I wake in wildwood: cool air slaps
my face, kinks my fingers into twigs.
Humpling from my goosedown bag,
I stir snuggled coals from last night’s fire,
drop fists of kindling in its mouth,
watch eager scarlet tongues leap out.
Minutes later I stoop with tongs,
grab a boiling pot, tip water through
a stick-speared pouch of coffee dust:
black ingots slip into an insulated cup.
I straighten up, breathe rising steam,
trickle fiery espresso down my throat.
I climb inside a hammock, stare vacantly
as clouds switch filters for the sun.
Thawing fingers start to scratch my pen
across a wrinkled page, try to mark the way
I reached the cosmos’ rim; not to blaze
the trail back but find this path another time.
Jazz can’t be explained, smiles Satch,
You either get it or you don’t.
Ah, yes… it’s like the nineteen-sixties:
if you remember you weren’t there.
I take a deep breath, realize kayaks and caffeine haven’t brought me here, words can’t map the Way.
Just head out from ego… first star to the right.
LOTH LORIEN AFTERNOON
“We worshiped trees and stones and sky
and sun and water.” – David Ignatow
A breeze trawls its wrist along
our rubber kayaks’s side
as we pin-prick our way across
the polished top of Edison Lake.
You smile at such light resistance,
recall last year’s ordeal when wind
roared and seized our craft,
tried to drive us through a sea
of snags onto the shore of knives.
We hove into Loth Lorien’s cove;
you leap out to raise Yak’s nose
above the hungry rocks, waves swirling
round your hips, a casual Celtic wash.
An afternoon full-moon begins to climb
above the Jeffrey pines. I tell you Demos,
moon of Mars, is only ten miles wide “Some moon!” you exclaim. “Some days,”
I reply, “I think I’m married to a Texan.”
“You’re married to a girl with scaly legs,”
you say and slather lotion on your shins.
“Eventually,” I sigh, “we’re all reduced
to nodding lizards strapped in wheelchairs.”
You ask me to knot a hook
in your new fishing line, plunge
your left hand in a jar of moss,
extract a ruberous worm.
I do so, hand you back the pole.
You sashay humming down the shore,
leave me staring at the little girl fate
never let me raise but in a lavish paradox
has let me live with most my life.
SHUSHING IN SEQUOIA
Gawky walking towards the woods, first time
on cross-country skiis, I venture out the cabin door.
Feels like first day in nursery school when I slipped
on sandbox-slickened floors in leather Red Goose shoes.
Also like a kid I’m over-bundled, sweating inside
longjohns and a parka while liberated breezes
whinny round a redwood’s knees, rake
my cheeks, turn my mustache into brittle chips.
On an uphill pull I swing my arms to overcome
King Gravity but at the crest the sovereign
switches sides, hurls me into arms of fluffy ghosts.
Patiently I realign my legs on three-inch slats,
shove two doilied spears into the ground,
clamber upright… cow-like… butt-end first.
As I glide downhill through a glade my will returns to toddler days, tries to counter every wobble with a lurch, ceaseless vigil just to keep my head above my chest.
Finally, plowing through a level grade,
my torso over steady scissoring legs.
Life slides from nursery shoes to wobbly skiis,
driving forward, dropping back, slipping,
falling, rising, always nudging toward the Now.
Friday afternoon I witness an explosion
near the Fashion Valley Mall:
teenage herds expanding quick
as blown-up plastic bags, bobbing heads
in low-slung cars lurching toward this
concentration camp for cash, freeways
webbing toward another cloned-out Rome.
I urge my car against the traffic flow,
shudder as my soul shakes free from
every generation’s need to congregate
and validate the latest form of Cool.
Thirty minutes down the road
my time machine deposits me inside
a land of blowing dust, acacia trees,
and bailed hay, a place where stallions
stamp and whinny, “Anyone available?”,
mares mince and whicker “Over here!”
I clean my Arab’s dirt-packed hooves,
turn him out, yell “Canter!”, let him shake off fancied predators.
Then I saddle up and ride, not into town, but like the Other Cowpoke toward the setting sun.
ZARAHAS ON THE TRACK
Afterward I thought about the way
I gathered in the reins, whispered
“canter…”, felt him LEAP into the sun,
LEAP again when I gripped tighter,
urged him “Go-Go-Go-Go-Go!”
I thought about the way wind cuffed
our ears as we leaned through the turns,
how despite his tiring legs
he sped up every time I chirped.
I thought about the way a red-tailed hawk
flew up beside the track, dropped a squirrel,
then crashed into a chain-link fence
to seize her squirming breakfast back.
I thought about my stallion’s shrinking list
of fears: sudden take-offs by road-runners, rabbits, squirrels, quails, crows;
how he couldn’t match fence-thrashing
with a pattern in his mind; how he
veered mid-gallop off the track,
haunches reaching deep for speed.
I thought about my german shepherd, collared to a pepper tree beside the track
with yellow bailing twine; how she barked
and lunged each time we galloped by,
not allowed to play her game of darting
at her favorite prey, nipping at his hocks.
I thought about the way Zarahas eased
his molars off the bit, raised his head
when I leaned back and sing-songed
“Eeeeasy canter, eeeeasy canter,”
how he geared down, rolled the bit
upon his tongue, lightly clinked it
on his teeth with every buoyant stride.
I thought about the way we slanted off
the track each lap to leap a phone-pole jump,
sometimes taking off just right, sometimes
half-a-stride too near, too far, always
getting over, never a refusal or a fall.
I thought about the way his hot-blood
finally kindled through damp tinder
of his Lazy Arab Stallion Syndrome;
how his front hooves started jigging
after two fast miles of gallop, canter, trot,
then walk; how we raced all-out for one
entire lap, finished with a furious rush,
cut two seconds from his record for the mile.
A curving track of sand and dirt
shimmers through the dawn of summer fog.
The scent of other horses tumbles past
as my Arabian and I charge up a bank
of river-bottom cottonwoods,
halt beside the entrance gate.
I feel Zarahas fill his lungs then launch
a lusty call across the mile track.
Three ravens crouching in the top
of an acacia swivel sleepy heads.
He bellows “Here I am, your friendly stallion!”
freezes, pricks his ears, waits for a reply.
Two equine responses filter through
the haze: “Come on over, big boy,”
coos a smooth soprano. “Get lost,
buster!” quickly baritones another.
Zarahas turns beside the iron latch,
doesn’t flinch when I lean over,
krrraaang its rusty bar. He pushes
through the gate, half-turns,
sidesteps back so I can clang it shut.
I squeeze my heels, make a kissing sound;
in one stride Raa leaps to full gallop. I doubt racing animates this surge;
more like “That soprano waits for me
behind those pepper trees!”
My fingers lightly grip the leather reins,
one rough, one polished side; then Raa
grabs the bit, sparks an arc of power
that pulses down his pumping neck,
passes through me to his legs.
I draw in my gut, lodge my butt
in closer contact with his spine.
We nod in ancient rhythm:
seahorse, merman float
through morning mist and time.
His size eclipses summer sky
as I approach in riding boots,
check his girth, rest my left hand
on his classic withers hump.
What tribe first took the measure
of a horse by stacking flattened palms
along its side? Did they start
up here or at the ground? “Seventeen if he’s an inch,” the owner proudly boasts. “That’s two hands taller
than my Arab stallion,” I respond,
strain to raise my left foot
to the iron dangling by his side.
The gelding quivers, braces,
as I haul my torso to his back.
Perhaps thoughts of racing force the sigh
I hear as more than jockey height
and weight now settle on his spine.
He’s years from jangling bells
and clanging gates when he leapt forward, breezed along the backstretch,
fought through webs of weariness
that thickened down the stretch.
Each time he ran with ecstasy,
finished with the pack, reinforced
his herd instinct but doomed his life
of racing and retirement at stud.
He can’t understand why he never gets
to run all-out around an oval track,
now stands for sale as a hunter,
jumper, dressage, pleasure horse.
I touch heels to his side, ease him
forward in a walk. He arcs his neck
as if to show his towering height
contains everything a horse could need
except, of course, the tools for making
other horses without winner’s speed.