Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mouse Wars

Our neighbor Brooke is a real animal lover, she nurses stray and orphaned cats back to health, but her true passion is birds. One time I found her camouflaged in the hedge of my front garden, binoculars and tally sheet in hand, counting birds for a local birding club as there was a bird flu decimating the local population.

She's created a fabulous plant jungle around her house, an urban oasis in Oakland. She planted a birdbath and several bird feeders for her fine-feathered friends which drives Angelino Bernini, the resident black cat, crazy. Angelino may weigh in at 20 pounds, and though he's at least 12 years old—if not older—and missing a few teeth, he's still an avid birder. So his yard going days are curtailed. A tortured soul, he watches the birds from the window, with whiskers curled, at the ready, chatting a-a-a-ah, followed by a forlorn meow behind his Guantanamo prison of glass.

Brooke's bird-feeding urge started out small, with one small hummingbird feeder, followed by a rude platform on a post, then she put up a sleek plexi & chrome cylinder high-rise filled with millet and birdseed. She hung it from a branch, but the sunflower seeds jammed up the works.

So that sleek feeder was soon followed by a chalet style birdhouse feeder for the sunflower seed-eating birds. They came in such droves, it sounded like a Star Trek convention. The singing lemon tree quivered like an eager hound waiting for the word as they energetically hopped and chittered in its branches.

To keep up with the growing appetite of her feathered friends, she started buying sacks of birdseed and sunflower seeds in bulk. At this point, the husks and shells were creating such a thick mulch around the hydrangeas, it was attracting more than just the birds.

First to arrive were the red squirrels who loved the sunflower seeds meant for the grosbeaks, sparrows and finches. Every day they tussled with each other to get to the bird feeder. Word got out. Soon there were squirrel gang wars when the mothers would bring their young to the feeder.

The squirrels come back every year, we know this because one time Brooke lost her cool and went to war with the squirrels. She got so mad, she grabbed one of those freeloaders perched on the bird chalet—by the tail. The startled squirrel took off full steam, leaping into space, leaving the tip of her tail in Brooke's hand as a souvenir.

So my neighbor kept thinking of new ways to foil the squirrels by hanging new birdfeeders replete with squirrel-proof rope collars from the roof and eaves. The squirrels considered the challenge like field marshals, they climbed up the nearest sapling, leaped into space like their flying cousins in order to grab the rope the birdfeeder was suspended from. Then they carefully slid down the rope head first, little paws gripping the rope so hard, they almost looked like human hands, their scimtar sharp hind claws completely encircling the rope.

The squirrels needed their front paws free to extract the sunflower seeds from the chrome plated holes of the squirrel-proof birdfeeder. From that bizarre vantage point, they snacked from the feeder, hanging upside down from their hind feet like bats, their full tails covering their exposed backs like cloaks. The added weight caused the bird feeder to spin like a top, and they'd spin dizzyingly, left, then right—which made the dismount tricky. Soon, there were disoriented squirrels drunkely staggering in circles, and woozily sitting it out, splayed in the flowerbeds, as the earth spun past them.

Then the rat pack came, followed by raccoons and 'possoms. The neighbors were all up in arms. Brooke's gift was a gift about to keep on giving, long after she removed the offending bird feeders. The raccoons and 'possoms proved to be pretty useless in keeping the rats in check, they liked our tomatoes, squash and basil better. They found the trash bins offered a far more appetizing smorgasboard than a monolingual diet of rodent.

The rat pack took to scampering from roof to roof. It was like a friggin' after-hours Ratintucky Preakness. The squirrels stashed extra fodder under the terra cotta tiles. The rats were galloping along our windowsills, frolicking in planters, raising a ruckus in the crawl spaces beneath the houses.

Come dusk, our living room windowsill was like a rat racetrack. Or so our horrified couch-surfing houseguest discovered. He didn't stay long. Sometimes we found the rat youngsters perched in the lemon tree with the birds. I suppose they got so used to climbing trees to get to the bird feeders, that it became second nature to hang out with the birds. Or maybe the birdseed went to their heads.

Arsenic laced D-con pellets soon put an end to their travels. On account of the arsenic, we'd have to beat the opportunistic 'possoms and curious cats to collect the rats who were staggering around the yard in need of a drink, and put then in plastic bags for the bin man.
Sniffing the flowers.
Then the mice came, first, they came in trickles, then they came in droves. Soon it was an explosion of mice. D-con took care of most of the adults. The cheap stuff was no longer working. At first it was cute, if not macabre, watching the orphaned babies play in the planters, imperviously feeding on poison laced oats. The mice were so tame, they'd taste and sniff everything and even run over my toes as I took countless photos of them. But right before the last big earthquake, they all decided to move from Brooke's basement into our house.

Note the D-Con box in the back of the flowerpot.
That was a declaration of war. We put out more poison. Now the even the D-con was no longer working. Survival of the fittest, had we made a race of super mice, by initially buying the cheaper rat poison? Of course, rats eat a lot more than mice, that could be the reason why the poison wasn't working.

D-Con clearly didn't kill mice dead.
D-Con all gone. Mice: still alive.
In the past, I've dispatced the few mice that have taken up residence in my house with a few bizarre accidents of sheer luck. One night I heard rustling in the cabinet, so I lifted a packet of rice cakes by the top of the bag out of the cupboard to see what was there and a startled deer mouse leaped out at me.

What? No more yummy D-Con?
I screamed and jumped back. But the package of rice cakes, set in motion by my leap, swung up over my hand in a perfect centrifical arc—only to meet the mouse mid-flight. Rice cakes: one, mouse: zero. Over the decades, I've squished mice in the plastic bag minder. Slammed drawers on them—all pretty much by accident.

Where's the birdseed?
Another time, a mouse startled me when he jumped out of a roll of tinfoil as I lifted it out of the drawer. I instinctively bopped him like a fly ball across the room, right out the kitchen door, to the outfield of the back porch. Tin foil bat: one, mouse zero. Home run. Top of the ninth. Bases are loaded. Now why couldn't I ever hit the softball like that?



I remember when my grannie was burning the brush pile a king snake swallowed a mother deer mouse. I rescued two hairless pups, and tried to raise them. I kept them under heat lamp and fed them every few hours, but after a few days they died. I didn't know I was supposed to stimulate their bottoms with a wet Q-tip to make them pee.

Another time, I was walking home from school in a downpour. By William Wiley's place, a pathetic drenched deer mouse was huddled in the middle of the road. He nestled in the palm of my hand, glad for the warmth. I put him in a hamster cage, and he recovered nicely but he was nervous and never tamed. I could smell his acrid fear, like formic acid, when I cleaned his cage and if I handled him, he bit me.

The stress of living indoors proved to be too much for the deer mouse and all his hair fell out. Deer mice have distinctive white markings, even when they're completely bald! I had to wait until he grew a new coat before I could release him. But it was coming in rough patches, so I gave him the cat's B-vitamin drops, which he loved. When his coat came in thick and sleekit, I let him go. He never looked back.

***
Mice at play in the fields of the 'burbs.

Though my new mice visitors resembled Mickey Mouse or maybe Mr. Jingles in "The Green Mile", when I surprised them in the kitchen, they were not welcome. I have no trouble admiring creatures in their natural environment, living with mice is another matter. They shred clothes, papers, and endlessly defecate everywhere.

Wild deer mice usually don't prefer houses. Nor do field mice (barns, yes). But, from what I could tell after sleuthing these particular mice out on the internet, they were a variety of common house mouse. Which meant they weren't going to magically disappear.

These little guys are fiercely territorial and are like homing pigeons, so live release traps would involve transporting them to another 'hood. I was relieved to find that they carry few dangers, other than salmonella, as compared to the plague-carrying black rats (who also came from Asia), voles, field and marsh mice, and and the dreaded hanta virus carriers—deer mice—all of which I've had as fleeting pets at one time or another.

Because of my current mice's light coloring and big ears, I thought they could be harvest mice, a subspecies, or even a new species. (I once found a new subspecies of blond leucistic gophers). It could be an adaptive phase. Outdoor mice have lighter coats than housebound mice. But it could also be a juvenile phase. I didn't want to wait around to find out.


The Latin name for mouse, Mus musculus, is also the root word for muscle (the little mouse that runs beneath the skin when you flex), mussels and and muscatel. I was having trouble building up my muscle in order to get rid of them. Now I love mussels steamed in white wine and garlic but I wasn't about to start drinking muscatel to fortify my strength. Someone wrote that the Latin name derives from the Sanskrit musha, meaning "thief" I'm not sure of that etemology, however, they are indeed little thieves.

Mice frisking over my papers and running across whispering piano strings in the middle of the night proved to be too much. With flashlight and sandal at the ready to administer the shoe de grâce, I was busy skulking around the house with the mice at odd hours, I also wasn't getting much sleep. If the house as much as sighed, I was on rat–er—mouse patrol. I must've looked like burglar sneaking around in my own house.


No reprieve with glue traps. One way ticket.
My mice hadn't gotten to the breeding stage—yet. They were beginning to scamper and chase each other in broad daylight. And you know what that leads to. I figured I had about three weeks before their litters came. The pressure was on. The only thing that was effective was a trap inside a black plastic box—like a covered bridge replete with a mouse hole, a bridge transporting them to mousie Valhalla.


By this time, these little guys were well pickled in poison like the Arsenic and Old Lace gang, so borrowing a cat was out, or capturing them with live traps and setting them free—with cumulative effects on the foodchain—was also out of the question. What Rachel Carson spring would that chain of events unleash? There are the topfeeders to consider, falcons and sharp-shinned hawks living in the trees above the freeway.

At first, the black mousetrap worked like a charm on the larger mice (I'd bagged six specimens—but as luck would have it, during the dog days of summer, the garbagemen were on strike, so I had to devise a way to keep the mice away from the night feeders. So they reposed tripple-baggied in the deep freezer waiting for the garbage strike to end.)

I kept thinking with revulsion, of that Kevin Costner movie (Never Cry Wolf) where he eats the mice on toast. What if I were to die suddenly and someone found the rows of frozen mice in my freezer? What on earth would they think?



The plastic mousetrap soon wore out from overuse and the juvenile mice were merely maimed by it. Regular wooden mouse traps were too big, they went off like castenets, but no music. Other than the skitter of little mouse feet. About the only thing I've ever successfully caught in a mouse trap was my index finger. More than once. I was suddenly getting very hands-on with my mouse killing.

The point of using traps and poison is that you are far removed from the guilt and the act of killing. I was forced to stand guard and finish off the mice, lest they suffer needlessly. The Man of the house, Mr. Squeamish, wasn't about to do it. I found myself barely able to do the coup de gras (greasy pun intended, nothing graceful about it)  but I'd run out of options. Clearly, the poison wasn't working.

(I paid little heed to Neil's admonitions or the exterminator's fear-laced speeches—if half of what they said was true, most of us would be long dead from mouse exposure. Rats, however, are another story.)

Time for the shoe de grâce. Needless suffering, not an option.
I got inventive with my mouse traps. I even tried homemade glueboards, by smearing hair-removal wax on pieces of wood embedded with seeds... I'd accidentally caught one little bugger in the bathroom when he ventured too close to a sticky jar of hair removal wax. But they daintily nibbled the edges of the almonds, and escaped from my weird traps, leaving little tufts of hair behind. I could hear their tiny paws sticking to the hardwood floor as they scampered off.

Bald mice with Brazilian coochie wax jobs aside, I wasn't about to cohabit with them. I finessed the faulty trap, I carved a new spring latch. And when the spring failed, I ministered the coup de gras on the stunned mice—armed with baggies, paper towels and a hefty flip-flop sandal.

One victim popped when I whacked her too hard, her mate suffered because I didn't whack him hard enough. I killed them both and promptly threw up. I was losing both my nerve and my stomach. Another mouse escaped one trap, only to skitter back inside the moustrap tunnel into the jaws of the still cocked trap I held in my hand. Eek! What was I—rethreading the mouse into the eye of the needle? I hesitated for a second, and then I let the spring go. Whack!

I was beginning to roundly curse Brooke, an otherwise thoroughly nice lady, who was blissfully unaware of what she had inadvertantly unleashed upon us. I thought of her as I became quite attuned to the sound of the mousetrap going off in the might. I was a sleepwalking Lady MacBeth, wringing her bloodstained hands.

But what really broke my heart was when one little guy who got trapped by the forearm, screamed when I turned the trap over to empty it. I found myself eyeball-to-eyeball with him. He balefully blinked at me as if to ask why? I found there was no difference between me and him. We were both one being. I couldn't kill him now. Not after that contact.

I made him a little bed in a plastic Ziplock bowl, he recovered enough to sit up and eat sunflower seeds. His bruised arm was bothering him as he methodically turned the sunflower seed desoleil as he nibbled, but he seemed content enough. He groomed himself and curled up in a tight ball. I couldn't let him go because of the arsenic, but I vowed that if he lived a week, he was probably arsenic-free, then I'd let him go.

Neil said, "Don't name him," but it was already too late.

Miguelito was dead by morning.

Hopefully he was the last of the thundering hordes. Every night I dream about mice. I waken at the slightest noise or rustle. The wind sighing, a drop of rain on the hot air vent, a dry leaf turning over in the night.

Brooke has weaned herself down to three squirrelproof birdfeeders and a platform. The chalet feeder and squirrels are gone but they're busy ferrying acorns up to the roof where they energetically stuff them beneath the terra cotta tiles.

Soon there will be oaklings sprouting from our rooves.







© Maureen Hurley 2007



MORE MOUSY READING:
 
A DEAD MOUSE REPOSES IN BEAUTY 8/17 I found this little guy outside. I should've known a mouse invasion was in progress.
No Mouser, Jack 8/12 At my cousin's in Nicasio. I guess I was in mouse training.
SUMMER MOUSE HAIPU 7/29 I should've guessed that the best was yet to come.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Kate Wolf fragment

I go every year to the Kate Wolf Festival (except for this year).

I knew Kate from afar. She lived in Forest Knolls where I grew up. Kate Wolf spent a very short time in the San Geronimo Valley, I remember her sleeping in the back of her white Ford Falcon station wagon in Forest Knolls.  (Or was it a Rambler? More fitting a car for her.)

She, like so many other musicians landed in the Valley. But despite folk memory, Kate didn't live in Forest Knolls very long. She moved to Forest Knolls in the spring of 1982, but she left by September 1984, on the road. Gathering fame at last.

Then she moved to the Russian River, as did I, and I (cub reporter) took photos of her at the River Theater for a newspaper, The Paper...or was it the Sonoma County Stump?

I had a love-hate relationship with her music. I hated how she didn't have any energy when she performed. She was like a statue. She was flat. Not her notes. But there was no edge there. It made me feel lethargic, and a little depressed. I wanted to speed her up, to animate her. I chalked it up to depression. I wrote a less-than-flattering review of her performance at the Guerneville theater. It was before we found out about the leukemia.

She was living in Guerneville before she died. I wrote another story on her ca. 1985 when we were throwing benefits to help defray her huge hospital bills. The story is lost, in the flood. She died in December of 86. I have grainy photos of her somewhere. It was a long time ago.

When I went to the USSR in 1989, I taught the Soviets to sing her songs: Golden Rolling Hills of California....and the Redtail Hawk writes songs across the sky....



2007    rev (sort of) 2014. Still needs work. But it's a start.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

SIMMER RITUAL

SIMMER RITUAL
from Joe Milosz's workshop

Nestled at the foot of the Palomar mountains
the thermal pools at Warner Springs Ranch
ripple with myriad prisms. Refracted light
bends our legs into sevens and elevens.
Palm leaves clatter in the desert breeze
like a film projector at the end of a reel
the audience waits while the spliced leader
flashes crosses and numeric bulls-eyes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5... 
The Cupeños, Bing Crosby & the Duke
once soaked their weary bones here.
Joe asks us to write about a time when we were young.
I can't think of anything. I'm pushing 55, and I think
soon I'll be able to get into the movies cheap.
But the price of admission has more than tripled
since I was a kid. Yesterday I was the Baba, the baby.
Time is zooming by art the speed of regret.
I may have passed the half century mark,
but behind the long distance of these eyes,
behind this crepe thin skin, I am still young.
My hair is a raft of chestnut light
floating behind me like a horse's tail
and I'm remembering the ritual
of the first pool dip of the season.
Sometimes we'd sneak into the water
before the sun had done her job
as if to rush the coming of summer
and a glove of icy fear gripped our hearts.
We were left gasping for breath.
When I was young, I spent the entire season
swimming myself into aqua exhaustion
the healing plunge into a pool where pale bubbles 
rose up to challenge the endless sky.
A crimson leaf floats in the pool.
Stains the retina.
For a moment time had stopped.

Maureen Hurley 9/9/2007
Warner Springs Ranch

UNTITLED


UNTITLED
—from Kim Shuck's workshop

Walk into the red morning
set your intentions of the day
What is the difference between prayer and poem?
I have been fighting that religion since I was six.
Things to be said, that should be said
transforming the noun of self into the verb of being.

Honor the tongue
drinking deep from the stream
drinking both hot and cold
drinking the ancient artesian water
drinking fire from the earth
to get to the heart of things.

Words from the Cherokee:
this woman's soul has come to rest
on the edges of your body
Let it linger there a while.

Poems have a specific time of morning
Four things that need to be said.
You breathe a poem, you don't recite it.
Simon's Mai Lai May Lai, letting it out
letting the breath out.

Small summit reaching the sky
reaching, reaching, reaching the blue
the blue granite, holes in the rock, mortar and pestle
winnowing, winnowing, winnowing, winnowing on granite
buckwheat and artimesia
granite reaching its stubby fingers to the sky
mountain mother milking the sky
cloud milk in deep blue (thin spring milk)
hangliding buzzards and sky hawks circle
ravens gossiping in the cottonwoods
buckwheat fingers accusing the sky
cabbage moths sucking nectar from tiny flowers
beneath the desert sun, a spittling pine,
cooling rain of tree sap on the skin
two dragonflies the color of blood, knot the air, red, red.
The crow and raven clans have come to an understanding
they each stay on their side of the creek.

Maureen Hurley 9/9/2007 Warner Springs Ranch

Saturday, September 8, 2007

CPITS poems, Warner Springs

Poems from our annual CPITS gathering, at Warner Spring Ranch, a truly magical place replete with hot pools and native California Palms, nestled at the foot of Mt. Palomar.


ANCESTOR TONGUE
       —from Simon Ortíz's class

Conas tá tu. Mo anim Mairín
I am called Maureen, she of the sea,
Sometimes I am the Morrighan of the Battlefield
She who stood on the shoulders of CúChulainn
as he slumped tied to the Lía Fail
to the Stone of Destiny
as darkness descended
behind the corneas of his eyes.
She, who became the enemy
when he spurned her love—
she was steadfast in death.
I am not little Mary, the mother of God
as the Jesuits were wont to say.

To be the great three-fold goddess
the raven, forever associated with death
has me worried
because I was given the owl nametag
no raven, but still the same messenger.
Why it worries me is because of what follows.
Sometimes I dream of things no one should see
but the witness is an afterthought.

They say it's the Second Sight
a gift from my mother's family.
They say that in dreams begins responsibility.
but my mother's craziness chased me toward sanity
and I ran from that responsibility.

I'm supposed to be writing a poem
going deep inthe the verbness of am and is-be.
Instead, I'm skittering on the surface of fíos
of what I know, knowledge stacked like facts
cords of wood to hold us against the winter
instead of an airy dance
of water skeeters on a glassy pond.
I'm skittering on the brink 
of imagination into the precipice.

I have been the standing stone,
the Oghan writing on its edge
the raven, and the washer at the ford.
We wre uncertain of where we stand
the boundaries of self and will,
the anarchy of culture.

Ta me go maith. I learned some Irish at the knee.
I am the broken vessel, the carrier of a dead language.
I had to change my mother tongue in school
because Irish syntax didn't fit the American way.
We were like Simon Ortiz's Aco-ma
where the preposition does the work of language
the harbinger of direction and time.

Our mind works mysteriously, circuitously
and it remembers in spite of ourselves.
What is hidden, the hidden places
we all write it into our selves
our own way of being guided by the ancestral tongue.
Naming is a language event
that moment when you're presented to the sun, an Grian.
We write it into our selves, in stone.
We may have lost our language
but we have not lost ourselves.
We have not lost ourselves.
We have not lost ourselves.
We have not lost ourselves.
Hoh.

Maureen Hurley 9/7/2007 Warner Springs Ranch

NATURAL SELECTION
—from Maggie Anderson's class

Straddling a bridge of indecision
I face two paths, two beds of the same stream
one runs hot, the other is cold.
California Fan Palm is rooted deep into the fault
and grows as close as it can to the fire
where boiling water burbles out of the earth
while stinging nettles of the northern latitudes
lean into the perpetual shade on the cold bank
and remembers an age of ice and perpetual winter
the willow guards both sides of the bridge
but the datura of oblivion chooses
the wash of the desert wadi as its dream
Maybe I should seek its counsel or go mad
should I stay or go? 
A decade or two and then what?
I test each stream with my feet
my left foot in the cool creek bed
the other dips into hot water
but the voices of both streams gurgle in unison
they offer no solace, no sage advice
nor do they drown the stinging words.
The moment of change is the only poem.

Maureen Hurley 9/7/2007 Warner Springs Ranch


NATURAL SELECTION, II
—from Maggie Anderson's class

Desert willows guard the footbridge to another world
with a cacophony of graygreen leaves
while the honey locust spreads
its ordered palmate structure in lacy patterns.

California Fan Palm is rooted deep into the faultline
and grows as close as it can to the fire
where boiling water burbles out of the earth
while stinging nettles of the northern latitudes
lean into the perpetual shade on the cold bank
and remember an age of ice and perpetual winter.

But the datura of oblivion chooses
the wash of the desert wadi as its dream.
Maybe I should seek its counsel or go mad.

Where am I today with one foot in each stream
I can't decide whether to stay or go
whether to write poetry or prose
Am I done with poetry or is it done with me?

I let the next thing to cross my path
guide me and offer instructions.
The first is a bluebird flitting after flies,
the other is a pileated woodpecker
jackhammering holes into the pulpwood
drilling deeper, do it again.

But the voices of both streams gurgle in unison
they offer no solace, no sage advice
nor do they drown the stinging words.

A red dragonfly bleeds against the thermal pool
algae plants itself in vermillion & verde
three cottonwood leaves float, sun yellow
a raft of two crow feathers eclipses them.

Murmur of voices in a room, a steady stream of words.
Fear of change keeps me rooted here.
The moment of change is the only poem.
Maggie says that exact moment of change
that moment when we're neither here nor there
that is where the poem lies.

Maureen Hurley 9/7/2007
Warner Springs Ranch

UNTITLED SOUND POEMS
-from Dan Levinson's class

knock, knock, anyone there?
In the alley, broken glass questions
the soles of my shoes
again and again
Willful destruction of a window
an eye of the wind
Someone lived here once
He sweeps the glass across the cement floor
with his shoe, cleaning up
centuries of sand and glass
I'm shattering the surface of what I know
skimming the depths of what I am
ascending to the teatime level of the noon whistle

Maureen Hurley 9/8/2007 Warner Springs Ranch

UNTITLED SOUND POEM, II
-from Dan Levinson's class

bowl of sound
the tubes warming up
electronic buzz
a TV after hours
Frankenstein bellying up to the bar
for another shot of juice
birds twittering
or an old radio
can't pull in the station
Hello? tap the mike, blow on it
then inanely ask if you can hear me
too torturous to tell what the message is
morse code written by mice
I'm searching for an old SOS on the upright Royal
a gumshoe ganglion of words
staccato of bullets
an air raid of words
end of a song
an old 78 record hissing in the grass

Maureen Hurley 9/8/2007 Warner Springs Ranch

SIMMER RITUAL
-from Joe Milosz's class

Nestled at the foot of the Palomar mountains
the thermal pools at Warner Springs Ranch
ripple with myriad prisms. Refracted light
bends our legs into sevens and elevens.
Palm leaves clatter in the desert breeze
like a film projector at the end of a reel
the audience waits while the spliced leader
flashes crosses and numeric bulls-eyes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...
The Cupeños, Bing Crosby & the Duke
once soaked their weary bones here.
Joe asks us to write about a time when we were young.
I can't think of anything. I'm pushing 55, and I think
soon I'll be able to get into the movies cheap.
But the price of admission has more than tripled
since I was a kid. Yesterday I was the Baba, the baby.
Time is zooming by art the speed of regret.
I may have passed the half century mark,
but behind the long distance of these eyes,
behind this crepe thin skin, I am still young.
My hair is a raft of chestnut light
floating behind me like a horse's tail
and I'm remembering the ritual
of the first pool dip of the season.
Sometimes we'd sneak into the water
before the sun had done her job
as if to rush the coming of summer
and a glove of icy fear gripped our hearts.
We were left gasping for breath.
When I was young, I spent the entire season
swimming myself into aqua exhaustion
the healing plunge into a pool where pale bubbles
rose up to challenge the endless sky.
A crimson leaf floats in the pool.
Stains the retina.
For a moment time had stopped.

Maureen Hurley 9/9/2007
Warner Springs Ranch


UNTITLED
—from Kim Shuck's class

Walk into the red morning
set your intentions of the day
What is the difference between prayer and poem?
I have been fighting that religion since I was six.
Things to be said, that should be said
transforming the noun of self into the verb of being.

Honor the tongue
drinking deep from the stream
drinking both hot and cold
drinking the ancient artesian water
drinking fire from the earth
to get to the heart of things.

Words from the Cherokee:
this woman's soul has come to rest
on the edges of your body
Let it linger there a while.

Poems have a specific time of morning
Four things that need to be said.
You breathe a poem, you don't recite it.
Simon's Mai Lai May Lai, letting it out
letting the breath out.

Small summit reaching the sky
reaching, reaching, reaching the blue
the blue granite, holes in the rock, mortar and pestle
winnowing, winnowing, winnowing, winnowing on granite
buckwheat and artimesia
granite reaching its stubby fingers to the sky
mountain mother milking the sky
cloud milk in deep blue (thin spring milk)
hangliding buzzards and sky hawks circle
ravens gossiping in the cottonwoods
buckwheat fingers accusing the sky
cabbage moths sucking nectar from tiny flowers
beneath the desert sun, a spittling pine,
cooling rain of tree sap on the skin
two dragonflies the color of blood, knot the air, red, red.
The crow and raven clans have come to an understanding
they each stay on their side of the creek.

Maureen Hurley 9/9/2007 Warner Springs Ranch

UNTITLED SOUND POEM, I


UNTITLED SOUND POEM
-from Dan Levinson's workshop


knock, knock, anyone there?
In the alley, broken glass questions
the soles of my shoes
again and again
Willful destruction of a window
an eye of the wind
Someone lived here once
He sweeps the glass across the cement floor
with his shoe, cleaning up
centuries of sand and glass
I'm shattering the surface of what I know
skimming the depths of what I am
ascending to the teatime level of the noon whistle

Maureen Hurley 9/8/2007 
Warner Springs Ranch

UNTITLED SOUND POEM, II


UNTITLED SOUND POEM, II
-from Dan Levinson's workshop

bowl of sound
the tubes warming up
electronic buzz
a TV after hours
Frankenstein bellying up to the bar
for another shot of juice
birds twittering
or an old radio
can't pull in the station
Hello? tap the mike, blow on it
then inanely ask if you can hear me
too torturous to tell what the message is
morse code written by mice
I'm searching for an old SOS on the upright Royal
a gumshoe ganglion of words
staccato of bullets
an air raid of words
end of a song
an old 78 record hissing in the grass

Maureen Hurley 9/8/2007 
Warner Springs Ranch

Friday, September 7, 2007

ANCESTOR TONGUE


ANCESTOR TONGUE
from Simon Ortiz's workshop

Conas tá tu. Mo anim Mairín
I am called Maureen, she of the sea,
Sometimes I am the Morrighan of the Battlefield
She who stood on the shoulders of CúChulainn
as he slumped tied to the Lía Fail
to the Stone of Destiny
as darkness descended
behind the corneas of his eyes.
She, who became the enemy
when he spurned her love—
she was steadfast in death.
I am not little Mary, the mother of God
as the Jesuits were wont to say.

To be the great three-fold goddess
the raven, forever associated with death
has me worried
because I was given the owl nametag
no raven, but still the same messenger.
Why it worries me is because of what follows.
Sometimes I dream of things no one should see
but the witness is an afterthought.

They say it's the Second Sight
a gift from my mother's family.
They say that in dreams begins responsibility.
but my mother's craziness chased me toward sanity
and I ran from that responsibility.

I'm supposed to be writing a poem
going deep inthe the verbness of am and is-be.
Instead, I'm skittering on the surface of fíos
of what I know, knowledge stacked like facts
cords of wood to hold us against the winter
instead of an airy dance of water skeeters on a glassy pond.
I'm skittering on the brink 
of imagination into the precipice.

I have been the standing stone,
the Oghan writing on its edge
the raven, and the washer at the ford.
We wre uncertain of where we stand
the boundaries of self and will,
the anarchy of culture.

Ta me go maith. I learned some Irish at the knee.
I am the broken vessel, the carrier of a dead language.
I had to change my mother tongue in school
because Irish syntax didn't fit the American way.
We were like Simon Ortiz's Aco-ma
where the preposition does the work of language
the harbinger of direction and time.

Our mind works mysteriously, circuitously
and it remembers in spite of ourselves.
What is hidden, the hidden places
we all write it into our selves
our own way of being guided by the ancestral tongue.
Naming is a language event
that moment when you're presented to the sun, an Grian.
We write it into our selves, in stone.
We may have lost our language
but we have not lost ourselves.
We have not lost ourselves.
We have not lost ourselves.
We have not lost ourselves.
Hoh.

Maureen Hurley 9/7/2007 
Warner Springs Ranch

NATURAL SELECTION


NATURAL SELECTION
—from Maggie Anderson's workshop


Straddling a bridge of indecision
I face two paths, two beds of the same stream
one runs hot, the other is cold.
California Fan Palm is rooted deep into the fault
and grows as close as it can to the fire
where boiling water burbles out of the earth
while stinging nettles of the northern latitudes
lean into the perpetual shade on the cold bank
and remembers an age of ice and perpetual winter
the willow guards both sides of the bridge
but the datura of oblivion chooses
the wash of the desert wadi as its dream
Maybe I should seek its counsel or go mad
should I stay or go? 
A decade or two and then what?
I test each stream with my feet
my left foot in the cool creek bed
the other dips into hot water
but the voices of both streams gurgle in unison
they offer no solace, no sage advice
nor do they drown the stinging words.
The moment of change is the only poem.

Maureen Hurley 9/7/2007 
Warner Springs Ranch

NATURAL SELECTION, II


NATURAL SELECTION, II
—from Maggie Anderson's workshop


Desert willows guard the footbridge to another world
with a cacophony of graygreen leaves
while the honey locust spreads
its ordered palmate structure in lacy patterns.

California Fan Palm is rooted deep into the faultline
and grows as close as it can to the fire
where boiling water burbles out of the earth
while stinging nettles of the northern latitudes
lean into the perpetual shade on the cold bank
and remember an age of ice and perpetual winter.

But the datura of oblivion chooses
the wash of the desert wadi as its dream.
Maybe I should seek its counsel, or go mad.

Where am I today with one foot in each stream
I can't decide whether to stay or go
whether to write poetry or prose
Am I done with poetry or is it done with me?

I let the next thing to cross my path
guide me and offer instructions.
The first is a bluebird flitting after flies,
the other is a pileated woodpecker
jackhammering holes into the pulpwood
drilling deeper, do it again.

But the voices of both streams gurgle in unison
they offer no solace, no sage advice
nor do they drown the stinging words.

A red dragonfly bleeds against the thermal pool
algae plants itself in vermillion & verde
three cottonwood leaves float, sun yellow
a raft of two crow feathers eclipses them.

Murmur of voices in a room, a steady stream of words.
Fear of change keeps me rooted here.
The moment of change is the only poem.
Maggie says that exact moment of change
that moment when we're neither here nor there.
That is where the poem lies.

Maureen Hurley 9/7/2007
Warner Springs Ranch