Selections from books and chapbooks
(all available through links on the Books Page)
Spendthrift wind strips the trees,
scattering innumerable leaves--
worthless as Weimar paper money.
You can feel the effects on your nerves--
by ordinary annoyances.
In this season, you have to search
deep in yourself to find
something that will keep its value
after the improvident year
has gone bankrupt.
from Common Places
Coyote on a Winter Morning
His eyes in the mug shot droop,
old and soulless, flat black,
and his gray skin's pocked like the moon,
loose around a smirk.
I came across a coyote with that mien
last winter, down from the hills
to hunt in the field
where I take my early morning walks.
Tattered like a camel hair coat
leftover from good times,
Luciano down on his luck,
he stared hard at me, unblinking.
But coyotes like crime bosses
crunch numbers as well as bones.
This one took no chances, weighing
caloric output against intake,
assessing risk. So, I felt safe.
And yet, disrespect always tips the scales
with wise guys or wild animals...
I looked down and backed off.
from Behind the Blue Door
Something in his eyes, a glint
more than mischievous,
makes me suspect this crow
has gone bad.
Is that possible--
that one member of the flock
can break loose
from its genetic chains?
And yet his wicked, tactical beak
has been honed with intent
to do harm--to draw blood
and not just pluck carrion...
Some drab, almost gray females
that watch sidelong as he preens,
wisely keep their distance.
from Suite Pneuma
Sheep Grazing at Elk Grove Ranch
This old ewe has been fleeced
with dull shears, ribs and hipbones
showing through her slack, manure-tinted skin.
Yes--in a panic she'd shove into a clump
and run, bleating; but for now,
she closes in on herself,
chews stubble and ignores the flock
as if alone for once--
taking some me-time
while the lambs dance around her
on jittery stiff legs.
from Outdoor Chamber Music
Only the trees remember when,
keeping up a thin pretense of shade.
The lawns have gone back to bare dirt.
No doors, no windows in the frames
and yet the dark green paint
is holding up well--dull
but barely faded.
It must have lead in it.
The campesinos have moved out,
moved on, or moved into town,
commuting to work like everyone else.
But somehow these abandoned houses
are still occupied. Inside,
it's not easy to breathe
air so thick with emptiness.
And dense silence rubs against you,
flesh to flesh.
from A Journal of the Drought Year
(this poem was nominated for a Pushcart Prize)
I used to think the land
had something to say to us,
back when wildflowers
would come right up to your hand
as if they were tame.
Sooner or later, I thought,
the wind would begin to make sense
if I listened hard
and took notes religiously.
That was spring.
Now I'm not so sure:
the cloudless sky has a flat affect
and the fields plowed down after harvest
seem so expressionless,
keeping their own counsel.
This afternoon, nut tree leaves
blow across them
as if autumn had written us a long letter,
changed its mind,
and tore it into little scraps.
from Everything Barren Will Be Blessed
Elk Hills, Morning
Something about the light
Reassures us. See how
It brings life to the barren hills,
How the ridgeline
Hunches its shoulders
To receive it, and the shadows
All lift their cupped hands,
Waiting to be filled.
from Something About the Light
I pull off the road to watch
some goats so deep in the tall grass
their backs are barely visible,
not grazing but searching
for something one of them has lost...
Or so it seems.
Now and then a head comes up;
a goat looks around and bleats.
Those unblinking yellow eyes meet mine,
both of us wondering why--
why we even bother.
And then we get on with it.
from Keeping the Secrets
This scruffy buttonwillow tree, not much more than an exaggerated shrub, will soon awaken, coaxed from a deep but troubled sleep filled with tossing winds and frost so cold on bare limbs it must burn. A hundred winters and it hasn't forgotten one of them. All around it, empty seed pods lie scattered like plans that came to nothing, futile dreams, illusions that crack when someone steps on them. But already the tree is thinking about buds, its thinnest branches nubbed with possibilities. It's good for another year, at least, so the Yokut ghosts who winter here can load their burdens again and move up into the hills for summer and not have to worry about their old friend that knows them so well, that helps them remember who they are.
California Historical Lsndmark #492
from Nietzsche Wept
We've lived here in the dark, always--except for those rare sputters of strobing insight when wisdom is lit up for an instant, vivid for only a heartbeat before it vanishes, then appears again, fixed in another contortion, and then is gone for good.
By comparison, sheet lightning is languid--revelation unfolded in slow motion. And shackled in Plato's cave, where the flickering dim firelight holds true, we manage to see our illusions clearly, those shadowy but unchanging uncertainties.
But look: Someone ordinary--someone like you or me--staying up late, alone in a dark house with a book older than language, maybe older than thought, turns the blank, self-illuminating pages, absorbing their pure light.
from Keeping an Eye on the Stones
Under such an inconclusive moon
Not even an owl can act,
But flies back and forth above the field.
The mice will go home tonight.
Off The Grid
Take an unmarked road no one notices
A fw miles beyond your cell signal,
Beyond yourself. Then stop and listen:
Nothing. Exactly what you need to hear.
from The Art of Stone Axes