Tag Archives: poetry

On Breast Tree Road

The truth is, when his heart stopped it was like a cricket going silent
inside a down jacket. In the blue grind of his sinking house trailer,
wheel chocks barely holding in the bristle patch above the river,
time changed into an overpass stuffed with steel wool.

Dressed up in time, the world was like a great wing of doors,
each lubbing the light into church rows. Particular and tall.
And nothing changed. The melon fields still crowded the road
& all the talk at the Sizzler of jobs at the new windmills.
Look around, he said. It’s all paved with fire, water and smoke.
No. Look around. It’s just the spatter of goose shit-size rain
on Breast Tree road. That’s what’s left. Nothing’s changed.

The stillness was stacked beside the fields, like aluminum pipe
after wheel irrigation is done. A rash of cut-over tree farms,
each with a sawdust pile, soon to be lit with a road flare.
The One Bird Road samaritans, the heated pool boys in blue fescue,
the fallen hero double wides where everyone’s heart beats at half mast.
All wrapped in pale pieces of evening.

To a drunk guy hanging sheet rock when the body isn’t there,
to the horses in the lost farm corrals, to the line of pink Porta potties,
it’s all just a dropped signal. One whiff of their mortal decay
and you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself.
Ask a pipefitter or a grave digger what happens
when the three-strand Jesus frees you from sin
in the white gristle church by the fairgrounds.
“OK. What’s in the Full Hot Breakfast?”
he asks the tall-boned preacher woman. “What’s comes out of the coffins?”
In the smelting rain, the answer comes from a row
of red osier dogwoods by the diner:
“A line of traffic cones and miles and miles of hair.”

Under the iron dog antenna, like a groin kick, comes the sound
of the great wing of doors brushing his trailer. His chest is full of stones.
He takes his comb out of his back pocket and slicks back his hair.
He walks to his day job at the Casino. The light comes down in pentacles.
He walks to his swing shift job, spraying foam liners into truck beds.
The light comes down in strings of seed pods. He walks home to the trailer
on the 5% grade, still holding the hill above the river. The light comes down
in 5/4 and 8/4 laminated sheets. Each one ready to fly out of the bed
at a moment’s notice.

Wallowa

A wallowa is a Native American fish trap
the Nez Perce built from sticks,
like wicker fences set crosswise in the river.
They used them to herd bull and rainbow trout
into the shallows where they clubbed and gaffed them.

I spent this morning on the Minam river
at one of their old fishing spots.
I teased the river for hours with my fly line.
All I got was bone cold feet
from the mountain runoff.

On the way back to camp
I startled a bull elk in the trees
exploding the stillness
in a thud of hooves
and cracking branches.
The sun walked down the mountain
faster than I could get back across
the valley for eggs and bacon,
home made bread, jam and coffee.

Later I sat in the hot sun
warming my feet and trying to write
but in the end I just sat there
staring at the morning
with its buzzing quiet ways.
Maybe I could build
a wallowa for herding ideas,
fragments, chum and by-catch
into the shallows where my
gaff is sharp and my club is ready.
But I know the majority of the poetry fish
will swim through as they should
as though there were
no sticks in the river at all.

Running Deer

I wrote this poem for my wife, who is part Native American.

Running Deer

a moon-dark sun
ringed in Indian light
peace pipe direct

wild huckleberries
chiaroscuro necklaces
made from the seeds of days
you thread together

to remind us
of where we and love
come from

The Fundament of Karma

Today’s guest poet is brother Don Brandis. He sends in this fine and funny meditation on karma.

The Fundament of Karma

We at Unibody Inc are emailing
because your karma account is nearly empty
without significant new debt
you risk a zero balance
in which case, well, you can’t go there
we respectfully suggest that you go slap someone
preferably a total stranger, in a public place,
as in full of witnesses

public karma is stronger and more lasting
than private envy or vengefulness or malice
our accounting department assures us of the unlikelihood
of a zero balance

unless you’ve been a saint through 40 lifetimes
have you been neglecting your body?
everything it wants needs you to exist
or it (you) become like Schrodinger’s cat
since you haven’t been listening to your body
try to imagine you’ve become both existent and non-existent
as well as neither

as you will unless you owe someone.
You are what you owe yourself
and what you owe yourself you owe us;
the fundament of karma

Once

I.

once under a long-stemmed moon
we became human for a minute

like a woman wearing a black abaya
with a gold filigree rose inside

singing softly behind a high wall
in the market in old Aleppo

II.

i cannot think of why
you created me

remnant of
my father’s mind

there are splinters of knowing
(you and me)

open to the sky between
the tiny pieces of terror

Long Western Sun

morel mushrooms are underground
grief folded in long bolts
the women the shawled lanterns carry digging sticks
their caresses walk behind them
leaving albumin circles

behind in winter camp with mitered eyes
the children die like uncles and slaves
their cries hold bruised roses
in paper thin wonder
they are whelks, tiny mussel feet
reaching below the waterline
dragging the clouds over their arms

tire tracks cross the North Dakota badlands
dragging a harp we can no longer carry
I watch from the midlands
somewhere next door to behind and away
a chinook wind melts the snow
in the box canyons
wanting nothing becoming near

christening a hand a tendon
in the small wooden church on the ridge
after the rinsing the wheezing
the organ sounds like tin fish
swimming under the river bank
the leaves of the longest branches
the photons their crossed swords
the thousand watt radio station in Billings
making a mist of falling wheat prices

it is seen in the dry bunches
marooned along the highway
the bystanders torpid as warm tar
from a night of drinking in tight heat boxes
giving each other pieces of warm weather
draining the trees
it is more visible
now that the county road workers are gone
the way they tilt away from your eyes
it comes in bursts
more bitter more sweet more gone now
the might and the wasn’t
the strings are drawn taut
in the long annealing sun
in the slanted light leaving

Silver Mine

they have reopened
the old silver mine
at Indian Falls
and set a long-horned Sybil
to stand guard

the lone cafe where
everyone wheezes
over braille cakes
the three white
monarch bars

the nitrogen mallard eyes
peering out from
the squat box houses
along the cliff

the hotel with the miners drill
mounted on the lawn–
a quilted silence like a
a poison sofa