STONE-DRUM: A RIVER MEDITATION

 

stonefly nymph

           —for Dave Brubeck

Water: everything, every living thing is

Hard-wired to the sound of water, flowing

Water, from the trickling of melting glaciers

To the thundering of Niagara Falls,

We’re all drawn, all thirst, toward its

Damp promise—be it pool, puddle, or

Brook—we wouldn’t exist without water.

 

It seems obvious we invented music

Listening to rivers and streams,

The pouring rain, dripping eaves—observing

Nature’s changing, hypnotic ways—

Our preoccupations with weather, lapping

Waves, the howling wind, campfire

Embers and licking flames—always

We’re tuned to snapping sounds, screech-

Scratchings out of sight—day or night—

Those ongoing symphonies of survival

We recognize—each time is like the first time.

 

Archetypal water drums a bass line

Gravitational call to ride the A-train, thoomp-

Bloomping like Brubeck inside our veins,

Hauling us back to Duke’s blues

On a black-eyed piano-sea, Koto’s Song

Softly killing that old misconception,

Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’ claim . . .

Silence Is Golden. Complete silence

Is death—dry, waterless death.

The sound of water sings us

Home, wet, to our first best-place,

The amniotic bath—sloshing bones

Dreaming skin, swallow and swim.

 

Stoneflies crawl for muddy miles deep

Underground following the percussive sound

Of erosion, water over gravel and sand,

Tumbling boulders, tearing at the landscape,

Uprooting trees, floating sticks, leaves,

Fallen debris. Scouring and pounding,

These streambed vibrations

Shake nymphs to rise and dance,

Make seed, then feed whitewater trout

Anxiously awaiting the feast of flies.

 

When the runoff is done and cloudy

Creek currents settle clear as glass—

Riffles rattling to a clattering roar—

The stream-song invitations, those

Skeleton husks littering the shore,

Announce (like It’s a Boy! cigars):

Dinner has taken wing.

 

Trout feed fat in eddies then,

When stoneflies flit above the spray

Of that deafening-breathy SHAAAAAAAAY!—

Fast water racing across rocky ground,

Straight-water pushing toward ocean

And sky, creating a rhythm reminiscent

Of Lionel Hampton’s vibraphone—or

Maybe Mingus plucking out liquidy-

Hollow tones—ebbs and flows: rivers

Riffing solos, splashing crescendos.

 

If water were a stage, some musical metaphor

Praising the stonefly’s Swan Song,

We’d see it feeding a flash of rainbow tail,

Clenched tight in a Cutthroat’s jaws . . .

Now stiffening in the bottom of a creel.

That fisherman might wash blood

From his hands, finger the soft bones,

Wings buzzing his ears, as he watches

A dipper hopping stone to stone—

Inhaling it all—the river’s melody,

Tympanic meditations on a dream.

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WAVES

nothing brings you

into the moment

this present

of breath and light

any more-so

than pain

with its constant

plea of      NOW

and NOW      I’m here

 

fuck your plans

your appointments

your jobs

your past

the matters

that matter most

don’t matter much

when pain arrives

and decides to stay

 

the mundane

that dust ringing

in your head

patterns      shapes

colors      lines

shadow sounds

hold sway

in the eye      mind

 

driftwood riding

rising      flung

swell to crest

cast ashore

then pulled out

to sea again

seemingly the same

always changed

 

a pulse beating

both sun and moon

churning up the old dark

miracles now fathomed

why you still roll

hung in blood and air

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MY SOUL

feex

my soul lies

with me here in bed

soft and warm

 

it sings “look to me

for love, curl cozy

into these deep eyes”

 

an eternal present

crawls my chest

i feel its pulse

 

count its breaths

my soul knows

how to find me

 

those nights i’m lost

and cannot sleep

alone without it

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ANOTHER OBSCENE POEM

african-american-poverty7

Cunt—now there’s a word
that will finish a poem
before it gets started.
Fuck—is another show-stopper

that could land your ass in jail.
Using those “kind” of words
aloud or in print is considered obscene,
inappropriate, or unnecessary—offenses

against the “gentle sensibilities”
of the general public, yet
we have no problem
teaching our children it’s okay to kill

other (most likely darker) children
far away (or sometimes not) whose
hing-hong squawking, wrong-thinking,
terrorist-talking parents want to destroy us

and steal our freedom, our God
blessed way of life, our nuclear arsenal,
our gas barbecues and Barbie dolls. It’s okay
to fuck people if you’re making good money.

That’s just business in the “free” marketplace.
It’s okay to fuck-up the Earth—plants, animals,
water, sky, people, and dirt—if you’re waving
green under the red, white, and blue.

If this irony wasn’t so sadly true,
maybe those “bad” words that bite and spit,
that so aptly express our animal instinct
to metaphorically rip and tear out

the throats of these selfish mother-fuckers, maybe
then “fuck” would fall out of use, but as long as man
continues to persecute and hoard in order to get more
toys, to collect more shit, keep piling up cash,

chasing that consumptive dream of satisfaction
that never quite satisfies, I will continue to scream
“COCK, SUCK, CUNT, PRICK, FUCK
YOU, YOU WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT!”

every time the stench of blood or oil
dumbfounds me again, leaves me agape and amazed
that we still play this game. I know anger
is my albatross, my cross to bear, and I figure

if you’re still here, Dear Reader, you must know
what I mean, you must sing in this choir, have carried
this “thing” all of your life, too, and like me, most likely,
you’re just fucking tired of it, the same old shit, and

you believe love is the only cure. But you can’t shut up
when these fuckers murder, pollute, and abuse.
I refuse to watch my mouth in the name of decorum.
The obscenity is too great. There’s fucking blood on my shoes.

—for Bob Bauer

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The Old Poet Sees the White Man

indian woman

Two stools down, two white guys

rebuild – sheet rock and tape – the house

they’d worked on all day, tossing

back pints of Miller beer. Beyond them

an elderly couple sit chewing

on burgers, still collared up warm

in their polyester coats – two cigarettes

burning in the ash tray between them.

 

Not a regular, but not a stranger,

the old poet orders a burger and glass

of Guinness, props his cane between his knees,

cracks open a peanut and nibbles

on the fruit, lets the shells fall

among the husks piling on the floor.

 

The door opens and an Indian woman enters.

All heads turn, pause, and return.

She walks past them, the length of the bar,

her gait smooth and sure as a cat’s,

disappears in the direction of the rest rooms

or the alley exit. One bartender washing

glasses nods knowingly at the other guy

flipping burgers. On TV, Dallas, America’s

Team, battles the Redskins for bragging

rights – top dog of the NFL cellar.

 

The old poet recalls a sweat he took years ago

up Spring Creek, catches himself humming

a song – Charlo’s Walking Bear.

The polyester smoker points out to his woman

an all-Irish Butte baseball team in the gallery

on the back wall, laughs, coughs and rasps,

Down in Finn Town we hammered those Micks.”

The dishwashing bartender grins, pours

the Finn couple free beers on the house.

One of the carpenters kills his pint, raps

the empty hard on the counter, and stands up

to stretch his legs, “No shit,” he says,

every fuckin’ board – twisted as a cork screw!”

The bartender laughs, grabs a fresh glass,

tilts it under the tap, and draws another brew.

 

The Indian woman comes back, appears

headed out the door, but pulls up

next to the poet – who gives her a smile

she doesn’t return. She digs in her pockets,

drops coins on the bar, and unwads two

crumpled bills. The bartender keeps rinsing glasses.

His ears, then his eyes acknowledge the money.

 

He wipes his hands, asks flatly, “Whatta ya need?”

The old poet sees smoke, bleached bones,

black wings cross her face, framed

in the back bar mirror. “Ya got cigarettes?”

she asks quietly, “Marlboro menthols?”

He pulls a box of regular filters from the case.

Menthols,” she says. Slowly, he grabs another

brand, shows her, says, “Four and a quarter.”

Her hands close on the mound of cash.

Four and a fucking quarter?” she asks.

Holding the pack up, halfway over the bar,

he warns, “Hey! Watch your mouth.”

Grabbing her change and mumbling, “Goddamn

robbers,” she turns and lunges out the door.

 

The bartender returns the pack of smokes

to the case, blank faced – his one eye twitches.

Nobody’s talking. Then the Cowboys score.

Happy Hour begins, and the bartender

pours. The poet’s burger is up. The old couple

moves over to the keno machines. America’s

Team pulls out an overtime squeaker.

As the carpenters get back to nailing it down,

the old poet chews slowly, nurses his beer,

and glances at the white man

eating crow in the mirror.

 

 

          –for Vic Charlo and Ed Lahey

First Printed in Connemara Moonshine, 2002, Camphorweed Press, Seattle, WA

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Suspicious Circumstances

Ravin

Ravens found her face down, floating

in the irrigation canal up North Crow

Creek, her home below the Mission Range,

 

this woman who walked on her hands.

As far as anybody knows, nobody knows

what happened. No witnesses. Why is it

 

some have all the luck? She lost her father

at eleven, her mother at nineteen. Orphaned

in a cow-town on the rez. She raised horses

 

& eyebrows — her door always open to drifters,

doubters, girl friends & dogs: the big family she wanted,

craved. In what slick disguise did Death arrive that day?

 

Was he quiet as the stones & driftwood

she collected from the ditch, or bitter-sick

as jittery hands haunted by screams — the agony

 

of wicked blood? Either way, the result eddied

in debris. The vulnerable are so vulnerable: no

matter she could work a chain saw all day long,

 

strong as the man she was in her heart.

She never felt alone outside: clearing brush,

burning fields, walking nights through the pines.

 

Before or after the cold surprise, maybe

Death showed her a pasture on the other side —

some country where ravens fly & water flows.

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SANTA CRUZ

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Clouds hide the top
Of the island, and the cool
Mist evolves into light
Rain. We walk past the old
Homestead and campground,
Take the trail up, climb
Into the fog and shoot
Pictures of each other smiling
Cheek to cheek in sunglasses, coats
Zipped to our chins: old friends
Traveling a new path flanked
By white-chalky rock and dew
Laden spider webs . . .

And since we are walking and can’t see
Where we’re heading, our eyes
Focus on the ground, our ears
Lead us up the hill into that
Cherished chill, a blind stumbling
Toward a wolfish kind of lair,
Our breath palpable in the air. We howl
Like Zevon’s London clowns
And joke about the view: all the crow’s
Feet and wispy silver hair.
We walk and walk into the veil,
Knowing the ocean and cliff
Edges lie ahead . . . somewhere.

Wandering the fog for hours
On top of this island plateau,
The first voices we hear
Before we glimpse the sea
Are seals barking in the coves
Below. The water’s blue
Arrives and dissolves in vapor waves
As we climb down closer to the channel,
Potato Bay. I hear a rumble
In the distance, far away,

And I’m suddenly aware
Of how lucky I am to be here
And not knowing where I am,
Where I’m going, but scrabbling
My way up, then down into a hole,
Cold and backed to a boulder
In this crevice, collared
Against the wind, the fog
Loosening its grip, opening
And closing its curtains on water—
Doors and windows unlocked . . .

Our hungers fed, we walk
Back along the cliff-line
Scanning caves and craggy
Faces, teal-green pools and rusty rock,
Canoes moored on beaches
In the bay below—eagles surfing
The currents overhead.

You are sorry the sun hasn’t delighted
Our view of Santa Cruz, warmed
Us in California fashion, but
It’s a perfect day for beauty—
A day we’ve seen with more
Than our eyes, a day where God’s
Breath beads in your raven hair,
And the echoes of your laughter
Linger in my ear like water trickling
Over stone. I watch the two of you
Stroll slowly, heads down, together.
Shoulder to shoulder, you pause
And giggle, then move on
Into the mist—I stop long enough
To watch you disappear.

—for Beth & Pam

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IF THIS WERE A SAM SHEPARD POEM

sam-shepard

The cumuli would be moving fast

Across a cobalt-blue sky

And there’d be horses and cars

Sage brush blooming and a rattler

Squirming under a porch

A cowboy would be drinking a beer

And we would wonder at the silence

Or what would happen next

 

Then we’d see a jackrabbit

Crossing the two-lane blacktop

It would stop in the middle on the center line

Ears cocked toward shimmering headlights

In the distance a semi would begin taking form

 

A leathery hand would crush a PBR can

And we’d see an old spur on the heel

Of a worn-down cowboy boot

Stomping twice to get the rabbit’s attention

The semi would blow his horn

And the cowboy would wave at the truck

Standing over the chaise lounge

He’d been reclining on moments before

And hold his hat down as the semi rolled by

Billowing dust and the chemise dress across

The road reflected in his mirrored shades

Wafting it high above the blonde’s knees

Whose blood red lips would be posed

A single rose her arms crossed suitcase packed

 

This cowboy would walk by her on his way

To the old reservoir pop cooler behind her

On the porch above the snake’s home

And he’d pause beside her

Turn his head and smile at her profile

And she’d stare at the coyote a good half mile out

Looking in their direction

As the cowboy would roll up his sleeve

Then proceed to the cooler

Pull out an ice cold can of Pabst

 

When the coyote would bolt she’d notice

The clouds had stopped their rush across the sky

And turned in on each other boiling gray

The cowboy would pop open the can of beer

And her eyes would follow the sound

He’d tip it back and drain it in three big gulps

Then burp and walk back for another

“Asshole” she’d hiss and a snake tongue

Would flick in the shade of the porch stairs

 

“What time’s your bus?” he’d ask

“Not soon enough” she’d sigh

And he’d walk back across the road spurs a-janglin’

Flop down in the sun-worn webbing and

A hawk would whistle overhead and thunder

Would rumble and groan while two

Gophers would sniff at the rabbit-mat on the road

 

Both heads might turn toward the sound of a diesel

Engine humming up the highway or maybe his wouldn’t

Maybe just hers and he’d yell “C’mon Baby you know

You’re makin’ the biggest mistake of your life”

To which she’d deadpan . . . and mutter

“I’m guessin’ I already managed that” as the Greyhound

Would pull over and stop between them

 

The cowboy would reach under his lawn chair

And the rattler’s tail would go off

He’d grab his Smith & Wesson .44

Stand up and cock the hammer

See her walking inside toward the rear of the bus

Then slide into the window seat

 

When the bus driver would close the door

And dump the air the cowboy would raise his pistol

Say “Adios Baby” watch the rose open to mouth

The words “Fuck off . . . Jackass . . . forever”

The diamondback would slither into the sun

And when the cowboy would pull the trigger

Lightning would strike out on the prairie

Where the coyote had stood and the cowboy would

Fire again and again and again and again

Until every chamber was empty . . . then

The driver would toot and wave

 

The snake would coil in a clump of sagebrush

And before the cowboy would cross over for another beer

He’d sit down in the cloudburst and reload

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ALONE

typing

lying in bed still

daylight outside

you listen to

the ringing in your head

the cat’s purr

as you pet him

he kneads you

settled on your chest

breathing heavily

your wife’s already asleep

again you wonder

why you are here

and why you won’t be

before you know it

the roar of laughter

next door reminds you

of your partying youth

back when you lived

more and thought less

about the whole mess

you’re in and don’t understand

you dig this grave again

and again of course you love

your cat the woman

dreaming next to you

your sons friends beauty

and all the sensory delights

but that love story

shit anyway you spin it

is a story you tell

while you’re in it

your nirvana is your mantra

while you’re going to bed

and getting up

to slog on and search

for that piece of the cosmic

puzzle to claim

your space on the game board

so you make you solve

you settle into this

living and doing sweetly

alone you strive to break free

of the loop yourself

find togetherness share

the happiness of being

forever alone

al(l)one

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AT FOUR IN THE AFTERNOON

homeless pocurry

Four days before Christmas on

the shortest day of the year

the traffic is bumper to bumper

 

on Reserve from the Interstate to

South Avenue, three miles of cars,

no place for pedestrians. The homeless

 

are tucked away in the best shelters

they can find before darkness

and the temperature falls, save these

 

two “hearty” souls, one standing

on the corner of American Way holding

his sign, “ANYTHING WILL HELP.”

 

No expression, he’ll stand till dark

then go to wherever he goes to sleep,

and he’ll be back tomorrow. It must be

 

a decent corner, I’ve seen him out there

for the last three weeks or more. Now

the other guy I’ve never seen before.

 

He’s slumped on one elbow, laid back

in the snow, just watching the drivers

rolling by, his duffel propped beside him.

 

Maybe he’s lubed or just ran out

of gas. I like to think he’s taking a break

to study the reason for the season,

 

that economic engine in motion, the rise

of the gross national product. I like to believe

at one time he was an engineer who could

 

appreciate the work-a-day world inside

these automobiles, the pressures to get

the deals before they disappear. And

 

I think I see a slight smile, a grin, not

a smirk or a sneer, but a truly amused

expression, maybe sympathetic, maybe not.

 

I decide he feels fine lying there in the snow

watching this shit-show of exhaust blowing

and stopping and shopping and going

 

like eyeing a herd of metal and money

and oil moving to feed their need to go.

Some citizen on a cell, a casino employee

 

or drug store patron, will call

the necessary authorities to come

and do something about his pose.

 

If they don’t smell booze, he may have to

tell them to go fuck themselves, or

take a swing to get them to run him in

 

for a shower, a warm bunk, a meal or two,

some smokes, a little TV and laughter—

yet another cozy Christmas inside.

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