Friday, November 4, 2011

AN UNEXPECTED POEM FOR DR. JOHN


A UNEXPECTED POEM FOR DR. JOHN

A friend sends a photo from Jerome, Arizona.
John's wearing cowboy boots, a black Stetson,
sheepskin vest, jeans, silver buckle—
as if he stepped out of the last century.
The only thing missing are rowelled spurs
and the odor of horse shit and alkali dust.
The story abides. Jerome, a mining town
rescued from oblivion by tourists and art.
Time itself stands still like a dull dude horse
for those foolhardy enough to brave the journey.

Last and only time we passed through Jerome
was at break-neck speed, Neil had a gig in Prescott
on the other side of Mingus Mountain. No Charlie.
Someone in Sedona said, It's not far at all… 
Famous last words. We whipped the van 
up the blood-red Mogollón Rim through sage,
twisted pinyon and stately Ponderosa pines.
We slithered around hairpin turns like wet noodles.
The Cleopatra Hill, stained with streaks of turquoise
and rust from open pit copper mines—a blur.
A drive by sighting. Couldn't even stop to visit.
I howled from the back seat like a sick dog.


My friend smiles for the unseen camera.
By the verdigris lintel of the old Connor Hotel
the bell held its tongue on the hangman's scaffold. 
Jerome, dubbed the wickedest town in the West
Worse than Body. IWW miners' strikes & deportation.
But the Labor bosses won. A real Company town.
Miners clung to dreams as underground pyrite fires 
raged in the mines for decades until it played out.
Their doorways reached out like empty arms.
The copper no longer "shines like Arizona gold."
Now, a broody buttermilk sky promises snow.

Beyond the blaze of Sedona's Red Rock sandstone,
the serene snowcapped San Francisco Peaks dream,
home of the kachina cloud ancestors. Indigenous
dreams of the Yavapai, the People of the Sun,
long forgotten, but some say they still hear 
the "Gaah-kaka" spirits singing at night
from the deep mines of Mingus Mountain.

Dr. John, whose ancestors fled the Ukraine,
finds tenure from Las Vegas to the Saudi Desert
where he adheres to the old ways of the Adab.
He dons a thobe & bisht vest, salwar for jeans,
a taqiyah cap, a shmaugh roped to his head
with an agal—camel hobble—for his Stetson band.
Al Qassim, a land of sand dunes & white saxaul trees.
How he left for a kingdom of camels & date palms
is a Bedouin mystery. All you need are three things:
a tent, a camel, and four wives. He doesn't have one.
A linguist, he wrestles an oasis of tongues
into something resembling time present.
But the retro cowboy way also suits him.
He leans too far forward on his toes—
in his $2.99 Goodwill crocodile boots,
after months in desert sandals, 
he is unused to the high stirrup heel.
All propped up and ready for the getaway.


When I was a kid, I was horse crazy.
I spent hours in the basement reading
the collection of musty dimestore books.
Zane Grey's novels: Riders of the Purple Sage
stolen herds, wild horses, star-crossed lovers,
stilted language, rustlers, and masked heroines.
All that remained of the story was the intrigue,
black Arabian stallions outracing the wind,
the lovers' escape into a verdant pocket canyon.
A cleft of blue sky. How they toppled Balancing Rock,
forever closing the only way in and out of Paradise.
The moral tenor of Mormon polygamy—over my head.
The real West was an uncharted region between towns
where anything is possible. The placenames survive:
Jerome, Cottonwood and Verde Valley. Zane's cabin
perched on the far Rim near Tonto Creek.

I've owned two pairs of cowboy boots.
The first pair were for horse shows.
I was a kid, but they were too big,
lead weights pulled me down into darkness.
A fire sale. Thank God, I never grew into them.
The 2nd pair were a flight of nostalgia.
A garage sale in Santa Fe,
down by the old Delgado Bridge
where the Rosenburgs were arrested.
Those traitorous boots wore the skin off my ankles
no matter what I did. They were inlaid
with indigo and russet leather,
with fancy stitching in floral motifs.
A shackle of hobbled beauty
with no escape, no flaw in the design.
Leaving me to ride off into the sunset.

11/4/11

RLB: write a poem about finding something unexpected. Maybe it’s a note from a friend or a bag filled with money (or guns). Maybe it’s finding a lover with someone who’s not you. Or finding a secluded place to sit in the middle of the forest and think.

MF: thanatopsis \than-uh-TOP-sis\ , noun;
1. A view or contemplation of death.
2. A poem (1817) by William Cullen Bryant.

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