Poetry

Appearing here are a few poems from collections published, unpublished, and forthcoming.  My first chapbook, Paean, is still available for sale from Finishing Line Press.  Green Philosophy should be out in 2014 from Folded Word, also linked below.  Rough Art, my collection of logging poems, has yet to find a publisher.  If you like what you see, please leave a comment.

From Paean (Finishing Line Press, 2005):

Paean

I rejoice in the simple fact of rain

in the dust that cups each drop

in the translucence of new leaves

and the gold of oaks burning all

the sunshine stored through summer

in the velvet that covers the deer’s antlers

and the hard white horns I find in the desert

in blossoms and berries and fruited things

and stark, bare branches limned in winter ice

in the delicate lace of a snowflake and of a spider’s web

and in the tiny green worm who spoils

the acorns, spinning on his silken thread

in the squirrels digging for pine nuts in the garden

and the jays that peck summer’s ripening tomatoes

in the earthworms who till my soil

and the weeds that flower in it

in the ants that maze their trails across the lawn

and the toad who waits under the yarrow for an unwary fly

in all its spinning life and death

this earth moves me.

*  *  *

Meadowlark Singing

Yellow-breasted meadowlark

perches on barbed wire corralling

sagebrush and wild sunflowers

tips back his head

pours out song

like water on this dry land

trickling over time-

worn stones

a stream unchanged

by drought.

*  *  *

Confession

Las Vegas, October 2003

I wanted it to rain today:

a forgiving rain to rinse

the dust of the ravaged desert

out of the air and into the washes

to fill up the collection basins

and create, if only for an hour,

the illusion of autumn.  The wind’s edge

might crisp; a flight of geese

might form overhead.  But merciless

clouds only hover above the city:

a smothering weight which even

the high-rise hotels cannot pierce.

Some sinners won’t accept absolution.

Some gods refuse to give it.

*  *  *

From Green Philosophy (forthcoming from Folded Word):

Green Philosophy

My neighbor orders a garden

as he does his life—regimented rows

goose-stepping down a ruthless axis

in his bare  sterilized  hauled-in

topsoil.  He tells me of his plan

to eradicate volunteers, an idea

involving a giant blender with sharpened

blades to mince a seed from spoiled

produce before he throws

it on his compost pile, lest, God forbid,

zucchini come up amongst tomatoes

or a tomato sprout in the carrot rows.

I listen with one ear, pulling oat stalks

from my straw mulch, admire

butternut that’s volunteered in my compost pile,

sprawling amid potato vines

sprung from the little ones we missed

when we dug last fall.  The potatoes,

tall and green, grow where they were not

intended.  Dill and marigolds

bloom among cabbages,

Johnny Jump-ups under peas

and around tomatoes. The garden rambles,

an untidy thing of patches, curves, like a mind

without hard angles, no rows,

nothing segregated, as if

the hand of God had sown it.

*   *   *

Compromise

The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway. –Michael Pollan

To be a gardener, one must be ruthless

as the old gods, prepared for sacrifice–

thinning carrots and lettuce,

weeding feverfew, catnip run amok

in the flowerbeds, pruning back

cherries, apples and plums;

one must mount defenses against aphids,

moles, deer, with reasonable, biodegradable poisons,

humane traps, sprays made from rotten eggs,

dustings of blood meal

from slaughterhouses;

must contemplate greater acts of violence:

pulling up the young of pine and cedar

that lift their umbellifered arms hopefully

from worm-enriched soil;

uprooting serviceberry, thimbleberry

sown by birds; yanking out the sprouted acorns

gray squirrels buried in the fall, four green inches

of leaves, tap roots a foot deep;

felling hundred-year old trees

to let in more light, watching their stumps

bleed sap for weeks;

then one day you stand with a mole

impaled on your three-pronged rake,

marvel at the velvet of its fur, and how

it repels dirt, the sharp claws on pale,

paddle-shaped feet, the absurdity

of blind eyes, pink nose,

and realize you’ve played god in endless

escalation, rationalizing all the while:

a garden is no place to compromise with wild things.

They will take it back if they can.

*  *  *

Snow:  Dusk

Light on fallen snow

glows blue-white,

cups tracks

of fox and raccoon,

a slanted light

in small hollows.

Deep snow hummocks

every familiar shape strange:

mushrooms the fenceposts,

their shadows a deeper blue.

In the hush

birds quiet

for night.

Dusk is the cusp

of day and this

blue-white light

the taste of snow

on your tongue,

the taste of no taste,

clean, cold, gone.

*  *  *

From Rough Art (unpublished collection)

The Climber

She was the exception who proved the rule:

women did not work in the woods.

No man could argue that she wasn’t a woman

she stood about five-seven in her caulk boots

her long, dark hair pulled back in a braid

her dirty tee shirt strained across opinionated

breasts.  She didn’t need to be pretty

she was tough as venison jerky

when she set chokers behind the yellow CAT,

dragging cables around logs the size of train tunnels,

clearing brush while the CAT

took the turn to the landing.

She kept pace with her partner

he didn’t have to pull her weight

he defended her reluctantly in Pete’s bar

though there was no need for that as she sat

across the room throwing back shots

with the best of them.

Nobody remembers the partner’s name,

but Brenda B. is still legend.

After her stint behind the CAT

she learned to climb,

driving her spikes into stringy redwood

bark, leaning back on her belt,

hoisting chokers high on massive trunks

so the pull machine could steer the trees

uphill as they fell, away from the creek.

Nobody had to tell her she’d picked

the most dangerous job in the woods,

she’d grown up in a family of loggers,

no mother, all brothers.  That explained it

some said.  She never married,

slept where she chose, slept around

when she wanted, shacked up with this guy

for a while, then the next.  No kids.

In the muddy winters she waitressed

at the Timberline, serving up ham and eggs

to the men she worked with in season.

She was kind to the dishwasher,

a redheaded boy who idolized her.

As far as he knows, she’s still climbing trees

though the mill shut down ten years ago

and the company no longer logs in that town.

Or maybe she’s taken up falling,

he thinks, she’s hiking down hills now

the big saw on her shoulder leaking grease.

*  *  *

Washed Up

Maybe his knees are gone, worn

out from walking through rough country,

packing his saw on his shoulder,

crouching with it in his hands to make the cut;

maybe his back’s give out from the bending

and hauling of saw gas and extra chain,

or maybe it’s his neck or his hands—

nothing they can do but cut on him, and he won’t

have that, no sir.  Maybe he’s sixty, or only fifty,

too young to retire, waiting on the Social Security,

and he doesn’t know how to do anything else

but get up before dawn, work a ten-hour day

except during hoot-owl hours in July,

when the woods are tinder awaiting a spark—

never on his watch, thank Jesus.

He’s washed up, but the boss

knows he’s a worker,

so he drives the water truck,

day after day, ranging

the same length of dirt road,

spraying to keep down the dust—

no skill involved, it’s mindless work,

no challenge to it, not like plumbing a tree

to see how it will fall, gauging

distance and obstacles,

the amount of breakage and waste,

where to put face cut,

how to angle back cut,

how long he’ll have to clear

the zone when the tree

begins to groan and lean.

He’s spraying the road

as fallers, done for the day,

pass him in their dusty trucks;

toss him the casual chin-up nod.

His hands tighten on the steering wheel.

He’s thinking of those days

when he was the man with the big saw,

the stories he told in the bar

about the one that barber-chaired on him,

the widowmaker that nearly got him,

or the big one he laid down

gentle as a mother does

her newborn child.

*   *   *

Acknowledgements

The following poems were published in these fine journals.  My thanks to the editors who gave them space on their magazines’ pages.

“Paean”:  California Quarterly. Spring 2005.  Ed. Margaret Saine.

“Snow:  Dusk.”   Red Rock Review.  Fall 2012.  Ed. Todd Moffett.

“The Climber.”  Clark Street Review.  Spring 2005.  Ed. Ray Foreman.

“Washed Up.”  Southern Poetry Review.  Spring 2007.  Ed. James Smith.  The original version of this poem will be reprinted in late 2013 in a special issue of Southern Poetry Review dedicated to Poets of the West and the West Coast.  I am honored that my poem will be a part of this special issue.

Advertisements

3 Responses to Poetry

  1. Enjoyed very much this thread. Confession is a stunning poem, and my favourite.

  2. Pingback: A Writer’s Showcase | Jean L. French

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s