Saturday, November 23, 2013


North Fork, Kings River

Rumor was the other scouts planned to strip us
down to underwear, cover us in molasses,
pour cornflakes all over us, urinate on us,
and throw us into the swift river

at midnight. Instead, after dark 
they lured me far beyond
the campground and ditched me.
No moon. No flashlight. At first,

I inched forward, striving to avoid
holes, rocks, fallen branches. When
I felt hopeless, I listened for the river 
and lurched toward its dull roar until

I found a mossy outhouse at the edge
of the campground. Exhausted
by a day of sprinting everywhere, truth
be told, l knew that I would not have lasted

until midnight. Truth be told, I didn’t realize
that being ditched was my first initiation
until forty years later, when once again
alone in the darkness, I recalled

locating the silent camp and crawling
deep into my sleeping bag, warmed 
by breath and body heat--so deep
I wondered for a moment if I might

suffocate while I slept, but I woke 
to my Dad outside the tent wondering
where I was. Ready for a new day,
ecstatic that my worst fears had not

been realized, I was like someone
who could not be hurt for long, who
would always find his way even
on a moonless night. If I could

relive that moment so intensely
that I would experience all without
bitterness or regret, letting go
of whatever does not serve me,

would I be like an eternal child
or god in some perpetual dance?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Pepi in Poppies

Charging herds of cattle,
he convinced them to stampede--
They headed up and headed down
and headed straight at me.

Up to his neck in cold creek water,
he would take a little drink,
but when he heard bath water
he’d hide beneath the sink.

He yapped maniacally at quail,
but never caught a one. 
Once he chased a slow coyote
deep into its lair,

then yipped his little head off
to make them all aware.
With an alpha close behind
my munchkin trotted back

as though he’d conquered Asia
and left them blind with fear.
The alpha stared a minute,
appraising both its prey--

It looked at him, and then at me,
then shrugged and loped away.
Sniffing holes near boulders,
for a little taste of rodent,

my friend again ignored my calls 
and barked so loud a bobcat
scrambled by me down the hill--so fast
I never touched my knife.

Once he charged a dog as large
as a smallish bear, and the monster
squatted on his body--the Great Pepi
was simply trying to protect me.

Unable now to even move, he yelps
at death--I lightly cradle his head
and know from him I learned a little
about what it means to be human.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Poppies and Miniature Lupine

I galloped along a trail
without any sense of direction,
the forest suddenly silent
after my friends
scattered. I knew
they were hiding
somewhere, hoping
I would panic. His father
dead from cancer at forty,
Alan had emerged, wild
and fearless, as our leader--
always at war. He,
somewhere, was laughing
at me. One night,
we had followed him
on a raid of a rival
scout troop, and at his
bidding, I had pounced
on a pup tent,
flailing with my fists
on the boys inside
until they were quiet.
Then we trotted off
and crouched in the grass,
until Alan, without
warning, called out
the other troop. As they
dashed toward us
in total darkness,
Alan swung a long chain
over his head--and if I
had not blurted out
a warning, they would not
have backed off
in time. Alan recently
had gotten his hands
on a bottle of 151 rum
and soda, mixing
the liquids in a cup;
at his command,
three times I guzzled
fire. Then we pedaled
to Alan’s house to play cards,
my head reeling in
half an hour. I soon
passed out, throwing up
all over the table. They
dragged me to the park
and made me jog back
and forth--even though
I kept collapsing. I was
half-dead for three whole days.
Once I also followed Alan
into a cave; he turned off
the flashlight and ditched me
in complete darkness--I only
inched my way out
by feeling my way along
the cold stone walls.
Lost in the forest, I once again
cursed Alan, but I sensed
that he had a strange need
To make each one of us feel
vulnerable and alone
even as he demanded
that we always join him
in his interminable battles
against the world. I,
strangely, didn't feel alone
as I brushed the rough bark
of an oak and the delicate petals
of lupine and poppies.

Lupine and Poppies

I was totally worn out
by the time I, purely
by chance, stepped out
of the forest at the point
where they were throwing
rocks at the river. As we
rode home, I had a premonition
that I too would lose my father
soon. I tried to dismiss
the thought, but it stayed
with me for a twenty
terrible minutes as we wound
down the mountain side,
and I knew it was out
of my control. I would be lost,
completely alone, and maybe
I would remain that way for the rest
of my life, and no matter what I did
or how hard I tried, nobody would
understand my loss. As the car
wove down the hill, the feeling
slowly subsided, and I forgot
as I gazed out the window
at the brilliant flesh
of flowers on the slopes.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Columbine By a Creek

The old woman, rolling away 
on a stretcher, clawed the air, 
leaving goo an inch deep 
in her frying pan, a sink 
and counter conquered 
by crusty dishes, countless
bottles on the windowsills,
and the odor of cat deep 
in the carpet. I had once 
stared at heart-shaped leaves 
of a coleus, timeless, 
my grandmother timeless too 
as she washed dishes in a patch 
of sunlight before my mother 
returned. The dog and turtle 
at home shared the secret 
with the toad, the swallow, 
the columbine, the tiny creek 
in the neighborhood, before 
I was called back and scolding 
broke the spell. I was afraid 
of the war like everyone, sure 
that it would drag on 
until my time came, and I forgot,
waking to the alarm clock 
so that I could see my father home 
from work before I got ready 
for school. I believed then
that we had one chance 
to forget the clock, 
that we could conquer those 
who fed us time--we could 
because we knew we were 
a family that included 
the turtle and the dog, the reed 
and the minnow, and we could see 
the secret in each other's eyes, 
gazing hard a long time 
because we had to. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Snake in the Roots

From a high ledge, 
I tossed a rock 
Into a lush backwash, 
The splash
Pushing striders, 
Lighter than water, 
Out of their refuge. 
After a moment, they
Reappeared, unperturbed 
By the explosion. 
The rocks bigger, my fervor
Ever greater as I kept 
Missing the mark,
The striders vanished, 
all at once, and I felt
Mean for ruining
A deep, sacred order. I 
Climbed back down 
The cliff, hoping
The striders would return. 
As I stepped out 
onto slippery stones, 
A black snake began
Slithering toward me
On top of the water, 
Its body suddenly
Whipping around rocks, 
Quick as a dipper. 
I swayed slightly,
Curious, incredulous--
And in seconds the snake
Lunged at my chest. 
As it flew toward me, 
I held up my hand, palm
Open, the front of its fangs
Hitting flat life lines; 
It tumbled back
Into the river and slid off,
Surprised that it had not 
Hooked into soft flesh--
Then between stones 
It vanished
As liquid as ripples--
And me with nothing to prove
That I had been attacked
By a guardian
Of the river....

Friday, November 8, 2013


Morro Rock

Nothing would stay put in those heaves. 
They stabbed and stuck, with spiny gills
and needle-like teeth; sharp fins sheared
through burlap--I wanted to murder
them there.  Lingcod gorged
on snapper even in my sack,
tails protruding
from insatiable maws,
heads stuck
in dead throats--and me,
with hopeless legs, clinging
to the railing
while the deckhand chuckled,
and the whole world rolled,
unable to leap into the waves.