I must have been surreal to the guy at the bus
station; asked if he’d seen a horse and rider
coming through; the Pony Express, I couldn’t
find it. I had the same trouble last year.
So this time I prearranged everything—got on
the official website, followed the Pony’s
progress St. Jo, Missouri through Nebraska,
Wyoming, Utah, Nevada. And then
in the middle of historic re-enactment, trail-
updates stopped. Another mudslide? unseasonal
snow over the summit? secret pact of silence,
fear of digital hijack? robbery of Pony mail?
I got in my car, set off for the last known
position—the last constant—on the Pony map.
Maybe I went surreal, running on snow-time,
star time, sun-shadow on a league of mountain
high; running on horse time. By chance I found
them outside Front Yard Nursery—one horse
arriving, switch of mailbag, fresh horse trotting
off west into the unknown. The dismounting
rider hugged her little boy, hoisted him
high into the saddle, then led her honey-sorrel
toward a waiting horse-trailer. One
young boy in danger of becoming surreal.
What’s the retail price of a human life?
Slave traders raiding the village
know, and the old woman left behind
with a gangrenous leg,
mourning her stolen children.
She’ll be dead in minutes or days.
No time postponing, thieves on horses
across the river, already gone.
But this father travels silent, on foot,
leading mere boys—one who chips rock
to lethal arrow-point; one who charms
the snakebit pennon to its quarry.
Together they crouch behind
bushes, watch the slavers carousing
with a crazy bottle, hatbands
cinched over poisoned dreams.
One boy stands guard, one unfetters
the slaves, one frees the horses
so they gallop away.
The father judges it a fair trade.
(a version of this poem was first pub. in
A dog has her rights. To be with her master,
not groveling; enlisting cheerfully for any job.
Piper threw herself into it with the ferocity
of a reincarnated spirit—spirit of all the self-
willed dogs of our past. Nothing could enclose
her. Left at training camp while you hid
for someone else’s dog? she’d slip her collar,
tie-out cable, and harness to find you.
Left in the truck after her shift, on that search
for the kidnapped girl—she escaped to join you.
Could you question her devotion? Just look
at this photo, her eyes. She’s passed
to a better, fenceless world. Those eyes
are still boring holes in the wall.
An aerie of eagles was the
blue sky’s eye as we set out on trail
contouring above alpine lake, a
drift of swans below—you,
ever the naturalist, said “swans,” being
field guide unto yourself,
guide of diminishing vision, so a
herd of deer becomes collective, each
individual melding in the whole. A
jinx of jokers are we,
keen to conglomerate while wandering
lost to unnoticed miracles of
mountain; busying ourselves with
pox of pundits when we should
quit talking; just walk, breathe, look. A
ratchet of rattlers might be
sleeking out from under any rock
to make our day
unnerving. There’s a
vastness of views in all directions, a
wellspring of wonders.
X the nightingale off your list;
you know it doesn’t occur here. No
zenith of skylarks either. Look, a raven!
WHERE WE ARE
The sky’s gray silk unbound. Delicate balance
point. I step out the front door to set the faucet
at just a quarter turn, water downslope to keep
our young trees alive at the edge of Wildwood.
I listen for significant sound in this interval
between dark and light. A dog barks briefly
down-canyon, and there’s a soft scatter of birds.
Tiny machines waking—not machines. Nature’s
workers. Electricity everywhere, longing for
light. Above the big blue oak, a perfect half-
moon moves west, so slowly it will be the ghost
of sun in daylight. Soon everything will bustle,
heating up under a sky so hot blue, it seems
finality/the spark of something. Spring delivered
a truckload of ground squirrels to under-tunnel
our land, and our dogs add their own frantic
digging, trying to reach them. Pests must have
their place in a natural order. So far, a good day.
O STAR THISTLE
They won’t sell you at nurseries,
you’re a noxious weed. You’re easy enough
to find. Through long droughty summers
no one waters you, yet you survive.
You flourish along roadsides
and give a soft jade tint to fields where
everything else turns bone-brittle,
dead and dry. You thrive.
Sheep eradicate you. But they’re just
an interruption. Now the sheep are gone.
You creep through fences,
on wind you fly like bees to hive.
I crouch, Star Thistle, pulling you
up by the roots, your golden flower
with a crown of spikes. Shall I
call you hero? rejoice at your drive,
your stubborn, invasive
green? In this tarnished landscape
burned by the long summer sun,
it’s you who look alive.
FAR FROM THE SEATS OF POWER
Off the freeway. Lift my visor to the blessing
of oaks overarching two-lane chipseal.
Valley oaks too graceful for the straight-away.
I take it sweet and slow here. Truck ahead.
No turning back. It’s a septic pumper, essential
to our country way of living. I do a double-
take—this road’s not meant for laughing.
Message painted neatly on the bumper:
HAULING POLITICAL PROMISES
Our thanks to Taylor Graham for these fine poems and pix today!
Those of us who read El Dorado County's Mountain Democrat, longest-running newspaper in California, were able to enjoy an article yesterday (Wednesday, June 21) about Sacramento Poetry Center’s archives—nearly 40 years’ worth of articles such as posters, scrapbooks and publications—coming to CSUS, to be housed in the Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives at the CSUS library. The collection is open to the public.
Thursday night is Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Cafe, with featured readers and open mic, 8pm.
And the summer issue of the online Canary literary magazine about climate issues, from Gail Entrekin in the Bay Area, is now available at canarylitmag.org/.
Photos in this column can be enlarged by clicking on them once,
then click on the X in the top right corner to come back