WITH FURROWS, LIKE BROWS ON THE INTERIOR STATES OF THE AMERICAN SOUL

Like the American bison that dominated the prairie, the continuous ocean of tall grasses, which long spread from a corner of Ohio into Montana and Colorado, has been decimated. Homesteaders – seized by a fever to possess farmland of their own – sowed apprehension in their furrows. Inhabitants and land itself now lay open to chronic infection. After each harvest, the Breadbasket of the World, the Interior States of the American Soul, is left vacant, a stubble desert awaiting rebirth. Descendants of those who made this band agriculturally productive bear both its blessing, in economic output, and curse, as if no one can entirely escape the desperation that prompted settlement in the first place. In the recesses of the psyche, inheritors of these spaces must likewise sense themselves to be buffalo-people, and then fear they, too, may be heir to this fate. Pushed to the fringes, the intrinsic beauty and spiritual potential of the heartland are easily overlooked, both by the remnant population and the world’s policy-makers. Today’s farmers are mechanics, first and foremost. Cry, then, for harmony and healing – a proper reentry into Canaan, a taste of balm in manna. Look, ultimately, to the surviving bison and tall grasses with their underlying lavender shadings. Respect the faint drumming, growing louder.

~*~

Noble Blue Liberty
Noble Blue Liberty

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

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WITH WIDE CLOUDLESS SKIES

The poems of my newest collection, Noble Blue Liberty, include some of my earliest published literary work, along with some of my most recent. They range across the continent of my mind and heart to find home.

They revive the wonder of entering the wide cloudless skies of the Great Plains or youthful opportunity.

What opens with a dance tune here deflects into the reaction to a blow or injury, to a fly fisherman’s reel, the canisters of a movie, or even a soaring eagle. These poems span experiences of touch and coupling, however chaste at times, and of flight and emerging lightness. To be light on one’s feet, then, and lighthearted in the end, if not a little dizzy.

They could even be what poet John Haines has called “horses in the night.”

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

A TITLE OR A POEM OF ITS OWN?

I often delight in a phrase or term that takes on a life of its own, apart from a particular content or meaning. The poet Jack Spicer, drawing on his training as a linguist, was a master at this.

Overhearing one conversation recently, my mind’s eye took the Black Joker who met the Red Herrings on a Non-Tour in a much different direction. My choir buddies, Mike and Kate, knew who they were talking about, and where. It was all about Morris dancing. For me, though, it was pure magic on its own.

Words can, after all, exist in their own sound and space. How short can a poem be, anyway? I have a few that weigh in at one word apiece, while two or three words can make for a nice verbal dance.

The title of my newest poetry collection, Noble Blue Liberty, is one of those. Years ago, I warned the mother of three children I’d run with her lofty impression, and I have. Actually, the title could stand as a poem all its own.

I have similar feelings about some of my other recent releases.

~*~

Noble Blue Liberty
Noble Blue Liberty

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

BEWARE OF THE PROSPECTOR’S STAKE

Belying its penchant for right-wing political rhetoric, the American Far West subsists largely on federal government services and facilities. Many of these necessitate large tracts – spaces reserved for logging, prospecting, and mining; hunting and trapping; open livestock grazing; the collection, storage, and distribution of water for agricultural irrigation and for varied metropolitan usage; hydroelectric production; military field operations; Native American enclaves; recreation and tourism. A largely unpopulated Interstate highway system links far distances, again with federal subsidy.

The innate tension between collective action and freewheeling – even reckless – impulsiveness animates this collection. Just as spectacular panoramas more than intricate particulars dominate a Far West vision in my poems, contemporary actions are cast against a vaster background of ancient understanding. An uneasy interplay permits the game herds to thrive within modern society while also celebrating timeless hunting rituals and practices. Traditional Native American and science-based thought systems stand in sharp contrast as they probe conflicts of sexuality, family, and age. Patronizing bureaucratic language addresses urban side-effects arising as visitors swarm over public lands. Like trendy restaurants, national parks post “Reservations Required” notices. Even so, as other pieces attest, a resourceful person can still hazard boundless mountains, rivers and lakes, free range, and clouds looming in solitude and release. Just watch out for the prospector’s stake. He’s likely to shoot before asking questions.

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE ‘ANIMAL’?

The attraction to powerful animals is universal, a response to the mystery of who we are, as humans, as well. To perceive and honor their presence – in the wild, especially – places us within an ecological harmony and health.

But what characteristics essentially define animal life, as distinct from plants? The reliance on oxygen, rather than carbon dioxide, for one, and self-locomotion, for another. At our core existence, each of us may proclaim: “I breathe; therefore, I am.” Thought and emotion come only later. To inhale, moreover, sparks an associative leap – from air to spirit, with its dimensions of inspiration, literally, “breathing in.” Or God, breathing into the muddy nostrils of the first human in Eden.

In general, the animals in these poems move through places where I’ve lived or visited repeatedly – sometimes surfacing through Native stories, sometimes as chance encounters, sometimes by evidence they’ve left behind. (Once, while handling what I thought was a large, striated rock on a friend’s fireplace mantel, I was told it was a mastodon tooth he’d found on a mountain many years earlier.) Who will regard these creatures intently and not marvel at their distinct intelligence and grace? (Let me confess some others, not included here, defy any admiration I can muster; who has heard wondrous tales of garden slugs, for instance?)

Bears and whales – giants of the forest and ocean – appear early in this sequence, along with the sense of awe they instill. In her book, Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore, Nancy Lord argues, based on her own neighbors, “The bear is like us yet is not us. Perhaps the bear is our connection back to something lost and still treasured, another way of knowing. The bear is nature and culture, together.” The whale, on the other hand, reminds us of deep mysteries we may never penetrate and places we cannot venture unassisted.

We cross over from a commonplace understanding of animal – “pertaining to the physical rather than the spiritual nature of man; carnal; sensual; animal appetites” – and move instead into meetings in which the other creatures sometimes enlighten humans. Here, then, nature fits both the heart and fundamental qualities of each sentient mobile organism. Observe their movement closely, and periods of play and even unrestrained exuberance, as well as caring, become evident. The word nature itself arises in the concept of “giving birth” or “being born,” and easily extends to the working of natural law as well.

We will recognize that animal nature is always complex, and always holds more to discover – around and within us.

~*~

Bright Sweet Crude
Bright Sweet Crude

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

WITH CREATURELY COMFORT, TOO

Universally, people look to the larger animals – in some cases, not just as a food source but with recognition of greatness as well. Even the names of professional sports franchises reflect this reality. I believe the myths and tales of ancient peoples arise in this other way of knowing and soon lead us into an awareness of the abundant activity found in any healthy environment. In these poems are flashes from Amerindian, Biblical, and Buddhist voices – and hints that reach beyond my own observations in the American Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and Eastern Seaboard, to touch Africa and Asia as well. Soon, even the smallest creatures we can see have a story, as do imaginary monsters, with their fabrication from living animals.

Sometimes we are affirmed and comforted by other creatures; at other times, vexed, as happens with household invaders. Some remind us of liberty and potential. Others produce essential food, hides, fabric, and more. Because each species requires specific and unique qualities for its environment, there’s no escaping an awareness of place, either. Particularities of water, air currents, soil and rock come into play, as do plants and fellow species.

In this alternative way of knowing, the dialogue turns from being simply about animals to our own interaction in their universe. Obviously, we have much to discover there, about ourselves as well as about them.

The brute – even the bestial human – may ultimately learn table manners that allow sharing in the feast of life.

Join in the circle of Bright Sweet Crude, my newest collection of poems.

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

REPLENISH THE EARTH, AS THE TEXT SAYS

We humans are remarkable animals, aware of our own existence and individual mortality as well as a corresponding, abiding loss. In the Garden of Eden’s articulation of this condition, freedom to act and personal knowledge impose a profound separation from others. Our relationships with each other and our social dealings are complex and often troubling, indeed – paralleling, it seems, our connections to other animals and the planet itself. Too often in practice, humans translate the subdue of Genesis 1:28 – “replenish the earth, and subdue it” – in a modern domination-based concept of “vanquish” or “conquer,” rather than in its ancient comprehension as “taming,” “softening,” and “bringing culture” (“enlightenment” as well as “learning”) to the land and all that dwell in it.

The poems in my Bright Sweet Crude collection explore encounters that cross over from a common understanding of animal – “pertaining to the physical rather than the spiritual nature of man; carnal; sensual; animal appetites” – and move instead into meetings that at times even allow non-human creatures to enlighten people. Here, then, nature fits both the heart and essential quality of each sentient living organism. The brute – even the bestial human – ultimately learns table manners to share the feast.

People commonly are affirmed and comforted by the presence of other creatures, as well as vexed, as happens with a range of household invaders. From the sighting of daily turtles to sporadic deer and elk and American bald eagles  to nearly microscopic red mites, my poems have celebrated an attentive range. American aborigine perspectives surface, starting with an annual cycle of sojourning for food before moving into mythopoeic rootstock. In this balance, large mammals have a special place – whales and bears, especially. Even animal humor arises in this kinship.

In human/non-human marriage this concept of kinship is most fully expressed. A variation of the story behind “After the Fact,” by the way, takes shape as a voluntary marriage in Gary Snyder’s “This Poem Is for Bear,” while Nancy Lord (Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore) presents another rendering and then comments: “Cultural interpretations of this story point out the significance of its beginning – the slipping [on bear scat] and swearing. The bear took the woman from her people because she insulted him. She showed disrespect for a fellow creature – in this case a particularly powerful one – and for this it was her fate to be parted from her people. … In the end, when so many have been killed, the story again emphasizes the consequences of breaking taboo and the fragility of relationships between people and animals. It’s … fearsome and cautionary.” Sometimes it’s a matter of which taboo or which relationship one wishes to emphasize.

Or, as I once remarked, “Each summer bears sit on blueberry bushes as they pluck meals beside Contention Pond. Days later, the flattened shrubs tell me who’s been visiting with the Quakers.”

Here, then, Bright Sweet Crude celebrates moments when the intimacy resumes, one way or another.

~*~

Bright Sweet Crude
Bright Sweet Crude

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.