The Poems
There are thirty-seven poems in the book. Here is a sampling of five of them.


Click on a title to read the full text.

Blue Heron
Coyote
Meerschaum
Lips

From the group of seven poems titled Seven Views of the South Fork River:

Riversong


Feathers Scattered in the Wind



Blue Heron

Six hours south of Tamanrasset
a line of blue rocks crosses the desert
like dragon's teeth.

There is no blue on earth like that blue.

The wonder of that string of color,
reflecting a lapis sky like puddles on a sidewalk,
awakens memories of earth for rain
and stuns the surrounding desert into silence.
Nearby, squatting in the dust,
where the last dry fish flapped in the mud and died
ten thousand years ago,
a blue heron stares at the ground
five hundred miles from water.

What glistening memory brings it back
to these rocks and wind-blown wastes?
A shot rings out between the cliffs.
Feathers scatter in the wind.
Red pulp is strewn across the sand,
staining the fossils of extinct shellfish.

Somewhere in the distance
the sound of a vehicle grows fainter.
And then the silence returns.
Tonight the jackal will come,
and tomorrow the vulture,
and in a year or two a traveler will pass by,
his face stained blue from the cloth
that wraps his head against the sun and wind.

He will look down from his camel
on a few white bones,
and calculate the time elapsed
and the method of destruction,
and move on,
the flapping of his burnous
unheard among the dazzling rocks.

No word is spoken,
but the circle is completed now,
a blue man on a dun camel has interceded,
and the bones and the rocks can rest.

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Coyote

coyote pauses
in his crossing of the meadow
and looks back at me
over his shoulder
like a passage of music heard
for the first time
not something familiar
that lopes along the driveway everyday
but an event
which brings with it
a message from the other side
from a time
before the collar and the cupboard love
a backward look
from a place beyond the rational
towards our domesticity
urging us to return
or catch up
the way Mozart looks back
not with any knowledge
but asking a question we cannot answer

later
sitting in my armchair
I listen to something wild and perfect
that knocks at the same door
and reports
that this is not what was meant at all
that this is not about growing old and making tea
but is much stranger than that
and all the more compelling
because this is not Serengeti
where we might expect the numinous
but a glimpse
seen and heard in comfort
across a coffee table,
with its coasters and magazines,
across a carpet, across the meadow,
where fences and phone lines
draw imaginary borders
around the rattlesnake grass

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Meerschaum

(Meerschaum is a light rock, found in Turkey and East Africa, from which pipe bowls are made.)

it was a remote dusty road
leading nowhere on a hot afternoon
between occasional sprays of Ceanothus

rounding a bend
still rutted from spring rain
a small landslide
spilled onto the dirt

among the grays and greens
of sand and serpentine
a few white rocks
shone like lilies

I stopped and picked one up
small, and strangely misshapen
for something exposed to the wind and the rain for the first time
harder than chalk
softer than broken china
but with the same ripples in the fractures

and whether to feel the texture
or taste its alkaline dryness
in that sage-smoked place
I put it to my tongue

and then I was back at Amboseli
innocent among the thorn trees and Grant's gazelle
a piece of meerschaum hanging from my tongue
white as the snows of Kilimanjaro
Stephen laughing in his khaki shorts and desert boots
binoculars bouncing on his chest
far from camp
a little afraid
of lion and leopard
but thinking ourselves immortal
too young to care

here, the rock stuck briefly and fell to the ground
taking the memories with it
too much a part of this native landscape
where reality abides

I took it home
and placed it
in a small dish
of white vinegar

in the morning
nothing was left
but a pool of liquid
like spilt milk

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Lips

(Sometimes all that is left of intimacy is the memory of a color or a fold of skin, and sometimes the only way to remember it is through hackneyed, clichèd, 'love-sick' poetry.)

First contact with the world:
the first taste,
holding, measuring.

First communication:
to form the m's and b's,
the labials of ecstasy and rhythm.

Centuries of industry:
moistening the thread for the eye of the needle,
the cooling of the soup.

Millennia of music:
the whistle, the trumpet and the didgeridoo.

But her lips . . .
(I only use the word to ease you into this world of wonder)
to her lips function is foreign,
structure is fluid and undefined,
color, shape and texture
fluctuate with the shifting ground of mood and feeling.

In close up,
in times of abandon,
the face relaxes,
small lines of purpose and intention
replaced by a glow of innocence,
as the lips return to their resting place
and open as a flower opens.

Then,
to say their color is pink is to say the sky is blue.
It is a rare, cool, clear cerise,
like a glass of campari on a beach at sunset,
refracting the last few trailing clouds.

The lower lip is straight like the belt of a sumo wrestler.
It is a threshold to reach across
marked at left and right
by a fold of such overarching delicacy and sweetness
that it beggars description
and accepts the tip of the moistened tongue
that reaches out to pay it homage
with reluctance.

And the upper lip (inadequate word!)
frames and surmounts the lower
as a proscenium arch the stage,
a voluptuous curtain curving up to a subtle cusp,
that grants access within
and holds and expresses all the passing players of intimacy.

To say it is round and smooth
is to describe a billiard ball.
The tongue that caresses it knows better,
knows its warmth and flexibility -
shines and caresses it, yes,
but does not presume that this work of art
has need of improvement.

Sometimes it asks to be sucked and bitten
to make sure
the jealous gods themselves
do not approach
too close.

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Riversong

From here,
In flood,
There is no escaping it.
Wherever you are,
In the garden,
By the redwood,
Through the cabin window
The corner of the eye
Catches the movement
Through the pines -
The river
Like a herd of stampeding buffalo
Rushing by.

And if you approach the water
Lapping against the slipping bank
And listen, and feel
Beneath the brown flood
The deep boom and rumble
Of rock on rock
Readjusting, rolling
Always seaward,
It is easy to think:

So this is what they mean
When they say
There is no turning back.
It is a wonder we ever think
There is a turning back.
How could there be?

But in other seasons
(the river soft and slow)
Insight is not so easily reached
By those who hang their washing
On the Riversong line,
For whom, like us,
There is much turning back
And much to regret
And many attempts to divert the flood
With hopes and fears
And rituals and play
With the dolls of foreign religions,
Picked up when we turned our backs
On those of our childhood
When they no longer
Brought us the future we wanted,
And were weaned off our mother blankies
With those of coarser weave.

The other day
I walked the bank
And heard an osprey
High above the water,
Its plaintive call
The river's sweetest sound.
I watched it wheeling and,
As it was foremost in my mind,
Sent a question through the evening air.
We are earth's prodigious learners
So why do we
Alone of all her creatures
Fail to understand,
And complicate
This simple truth
With spirits and rituals
And divination
When all around
Life is unfolding so simply
And clearly
And fearlessly?

We have landed here
In this lavender-scented backwater
To sing the song of the river,
To swim in its waters
And learn its lessons.
Our wish
To emulate its beauty
And simplicity
Is innocent and pure,
Our quest ancient and visceral.
Now it is time to sing
The song we have learned.

For what spirit does the osprey call?
And where the ritual
In the dive from nowhere
Wings folded
Into pink flesh?
And where the future
In the cry of the eagle
On its nest
In the pine
Across the river?

Meanwhile on this bank
We gather on the grass
To tell comfort stories
And weave symbols
That distract us
From the simplicity
Of the main event,
And take precious time away
From understanding,
Time better used
Looking within
Asking the question,
The simple question
That the river
And the osprey and the eagle
Do not ask,
And we have no need
To ask.

For what does downhill mean to a river
When there is no uphill?

And what does the wind mean to the eagle
When there is nowhere to go?

And what can forwards mean to us
When there is no backwards?

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