Poem from March, 2019
Drive up with me.
Show the way, magpie, across the invisible bridge.
Old ghosts, be near,
but not too near.
September, early morning, not a trace of haze.
Rabbit brush glows like sulphur
and the mesa dozes in sunlight.
The corner-eye specter on the trail
is a rock or a piñon stump
or a tourist aiming a camera.
Sun-shimmer and squint. The gorges
lie silent and waterless
like dreams of river valleys
that rivers never made.
Climb into me, Anasazi,
take my tongue and language,
tell how you came to farm the corn,
hoarding the snow-melt, learned
to be weavers, potters, masons
in the huge American daylight,
gathering pine nuts, hunting mule deer,
crushed juniper berries with water,
mixed them in cornmeal for our thick blue bread
-- what was our word for bread? --
and praised the gods, hunched in our smoky kivas,
singing over the soul-hole
the mystery of our birth
when first a man crawled out
from warm dark to open air.
We farmed till the droughts got worse,
the corn and squash and beans
shriveled and died, the game thinned out,
and we moved down to live
in the scoops and pockets of cliffs
where water seeped and food could be hoarded,
two hundred feet below the dizzy rim,
nine hundred feet above the canyon floor
perching like squirrels and jays
because the gods decided
(what were the names of the gods?)
that life had been too easy,
that snows should stop and water shrink
and we too nest against the canyon walls
mindful of hardship.
Silence again. Silence in Spruce Tree Lodge,
at Hovenweep, Chaco Canyon,
stone and sunlight resting against each other
and no ghosts coming to converse
at nightfall when the stars spring out
and we stand on the rimrock, staring up
at the Bear and the hunters chasing him,
at the stocky women, grinding corn
among dogs, turkeys, children,
while smoke floats from the kiva
and snow-fluff crowns the sagebrush.
Silence, solstice to equinox.
Empty granaries, cold firepits, dry cisterns.
The sun walks through the canyon,
peering under the sandstone overhangs,
and the wind walks too, wearing pine-smell.
Skull-jar and serviceberry,
sipapu and alcove,
a ghostly sea of buffalo
tossing on the plains below.
And the light slips off
among the rifted mesas,
the dead are wrapped in turkey-feather blankets,
rabbit-fur robes, yucca mats,
and buried in the trashpiles,
while the living move south or west
in search of food and water
leaving it all to the sun and wind and stars
who lived here first.
The night is dreamless,
a star-chart, a crescent wrench moon,
and the air hangs quietly
a sea whose bottom you walk
looking up through the empty miles,
the rocks around you liked turned backs.
The sun cracks earth, the frost splits rocks.
What’s history if it falls away,
if the brick-colored woman
milling corn in the courtyard
isn’t kin to us, can’t leave this landscape,
neighbor horizon and brother canyon wren,
toehold and rampart,
the old river of belief
that pounds through empty gullies
like sunlight and moonlight
leaving them undisturbed?
Touch me. Moisten my mouth,
dazzle my eyes. Link me for a moment to the life
that wore on gently here
and left these ruins to the sun.
In the swept museum,
smaller than hummingbirds
these people kneel and climb in little models
weaving their tiny baskets
hoarding their dollhouse ears of corn.
And who doesn’t crouch below some diorama
while sunlight moves across a mesa.
hearing the call of raven,
glimpsing the Steller’s jay?
I write this on an overhang, a porch,
against a California canyon
that runs down to the sea;
across the way the houses perch and nestle
among the live oaks, palms, and avocado trees.
Hummingbirds float through my eucalyptus
like strange little fingers, or gods,
while the raven’s shadow travels the rough slope,
wrinkling and stretching,
recollection of another life.
The hummingbird comes to rest, midair,
and the mind meshes with other minds,
lost patterns of thought that hang
over the mesa, across the hillsides,
in pools of light and shadow,
and make us bow in thought or prayer,
silence or speech,
while the sun that walked this canyon
when it was brown and empty
and will have it so again
carries the day away
through dry and shining air.
. . . . . . . . . . . .Laguna Beach. September, 1981
Previous Poems of the Month on one page.
Poem from February, 2019
Wishing the Gift of November
Poem from January, 2019
Poem from December, 2018
Thoughts of Chairman Mao
Poem from November, 2018
Pacing Around in the Memory Palace
Poem from October, 2018
Poem from September, 2018
Suite for Jean Follain
Poem from August, 2018
Vermont Summer: Three Snapshots, One Letter
Poem from July, 2018
July Morning Vision
Poem from June, 2018
I Wear My Father
Poem from May, 2018
Two Trips to Ireland
Poem from April, 2018
Poem from March, 2018
"Other Forms Were Near": Five Words
Poem from February, 2018
The House Was Quiet on a Winter Afternoon
Poem from January, 2018
Poem from December, 2017
Notes on the Poems
Poem from November, 2017
The Wolves at the Cleveland Zoo
Poem from October, 2017
Poem from September, 2017
Section 9 of “The Light Show,” from “Poem in Three Parts,”
Poem from August, 2017
Phenomenology for Dummies
Poem from July, 2017
Landscape with Disappearing Poet
Poem from June, 2017
"Broken Field Running"
Poem from May, 2017
The Fragrance of Orchids
Poem from April, 2017
"The Light Show" III, 2:
Poem from March, 2017
Poem from February, 2017
The Bird Feeder
Poem from January, 2017
The Poem of the Cold
Poem from December, 2016
December Fourth, 1974
Poem from November, 2016
My Father at Ninety-Four
Poem from October, 2016
Poem from September, 2016
From “The Light Show,” Poem in Three Parts, Earthshine (1988)
Poem from August, 2016
Poem from July, 2016
An early poem, c. 1962 . . .
Landscape in Three Lights
Poem from June, 2016 and November, 2008
A Ghost, to One Alive
Poem from May, 2016
Poem at Seventy
Poem from April, 2016
Poem from March, 2016
Wind, Rain, Light
Poem from February, 2016
Small Muliple Elegy
Poem from January, 2016
Hymn to the eye from
Names of a Hare in English (1979)