INDEX



ASHTON

Ashton,
for once go taste your own strong salt
go touch the crowded tongues of mustard
go kiss the cormorant bones
but don't hold me; my hands can't offer help
Go find a frame where I am not the only thing
in which you see yourself

Ashton,
you wrap yourself up in that nice brown bag
You squint into that amber spyglass, and you spot steadier land
where I see stars above the softest marsh's mud
If you can stand there you'll be proud, but if you can't
what passing hand will pull you up?

Underneath the sacks of seed and bags of sallow hay
up comes the cattail reed
Up comes the bottom of the bay
Go sew your broken teeth between the rows of overwatered wheat
A mouth may grow, though the field lays fallow.

Ashton,
what billows at your front porch now?
If that's your white shirt on the fishing wire
I will not cut it down
I won't hold you - I cannot keep you still
The wind's been chewing and the sun's slight ribs
and now it's getting at you, too.

SOLEMN BIRD

Come down from your ghostly perch
silver poplar, and congress of birch
Solemn bird, come down

Be a man who will not be cowed
a man with soft hands and a rubbery mouth
When one branch of the birch must be bowed
allow one banch to be bent, and one to be proud.

I take my sip from the fissured bell
I take what hits I can, and I raise my hell
Only time will tell which is free.

You take your sip from the lion's maw
You peck at his black lip, and you steal his barbed tongue
See what strange, strange harm a small bird has done.

Be a man who will not be feared
with a nest in your great russet beard
with a flush on your chest, and fierce cheer
and soft flesh where a feather once reared

Oh, my dear
be near

Bear away your gifts and your body of half-baked clay
Bear away your bottles of whistling beer
I am only a slip of myself just yet
you are only a feint frontier.

RAMPAGES EASTWARD

You weren't much
just dust swirling in your car
smoke on my mother's porch
and your flippant heart

I don't know you
I did not count your grey hairs
I cannot say you'll die before you hit sixty five
though you're likely to

Oh, I was caught in some long summer
gone black-eyed from borrowing your steam
So I lose myself sometimes
but I'm not unredeemed

I envy them:
your hands, and the space they span
the attention that they demand
and do not seem to mind

But you curse and fold just as autumn is crawling in
Still, what rampages eastward, wet and slickly red
won't make you bold

Oh, I was caught in some long summer
gone black-eyed from borrowing your steam
So I lose myself sometimes
but I'm not unredeemed

I pace low lately, in this box with its windows barred
a big cat in a circus cart, sleepless nextdoor for the gallery

But do your neighbours know
about the crowding of aborted scales
the vanished signal in the static space of interstates
and your loud, loud voice?

Oh, I was caught in some long summer
gone black-eyed from borrowing your steam
So I lose myself sometimes
but I'm not unredeemed

BIXBY

You lay your belly on the stone
You put your face down in the water
You wore my eyes, you wore your grandfather's sweatshirt
You wore that winter light as if it were a hood

You hung your head out like a dog
you drove the heat from me, you hollered
I turned the cliff
I turned my cold collar upward
You turned your lips to see your teeth bared to the wind

But send no call to cover me
no postman, and no pale grey gull
no road to the bridge above Bixby
In our aimlessness, we are faded
In our nights, man, we are all our own

And January is a joke
January is a fever
Your feet were cold, your faith could not be recovered
You bought me for a square of chocolate and a poem

I broke the turnstile and the phone
I broke the mouth of copper wire
I ate the basin with its clandestine orchard
I took your face in both my hands and watched it fall

But send no call to cover me
no postman, and no pale grey gull
no road to the bridge above Bixby
In our aimlessness, we are faded
In our nights, man, we are all our own

And we have both been castaways
but you're not sinking in these shallows
I am not letting go, and I do not agree to follow you down
You bear that heavy load; I am prepared to hear it now

But send no call to comfort me
Come quiet, or come not at all
by the road to the bridge above Bixby
On the face of it nothing's fated
but in the nights, man, we are right where we belong

I DID NOT SPEAK IT

As all those houses falling waterward, I fell
with your back to the hills, with your clothing all filthy
standing terribly still

Like a child just barely old enough
to see that she won't long be young

I saw it
I did not believe it
so I did not speak it

And I woke wrapped in your riding jacket
with a mouthful of sand, with a throat full of furtive sadness
Like a widow startled by some strange resemblance

I saw you
but I did not know you
so I did not speak it

One lost post card from high country:
does it master me? Am I captive
trading an honest thing for more silence?

And I drove down to your dry white city with no sleep
With no place to call home
I was drawn past your door
I was drawn on and on
As if convinced by one small loss
that all that's gained comes at great cost

I called you
but I could not reach you
so I did not speak it

I DO IN THE DARK

I tried to count the bluejays my father shot
their tiny wars of ceaseless noise against his pellet gun
I was twelve
they were jumpers to be caught: brothers of my heart
Like them, I'd die before I stopped

And I had hoped I was a liar, not a fake
that I could take this name without taking its place
That I would be bold:
bald-faced as fickle snow, and stony roads
that told you they would lead you home
They told you they would lead you home

I am just this:
sullen, and stateless
just this artless thrumming
just this howling I do in the dark

"Song is nothing but a bully," says my love.
"It takes your money. It'll take all of your trust
and wake your polaroids, and whittle down your poplar chest
and make you a real boy, with a bruise bloomed in your bonfire ribs.
I've got a bruise, too; I am proof that you get used to it."

I am just this:
sullen, and stateless
nothing but this artless thrumming
just this howling I do in the dark.

WHAT IN BOB'S NAME

Go with old Impatiens, bursting coiled and green
with your brothers bruised like summer
pale petals on your cheeks
Go, and take your quick words with you
teach me nothing more

Sweet, your brothers went and brought you a slow, barbed snail
But what's that happy scent they caught you?
What in god's name is that smell?
Iron swimming on your shins in old mosquito swells
teach me nothing else

Your whip
your whistle
your history of hot needles:
can I cast them off?
Can I - can I - can I go?

And can I please be brave?
And can I treat these comforts (like pepper,
like all sharper things) as a trade?
I'll raze our house and wave the dust away

But give me just one dripping plum, give me a July bath
and I will drag my tongue down every surface and each salty back
And I will let you plunder no good ground again
but give me what I had

my whip
my whistle
my history of hot needles
and I will cast them off
I will go

BODIE

Goodbye, god; I'm going to Bodie
to lie down in sage and hard, dry snow
It's bright, god, in Bodie:
those wide streets do not bask in your shadowv
Goodbye, god; I'll marry a miner
and lie down and bear him a miner's son
A child, god, of silver hills
high on thin air and pale bottled poppy

Black mouth, ready mountain
carry me home by the bad road
Half-grown, bitter water in the ground
carry me home, carry on

Goodbye, god; the parish has been emptied
and I cannot find its flock
They've all gone away, god
or they've gone beneath the rock

Goodbye, god; the wind has grown peckish here
It bites hard, chews your lips
and it chaps your ragged ears
I'll walk on, god, to the valley where your bones are bared
where the tall salt towers, and the water repairs

Black mouth, ready mountain
carry my home by the bad road
Half-grown, bitter water in the ground
carry me home, carry on

Don't bury me where the parish has been emptied
and I cannot find its flock
They've all gone away, god
or they've gone beneath the rock

BIG DESIRE

Do you remember Pescadero?
Sunflower men outside the county store
they spit their seed out. They spit it so far
And in the boneyard of St. Anthony, behind the town
you wished for one of them sunflower men to lay you dow
and he laid you down

Now all your dates are at the deli
He plugs your belly with his country fare
but it won't fill you up; you've got to go somewhere
And you've been thinking about the city, with its million eyes
You'd think a million more might do you well
well, you'd be surprised

I could sleep soft in your kitchen
like the kettle whistling far too long
like the hat hung on your door knob
or the radio that's never on

So I'll be driving up to Albion
a thousand faces in a plunging bay
someone must love them all - someone must know their names
And they will sleep soft in their kitchens and their parlors
they will sleep soft in their river soil, and
go back home

ONE FOR A SECOND SON

Son, tell your feet
tell your feet not to hurry
Let them be; let them season like pine
and blue columbine
Let them lie

Son, tell your hands
tell your hands they're too heavy
How they carry the air
as if air were a stone or a spear
Let them spare me my only heart

Fill your breast like a beaten hull or take the metal off:
silver, bronxe, or tin, or gold, or cold
cold copper to cover what you ought not

You'll have your turn
Have no thirst but your brother's
Pass the urn and the earthenware cup
when the first's had enough
you'll have some

But have no pride
have no pride but what's offered
How you rise form the wine
as if wine were his shield or his shrine
How you shy from him
you shy from my only heart

Fill your breast like a beaten hull or take the metal off:
silver, bronxe, or tin, or gold, or cold
cold copper to cover what you ought not

You'll have my ways
and the face of my father
and the trace of my hand in your hide
where he laid his own line down on me

SIBLEY/JOAQUIN

Thought I saw the stag's head pinned high on the blue gum tree
just a broken bough, a torn t-shirt tied round the leaves
I came home all thistled, with deep purple knees;
I was tired to the bone

An outside cat will still come home, if it's cold
And if it don't come back, kid
it's just that home is wherever the light goes

Cap the bottle's whisper and catch the water's cough
Tear this cotton dress away from me, take your coat off
moss'll make a bed on the slippery rock
when you're tired to the bone

You drink your whiskey - I will drink my thistle milk
from the bowl of that belly I know
we both ought to try harder to fill

Who will climb the slope of that green mosquito hill?
Who will sleep in that soft grass again?
Who will swell like a red, red fruit, and let the land have its kill?
When you're tired to the bone
you will


NUDE IN PEARLS

Wax the pear, pass the wine, pit the pale whalebone
Dust the wig, draw the blinds, wet your crude white horn

On the parquet in our bloody drawers
the things we are obey the things we were

Shut the door, share the crop, close your cold cudgel mouth
Toss the skin, skip the meal, mend your thin muslin now

On the marble in our muddy shrouds
the things we are will make our mothers proud

If you can peel the grape
and you can wield your teeth
if when you sleep with me I sleep easily
if you're the easel or the honey bee
if you're the seed, if you're the sea
I'll make you king

Clip the hawk, cage the hound, hide the bald bear rug
boil the pot, peel the beet, bite your rude red tongue

stark and naked on the new shaved lawn
the things they take form you must make you strong

BITTERROOT, INDIGO

Lost names of all our native sons
a soft strip of chalk caught
on the cheek of some unruly one
coming home

Dry Bitteroot, indigo
in the finite arc of the false star
drowned in the shuddering light
down below

A hound is bawling in the dark
some fleet footed bounder caught
and mounted on your grinning wall
coming home

Dry, bitter fruit, bitter stone
in the finite arc of the false god
drowned in the shuddering hind
drowned in oaths

Stealing charts for passengerless waters
the heart starts for far reaches
burying the bird beneath the archer
Bring no blood; break the old oaken bow

A train of winters tried and spent
a cheap dozen acres chase the child out and back again
coming home

Dry, bitter truth, bitter cold
in the finite arc of the far-gone
caught in the muttering sky
caught in ice

Calling home for all familiar colors
the heart starts for far reaches
burying the thirst beneath the hunger
Bring the blood - bring the organ and bone

Some trace of moon lies still defiant (true)
some ancient, blue-lined will of iron (true)
some wale, some bruise tied to the mountains (true)

YOU WANTED TO BE A BIRD

You wanted to be a bird
but you are a solid man of too many words
You in the gully come June
scratching your elbows, talking shit:
pass me yours hard-earned fruit
and I'll grin for it

Is it heavier to have loved
than not to have known at all?
You and I here, on some trail
obscured from better known roads

I wanted to know your skin
to reach for your browning wrist
and gather you in

You in the brackish divide
fog in a low-hanging sheet, coming swift
call it a name for good things
that must fade to persist

Is it heavier to have loved
than not to have known at all?
You and I here, on some trail
obscured from better known roads
Take your fill, then, of the water
and I will see you home
what you want of me I will not offer, yet:
it is still his to hold

High growth

And what irony, what strange light
false goodbyes from the dim of Ohlone
What tiny dismantlings, what faint signs
and what obvious genstures the water provides

You in implausible greens
and I still a burning child
too long in the sea

I am uneager, uncalled
to catch just a glimpse of a wing or a word
and pass it by blindly without taking note

We're no strangers not to be loved
or not to be known at all
you and I here, on this trail
obscured from better known roads
We may need some wind - some new language, stranger tones
calling out against all those distances we can't yet close

High growth

TROUBLE

Wade or go under
I'll hold the line, a loose tether
I know the water
what bears your home, or on to better harbors

The trouble always comes
and the trouble always goes
and the trouble's always one you know

Fathom for fathom
there are some faults so deep we don't map them
But go slow, get past them
so low, so long, but still
you'll last the distance

The trouble always comes
and the trouble always goes
and the trouble's always one you know

Nobody wants to be the face of doubt:
only mountains, only lions
only certain, only proud

but oft are we quiet
cut off from wind or caught by it
or lost on some tidal edge
and found again on soft, unsettled islands

and the trouble always comes
and the trouble always goes
and the trouble's always one you know

TOWNSHEND

Each morning brings a bright parade
The marchers brawl and sing and all forget their names
And pennants crowd the narrow sky
the city groans and swells and holds itself up
only out of spite

What a bloom of life:
empty rooms for miles and miles
Find a cool and dusty noon and lose the human tide

or mark the hours in migrant warmth
an arc of rhomboid suns on darkened walls and floors
Or brave the crush of sweat and sound
by train or scarred canal, to trace the artery to greener ground

Find a way unbound:
empty plains stretch out and out
Take an old and dusty road
and make the lonesome proud

Where brick and blacktop go bald
the carapace bared, the organs embalmed
there the dried up vital divine
the violent twilight, the titan resigned

Wide as the hand of the tenement was
the body worn or covered up
light's all gone, sputtering long in the distance
lost, with any luck

If ever there were giants here, they've gone
the silent peerless ones, goliaths ground to dust
What evening was confined here, and caught?
What ancient amber-drowned, what patient land
what last and bounded loss?

How it crowds and throngs:
settled mountains, cricket songs
sage, and wind, what slithers in the dust
what just wades on

WHAT'S ONCE?

When you fall
fleet, apparitional pull
will you follow me home
tremble beside me, travel on?

What's once in the dark?
Come again at dawn, on foot
Bring your paperbacks
and your ordinary tongue

Some may go
blue as the shuddering coal
but come, you, come to me close
bury your feet in my bed: be enough

What's one quiet noon?
Come again tonight, on foot
in your oldest clothes, and your ordinary hide

How the slough shivers
clawed and beaked and crowned with feathers
Better weather out the winter
together

Trees may blush
rosy as gathering dusk
and we may last long enough
to see them drop apricots, apples, and plums

That's one season gone
and another comes: all dressed up
in its finest tones
singing all its favourite songs

THEY WERE MINE

All the fondest old worries
covered in mud
covered in dust from the quarry
Digging to withdraw them
heavy words gone too long
before the hunger had begun

They were mine
They were mine, once

Don't forget the doors and windows:
remember you're weak of flesh
your body a beacon to be battled
Stones cast in the entry
every echoing sign
returned to careful passersby:

they were mine
They were mine, once

All drenched in hard, white morning
spat upon by almight glory
what falls, and what fell before me:
some euphoria, a loss
I could not shame or linger on

All the fondest old worries
covered in mud
covered in dust from the quarry
they let go their belongings
strangest organs interred
returned to ordinary dirt

They were mine
they were mine, once

MADERA RANCH

I would trade all of this formless bitterness
for dust, in the afternoon's bright, scattered palace
and you with your soft shirt, you with no witnesses
a slow drummer beating moments from sleep

You make a better space for me
I make a better space for you

And I am no master, no half-assed passenger
call me not captor; call me by name
And offer no ivory or cold alabaster
but offer the patterned and weather-worn face

and stay another day for me
I stay another day for you

No light, no cover, no comfort
as warm as mine
No shore, no water, no pleasure
as wide as yours

To all of those strangers and brave, baffling challengers
I gave an answering bruise for each bruise
But I would trade every hard, heavy utterance
to be good to them as I am good to you

You make a better one of me
I make a better on of you.

No light, no cover, no comfort
as warm as mine
No shore, no water, no pleasure
as wide as yours