Friday, December 23, 1994


    —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


Monday, December 19, 1994


                                     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.