Category Archives: Poetry

Cold solace

Science tells us that the fallen tree
makes a sound.

It doesn’t matter if we’re there.
It doesn’t.

The branches’ sudden arcuate course
through whistled air,

the sharp crack of limb against limb,
the sickly pop of rotted roots

and then the final sodden thud
trunk on duff-strewn ground

all loose air pressure wave upon
propagating wave

whether any reaches a human ear
doesn’t enter into it.

The birds will hear,
and the mice.

The worms and the earless snakes
will hear the impact whole-bodied.

And anyway, were a human there
he might not notice.

Beauty quietly goes about its business
though our backs are turned,

waves at sea swell sublime
with no ship within a hundred miles

brilliant, complicated crystals
grow a mile beneath our feet.

It comforts me, our
irrelevance to beauty.

The stars will still wheel overhead
without us,

the sunrise clouds as vermilion,
rivers still in lazy swoops across the flats,

a tease of verdin yellow
against the creosote

flash floods carve deep hieroglyphs
into the living rock.

Mojave River

I would drink every dram of you, were you
not secreted away beneath all these
ten thousand years’ alluvium. I would
wade into you up to my chest, my brow.
Your stony countenance doesn’t fool me.
I know what flows beneath. I know the flood
concealed so artfully, that now and then
wells up like wounded lovers’ brimming eyes.
A day will come, and soon, when the dam bursts,
your empty bed a passionate torrent,
and I will warm my fingers by the fire
I aim to kindle in your lovely wrack.
That day will come, and so today I am
content here, a pale breeze’s slight caress.

Listening to the coyote

There was something about the noise
he made tonight
that got to me.

Something about the curdled yowl,
what seemed insensate rage
that came choking out
a rising-toned flood of staccato yelps

Or something I imagined
about his eyes, gleaming cold
and furious,
pinning some imagined quarry.

It is his nature
to prey on weaker things:
I understand that.
It is wrong to ascribe to him
a moral sense,
a willing violation
of some imagined ethical code.
It asks too much of him.

But tonight it was too much.
His manic yelps, incomprehensible
and fervid, sneering sniffle snarls,
his coiled-spring choking throat
as if his claws scraped blackboard.

Tonight it was too much,
and I spent the evening
listening to the coyote instead,
a clear healthy song to wash away the debate.

End of summer

For seven days, chest-tightening melancholy
as the eastern sky purples.

We made it through another one,
little dog. The desert floor no longer sears our feet.

These seasons flicker by too fast,
bright and dark frames in a time-lapse film.

Last night I drove to Twentynine Palms,
scanning the road for deep rain pools.

A flood once caught me unawares.
By the time I saw it it was up to the undercarriage.

In the Mojave there are floods of water,
of air and lifted sand, of fire, of memory.

You have to be careful. Your wheels will slip
and you’ll find yourself facing the way you came.

Oakland

At 80th and East 14th, ragged tents line the sidewalk.
Last time I was there, they weren’t.
Comfortable men talk over coffee at the Alameda Natural Grocery:
a friend flipped a 2-bedroom for 750K.
New logos have bloomed on the high-rises.
A decade since I left, almost,
and still I imagine I could walk up Oak Street
open an unseen door, and come home
to 1993.
On the ridgeline, a path I’ve walked for decades
still grows manzanita and western leatherwood.
You can twist the latter’s branches backward
until they point in the direction they grew from.
On East 14th, a man my age looks at me.
I look back at him. We are the same,
though my exile is more comfortable by far.

Your grandchildren will ask

Your grandchildren will ask
how we could possibly have been so blind.

Your grandchildren will ask
what it must have been like
to live in a world with tigers,
sea turtles, to live in a world
where the tide line wrack
was made of wood and kelp.

Your grandchildren will ask
what the hell we were all thinking.

Your grandchildren will ask
why we didn’t just shut
the coal plants down,
what we were doing
with all that electricity
we bought with their future.

Your grandchildren will ask
why we put potatoes and oranges
in plastic bags.

Your grandchildren will ask
what it was like
to walk into a wild landscape
and not see the other side.

Your grandchildren will ask
what the fuck was wrong with us.

Your grandchildren will ask
how we could possibly have thought
it was ever a good idea
to bring their parents into the world.

Crossing the San Gabriel River

All this is temporary.
The slick-slant concrete walls
will fail to flood control
in three days, or three hundred years.

The mountains grow four inches in a century.
We drive atop their alluvial fans,
a layer of debris two miles thick
a hundred wide.

It had to get here somehow.

One flood or the next
and this algae-slicked seep
will jump its banks,
add all these lives to its sediment

The restaurants and rocking chairs,
tires and transmission poles
freeway slabs and fire hydrants
surface streets and swimming pools

The signs of nail salons and the signs of urgent care facilities
curbs cars and concrete,
territory contested by feral dogs
and adolescent men,
county lines and area codes

all of it entombed in silt and sand;
from buried asphaltum it came, and unto
buried asphaltum it will return,

and the ghosts of dire wolves will stalk the surface.

 

Some folks may have the luxury

Some folks may have the luxury
to remember what Kissinger did.
Some folks may have the luxury
to be too far removed
from some othered authenticity
to forget the artists rounded up into the stadium,
the young women thrown out
of helicopter doors above the ocean,
their newborns newly adopted by junta families.

Some folks may have the luxury
of the barrier of maquila shanties,
heat waves fetid off the border creeks
to block their vision of the value in the Imperfect Now.

Some folks may have the luxury
of empathy.

Some folks may have the luxury
to be consigned to extinction
by Saudi princes, Honduran generals
for declaring
that they are hurting right now.

Some folks may have the luxury
of Workfare.

Some folks may have the luxury
of historical memory.

Some folks may have the luxury
of sight.

Salt Creek

Breathe.

Strands of gray-green Ramalina lichen, torn treetop lace, fall at my feet. I crane my neck backward, scan the sky. Only the swaying spruce and Douglas fir, the crash of surf seven hundred fifty feet below, the distant peeping calls of bald eagles.

I would drape myself in western sword fern, weave for myself a beard of moss and liverwort, exhale mist and sneeze sea spray. I would curl myself into the fallen hemlock, insinuate myself into the vertical root walls of downed cedar, I would send my component amoeboid cells to ease into the landscape whole.

The impossible blue green sea, and bright eyes pop out of it. I slip on algae-slicked rock, fall hard. Instructions from the world: sit here. Orange sea star sleeps at sunset.

Woodpecker drums on mushroom-scented snag. Staircases of white bracket fungus. Logs sawn to clear the trail: the smell of my grandfather’s workbench. Peer close at the disheveling bark.

It is the lichen’s lesson, and the kelp’s: hold fast. Hold fast.

Would you say that syringe was made of filk?

When you come to outer space with me
Oh, our destination’s gonna be
A planet with huge, parasitic mammals
Proboscises where their foreheads should be

They will pierce our skulls in a hurry
Blend our brains and suck out the slurry
When we’re taken out by the furry with the syringe on top
Watch that syringe and see how it glistens
We’d be safe if only we’d listened
Far beyond the aid of physicians and our eyes will pop!

Their eyes are yellow, their suction tubes brown
And stuck to our heads like a tether
With fur so soft that it looks like down
Though it’s definitely hair and not feather

We’ll just stand there shakin’ and blinkin’
On beyond the point where we’re thinkin’
Till we’re spent and it’s finished drinkin’ and it lets us drop
Oh that horrifying furry with the syringe on the top!

The Swainson’s thrush

You style yourself a jaded sort,
your world-view walled up tight.
You see your world: a simple place
all cast in black and white.
You think that way? Your weltanschaung
is but a house of cards,
for just one song of Swainson’s thrush
will blast it all to shards.
The Swainson’s thrush: a fearsome beast
six inches beak to tail
no human thought so leaden-bound
its song cannot derail.
You’ll know it by its size and shape
(the birders call it “jizz”)
and by its doubt-dispatching song
that says “life, simply, is.”
That spiral song emerges
from the thrush’s speckled breast.
It echoes through the conifers
(where, typically, they nest)
a scale of tones that rises
as if headed out to space
until it cannot yet be heard
but in a better place.
Go, lie out on the forest floor.
Let fog drip in your eyes.
Watch Ramalina lichen swirl
beneath the gray-churned skies
and linger there. Eventually
that song will ring above.
And then: just you, the Swainson’s thrush,
the woods, and fog, and love.
The Swainson’s thrush: a fearsome beast
six inches beak to tail
no human thought so leaden-bound
its song cannot derail.
You’ll know it by its size and shape
(the birders call it “jizz”)
and by its doubt-dispatching song
that says “life, simply, is.”

Big Morongo Canyon

It should be enough for any life, a moment like this
the high clouds forming and dispersing as I watch
through a canopy of cottonwood leaves,
caterpillar-laced and bee leaf-cut
male desert orangetips rapt in their pretty duels
a couple miles down Big Morongo Canyon.
It should be enough for any life.
The slow creek sings trickle and the wind
makes catspaws in the far bank’s tall grass.
Breathe deep the sweet mesquite blossom,
breathe deep the smell of old water seeing first light
a slow glide down out of the tules
the breeze’s trace across the back of your neck
like a lover’s fingertips.

What she asked; what I did not say

thin dark hand on mine
nails tracing tendons
she looked up.
“Why do you like me?”

my heart a well,
dark bottom unseen.
sounds of tossed pebbles fade
long before they might surface.

now a swift red-tail hawk
stripes the bottomless blue sky.
her eyes scan each rock
shining brilliant dark brown.

I would stand with her
I would stand with her
I would stand with her
and fill this void with stones.