Up a crooked alley and through
the green door that opens
on a new photo exhibit, animals
of the Sierra. A bald eagle preening;
cowpony performing a corkscrew
in midair, four hooves off the ground,
head down, eye intense to its work.
But it’s the close-up of a black bear
that catches me: forepaws crossed
beneath its muzzle as if praying—eyes
uncomplaining, no bitterness
at this world. On the internet, story
about a black bear who wandered
into a human neighborhood;
tranquilized with two darts, placed
in a trap, relocated. I wonder—
to his old familiar forest?
or in exile now, remembering
a place he came from? Creatures
take life as it’s given.
WAITING FOR THE WAGON TRAIN
My brain without horses is an inbox stuffed
with words, a planked landscape. We’ve waited
in a drizzle, buttoned up to the chin in June.
It’s cold wind, a flurry of boys keeping warm
by yelling noise. We digitally count time.
This might be the very last occasion. Days ago,
the train left Stateline on a route we humans
could drive in a couple of hours, barring Nature.
We still don’t control weather and the earth
under our feet or above our heads. Landslide.
Drizzle. At last, sirens. The wagons are coming!
They might never come again. We’ve heard
whispers. The divine traveling among us, taking
the old wagon-masters on trails we don’t
know. Could this be the last year? But here,
not ten feet away, is a creature bigger than myth.
I’d forgotten how huge a Percheron can be.
How placidly he shakes earth, leaves it
unharmed. How knowing and forgiving his eye.
—Kenneth E Maher Photography
LOOK IN THEIR EYES
photos of the Wakamatsu colonists c. 1870
Whose face on the wall?
No smiles for photos back then.
When war drives you out,
across the sea becomes home
if your roots take hold.
Woman’s hand on man’s shoulder,
man’s hand around sleeping child.
Three men together—
whom did they each leave behind?
And this man’s portrait,
eyes and mouth set to endure
what comes of new world’s weather.
Like bees they scatter
into raw fields of flowers.
Honeybees fly home.
— Kenneth E Maher Photography
TWO WINGS OF A SEED
I asked you about the kanji for silkworm.
You pointed to a pair of white-
kimono’d ladies floating toward the pavilion,
its great drum. Interim of flute
dressed as if in birdsong then silence.
What the cost of two sticks
proving a woman’s hands as she becomes
protagonist in a wordless drama
I don’t, or do I, understand?
They move about the drum striking it
by turns. No wind to lift
kites in the field. Hardly a nibble of breeze
in keyaki tree, pucker of silk-
worm mouth working mulberry leaves.
But like two wings
of a seed floating tree to earth
they revolve around the drum slowly,
at times striking stick
to skin, the rhythm’s intensity advancing
a stately seed-wing dance,
metamorphosis to white-sleeve
flight of muscles choreographed,
tuned to drum dance.
Is there a kanji for silkworm,
heavenly bug, waking as silken butterfly?
CHILD OF THE MOUNTAIN
He never left. But, pen in hand alive
with a word, he died. Old man remembering—
alone in dark woods as a child but not lost—
a chickadee lit on his toe. He died
remembering life briefer than the bird
who touched him so particularly, as if an angel.
From sky to earth no rivers bide, life
being briefer. He’d taste each water as it flowed
from sky to earth, transcribing not the angel,
but a tiding river, its silences
as it flowed. He was unchained dog,
silence of a dog’s lament;then its bark,
thunder unchained. He was river, dog, child
alone in the dark woods. Not lost.
He died, pen in hand, alive with a word.
OVER THE SUMMIT
Ovillejo for the Wagon Train
Hear the mountain tumbling its falls?
An echo calls.
Sky chases thunder clouds above.
Don’t you love
a nicker, pricked ears, windblown tail?
the long trail.
Here’s a history like myth, this tale
that we’ve heard retold all our lives;
its mystery unfading survives.
An echo calls “don’t you love the long trail?”
Is that the slap of waves against hull,
or muffled beat of drums I hear? drums
of a homeland across untranslatable time
and space, hopes tiding to the horizon.
In Black Lagoon, a wake through willow-
pollen sends ripples in ever-wider rings
as if to reach a distant land, to touch it
with a traveler’s yearning, lives ago.
—Medusa, with thanks to Taylor Graham for today’s fine collection of poems and photos!
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