Friday, December 23, 1994

AURAL FIXATION

AURAL FIXATION
    —for Sonny Lowe

If I were a harmonica
Tell me, how would you play me?
Your sweet breath on my lips
Hard mouth on my body

12/23/1994

Monday, December 19, 1994

EATING BAMBI, OR GROWING UP REDNECK


EATING BAMBI, OR GROWING UP REDNECK
                                     for Bill Dinsmore,   1933-1994,
                                                                              Maureen Reilly, 1932-1994,
                                                                             & Joseph Hurley, 1926-1993.

Several ranchers drop in to pay their respects,
discuss boundaries: dairy vs. beef cattle, wild & domestic hogs,
the last buffalo, the growing herds of deer,
and who’s able to hold onto the last of the open range.
It’s a dry wake; we’re all second- or third-degree Celts—
the displaced white indians of Europe who still can’t hold our liquor.
Someone asks how my uncle died. Closing familial ranks,
my cousin Sinead and I echo, “Alcohol.” We don’t add
how her father drowned in his own bed.

The Gallagher brothers take turns slaking their terrible thirst
at the Rancho Nicasio bar across the town square—if you can call it that—
drinking in the geographic isolation and psychic distance
of several lifelines with measured precision.
Here, we’re all related to someone or another by blood or marriage.
When winter grass circles the outcroppings, it could be Ireland.
We hold onto our “R”s, aspirate “S” into sh. Hold our liquor by the ears.
One rancher wears a “Native Sons of Nicasio” emblem on his jacket.
No one can explain why we locals pronounce it “Nicashio.”
To tell the natives from the newcomers, Mrs. Farley volunteers.
I’m not satisfied with dialectic explanations.
What did  Chief Marin and Nicasius call this place?
When newcomers arrive in the country of death,
what do they speak? Irish? Miwok? Slainte Gael macushla mo chroidhe.

A toast to my Gaelic heart’s blood. I keep a Joycean rendezvous
with the dead in Nicasio, the geographic epicenter of Marin.
Last month, during my mother’s wake, a forest fire broke out,
helicopters dragged tarps of reservoir water for the parched trees.
Last week my uncle’s roomate’s heart failed him.

Last night Alan McIsaac’s mother died; they gather knee-deep at the bar
after mass. His father invites me over, but I’ve another death to attend to.
(Once I was 16, kissing Alan, cattle tongued the steep hillsides.)
Sinead asks what happened to the last buffalo at the church pasture.
Shot, someone volunteers. A neighbor bought another buffalo
named it “Nickel” who mouthed french bread cigars like Churchill.
Lonesome, he took off overland, looking for ghost kin.
The venial abstraction of fences didn’t stop him.

Someone talks about goin’ huntin’, dropping his “G”s.
The speculum of potential opens us up, pushes us back to root origins,
we revert to generational patterns—the good old boys
who paid regards to Bambi on the plate and in the pasture.
I remember my uncle bringing home haunches of roadkill venison.

The newcomers close ranks, carving our land into prime estates.
We’ve killed off all the predators, and the herds suffer.
Somewhere on the plains a white buffalo calf is born.
This is the seventh and final generation before the millennium.
The wooden Indian at the Ranch House, silent as smoke.

Last full moon before the solstice:
The DUI brothers hitch home alone at dusk.
A slow driver cramps my style, the spiral of Petaluma hill
unwinds in low gear like a yellow ribbon, taking no prisoners.
I dreamed of a fork in the road, my truck leaked hydraulic fluid,
and of the final cry of a wild goose who died in my arms
as I wailed in sorrow—for he was my father come to warn me.

An owl banks its wings against the velocity of my car.
Doesn’t quite cross my path. I shudder, dismissing superstition.
Sinead says, All things come in threes. Prime numbers offer little solace.
Her father chose the week after his friend’s passing,
my mother, the seventh year after our grandmother’s burial,
my father chose the day after his own birth.
At least today isn’t Thursday; they died on a Thursday
like the exiled poet, the Paris rain quenching his bones.

Backbone of the drought broken after a half-life of thirsty skies.
The dream decodes itself: the brakes fail after I arrive home.
It’s been that kind of day, that kind of winter, keeping score, the river rising.
Maybe we could abolish Thursdays, but not the rain.
We’re the last ones, displaced by those who’ve come,
and those who’ve died; the gap closing in on each of us,
a double helix of owl feathers fluxing the laden wind.

12/19/94

Monday, October 24, 1994

TO A NEIGHBOR


TO A NEIGHBOR
                  Je pense donc je suis
                   —Descartes, 1637
                       For Sonny Lowe

Because of your small son we find ourselves
inducted, offering meals at the rude altar.
Within his frenzied orbit we find ourselves
trading dishes across the truce of doorways,
sharing intimacies, bartering the intangible.

Coming home from the niteclubs,
at the changing of the guard, you slip
into the evacuated shroud of my body heat:
in this way we learn the odor of each other’s skin.
On the clothesline, garments whip small plots
of insurrection against the approaching storm.

I saw you with the wounded face of a stranger
test the loneliness of granite. Bluesman or poet:
we each have a vested interest in the art of suffering.
The cats crave the simple praise of hands before they’ll eat.
To hold what is good also requires merciless attention.
On the anniversary of my grandmother’s death

I learned the name of my mother’s death; took refuge
in the ordinary: a boy carving pumpkins, the tv’s baleful stare.
Not the lump in my breast, or the generational patterns
we belabored and distrusted.  The mirror of the son in your eyes.
What truth faced my father (like yours) who raised
another jar against the darkness until it swallowed him?

Over coffee, laundered secrets struggle against
daylight like young birds, or new-born planets—
The juxtaposition of distance against the kenning,
the knowing; the fatal separation of mind and body:
I suffer, therefore I am has kept so many of us safe for years—
The cup of coffee, a fragrant vessel across the River Styx.

Death eats my mother’s bones until they shine 
with the purity of snow while we gather stones
to build walls against the coming of winter,
no longer able to shrug off the inevitable—
the genetic cloth of familial patterns
unravels us with the same mistakes.

Early warning signals do not efface the reflection
of your son’s eyes against the mirrored river.
None of us chooses family, neighbors, or love.
Despite everything, like death, the spectacle
of hope persists, colors everything we do.

10/24/94  

Friday, October 14, 1994

HEALING WAYS freewrite


For those who will follow.
        —for Al Hunter

I wanted the edge of the equator
where the scent of eucalyptus
tangles the continents
I fell hard against the sun
on the streets of Quito
on the street of the upright coffins
I wanted to find a dancing partner
I wanted to find life
edged in the purple satin of the dead

I could see their faces smiling at me
following me into my dreams
When I saw the eyes of the unborn
I was separated from myself
though the rainbows chased us to Otovalo.

My grandmother follows me even in sleep
in the underbelly of this continent
She refuses to speak but asks for
the camera lens of my eye
to record the tarnished silver of the heart
my beating heart with clipped wings
in the cage I was born into.
I dream of lizards in the woodpile
against the coming of winter
the circular haunting of life.

I cannot write of my father
whose solitary confinement
followed him even in death
raising his jar of whiskey against the darkness.
I gestate my terms of mourning
give birth to lizards and geckos
who died the day after his birth
I walk the streets of the Mission
like a bloodhound in search of unnamed quarry
of my absent father, hungry for memory
anyone’s memory
a mirror against my own emptiness
that I couldn’t foresee
the circle of the cup eternally chasing
its own beginning, its own end.

I stack wood in order to find order
flanges of wood, splinters in my blood
ordinary things speaking in tongues
In dreams I ask for explanations
He hands me a book
says, Pretty good story, huh?
This, my gift for healing

I wanted to find the edges of the cup
I wanted to slide down the white belly
for those who will follow
not of my own lineage
for I have taken back life too many times
to live a charmed life
The decisions, hard as silica pierced my heart
opened it to the vulturing wind
and genetic code fluxing the lake of memory
ancestral chain of mountains  scouring the sky.

I give you the heart of these mountains for safekeeping
they require the singing of your feet at sky level
and they will give you fragments of me
buried in the crystalline structure of quartz and fossilized bone
I have found fragments of ancient trees wishing to speak
locked in the eternity of stone

I wanted the edge of the earth to find me for once
I believed in falling off it
I was given no object to hold
nothing to pass on except the work of my life
and the ability to find the hidden lineage in everything
the circle of the cup following me white in sleep
offering me coffee to keep awake.

I want to tell you to live is to be fully wakened
to the song of the sky
against the edges of the mountains
the gift my grandmother gave me
there are no edges, no endings
the round eye of the cup
singing patterns of the equator
of our lives
in these mountains of our past
the Styrofoam cup is a poor reminder
of this final century of the millennium
its progeny on all the sacred trails
of poetry without borders.

10/14/94
Fort Mason
Al Hunter's poetry workshop, 
CPITS International Conference

Saturday, October 8, 1994

INDELIBLE BLUES


INDELIBLE BLUES

I fell into another kind of blue last night
& hung with the insomnian moon
My heart was like a bird lost in flight
I drifted alone in dreamless rooms
Caught in the embrace of the blues

The tv and I can’t sleep at night
And I hardly know how to begin
Naming my affliction despite
The fact that my heart is wearing thin
I crawled into the arms of the blues

If it would fix the situation
To battle the problem from within
I’d call a bluesman in for consultation
But the music’s gotten under my skin
I’ve slipped down the throat of the blues

Sometimes I leave my door open wide
Just to hear him play a note or two
Now there’s no place left for me to hide
For the song has left my mind askew
Surrendered to the law of the blues

I’m singing the blues solo at night
My foolish heart can’t take more abuse
The problem: the cure’s worse than the bite
I’m too old for bad love—what’s the use?
The bluesman’s given me the indelible blues
Coming home in the early dawn light

10/8/94

Tuesday, September 20, 1994

FEEDING THE MINOTAUR


FEEDING THE MINOTAUR
       Un lungo errore in cieco laberinto.
             —Petrarch
                            To John Oliver Simon

This is just to say that enroute
to the emergency meeting I was crucially lost
in the philosophical distance over bilateral
distinctions between the left and the right
exits for MacArthur Blvd., on the Nimitz freeway
wondering why travel required the ghostly benediction
of five-star generals; the army vs the navy.
Mapless, having destroyed all evidence of you,
I toured the burnt stubble of the Oakland hills
(thinking I was south of the border),
searching for the lost gate to 680,
onramps to nuministic labyrinths spiraling me
through the umbilical treachery of tunnels and fault lines,
always away from the source—
and time unrolled like an angry fuse down Telegraph.

Yes, every cell in our bodies having changed,
I wondered what the lesson was this time,
until I walked in Tobey’s door to see you,
my azul minotaur; I found the arbitrary red lines
and blue highways on the funereal map of reprieve.
I’d dreamed of hunting with women
who made their home on these street corners
beneath the sign of the horned Artemis.
Blame it on the undercurrent ballistics of the Piscine moon.
I’ve held both ends of the thread long enough, ready
to flee the purgatorial darkness; your hooves
having scrawled treaties of abandonment in the dust—
enough to bury us—except for that
small, final harvest taken
before the fall.

Tender enemy, once we had no need of threads
or mapping codes. Once I fed you late apples,
we practiced flight beneath the carnelian moon
and the gates of the garden moved open.
Thousands of angelitos singing in the trees.
The Southern Cross offering us up
before the rising sun.




9/20-22/94 Fall Equinox
1995 Maverick, Terrapin issue



sometimes my notes are little poems all by themselves.

Saturday, September 17, 1994

WINE OVER GOLD


WINE OVER GOLD
               —for Sonny Lowe

This is just to say
I got it all wrong:
it wasn’t “Love, or money.”
A friend told me to choose
“Love over gold.”

Sure, love would be nice,
but I haven’t been off the farm so long
I can’t recognize a real gold mine
in a shade tree mechanic when I see it.
Getting my truck running again
is gold enough for me.

(For starters, such technical precision it took
smashing those solenoids with crow bars—
Perhaps more appropriate material
for matters of the heart.
Or is it faith?)

Yet we drink strong wine
from the shattered glass of courage,
and daily existence threatens
to run off at the mouth with a poem—
(the chances we each foolishly take).
Is there a Murphy’s Law for love?

Maybe Jim should’ve said,
“Wine over gold…” & just left
love out of the fucking equation.

9/17/94

Tuesday, August 23, 1994

THE SONG OF PASSING TRAINS


THE SONG OF PASSING TRAINS
           Before there was language
              the dream invented itself again and again
             giving us the binding thread.

Each night trains rumble and growl 
down the Feather River Canyon
like snorting bulls, or fiery dragons.
They do not want taming, but a virgin lap will do.
Real train lights, like moveable stars, 
                                 pulse through my dreams;
my neighbor Sonny and Elvis are jammin’ after hours,
riding the long groundswell and percussion of trains
to the harmonica singing of wheels and tracks
resonating like the mouths of finest crystal;
their curved song reverberates off slate walls.

I dream we clipped the talons of captive eagles,
showed them to the children, 
                   were responsible for their hunger,
the talons making small, dark crescent moons on the floor.
Sometimes the trains are like falling houses
coming barreling down the tracks,
leaving me alone with the eagles and children
(having swallowed the abortant too late)
while the men ride into the west making sweet music.

Too much moonlight on the canyon walls.
It begins with trout and bullfrogs punctuating the darkness.
Then, the deep rumble and moan, thrum and pulse
and the extraordinary singing of wheels—
as if shy angels only practiced with each passing train.
The river answers, slumbering gold in the deeper pools.
What survives are the angry red eyes of trains
dragging us into the well of night.

Each train wails along the canyon walls
of Las Plumas del Oro, stitching them like a shroud.
I stand on the rivershore, the unceasing faith of tides
pulls blood through my body, making love
to the song of passing trains.

8/23/94
Twain, CA



Before there was language
the dream invented itself again and again
giving us the binding thread.
Each night the trains rumble down the canyon
Las Plumas del Oro, the feathers of gold
An occasional fish and bullfrogs punctuate the night.
Real train lights, like moveable stars
push through the darkness of my dreams
and I watch Sonny and Elvis jammin
coming and going over and over again
the long groundswell percussion of pulsing train
and singing wheels, the harmonica
while I stands transfixed in this place
like the orbit of stars
I can only speculate about the other woman
since the train doesn’t stop
it pulls my elastic heart through that tunnel
during that nightly descent with no more awareness
than pushing the air through time and space.
I dreamed we clipped the talons of captive eagles
showed them to the children
but then we were responsible for their hunger
the talons making small, dark crescent moons on the floor
Another train would come barreling down the tracks
with you on it, leaving me here with the crippled eagle
and the children (having swallowed the herbal abortant) too late
while you rode into the west with her
Sometimes the trains were like crumbling houses—moonlight on the canyon,
deep rumble and moan, the pulsing thrum and pulse
then the extraordinary singing of wheels
as if shy angels only practiced with each passing train
the curve of tracks resonating like fine crystal
The river answered with slumbering gold beneath the rocks in the deeper pools
but all that survived us was the red tail lights of the train
like angry eyes dragged into the well of the night
the resonating wheels on the bend of tracks
like the wailing song of your harmonica
fragmenting into raw notes
With each passing train your song came and went
doppleganging the canyon walls
I stood on the rivershore thinking of the unceasing faith of tides
pulling the trains through my body
making love to the song of passing trains

8/23/94
Twain, CA

Tuesday, August 16, 1994

CALIFIA SPEAKS:


CALIFIA SPEAKS:

I did not choose this blanket of grass
or the slow fire of this golden heat.
My trees sink roots deep into my canyons.
They are my children.

I did not choose this deluge of rain,
nor the miners choking my rivers.
Why does the canal run south
for the border when so many
people want to come north?
Why do those red lines on maps
slice me from my first-born peninsula
and why does Baja speak
another language of salinity
the pickled tongue?
The myriad rivers
have lost their mouths

I do not understand this
preoccupation with separate things
when I roll out my wealth for all—
this golden wedding blanket,
this blue sea of the future,
these snowy peaks of the past,
the deep virgin lakes of my sorrow
the promise of my naked wealth
for all to see.

I did not choose this golden hoarde
to steal my hidden wealth;
leaving me vulnerable to the elements—
once my gold was gold enough for all.

8/16/94

Sunday, August 14, 1994

CLIMAX ENDING


CLIMAX ENDING

Language comes to me
unadorned with the hypothesis
of roses before the fading
of summer’s rage.
In darkened rooms we lie
naked escaping summer’s
wrathful eye.
Cool nights offer escape
and I rewrite the poems that carry me
until the neap heat of midday;
words sensuously release the metaphors
until orgasm is the invisible line
a conclusion, an end stop—
to what isn’t written, not even hidden
characters to give away
the secret climax ending.

8/14/94

Sunday, August 7, 1994

DOG DAYS OF SUMMER


DOG DAYS OF SUMMER


not                quite             noon
the temperature spikes                        another ten degrees
hammer in hand                 I can’t get these windows  open

in this august heat I think of how Tennessee Williams’ women
survived                     naked                               summer
regal liz  poor drowned natalie   vivian eternally blanche


in this three-digit weather                 we learn to appreciate
the minute increments toward                              body heat
    we depend upon the kindness of air            through lace
         and window screens                             stripped down
             the long vowels in sentences    into slivers of glass
           practiced stance in cold showers  
                                                               compared it to chi’i
ate raspberry sorbet at midnight               chewed our nails
                                                                    myriad tongues
of fans tasting the four directions                          for breath
  the pale aftermath of sky no white spaces between words           


                    our eyes covetously transgressed
     the condemned lintels            of imagination
                             and the desire for inspiration
                                                          we hung damp sheets
across doorways and windows bared our necks 
                                                                       to any breeze                      
                                                                                                                           .                                                                                 a truce
            said it’s the right kind of night for                a fire           
                                                                             or murder
           doppelganging in the canyons         the siren’s song
                                                          stitched into a shroud


the cats flopped down     blamed us for the heat       
at tailgate parties
we learned to foretell the future in ice cubes       
     we changed the lyrics  
        crushed mint beneath our heels   slept with the tvs on
          hoisted beer skyward                no one ever chooses
                their family                                neighbors or love


when the screen door slams      it’s not hypothetically measuring 
   the temperate distance between yes and maybe


my neighbor                 retrieves his small son from my bed 
reconciles             with his girlfriend
                        they stop by                     grab the ice chest
                                                                                               I crawl inside
                                     fall through the spaces between worlds


8/7/94

This had justified margins and was set up to look like lace. Doesn't exactly transfer here.

2001  Transfer Magazine, #82, Fall issue