First, a comment on this week's title, a restatement of what used to be our national motto, E Pluribus Unum (from many, one), a sentiment that served us well from our founding, until the 1950s when Republicans who controlled congress decided we weren't worthy of our mutual trust and ought to trust their god instead. It occurs to me in this political season that they are still at it, dividing us at every opportunity, shoving their own shepherd-god into our face at every opportunity, on our currency, into our pledge of allegiance, into our textbooks and into our politics.
That said, my photos this week are a variety of black and white scenes, which, in their diversity, present a more unified narrative of where I've been and what I like.
I'm still not happy with my new poems so, while I'll use a few this week, mostly I'll be pulling old stuff from my travel book, Places and Spaces
. The book is an accounting of five extended drives I made through different parts of the county, including straightforward narratives of where I went and what I did, interspersed with more lyrical (I hope) reactions to what I saw.
There are five extended poems in the book, covering five different trips. The poems are titled On the Cusp of Confederate Winter
, To the Rockies
, Sleeping with Andy Devine
, Silver City and Beyond
. The Book also includes two short pieces, an opening poem, Well Begun
, and a closing, And in the End, Well Done.
As usual, the book is available wherever eBooks are sold, this one priced, at least on Amazon, $3.99, cheap at half the price.
an itch for the road again
Federico Garcia Lorca
Christmas on the Hudson
from Places and Spaces - On the Cusp of Confederate Winter
from Places and Spaces - On the Cusp of Confederate Winter
The God Who
from Places and Spaces - On the Cusp of Confederate Winter
The Recurring March Dream
from Places and Spaces - Ruidoso
Early Morning Poem
from Places and Spaces - To the Rockies
The Wonder Woman
from Places and Spaces - Sleeping with Andy Devine
from Places and Spaces - Silver City and Beyond
The Art of Holding On
National Prayer Breakfast
warming my tortugas on a wet, windy day
Promises Are For Liars
This is from last week.
Reading through Places and Spaces
book of travel poems,
this week has left me nostalgic for the days when I could just climb into my car and go. These days, I can't do it so much, the days doing 400 to 500 miles a day are past. Aching bones limit me to only 100 to 200 miles. Takes a long time to get anywhere at that rate, especially when you're starting from central Texas.
an itch for the road again
good times on the road
and feeling lonely for the road
to get into my car and drive,
west, to the mountains and forests
of New Mexico and Colorado,
nostalgic for my time there, University
of New Mexico, Peace Corps Training during
the fall and winter of 1964, the camaraderie
of extraordinary people in a place like I had never been
before, from the flat cotton fields of South Texas
to mountains and forests all the colors of a crazed artist's
palette and in recent years, Colorado and the grand majesty
of the Rockies, snow capped, the forests,pine and shimmering gold
aspen, driving through the canyons and heights and switchbacks
as the mountain and the road rises and the view from lookouts along the way,
the lowlands, so recently visited. spread out like landscape of another world,
and the narrow gauge railroad, Durango to Silverton, riding the rails through
dense forests and the edges of mountain walls, following
the Animas River as its waters tumble past, down through forests
and mountain gorges, the last time our ride, as winter slips in, snow
on the thing passes and on all sides, and...
I have an itch to travel again, to be where I'm not again, a highway cowboy
riding the asphalt trails again...
I start poems from my library this week with Federico Garcia Lorca
, from Poet in New York
, first published in 1940. My edition in in the eighth printing by Noonday Press in 1995, with translation by Greg Simon
and Steven F. White
Born in 1898, Lorca, the great Spanish poet, playwright and theater director, was murdered by Nationalists at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. He was 38 years old at the time of his death.
Christmas on the Hudson
That gray sponge!
That sailor whose throat was just cut.
That great river.
Those dark boundaries of the breeze.
That keen blade, my love, that keen blade.
The four sailors wrestled with the world.
With that sharp-edged world that all eyes see.
With the world we couldn't traverse without horses.
One, a hundred, a thousand sailors
wrestling with the world of keen-edged velocities,
unaware that the world
was alone in the sky.
The world alone in the lonely sky.
Hills of hammers and the thick grass's triumph.
Teeming anthills and coins in the mire.
The world alone in the sky,
and the air where all the villages end.
The earthworm sang its terror of the wheel,
and the sailor whose was slashed
sang to the water-bear that held him close;
and they were all singing - alleluia.
I stood all night on scaffolding in the boroughs,
leaving my blood on stucco projects,
helping the sailors lower their ripped sails
And I stand with empty hands in the murmur of the river's mouth.
It doesn't matter if every minute
a newborn child waves the little branches off its veins,
or if a newborn viper, uncoiling beneath the branches,
calms the blood lust of those who watch the naked man.
What matters is this: emptied space. Lonely world. River's mouth.
Not dawn. Idle fable.
This alone: river's mouth.
Oh, my gray sponge!
Oh, my throat just cut open!
Oh, my great river!
Oh, my breeze's boundaries that are not mine!
Oh, the keen blade of my love, oh, the cutting blade!
New York, December 27, 1929
First, these are several "moments" from On the Cusp of Confederate Winter
, first of the poems from Places and Spaces
. The trip took me on a roundabout route through the southern states to Columbus, Ohio, where I picked up my wife, then to Virginia and the Blue Ridge Parkway and back home through more southern states.
The first problem with going anywhere from Texas is getting out of Texas, requiring the better part of a day's travel. On this trip I made it from San Antonio to Little Rock before calling it a day. This moment was on Interstate-30, between Dallas and Little Rock.
pulling a horse trailer,
alone in the back
golden main and tail
in the wind,
brown eyes watching as I pass
Later, still from the first day...
slips slowly from the air
to land on a fence post,
sees all with yellow eyes
that view all that moves
And, as the day comes to an end, still in Texas...
though a forest
of orange leaves
Finally past Texarkana, a small city with the Texas/Arkansas state line running down the middle of main street...
lakes and ponds
a crane passes over the road
long neck outstretched
a dark shadow
against a nearly dark sky
Night falls in Arkansas...
in my rearview,
the road like a tunnel
through the dark,
tall, thick forest
on either side
The second day, Little Rock to Nashville...
I wanted to write about
the colors, gold and yellow
and the red-brown color the
used to call
Indian red or Indian brown
or something like that
and in the middle
of all that bold and yellow
ad red-brown Indian whatever,
some low brush that's flaming
scattered among the trees
like little fires
burning in the woods
and I wanted to write about
the flock of ducks that flew over
in perfect V formation,
near enough to the ground
so that each duck could be seen
as an individual,
close enough to the ground
that I could hear the flapping
of their wings
and the mutter-quacks among
and I wanted to write
about the hills,
reminding me of the
hill country of home,
but soft hills, none of the hard face
of caliche and cactus and mesquite
forest-hills,, trunks climbing close
I wanted to write about the sun
and how it lit the colors of the trees
and covered the sky
from mid-afternoon, bringing shadow
and darker colors of the night
The beautiful day marred in my mind because after two days I could not find national news anywhere.
The third day took me from Nashville to Charleston, West Virginia...
the forest colors
the yellows gone
as we have journeyed
and the gold is starting
to fall as well, a shower of
as I stand by the river
And further on, past Knoxville...
the colors now
are mostly shades of red and
on a hill
surrounded on four sides
a horse enjoys a pasture
all his own
in a dell
green as spring,
a small church,
white clapboard with a white
rising twice the church's height
on a hill behind the church
rows of tombstones
in rank and file,
the hillside like steps
to an afterlife that,
if we are all lucky, would look
exactly like this green little dell
and this white little church
Finally into Virginia (I haven't mentioned before, by my dog always traveled with me) ...
I stop at a park
just across the state line
so Reba can walk and pee
just across the highway
line a ridge, dark cut-outs
against the sky
Approaching the highway that will take me to Charleston for the night...
the road rises in front of me
bordered as always by red and brown forest,
at the top,
a silver-dollar moon
on a pale blue sky
Next from my library, two short poems by Cyril Dabydeen
, from the anthology Breaking Silence, an Anthology of Contemporary Asian-American Poets
. The book was published in 1983 by The Greenfield Review Press.
Born in Guyana, the poet and short story writer has published six books of poetry and one of short stories. In addition to poetry and short story collections in progress, he was also working on a novel at the time the anthology was published.
As I am not
a snake slithering
a ball rolls into
thick grass -
a grandfather whom I
about to have a stroke
A jolt and a cry -
grandmother's collapse next:
the sick among us
And amidst the sameness
a grandfather transmigrates
in my ears -
being too young to remember
I salve memory
to the music of the spheres -
wishing he familiar earth
to spin everlastingly
an uncle tries his best
to break out in madness
an aunt reshapes here life
with three children and more
a mother carries in her womb
her thwarted desire
she stitches portions of her ski
with each new child being born
I am somewhere i the loud notes
throbbing in the old brain
I haunt the folds of night
insisting that all is not well
I collect the discarded bones
I stop the gaps of my nightmare
I bang on the empty drums
Back to On the Cusp of Confederate Winter
, the longest of the five poems in my travel book, Places and Spaces
. Earlier we left the poem in Charleston, West Virginia. The new day's trip would take me to Columbus, Ohio, where I would pick up my wife at the airport so that she could continue the journey with me.
About an hour out of Charleston I got lost, knew the road I was supposed to be on, but couldn't find it. Eventually I succumbed to the "ask directions" imperative at a little country store, finding for my troubles that I was on the right road, just heading in the wrong direction for about 25 miles.
I follow the road,
a narrow two lane that twists
with a river north,
on the river side, shacks,
square little homes
with junk cars
and several hundred dollars
worth of scrap metal
and on the other side of the road,
great brick houses
with wide green lawns
and horse stables
I lost a full hour being lost in West Virginia, the another couple of hours in Ohio because of their ridiculous speed limits, arriving finally, looking to find a strange airport in a strange dark city on strange dark streets...
In Columbus, after four days on the road, we decide on a rest day...
gray and overcast
rain hanging back
like the word that gets caught
on the time of your tongue,
there, but not there,
waiting in the wings,
waiting for its cue
to bring on the storm
Spending the day downtown, visiting museums and the crush of huge, churches that looked like they were dropped out the Gothic dreams of the 18th century, all as ugly as the hell they were trying to get
the faithful to avoid...
finally,and by accident , as you might expect,
we find ourselves on High Street,
right in the middle of Short North,
the arts district, but the galleries
all seem to be closed...
so we settle
for a late lunch at Betty's Food & Spirits,
named, it seems likely, after Bettie Page, whose
photos, along with other mid-century pin-up girls,
paper the walls, the most vivid dreams
of my 14-year-old days and nights
revisit me as I enjoy a bowl of beef vegetable soup,
a bit thin of broth for my taste,
but full of vegetables, with thick chewy bread
Finally, on my sixth day out, back down through Ohio and through West Virginia again to Roanoke.
when I passed this way
two days ago, it was dead-black dark
and I couldn't see anything but the moving island
my headlights threw ahead of me
today I appreciate the tree covered hills and vistas
as we curve around the mountain side
though the rain has stopped
most of the color on the hills is gone
and what remains
is draped in drab by the overcast sky
In Virginia, we take a short cut that will take us on a more direct route to Roanoke...
a smaller,slower road
with dips and turns and twists
that take us across a river
then alongside it for twenty miles
people here are different from people
in Texas who post the name of every river and creek
whether flowing water or dry that every road,
paved, caliche,or blowing dust crosses - we value water
for its scarcity and want a name everywhere it might be found
even if only a couple of days a year
here even rivers have no posted name
this river, wide, with white-water rapids
deserves a name we decide,
even if only a name we made up as we passed
"a river with no name," we naming it
"El Rio Sin Nombre"
As we travel, the temperature dips and fog rises from the hollows
and slides over the mountain tops...
a white house
on a hill
surrounded by leaf-bare trees
and behind them,
showing bits and pieces through the fog
on the road,
short, thick-foliaged pines standing,
crowded side by side like spectators
standing shoulder to shoulder, watching
a passing parade
or, I think of the hundreds of clay soldiers
lined in rank after rank
buried with the Chinese emperor
fog drifts around them
and in that shifting fog, the soldiers
seem to move,
coming alive wile their emperor still lies dead
in the dust
In Roanoke for a day of museums, mostly not so impressed by what we see...
except for the homeless man
in the corner of one of the galleries,
very realistic, but not real, a representation of reality,
an essay on invisibility
as museum visitor after museum visitor (myself included)
walked past, near stepping over him, without seeming to see him,
stopped and looked at paintings hanging over
the space where "he" slept and not seeing,
as if the homeless lived in an alternate universe,
unseen and unknown
to us until they panhandle us or scream and rant
on a street corner
We end our stay in Roanoke the next day with a trip to Jefferson's second home and plantation. Acting as his own architect, he created the kind of octagonal structure he preferred, with wide verandas front and back, with columns giving it the appearance of a Greek temple on some high mountain...
from his grand veranda Jefferson
could look down on the nearest of his
still holding on
despite the lateness
of the season;
a gentle slope of close-cut grass;
a creek running fast; another pasture,
tobacco fields in Jefferson's time,
a crop he despised but planted anyway
because he needed the cash;
a forest of poplar trees broken
by a winding crushed-shell drive
around the side and in the back,
slave quarters, not for the cultivated eyes
of the gentlemen and ladies of the
Commonwealth of Virginia
A slave holder as he was a tobacco farmer, hating both but doing both anyway because he needed the money from both to keep his holdings and lifestyle viable.
Now, here's James Richardson
, from his book, By the Numbers, Poems and Aphorisms
. A National Book Award Finalist, it was published in 2010 by Copper Canyon Press. A poet and critic, Richardson is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Princeton University where he has taught since 1980.
The God Who
It was the small gods we talked to
before words, though soon enough
we forgot, and sadly, that what dawn
or the shrine of hips made the heart do
The god of a particular
slow bend in the river, his friend
god of the white boats swung around it,
gods of moderately impressive rocks,
of spots warm where someone was just sitting,
of the deep sharp scents of shoes, of sounds
whose direction is unclear, of silver linings:
they appreciated whatever small appreciations
came their way and, ignored,
were not so much vengeful
as doubtful in that dark early world,
where the workload, if it can be called that,
of their divinely inefficient bureaucracy,
left plenty of time to enjoy the specialties
of their fellows, god of just sitting around,
god of the nasty slider, of low-battery gleeps,
of wine that gets better by the glass,
the god (the high god) of too excited to sleep.
Actually, with considerable power
over one thing or another, or a couple - a book maybe,
tennis, unusual salads - but only average
at, say, getting lovers or starting a car,
they were a lot like us. Distinctions, in fact,
were not rigidly maintained. it being proverbially
difficult to be sure you're immortal
or that you're are not. There was intermarriage,
bargaining, and respectful confusion (once
language got going)
about what constituted worship
and what was just delighted
saying of the names of things,
which persists. So as for the god
of the squeak of clean hair,
of your hand out the car window
wind-lifted, of the small shade under hat brims
and not excluding
the banned gods of leaf-fires and tobacco,
oh and definitely including
she of the coffee-breath and fine cold hands
who says Sit down friend and let's see,
let's just see
, and certainly
my other god, he of Least Resistance
who decrees what is going to happen anyway,
who listens only to prayers that end
Let all be as Thou whilst
, who grants
only my wish to believe in him,
and with the possible exception only of the god of making a list
of all the other gods, who gets distracted and forgets so many
and suddenly the universe is His and only His,
This is the third and final collection of excerpts from On the Cusp of Confederate Winter
, first and longest of the five travel poems from my book Places in Spaces
Leaving from Roanoke, we set out on the return trip back to San Antonio. The plan for the day is to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, 233 miles of it, following the bony ribs of the Appalachians to Asheville, North Carolina. It will be an all-day drive, three of us now, my wife Dee who I picked up in Columbus, my constant canine companion, Reba, and me...
through the curves
and thick forests
of poplar and pine,
leaves falling like
we begin to climb
a half dozen
along the roadside,
by our passing
a fat deer
I see ahead
leaps across the road
and through the trees
We started the day ahead of a cold front rushing down from Lake Erie, for a while we stayed ahead, but every time we stopped for a picture and to give Reba a pee-break the front passed over us and for a while
we would be in its midst...
we are enfolded
by the rain
and the fog
and the forest all around us
Stopping often, the storm finally gets far enough ahead that we can't drive out of it.
across green and gold ills
with little white houses
and broken-down barns
and church steeples
and yellow school buses
parked behind schools closed
for the weekend
at 3,700 feet
is 37 degrees,
a fierce cold wind
blows through the wooded valleys
and across the high crests,
it billows my Levi jacket
out from my back like blue wings,
almost lifting me over the edge
the chill factor is in the teens
After a night in Asheville, our next stop is Birmingham, heading south to get out of the bad weather. But first, we planned one last stretch of mountain vistas across the Great Smoky Mountains. Then the weather got worse over night, much worse than we expected...
during the night
has dusted white
across the lower elevations
higher, thick dark clouds
wrap around the mountains,
covering them like a dirty white blanket
Upon the advice of a Waffle House waitress, we avoided the heights and went straight away between the snow powdered peaks to the lower lands of North Carolina and Alabama.
but found forests instead,
still with all the colors of fall,
turning more and more to green
as pines begin to infiltrate, then dominate,
tall thin giants, straight
as fence posts with bushy crowns
at the very top
A night in Birmingham, then on to Lafayette, Louisiana, through Alabama and Mississippi along the way...
lunch at a little truck stop
in Pearl County, Mississippi,
three county deputy sheriffs
at the table next to us,
all black, making me think of my first
trip through the South on a bus
in the spring of 1966,
white and colored waiting rooms at the depots,
white and colored restrooms, white
and colored water fountains, illegal since the passage
of the Civil Rights Act of a year earlier,
but lifelong habits break hard,
people still segregating themselves
because that's the way they knew
but hard or not, habits change
and what could not be imagined,
like black deputy sheriffs in rural Mississippi
Our last day, Lafayette to San Antonio. I don't have much to say about Louisiana, and what I do have to say is not good. Friends speak of its beauty...
I see that,
but I see the ugliness as well,
behind the facade,
like a middle-aged beauty queen
showing the sag of body and spirit
that comes from too many nights closing
too may bars with too many men
I love the food and the music of the accent,
but it is not a place I could ever live
And finally home, 3,986 miles, 11 days, 9 states, we pick up Peanut, the small dog we left behind with friends and head for a couple of days of rest...
Reba pees on her favorite tree,
Peanut pees on herself
as she usually does when excited,
and cat fusses, wants us all
to go to bed so she can sleep
on my nap
Next from my library, this poem by Paula Rankin
, from her book, Augers
, published in 1981 by the Carnegie-Mellon University Press. I couldn't find information on the poet on the web except for her obituary showing her death in 1997 at the age of 57.
The Recurring March Dream
Bored with being snowbound, the wind
picked up anything it found and threw it:
a garbage can's lid landed on our windshield,
splattered as a giant's dinner plate
with something green, dried, fibrous.
Everywhere the air was spiked with sharp edges -
gravel, branches - all headed for us,
while mate-less shoes that had lain in ditches
or months shuffled again with that awful hope
I had seen lifting shoes at the Home
for Abandoned Children. I wanted to stop
and try them on to see if his was the time
I would replace someone else's body,
but we were running too late to give ourselves over
to wind. That night I dreamed again the bloody
trail that is always missing between air
and ground's collection of shoes, shirts, dwellings.
I dreamed again that some things, like love,
were too heavy to lift, that wind would save
its re-scatterings and erasures for things
that left empirical holes when up-rotted
or thrown down, that it would not waste
itself on us, for whom no needle, thread, paste
is needed when we open the air and step out.
The next poem from Places and Spaces
based on a spur of the moment visit to Ruidoso, a city in southern New Mexico I had never been to. Not especially impressed by Ruidoso, I extended the trip to places beyond.
What you see driving through northwest Texas is a lot of empty space and what there is that isn't empty is often desolate and abandoned. Past Pecos, you come to Olna, 15 to 20 structures along the highway, all abandoned and in ruin...
no sign of life in Olna
but a single tarantula making
its creepy crawly way
across the highway, a cheering sight
this fuzzy black nightmare,
extinct now where I grew up,
along with the horned toad and red-wing
blackbirds, a survivor where little else finds
Moving on after a night in Ruidoso, passing Mescalero...
across the road
from the Tribal Center
2 Apache boys play King of the Hill,
rolling over and over each other
in the rose-colored dust
on concrete abutments
along the highway tell
the tribe's story
which of the stories
do the boys
the down slope
from Mescalero to Tularosa
opens up between wooded
mountains sides to the desert below,
desert grasses so dry
they are white in the morning sun,
like a wide ribbon of white sand
between the mountains
The drive through the white grass desert producing little of interest until Carrizozo, I skirt the Valley of Fire,
a wide crater-valley created by an ancient volcano...
a jumble of big, black lava boulders
across the valley
a vision of hell
when the fire goes out
Finally, day five, on the way home...
but all around dark clouds,
lightning flashing within the clouds,
blossoming pools of soft white light through
in the east, a small break in the clouds,
like a knothole in a fence and through it
the peach-orange glow of the rising sun
And home, depending on Dairy Queen stops, less than 4 hours.
is my next poet. His poem is from his book Sinking Creek
, published by The Lyons Press in 1998. Born in 1931 in South Bend, Indiana, the poet died in 2007. A winner of many awards and honors, he was a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.
Early Morning Poem
Mightily detained and allured
I've listened to music all night,
Bix and Tram to dispel austerity,
Beckhet to inform the manner,
Wild Bill Davidson, then
Messiaen, Hayden for grace
and comeliness, a little
Chopin for continuity, two hours
ob Bruckner and Schumann
for the last of the wine. By two,
everything thinning and thickening, ragged
space at the edges of things, the sofa
billowing four inches off
the floor, the air
gone milky, I stand
at the door staring across
the lawn at the bristling landscapes
to the north. I imagine
I move out, accompanied,
the circling Bear apace, the Hunter
brandishing his bow. The dogs
which have barked all night
fall silent, and then the sun
squirms from a black seed
onto the highest comb of the farthest
peak, and all the time I've been coming
closer, wondering how to announce
myself, afraid I'll choke
on a clot of voice. Everything
is late beyond late, tonight
this music has been something
of an answer, the dense
speechless collisions, the mind
delicately bellowing from its fixed
centers. When I turn back
into the room I hear strings
sonorous in the corners, tympani
like something bearing
on the doors, and no voice to trouble me.
Back to Places and Spaces
, with selections from the third poem, To the Rockies
, a trip to Denver. As usual, I drove with my canine companion until we got to Denver where my wife flew in to meet us. After a couple of days in Denver, Dee flew back home while Reba and I headed back several days to home.
As usual, the first day is about the 500 miles it takes to get our of Texas.
with twin colts -
on a green field,
then a gathering
of buzzards, fifteen, at least,
on a little hill on the side of the road
so see them together like this
with no carrion
the Iraan/Sheffield exit,
I look south
toward the Big Bend park,
the Chisos mountains -
just a smudge on the horizon
Later, approaching Fort Stockton, the wind turbines turning, curves and angles combined, clean and white, standing tall and twirling atop the mesas all around, beautiful as any art. To the north a mesa...
re-formed by wind and rain
for thousands of years
to resemble a beast
complete with erect nipple
by the blue West Texas sky
The second day, another 500 miles from Roswell...
after about 40 miles
I look behind,
a long straight road,
As a strong wind blows across the road...
little twisters cross brown fields
on both sides of the highway,
most throwing up clouds of dust
that move with the wind, but one,
a smaller one, forms a perfect funnel
about five feet across, keeping
its shape up to a hundred or more feet
above the ground
a tumbleweed the size of a beach ball
blows in front of me, seems
to pace the car for several seconds
then crosses the road
as we cross into Colorado,
the winter grass is almost white,
the almost white off the sand on gulf beaches,
broken here and there by red barns
like red umbrellas on a vast beach
that has no sea
Just Pueblo, first news on the radio of the severe winter storm that's on its way...
as I approach Colorado Springs
I see black storm clouds
pouring over the mountain crests
I enter the front of the storm
as I leave the city
rain, sleet,snow and fog
all at once and in alternating bursts
At the end of a very long day, approaching Denver...
looking out my window
I can see miles away the tall buildings
of downtown fade in and out of view
a rain and snow clouds rise and fall
In Denver the fourth day, I, as usual, look for a coffeehouse and a New York Times...
from the coffeehouse window
I see a small boy climb into the back seat
of his family's sedan
closes his door
a conversation with his mother
in the front seat
a moment passes
the car does not move
the boy's door opens and a
snowball drops from the
On the fifth day, enjoying the open street mall in downtown Denver...
the sun rises
awakens a blue crystal day
the Rockies, covered in snow
from foothills to peaks,
in their white
On the sixth day, homeward bound, Dee in her airplane, the dog and I starting the drive home, a westerly course, gradually ascending to the two mile high Vail Pass, then descending for over a hundred miles to Grand Junction.
a turn south
and a faraway view of the Rockies,
looking like billowy white clouds,
white like fresh laundry hung in the sun to dry
in a line across
a snowy slope,
each following the tail of the other,
at the head of this strung-out regiment, a bull,
the leader, knows where to go and when to go there
and two or three miles
down the road
elk scatter among
a stand of pines,
pushing aside snow and pine needles
at ten thousand feet snow melt
sloshes down the rocky mountain side in a torrent
at eleven thousand,
thick icicles, long, long as a tall man,
hang from overhands on the canyon walls
Through Silverton and down the mountain to Durango for the night...
at the crest
a big horn sheep
stands by the road
and watches me pass
his territory, these rugged mountains,
and not my own
And the last day, passing El Paso in the very early morning, a full day's drive back to San Antonio.
through the black night sky
the air is desert chill
a pink thread
on the east horizon
suggests the coming of a rising
the pink thread widens
a shadowing light spreads
from the north foothills
a coyote howls
This short poem is by Nikki Giovanni
, from her book My House
, published in 1983 by Quill.
The Wonder Woman
(A New Dream - for Stevie Wonder)
dreams have a way
of tossing and turning themselves
around and the times
make requirements that we dream
real dreams for example
i wanted to be
a sweet inspiration in my dreams
of my people but the times
require that i give
myself willingly and become
a wonder woman
[29 sep 71]
Next, selections from Sleeping with Andy Devine
, fourth poem from my travel book, recounting a drive to Lake Tahoe, four days there and three days back.
As usual it takes all day to get to El Paso for the night. Then day two, pushing through New Mexico toward Arizona.
on the right
the Rio Grande River delta valley,
green and cultivated
houses, stores, church steeples,
yellow school buses flashing red lights
on two lane highways
hanging over all this
dead in the middle of the road,
a casualty of flying too low,
flying too slow
a single wing
like a flag sands
above the mess
of bloody, mangled meat and bone
brown and white feathers
flutter in the wind
I reach the snow level,
patches first, mostly in shadowed areas
where the day's sun could not reach
then more and more
until the desert is covered in white,
a thin layer, little individual sprigs of desert grass
poke through here and there,
like Kilroy with a really bad haircut
And into Arizona...
under a pile of dirty clothes
in the handicapped restroom stall
at the first rest stop in Arizona
through high desert, flat
as far as you can see
then mountains on the horizon,
north and west, snow capped
several dogs in front,
a horse and two or three goats
in the back,way the hell
away from everything
whip across the road
in front of me, chasing the wind,
never catching it
I've known people like this,
blow always by capricious winds,
never finding rest
I see a buffalo
in its shaggy brown coat
eating green sprouts between giant red boulders
dense white clouds
cover the horizon ahead
or dust storm
not what I'd like to see...
the strong winds even stronger
throwing ice pellets like bb shot
Lunch in Flagstaff, then...
moving on through the national forest
and between the mountains
the snow gets much worse,
blowing hard across the road,
the sky closes in
and the temperature drops to near freezing
Back near desert level after ten miles of steep decline...
the clouds clear,
the temperature goes back up
and fat driving snowflakes hitting my windshield
turn to fat, splashing raindrops
As the little town of Winslow approaches I see a sign, "Mojo's Gourmet Coffee...
I find Mojo's
and a skinny barista with ore tattoos
than most folks have skin, and the corner
a small group of old cowboys sitting at a round table,
some just listening,
and picking their guitars...
country ballads and the like and some of their own composing
"I once loved a girl in Albuquerque," sang one
"I wanted to a cowboy," sang another as I was leaving,
"but I was always afraid of cows"
Finally, getting close to Nevada, the night in Kingman, Arizona, a comfortable hotel on Andy Devine Trail.
Then, up early, onto and through Nevada, a larger state than I imagined, with mountains, not all flat desert as I had also imagined.
snow clouds flow
over mountain peaks
on both sides of me
like buttermilk over hot cornbread
light snow dusts desert stones and plants
with points of silvery shadow
the snow falls faster
and soon they all sport white caps
until they all disappear
under the white sea
a herd of horses, twenty or thirty of them,
chase and play in a field
I crest the last of the latest string
of mountains and laid out before me
a vast valley, a basin surrounded by peaks,
covered white like a fresh tablecloth
of a expensive bistro
Finally in Lake Tahoe...
from my tenth floor window
I watch snow clouds cross the mountains,
then begin a slow drift across water toward us
the "little cat feet"
whisper over cold water
At a park beside the lake, walking the dog...
we are not the first
to break the snow, little duck tracks, triangles
divided by a line from point to base,
and tracks of some bird of a larger sort,
tridents in the snow
a white sailboat sits offshore
half hidden in the
Then back to home, San Antonio, through California to catch Interstate-10 for the fastest way back...
are a majestic spectacle that lifts the heart
but it's over 1,700 from home
and I can get bigger and better mountains
past white-robed mountains, the virgin brides
of western California
past San Bernardino and the car-chocked
debris of Los Angeles to the dry brown hills
of north Arizona
bright yellow flowers,brushy and thick,
climb the hills like sunspots across
the drab and dreary
And finally home, ten days and five states, snow in four of them.
back home now
where the edge of spring
arrives too soon
and will pass too quickly
back in the zone
where days are measured not by calendars
and dates and miles passed
but by the passing of the sun
east to west, and cycles of the moon,
full to dark, and by poems written
and quiet moments when a contemplative life
seems not a waste of time but a harvesting
of the fruits of time
The next two short poems are by Daisy Zamora
, taken from her book Riverbed of Memory
, published by City Lights in 1988. Born in 1950 in Nicaragua, she later became involved in the revolution against the dictator Somoza. Spending years in exile, she joined the Sandinista National Liberation Front, serving as a combatant and the voice and program director for Radio Sandino and served as Vice Minister of Culture for the victorious Sandinista government in 1979.
It is a bilingual book, with translation to English by Barbara Paschke
The suitcase full of baby clothes I kept with such
a little girl crossing the street in her
or a passing glance at a pregnant woman
waiting for a bus.
Any encounter / Spark / Unleashes
in this unprepared heart: dry fodder,
reduced to smokey ash, to
That afternoon when you called Maria Mercedes
I discovered in your voice the voice of your father
whom I never knew.
There was a moment
when you spoke with a voice that wasn't yours.
echo of another voice
that your older sister Gladys,
or your mother (if she were living)
would have recognized immediately.
Now, excerpts from Silver City and the Beyond,
the last poem from the book of travel poems, another trip taken on the spur of the moment just to go someplace I hadn't been before.
As usual, the first day about getting out of the state, San Antonio to El Paso...
to long-stretched fingers
of pink Chihuahua Desert
blue sky, blue on blue
on deep ocean blue sky,
to jagged clouds
dark and sharply racing
Eighty miles an hour past all the little towns along the way: Segovia, Senora, Saragosa, Sierra Blanca, Allamoore, Belhmora and Van Horn, how mysterious these names seemed to me the first time I past them 40 years before, before the interstate when you could not pass without going through...
on the ridge a line of dead trees,
oak blight killing scrub oak all around,
reminding me of a picture I once saw
of a lone tree, bare and burned among the ruins
these trees like that, bare limbs, black,
reaching up, grasping at the sky
in the pasture below a mare and her foal
eat grass generous and green
The roadway blasted through stony hills, in the rock walls on either side, layers of geologic time...
there, near the top,
a woman and a man passed,
nearly human, and down here by my feet
a fish struggled crawled awkwardly
from the sea
a bird, zippity-flash, crosses the road,
skinny little legs pumping,
thin neck and head
high and proud
like an arrow passing
and just as fast
a cloud billows up
from the Chisos Basin
like a white rose
opening to the sun
Into New Mexico...
green desert all the way,
a rainy year disguising the stone-hard truth
below the green
smudge of mountains against the horizon,
left and right, front and rear -
New Mexico, a state of mountains and deserts
and neither ever very far from wherever
you might be
Disappointed with Silver City, leaving after one night...
three horses crossing a green pasture,
grass high, up to their knees,
crossing in single file, one after the other
like carousel horses with somewhere to go
Escaping from boring flat spaces, I take the long route right through the Gila Mountains, a diversion that turned into an adventure as the road turns away from comfortable asphalt, gradually deteriorating to narrower and rougher gravel, twisting and turning, climbing and descended, falling into a deep canyon, which worries me as rain begins...
setting aside considerations of mudslides
and all other hesitations - it is now considerably further
back than forward - I come to a break in the trees
and stop and look out and see I am on a high ridge,
above the clouds, churning white and billowy below me
a very large buck and 25 to 30 does and fawns,
fluffy white and brown stub-tails flicker in in the wind,
all together as a group, coming down the mountain in great bounds,
over the road, then back up on the other side, like winged creatures
who, through fate or folly, lose their wings, but still
they crave to fly, almost succeeding with each great leap
passing through a burned out portion of forest,
pine and aspen tall and limb-less,
black as the charcoal they have become while still
they reach for the sky
I stop and listen to the wind, all around deep-forest quiet
but for the wind passing through these poor
Russian poet Osip Mandelstam
is next from my library. The poems are selections from his book Stone
. My edition published by Harvill Press in 1997. It is a bi-lingual book, with translation from the poet's Russian by Robert Tracy
, who also provided and extension introduction and notes.
Born in 1891 in Poland, Mandelstam lived through pre-revolutionary Russia, as well as after the revolution and the establishment of the Soviet Union. He died in 1938 at a transit station on the way to a Siberian gulag.
A tentative hollow note
As a pod falls from a tree
In the constant melody
of the wood's deep quiet...
In the woods there are Christmas trees
With golden tinsel blazing;
In the thickets toy wolves are gazing
With terrifying eyes.
O my prophetic sadness,
O my silent freedom
And the heavens' lifeless dome
Of eternally laughing glass!
In a light shawl, you suddenly slipped
Out of the shadowed hall -
We disturbed no one at all
Nor woke the servants up...
To have only a child's books for reading
And only a child's thought to muse,
To let all grown up things disperse,
To rise out of deep grieving.
Life has made me mortally weary;
I will take nothing it gives,
But I love my land, poor as it is,
For I've seen no other country.
So in a far away garden I swung
On a plain wooden swing - I recall
Fir trees, mysterious and tall,
In my vague delirium.
More delicate than delicacy
Whiter than purity
Living as distantly
From the world as you can
And everything about you
As it must be.
It must all be like this:
And your touch
And the quiet catch
Of not complaining
In the things you say,
And your eyes
Looking far away...
Back to new poems before I expected to be, I wrote this last week.
I can remember every place I ever had a haircut
since I was a child,except for any memory of where
I cut my hair for the nine months I spent at Indiana University
or the eleven months I was at a little military base
on Pakistan's Northwest Frontier...
I can remember oh so many faces without names
and names without faces...
I can remember being at places I know are real
but don't know how I got there...
and the places I remember in such complete detail
even though I know they are not real, my
clear memory of places that don't
exist and never did...
black holes in memory as mysterious
as the black holes we can't see in our night sky...
what a boon these holes are to the writer, blank
canvas to imagine on
I'm going back now to the anthology of Contemporary Asian American Poets for this poem by Dwight Okita
. Born in 1958, Okita describes his poems as like something you might find in a whiskey bottle along the shore.
The Art of Holding On
So this is Monday.
I open my door and there it is
with the mail: ready, waiting.
And if I step into like a taxi
will it take me somewhere,
can I roll down the windows
and shout my name as loud as it will go?
I open my and and feel for rain.
I climb in.
Here we go, hold on.
Marcie slips into Wednesday
like a new dress. I flatters her
and she looks on the bright side,
looks at a map and wonders where
her priorities lie.
All the roads she says.
By evening she is there
and she can count on one finger
all the reasons she came.
Frank likes his Fridays,
wants to hold them in his hands
like pencils and see if they write.
Tonight he will call me out of the blue
and tell me he has great plans for the evening
and I am part of them. See you at 6:00.
The day spins on its edge
and drops like a penny
to the sidewalk - call it
Here's another from last week.
misty wet this morning
but strong thunderstorms are predicted,
sweeping across Mexico and the Gulf, beginning this
afternoon and extending through the week,
inundating most of Texas, especially here in the south
where the first strong winds and rain will pass
and I am here, looking out the coffeehouse's
broad windows, waiting for Armageddon, listening
for the distant call of the Horseman's trumpets,
the thundering drums of their army
and even though I know there will be suffering for some,
I look forward to the advancing pillage, a storm rider,
taunting the elements here from my protected
saddle, enjoying the ferocious drama of its
making me, I suppose, a kind of war lover, a shameful
passion some say should shame me but I expect
I will not be embarrassed for I am a man
past is prime who has no use for
golf or the various spectator
sports that set an old
instead I will take my excitement wherever
I can find it, like here in my comfortable
seat where the thunder can rumble
but the lightning does not strike
and the wind does not
blow and the rain
Next from my library I have this poem by Samuel Hazo
. The poem is from his book, A Flight to Elsewhere
, published by Autumn House Press in 2005.
Born in 1928, Hazo is a poet, professor, playwright and essayist. Director of the International Poetry Forum in Pittsburgh, he was named the first Poet Laureate of Pennsylvania in 1983, among many honors he has received.
National Prayer Breakfast
Conventioneers from thirty-seven
counties throng the banquet
hall to hear the message.
A clergyman asks God to bless
the fruit and rolls.
speaks up for Reagan, Martin
Luther King and having faith
Love is the common
theme, most of it touching
all of it frank, unburdening
If faith is saying so,
then this is faith.
The problem is
that must be the problem.
I've always thought that faith
declaimed too publicly destroys
when Brother Antoninus yelled
at listeners to hear the voice
of Jesus in them, Maura said,
"the Jesus in me doesn' talk
Later, when I saw
a placard bannering, "Honk,
if you love Jesus," I thought
of Maura's words and passed
Jesus in fact
spoke Aramaic in Jerusalem,
foretold uninterrupted life
and sealed it with a resurrection.
If he asked me to honk
in praise of that, I'd honk
But rising from the dead
for me seems honk enough
since on one's done it since
and no one did it earlier or ever.
Others might disagree, and that's
But there's an inner
voice that's one
on one and never out of date.
It's strongest when it's most subdued.
I'll take my Jesus straight.
And here's another from last week.
warming my tortugas on a wet, windy day
if I can't find a coffeehouse to write in and
it being Monday and my personal coffeehouse
being closed on Mondays I am doing my Monday
Starbucks tour and actually found one with lots
of room and electric outlets I would come to
other days if I didn't already have my per-
sonal coffeehouse elsewhere, and as
usual for their kind they have their
air conditioner set to frozen
steppes of Siberia even
though it's cool
enhanced to cold by
wind and misty rain and
I'm freezing my tortugas in
here and I often find that I am
struck dumb by even slightly frozen
tortugas so you'll excuse me if I run on
and on here, running being one good way to
warm up frozen torgugas and fact is I'm feeling
smarter and and smarter all the time maybe suggesting
maybe I should throw this away and start, genius and elegance
of expression having been released by by the toasty warmth of my
Better known for her prose than here poetry, the next poem is by Alice Walker
. The poem is from her book Once
, published in 1986 by The Woman's Press.
A quiet afternoon
the New Testament
Through the window
makes noisy song.
The speaker crashes
though his speech
All eyes are
Over his left
the thick hair
I would not mind
if I were
but as it is
- let me assure you -
I sleep alone
After several cold and wet consecutive days last week, we were presented near the end of the week with a beautiful spring day, bright sunshine and warm weather. Sitting at my normal coffeehouse writing station, looking out the window at such a wonderful day I just couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that I had to write a poem. Luckily our poem-a-day rules allow for occasional punting.
it is a beautiful day
air crisp and light
and scampering squirrels
while in the right earth
delve in wormish
it is a wonderful day,
to be protected not
besmirched by a bad
just don't see
of it so I
Next, I have a poem by Jack Marshall
, from his book Spiral Trace
, published by Coffee House Press in 2013. The book is a series of 85 numbered poems on the experience of aging.
Born in Brooklyn to Jewish parents who emigrated from Iraq and Syria, Marshall has received numerous literary awards including a finalist nomination from the National Book Critics Circle.
Seaward morning in the mood
for miracle, grab sight
of a wing, upturned, wide-
open sky, where horizon's
endless blue dome -
pale, porous hue
which all that is matter
On my desk, the sky-blue cover page
of a notebook, 1994, faded
white around the edge,
a cloud's peephole,
upward, the whole
faded as wish that winter
not be visited on spring
coming on. Make it far:
cold, wet, late
winter not finished
with us yet.
Low above sunlit telephone pole,
black cloud stacked behind brown cloud
in blue sky, Rothko sails,
as if a wind rose
in late day in a house
long ago closed,
and the garden cut back in autumn,
in December all
thorn and skeleton.
Though light closes
in winter right
as a rose,
and time touches
where flowers were,
and the weather
home is a bloom away,
where sun just set
on New York's day.
Again from last week, looking out my coffeehouse windows, such wonders to behold.
very fat woman
in very tight stretch pants
so tight that even though
the pants are black as the dark
side of the moon
(speaking of a very full moon)
I can still see the slight rise of freckles
on her ample, tightly-bound
so much there for adoration
on the way to the church next door...
if there was an eleventh commandment
it would surely concern itself
with ample bottoms and very tight
if the United Nations
had a multi-national commission on nylon abuse
it would be voting sanctions
this very minute
unable to un-see
I'm left with a whole new meaning for
and now I'm stuck with it
The last piece from my library this month is by James Galvin
and it's taken from his book X: Poems
, published by Copper Canyon Press in 2003.
Author of seven books of poetry, Galvin is also published prose and a novel. He is winner of many awards and honor and was on the permanent faculty of the Iowa Writer's Workshop for many years.
Promises Are For Liars
Because, you know,
Either you're going
To do it or
Slight as light
Reflected from the stream
Onto the wavering
A cyclone of sand-
Rises from the corn
Let's don't worry.
Let's don't ask.
Are standing by.
But I keep thinking
How easy it is
To get lost in the sky
With nothing holy
Here's the last poem for the week, a quiet and restful end to the post.
light April rain today in March
slow and comfortable
like a warm
curled beside you on the sofa,
sleeping head resting
in your lap deep
As usual, everything belongs to who made it. You're welcome to use my
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New Days & New Ways
Places and Spaces
Always to the Light
Goes Around Comes Around
Pushing Clouds Against the Wind
And, for those print-bent, available at Amazon and select
coffeehouses in San Antonio
Seven Beats a Second
Sonyador - The Dreamer
Peace in Our Time