was his most successful

art form, and priceless because it lasts

forever, passed on and on in us,

the stories of failure, anger, suck-it-up

and don’t-give-a-fuck. Dumb hope and loss

continually washing inside, the tides of

pain and fear and love. Enter the myths


of salvation and redemption, explanations

for getting out of bed and coming to grips

with the fact that you can’t escape yourself

just like everyone else floating the blue sea

alone—in the same boat. My Old Man

taught me how to be a bastard, a self-aware,

hard bastard, harder on himself than others.


And Good-Christ he was unmercifully hard

on others who only cared about feathering

their own beds—that curse is in my head.

His mantra I’ve passed along to my sons

directly and unwittingly, “Take inventory

on yourself every day, and remember . . .

you can shit me, but you can’t shit yourself.”


Mark Gibbons

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in god’s world

questioning gods and wars

are acts of treason.

hell is the reward

for questioners;

death for traitors;

prison for not playing

by the rules. not

doing what you’re told

can get you killed

in war, and isn’t it

more or less always war

in god’s world?


don’t be deceived

by snakes or moles.

come inside the temple.

the exterminator

will keep you safe

from the vermin

out there who scratch

damp, fecund dirt

and wallow like swine

in their own

sweet pungency.


take your questions

into the rooted ground.

you say you want to be

alone and know

what you cannot

know before the silence

you relish, that void

you can’t imagine,

shuts your sneering

mouth for keeps.


in a hundred years

no one will remember

your face, your name,

but the questions

will remain.

they are older than the words

that phrase them—

old as rain.

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To write poetry

is to know


comfort, the temporary

calm, security


floating in the eye

of the storm,


to be left alone,

the slipstream


gatherer affording

time one needs


to imagine

empathy, the privilege


of dreaming

struggle and pain,


chronicling the moment

to moment hunger


and fear of those

not born into


the leisure you know.

To write poetry


is to act politically,

record the language


chosen by you to

disguise and reveal


what appears to be

important, your view,


completely aware

no one has a clue.


Mark Gibbons

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