Thursday, June 28, 2018

Rider Out!

—Poems and Photos by Taylor Graham, Placerville, CA


Not a tough hike but the kid mutters like
a raw recruit. He’s never carried a pack,
maybe regrets the compact he made,
“summer camp” with Grandpa.
The dogs race ahead, finding trail,
intuiting direction while Gramps orients
himself with quad sheet and compass.
Dogs prefer dog-reckoning, magnetic
in the DNA.
        Will we hear whippoorwills?
the kid wants to know. Grandpa says,
In the evolutions of carbon and
geography, this mountain missed out
on whippoorwills. Even the poorwill lives
lower down the hill. But nighthawks!

        A boy will lie in his mummybag
under a zillion stars, listening
to forest at night-work, as lake laps
against its granite bowl,
                waiting for nighthawk,
who according to Gramps hunts insects
almost multitudinous as stars.


I gave up on finding the canal the street
was named for. Flowing water gone without
a trace, no longer feeding into bigger waters
where colors glide in and out of each other
like a madras print down-canyon.
From Canal I’ve come to Quartz Hill, steep
little trail gouged in hardpan, intersecting
what used to be a Gold Rush ditch.
What might I find this morning?
a single worn-out glove, a doll’s head lost
in tousled coyotebush, chamise, manzanita.
The homeless used to live
here temporary as miners who dug the ditch—
abandoned now. The city drove the homeless
out, scattering litter. This morning
keeps quietly busy, breeze cleaning house.
Glint through brush might be the fox,
who turns his head my way in passing,
silent as morning profitably spent.


A sign: how many acres up for sale
beyond Denny’s and Motel 6.
Here’s triteleia, chalice like a grail
blooming among rocks and sticks

beyond Denny’s and Motel 6
where the homeless camp for lack of cash.
Blooming among rocks and sticks,
a tarp, a temporary stash

where homeless camp for lack of cash.
A rusty axle going nowhere,
a tarp, a temporary stash
under blue unencumbered air.

A rusty axle going nowhere—
no Keep Out signs on fence or wall
under blue unencumbered air
where’s soon to be a shopping mall.

No Keep Out signs on fence or wall
and so I walk the land for free
where’s soon to be a shopping mall,
not buying stump that was a tree.

And so I walk the land for free—
here’s triteleia, chalice like a grail—
not buying. Stump that was a tree:
a sign. How many acres up for sale.


My donation of time to research—
no, to getting dirty on land parched and
plain as a bare room with the walls
knocked away. Here, meadow gives up
to chaparral: plants I’ve overlooked
or never heard of; endemic, rare
or endangered. Flannelbush and bedstraw,
soaproot, a morning-glory known
only here. The pay-off? I couldn’t say.
Acres of scruffy brush that holds secrets
we haven’t guessed. A rough trail
climbs to a saddle where we can look
as if forever, while overhead
a great bird circles, weaving us into
its shadow as if to make us stay.


Head-high wild oats,
slender tapers ready for a flame.
Land still in shadow of the ridge
till sun ignites everything with light,
trees along the dry creek-bed,
each green distinct from the others,
so closely rooted, each tree
with its separate life—valley oak,
live oak, buckeye, willow,
wild plum plumping its tiny fruit
for the birds and me. 


           skewbald mare on the Pony Express

The first time I saw her dance,

slide into a twist

matching her partner’s unseen move—
She’ll do anything, he said,

for watermelon.
Tonight again, backlit

by setting sun mincing a smart pace

slowing traffic
she stopped at a touch

of her partner’s hand, stood statue
so I could notice the surprising

black of her tail,

long whiskers she let me touch
the soft of her muzzle,
it was the last of gloaming.


    Pony Express Re-Ride June 20, 2018

Incoming’s four hooves off the ground—
paved shoulder inches from traffic
eastbound. The cars want to go faster
than a small pinto mare. How long would it
take to drive to St. Joe, Missouri? Ten
days riding day and night. Night’s driving
out daylight, sun already over the ridge
west. I squint to watch horse and rider halt
precisely inches from traffic. Rider In!
smooth dismount, he lifts the great leather
mochila blanketing his saddle, one fluid
sweep it seems, lifts it again—slight pause
positioning precisely over the saddle
of a tall bay gelding waiting its turn. Rider
up—Rider Out! headed into dimming
daylight, where some miles west a black
horse with white star is being walked,
loosened up for the next ride. Already it’s
night. Too dark for my iPad to catch
a black horse, star or not. Beyond
our foothill towns, offset from highway,
the canyon trail climbs under a half-moon
toward Tahoe—leaving us unhorsed
still at roadside calling Safe Journey!


Today’s LittleNip:

—Taylor Graham

    Tuesday at Two

Back room at the Senior Center, sunlight
comes through the window filtered by leaves;
two long wooden tables meant for
laying out scraps of fabric
to stitch into patterns
as we do, busy
at quilting of
poems from
scraps of


Many thanks to Taylor Graham for her fine poems today, including bringing us a taste of this year’s Pony Express Re-Ride. For more about that, go to


 Pony Express Rider by Valery Kagounkin
For more about the Pony Express, 
including an article by Mark Twain, go to 

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
to Medusa.