Click to read two chapters: In Blood and Longing
Listen to a reading of the poem
Amongst the pear trees groaning with fruit
it might be a play on Keats
close bosom’d fraternity of maturing sons
he would chide we brothers from ladder top.
On high meadow, tea beckoning, I creeping like snail
Marvell would be his target
let’s go lad time’s wingless tractor trundles near.
The farmer with a literary bent
as fond of wit as wheat my father
as keen on alliteration as fertilization
only one writer earned his curse
coming home from lower sixth
I quote from the four quartets
expecting a nod of appreciation
but dismayed at his vitriol
never did learn the cause
the lapsed pagan’s contempt for the dour anglo-catholic?
the humanist’s loathing for the anti-semite?
the classicist’s disdain for a drip, drip refrain?
At his end, barrel chest shrunk, cheeks sunk like tinajas
he whispered for the Relic,
I stuttered Donne’s hallowed lines
Cadenced by his hollow breaths.
In my America, my new bound land
wife and I leave the in-laws house
I chance the hackneyed line
let us go then, you and I
delighted to hear her father
patient unethereal at the table
utter the half remembered stanza.
Eliot held us over the decades
a cold coming we had of it at Christmas
April became the coolest month
pre dinner we were hollow men
post prandial stuffed men.
On desert walks we longed foolishly
for the sound of water over a rock.
At his last, chest sunk, cheeks like Wedgewood saucers
voice gone he drew me to him
wheezed for the Magi.
I stumbled the oft rehearsed verse
choired by his whistling chorus.
I should be glad of such a death.
Disturbed, she banks away through lofted crowns
To perch in indifference
This canyon, this earth, I, orbit
Beneath her disdain
This has been her field since
Ice fell to light
Since pine rose to heat
No hypocrisy clouds her killing
She knows no pause
Ripping life of limb
Her hoarse cry
Sends me on
Sent to warn me off.
The trumpet of the crane heralds the change.
At the crest beat from the trek
the city far below, forgotten,
I catch their cackle first
as always, spring or fall,
before a sighting. Battling the south-westerly,
a gale at this loft, they come on
ponderous as ocean tankers,
windmill sail wings,
spindle undercarriage up,
inexorable as time, which they have proven,
being as ancient as any. The chevron’s point falters
banks away from the storm. The flight hurtles over the ridge
in the cruel tail wind
drops into calmer air luffs to the north
oblivious to the loss of progress,
their journey being continental,
a mile here, an hour there,
is of no mind. Called by an ancestral hymn
their path, north and south in answer to light and dark,
warmth and chill,
is set from range to basin to range,
pond to stream to rio, paqueno or grande.
Weak or foolish culled by fatigue, carnivore
or barbed fence. They turn again
face the wind chortling as if to mock the element
they must most admire. They close haul
out over the cobweb city, which has marred this plain
for an iota of crane generations,
and will be long gone before
these hoarse choristers of the equinox
quit the skies.
When the cool coy wife
Whose public manner and private prurience
had kept me winter warm
Journeyed back across the high desert
In the bruise of spring
To her husband
I fled to the gorge to stare
In craven contemplation
Of the plunge. It was then your primal shriek
Mnemonic of aeons past and perhaps a few sad generations to come
Drew me reluctantly from wretched reverie.
I watched your sleek-winged upwind approach
Saw that rufous wedge flick and flex
In the keen vernal breeze.
As days warmed and stretched
I returned often to the ravine,
That slices the tablelands
Like a crack in a frozen pond
To spy on you repairing the aerie
For another brood, to watch you spiral and plummet
In gay courtship
And to hear again
That riveting down-slurred cry.
Conceitedly I thought you greeted me
Until I heard the hollow whoops
Of organized revelry
From the daily flotation of inflated egos
On the swollen waters far below.
Did you call in fear or howl in derision?
Contempt it must be
For how could these white-knuckled roller coaster riders
Who’ve made a Disneyland guffaw
Of this raw and pristine rift
Threaten your primacy of the fourth dimension.
With solstice past and melt-off ended
Inane intrusion receded with the waters.
So too, the sweet nectar of the departed girl’s forbidden fruit
Remained only in the taut chevron of your wings
And the glimpse of your russet rear
Recalled the avian abandon
At the crux of her spinal arch.
In the still oven of high summer
Your fledglings flew,
And as you urged them shrilly
Into tentative flight
I too launched the vestige of desire
Into the void.
This year I see you’ve moved
Taking new territory in a side canyon.
There only the placid fisherman
Will glance skyward when you honour him
With that shriek worth a thousand sonnets
A hundred Illiads, a dozen Othellos.
And when finally I shuffle
From this orbital toil
May the last sound I hear
Be the atavistic integrity
Of the hawk’s far cry
Not the simper
At my ear.
Great days may dawn ill.
A while to strike a fire in the drizzle,
Kindling wet, matches failing to flare,
The bull elk guffawing from the close pines
Through the fog.
From camp, climbing in dense mist
Over damp bracken, a clutch of grosbeaks
Chattering in the birches, wondering if the day will be lost
In this shroud. Struggling upward, the rasp of the lungs
Heralding the approach of the seventh decade,
Racing the cloud up the ridge, till the heart
Worries the ribs.
Sprawling to watch the curtain rise.
Prosceniumed by the stratum is the mountain bowl
And beyond, the volcanoed plain,
Strafed by Blakesian shafts.
From below the crag a grey arrow rifles north.
I look down on the slate back of a falcon
Hunting birds. She loops the cirque thrice
Then stoops talons fisted to sever the grosbeak
In a pink shock of down. Spurred by the show
I clamber up through strewn drapes
The valley now clear, now gone.
The stag braying, now and then.
Above the last mutilated pine
At the raw saddle
Ravens kite the gale,
Bickering like fish wives.
I johnmuir the ridge, shepherding a flock of big horns.
The ewes and lambs dash the arête
Strafed by a pair of harpies
Striving to pitch a sheep or two
Into the abyss but the beasts survive.
The eagles bank away and know the distant ridge
In the time it takes me to trudge
A few steps. The light rakes the range
I quit the tops
With regret and stumble down a tilted wood
Lured by the bugle. Stalking amongst the trunks
I spot the cows browsing
Then the tines of the bull, six and seven. His head tosses
In disquiet, aware of an alien aroma, he herds
His harem away. Thrilled I rest on an outcrop
Glimpsing the gang in the brush
Then the crash of a broken branch
The cows stampede under the rock
The bull goading them
Charges so close beneath me
That if I were a caballero or young or Artemis
I could drop to his back
Cling to his antlers
And steer him joyfully through the forest.
But I am none of those.
I squat by the fire
The tea ambrosial
The light lambent,
The mood lacking language to match.
The Latir Wilderness, New Mexico, September 2008
Coming down from the climb
In failing light
Like bandits heading for a train,
We pass the apache pantheon
Its huge rock arrowhead teetering
In uncertain balance.
A flicker of shadow fools the eye.
The ghost of Cochise
Returned to grieve the death
Of half his family
At the hand of the fool, Lieutenant Bascom?
Then emerging, face daubed
To wreak one last gory
Saturnalia on gringo and mexicano alike
And to toll the knell
On a way of life
Where a man won standing through
The depth of his generosity
The savagery of his close combat
The permanence of his bond
But lost it through
Duplicity, cowardice, greed,
Niceties marking many of the civilized
Men of the time.
Cochise Stronghold, Dragoon Mountains, Arizona, 1983