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La Valla Escondida

When I first came to this hidden place,
there were still citrus groves along Via Rancho;
lemon-scent’d air hung over blue lilac hills,
and those who grew up here talk of orchards
where now freeway & shopping mall
continue to encroach upon elfin forest. I could not
have endured the devastating sight of flowering oranges
bulldozed under for days on end in preparation for the parking pavilions.
          We don’t fight, we don’t scream-
          we rarely look up from our magazines..

The so-called end of the dry cycle this past year
has further eroded the land’s reprieve from development;
prickly pear & coyote gourd have overrun the disturbed soil
of the drought-abandoned country club/ golf course
(a resort in harmony with nature, the marketing ploy insists..)
& it has resurrected my buried soul to see this cactus fence
restore the scraped & raw land with waxy yellowrose blossoms this past spring.
          We don’t scream, we don’t fight-
          just fevered reading half the night..

Before the mall, before the orchards,
Many native plants here produce seeds,(I read in sweating bedsheets),
before the rails, before the tools even, were the fires;
that will only sprout when exposed to the high temperatures created
It was brown skin that lived in the valle these past hundreds of years-
Kumeyaay & descendants of ancient ones far south of here,
by extreme summer heat in combination with
and it will be brown-skin spirit that survives here long after the fiercest Santa Ana’s
have relentlessly burned these guarded acres of Yanqui commerce & investment..
uncontained, cyclical open-range conflagration.

..and arbutifolia once again covers this wounded land
from LaJolla to the San Gabriels,
to the high desert beyond.

Kindred Spirits (for Dixie)

I drove nearly a thousand miles
across three deserts
for our river ritual beneath the red moon;
across the quemado the Sunbird furied against time,
past ancient lava dunes sprouting
May’s verdescent splashes of sagebrush & snakeweed.
You circled above on a commuter flight
bound from Denver, floating
southerly along the contours of the Continental Divide;
& we arrived here at the middle of the world
like two errant crows riding
a thermal uplift of re-Union,
black wings shining high above the wide muddy at Cochiti.

The trailhead was marked solely
by a bank of river hawthorn,
a massing of soft rosado against dust-spattered, razor’d green.
Already it was an oppressively hot day
as we raced alongside the river
through thorny scrub & rustling cottonwoods
until we reached our sandy outpoint
in an exhilarated, expectant sweat.
Wading into the kneehigh, mudbrown eddy of swirling, warm water
white-skinn’d & awkward
like cattle egrets,
I followed your lead.
Reaching down into the current
& scooping up handfuls of the coppery silt, we
christened ourselves ‘a:ho’i
             living in the all-Mother.

We eventually emerge from the stillwater
oozing redmud from arms, legs & fingerpainted faces-
our darkened torsos tingling as the mud dried
under the baking sun;
& we fell down in our adobe skins.
By midafternoon, the mesa-edg’d sky closing in
with turgid cumulus, the air thick
with both insects & approaching rain,
we traced out a circle with willow switches,
outlined it in pebbles & stones washed downstream
from the Sangre de Cristos
& laid down our feathers-
       Salve santos,
we chanted into the blue canyons;
Salve todos santos y espiritus afines.

The next morning we are wayfarers
in separate hotel lobbies,
business-clad, all remnants of mud &
sun & feather scrubbed
clean away by soap & shampoo,
leaving us lusterless & aching for the river again;
Twin Arrows Wandering
a pyramid city
in search of transformation & mud bodies
in the rush-hour maelstrom.

Big Pine Rhapsody

we dust we dry day we chant the cloud away
we heat salt valley
ice & palisade-
we bract & blossom petal open
we sap the splendor bristlecone seedling
we shake the pine
we needle shine..

we climb we cling & faultline old gold mine
we slag & slate tectonic plate-
we slope & scale the rock
the rusted rail,
we vein the quartz cave
we cascade..

we track we black jackrabbit run
we mouse jump the nuthatches'
we muledeer-notch the trail
we raven soar we quail
we coyote wail
this big pine tune..

we loom we east sink deep soda spring
we sing strong the pronghorn
pinyon moon
we shadow long we shoshone song
we juniper skies
we jupiter rise..

we pulse we radiate we comet contemplate
we spin & spark in darkness
arc the night
we split the summit white snow bright
we shoot the starry dolomite..
grand view,
we soul ignite!

Poem for Leo

..and then it was mid-August,
the fairs & festivals of fertile summer had all paraded by,
seducing this humidity from tropical skies,
inducing a humility of labor;
this poem came into being accompanied
by diamonds & rust on the car radio,
moon in watery Cancer, a flamenco-like rhythm
on the landscape, storm of cumulus aloft;
born under a restless tawny lion,
it is a child of California,
smells faintly of Tulare apricots, sugar-pine woodsmoke,
salt on heavy air, & Amador’s sweetest black Muscat.
Science teaches that the act of breathing is involuntary,
but I swear this poem learned to breathe
with the ebb & flow of the bay tides,
rise & fall of Joan's guitar strings, its own voice
not unlike the sorghum-soprano descant that helped birth it-
it takes strange delight in the
you burst on the scene already a legend verse,
remembering David’s Song,
Hwy 101 revisited in an e-minor chorus,
lost & alone in a coast redwood forest,
listening to this midwife from Woodside, San Mateo county;
on a day too sultry to wear sleeves, much less underwear,
this poem covers its nakedness in summer gold,
a fold of foothills yarrow & swallowtail yellow,
tree-tobacco’s citron-flute & muted blue of roadside chicory
to remind itself of the sky before the monsoons came.
It allows nature to dictate its movements, left
part of itself behind in the razor-
snapp'd beak of corre-camino: Mexican roadrunner
now choking down dusty scales & whip-
snaking tail; rust-banded sagebrush lizard
escapes & extends its lifespan
one more miraculous day in the seeding chaparral.
This poem insists on remembering the word sacred
precedes datura, asks that it be taken at summer’s end
up into the Siskiyou’s and laid down in scarlet larkspur
at Maahcooatche, to await autumn’s diamond bright frost
where the deer come down to drink.

Luna, Bleeding

(outside Stafford, California)

The tree was named Luna
by a Butterfly named Julia, and
Luna was Julia’s home for 2 years
and a week, and a day.
In her tree, on a simple wooden platform,
she said she would be the voice and the face of the tree,
and for the whole forest that cannot speak for itself.

This tree is not just another number on a logging map..

Julia Hill, Arkansas preacher’s daughter,
surveys her world 18 stories above the ice-white coast fog.
200 feet tall, Luna has graced
the Headwaters ridge for 1000 years.
23 million trees, valued at 31 billion dollars-
this is what Julia endeavored to save for future generations,
and she began with Luna..

Love in our society has been devalued, Julia told us.
She had thought she’d be tree-sitting maybe a month.
True love is what made me sit in this tree for 738 days,
      to protect it.

But finally, she came down off her tree,
      barefoot blue & full of thanksgiving,
when word came that a compromise had been worked
out, that Pacific Lumber would spare the ancient trees,
that an old-growth sanctuary forest had been created.
Experts said the tree could now easily live another millennium.

On Thanksgiving Day, 3 years later, hikers discovered
that Luna had been dealt a deep & critical cut
across her girth, through to the pith,
which is her marrow; a chain saw’s distinctive pattern desecrates the tree..
Luna may not survive the winter in this,
one of the stormiest places on the Pacific coast.
1000 years of lightning, drought & gale
could not bring the tree down, but only made it stronger.

Her sap stains the ground; it may as well be blood.
Where are the elders? Call them to this place, let them bring their medicines.
Until then, we wait, singing softly, and listen to the winds shrieking back at us.

Cedar Breaks

South of the badlands & not far from the
coral-red dunes we came to sit amidst the redrock
where raven & quail are burnished
against unmoving air: smear
the red clay onto your face,
rub it deep into your pale skin
burning colorado on this cedar ledge under sun-dazed sky;
sit & become red, become clay..
let it seep slowly out of you,
the noise, the pain, the indifference-
sweat it out of your pores,
let it pour out in tears & in blood
as red & thick as this dust that now covers you,
grain by vermilion grain
ever settling, ever
around you..

Is there anything more comforting,
more familiar then,
than red sandstone,
ancient rock & sun?

This is my river place, western dreamscape
strewn with diamond sunlight
off Utah snow.