Thursday, June 14, 2018

Skew-Whiffing Into Summer

—Poems and Photos by Taylor Graham, Placerville, CA


Riders catch this morning’s sun
splayed out on a bit of lawn
or leaned against a tree in shade.
Half an hour till hitch-up,
an hour till wagons start to roll.
Breeze goes wandering through
the tether oaks and a saddle horse
gets restless to be on the road.


The lead hitch stands in Percheron-black
shadow of pavement edge, waiting
to be hitched to wagon. A huddle of massive
crests and haunches dwarfing the teenage
girls who check headstalls—their soothing
hands. A buckskinned rider—coonskin
hat hung from saddle horn—is hunched
over, cradling his horse’s foot for one last
hoof-pick. The horse flips up his head, deep-
nickers song-without-words for the road.


Raven like a winged wagon master
low above the meadow. Shade is staked out
for horses on halter, at ease as riders
and teamsters talk of this and that,
the God-sent weather of this year’s event—
no downpour, no swelter, no hail.
Evening glow of moonlight on the canvas
tops of wagons and the blessing of all-
night rest. The folks who’ve traveled on
since last year—Randy, Marilyn, Claris,
and yes, our Cindy—maybe they’re resting
in shadow of a tall-tree stringer, gazing
out to pasture where the long-gone
still-loved horses graze, living again.


Below the summit,
on bare-rock scree we found

mandala in a flower.
So whitely delicate its trinity

of petals, each with
blood-red eye. I could lose

myself in its design.
Its corm so deeply rooted,

it’s one with mountain.
Like monks’ work of sand it

summer-blooms then scatters
in wind over the summit

where clouds
are lily-heads darkening

their eyes. Gathering storm.
By tomorrow, gone.


That day I was driving the Quilt Trail—
heirloom patterns painted on plywood, hung
on barns, historic inns and granges scattered all
over this part of our rural county. Third stop,
a tree farm. Scottish Cross emblazoned on a shed
busy with mid-summer berries. Telling me
the cross was family heritage, the lady wished me
good luck of the road. I was headed, now,
for a rainbow orchard, its donut-fan quilt pattern.
But I was thinking of my own Scots heritage,
the stubborn part that never asks directions.
So I skew-whiffed a turn and soon
the road left pavement, shunted off its second
lane above steep’ning ravine that delved
under bigleaf maple and dogwood. Trees
overwhelmed the dirt track, greening what
sunlight leaked through. The last house miles
behind me. I stopped to get my bearings.
On every side, green-gold leaves haivered,
pointing every which way. You’re scunnered,
I told myself. But myself said No, this is
grand! Just take a picture of when
you got lost and found yourself right here.


Tahoe, 1800s, from Guy Nixon’s A River Divided

Sky-lake clear as heavens viewed through ice;
white waves on sand. Summer waters
with Lahontan trout, forests of grouse and deer;
rocky escarpments with bighorn sheep.

Washoe travel on foot, up-mountain to summer
here. They fit their lives to landscape.

But on sandy beach, strange sign:
horsemen have left telltale hoofprints, bandy-
legged grip-girth footprints. They’ve come
for summer game. Their favored prey: human—

men, women, children they hunt
on horseback, steal them away.

Spotting those hoofprints and skewed man-
tracks, Washoe slip to rocky shores not good
for horses. They won’t be taken from the sky-
lake, led down to lowlands, sold as slaves.


Horses in the shade, waiting. Day 6 of Wagon
Train about to start. Travel speed 3 mph.
I’ve shot too many photos just standing still,
I leave the waiting place and choose a peavine
trail that leads who knows where into endless
off-the-highway woods. Like horses and 6-
day-&-nighted humans, I’m itching to move.
The woods open like a green book of koans
giving no answer on what and how to leave.

Today’s LittleNip:

—Taylor Graham

He aligns the post, plants it straight as a pike
in hardpan. Assurance of long acquaintance.
The sun’s a little bit late to hit this swale
on cusp of summer. A far extent of field
unmowed, uncharted though he knows
every foot of it. He could have paid
to have this done, but that would
neglect the connection a piece of ground
is owed, the owner always in its debt.


Looks like the 2018 Wagon Train has passed through, always a sign of impending summer up here in the foothills! Our thanks to Taylor Graham for photos of those wonderful horses, included the sleek black Percherons. For more about Guy Nixon’s
A River Divided, Chief Coppa Hembo, and a past celebration of his life, go to

Today from 11:30am to 1:30pm, area women are invited to a Women’s Expressive Writing Workshop with Sue Daly at Wellspring Women’s Center in Sacramento. (Sue Daly will be reading with Chris Olander tomorrow night at The Other Voice in Davis, 27074 Patwin Rd., Davis, 7:30pm.) 

Tonight, 8pm, Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento will feature William O’Daly and Arturo Mantecon, plus open mic. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about these and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.

And a note that tomorrow, June 15, is the deadline for the annual Swan Scythe Press Chapbook Contest. See


 Chief Coppa Hembo
Celebrate the poetry of our Native Americans!

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.