MONTANA, TOOTH AND CLAW
Fog loves the green, clings to our hair
like webs. We try ducking under,
but haze like spiders is everywhere,
draping its nets down low.
Fog freezes silver on needles,
spruce flocked like Christmas trees.
There should be sugarplums, baubles
and candles, grandchildren asleep
in the loft. Back home at sixty five,
we're alone with pines and elk
outside the cabin, our grandchildren
a thousand miles away. In Montana fog,
grizzlies crawl out of caves
and turn to frost, startled like aunts
growing old. The whole world's silent,
a Neiman Marcus window display--
exotic holiday costumes, wooden shoes
from Amsterdam, mannequins
with rouged Dutch chocolate cheeks--
seasonal art brief as sand paintings
or fog in Montana in March
before fog burns off, before bears
shake showers of silver in sunlight,
blinking, sniffing for elk calves
or fawns, whatever's just been born.
TURNING SIXTY-FIVE IN MONTANA
Ski slopes like albino tarantulas
balance on mountains miles away,
a distant, exotic landscape
carefully laid out. Today,
someone will fall, break legs
or maybe neck, may hit a tree.
I'll be here in the loft, or outside
chopping logs. I won't hear
the siren of the ski patrol.
An ambulance may speed away
toward town, too far away to see.
Downstairs, my wife boils water
for coffee. Soon, I'll hear
her steps on the stairs,
creak of boards I'll replace,
someday. She'll place the mug
on the desk, and turn,
not to disturb me, although
she'll know I'll rise and grab
her wrist. She'll twist back
ever so slowly onto my lap,
taking my glasses off,
ski slopes so far away
I won't see anyone but her.
You're on your own, the instructor said,
crawled out and down on the tarmac
and out of the prop wash. I nodded, looked down
at dials and gauges I knew blindfolded,
taxied out to the runway and added power,
full throttle, the whole world loud
and shuddering, nothing holding me back
but brakes shoved hard to check the gauges
one last time. Then release the brakes
and let go of the only earth. My legs
toe-danced the rudder to hold it straight
down the runway, buildings of the air base
rushing by, then lift, wheels breaking contact,
no turning back. Climbing, I raised the gear
and aimed for the wide, deep sky,
fighting an impulse to key the mike
and shout to the world like a cowboy,
corkscrewing up at the sun, the wild blue.
AFTER LIVING A LONG TIME AS ONE
Rubbing my eyes, I'm dazzled
by pinpoints of light, star bursts
I'll never see again, a trick
of vision's pressure and fluid.
I blink, and here's your face,
the wife I've known for decades,
wrinkles and splendid flecks
of gray, flesh I adore
and touch with my thumbs,
the blessing of caress.
NIGHTS IN THE SAN JUAN
Again last night, footsteps
or something thumping
on the door, or dreams
turning pine cones on the roof
to claws. Last night
in flashes of lightning,
whatever wanted in
was gone when I looked out.
I stoked the fire
and listened to rain in the pi¤ons.
You stirred under the quilts,
sat up in bed. For hours
we lay awake and held each other
far from telephones
with the river rising
and something wanting in.
First published in Puerto del Sol
LEAVING THE MIDDLE YEARS
Winter wheat and weeds shove green overnight,
off-season rain like irrigation wells.
Steady as clocks, plump buzzards wind the time
above us, circling whatever they smell.
We whittle in deer-hide chairs and bury
old dogs in shavings. They shake and trot away.
This early, grackles and owls are wary.
The feeder's almost empty, no breeze to sway
the box, pine needles still. I have to stare
to find two doves in the grass like brood hens.
Whatever breathes is holy, one more mare
down in the field under a swirl of wings.
Bury the flesh, and let the cold winds blow.
Acres of water gush from pipes sunk deep.
Into these canyons, streams trickle over stones,
the burnt sienna sand we live on cheap,
the only gold worth panning. Something's wrong
on these scorched plains, our children missing.
These years, we're like old cowboys at a bar
between jobs, the last trail drive not hiring
after seasons of calves and branding irons.
Like gravity, we fall from babyhood
toward eighty, in love with skies and briars,
but rich as bankers after breakfast, full,
hip pockets bulging, wallets always thick
with hundred-dollar marvels. Mercy
is one hand touching another, expecting
nothing. Always, the sky's the limit
of wisdom, a far-off desert song.
Out here, geese honk, and larks and finches sing.
We teach grandkids to bless these wings,
to fling their bread crumbs on the pond.
First published in The Pacific Review
THE EYES BELIEVE, BUT
THE LEFT BRAIN WANTS TO KNOW
The eyes believe whatever they take in,
even when the brain rejects the evidence.
Last month, I rubbed my eyes and saw a fat
black millipede uphill, fifty inches long,
at least eight inches thick--a miracle
our first day back in the mountains. Never,
my cold, hard-headed left brain scoffed.
Too much pepper-belly food, too many movies
about nuclear mutants. I grabbed my gnarled
doubting Thomas by the cortex and twisted it
uphill. Believe, I ordered, a massive millipede--
the left brain swearing No, the flaky right brain
wailing Wow! I snatched binoculars and gawked.
My cock-sure eyes called azimuth and range,
but staggered back and squinted--only
a boulder's shadow and--closer, blurred
but swiftly focused--no monster, but a bush
not yet leafed out, a thousand spiny twigs.
I stared and twisted the knob, but couldn't turn
that winter bush and stone back into wonder.
I felt my tough left brain light up a Marlboro
with a tattooed fist, flick the flaming match
end over end into my eyes, and sniffed,
smoke coiling from both ears again.
First published in New Millennium Writings
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS IN CANYONS
Something's always coming up canyon--wolves
slinking by in shadows, gypsies on the move,
camping, selling siding, a caravan of retirees.
Now it's another dented VW antique
older than the boy with long hair who turns off
without looking back, drawn by rumors carved
like treasure maps in his eyes, big-sky Montana
far from towns and family. His red bandanna
marks him a loner far from college and home.
This summit neighborhood was never zoned,
stacks of rocks and shacks and fancy cabins,
a river flooded from snow melt. The dream begins
for them here, far from boredom and memory of class.
He'll buy two dollars of the cheapest gas,
act surprised by how high it is in mountains.
He'll call someone collect, then hit the fountain
for a giant Coke and candy. Sweeping, I'll find him
behind me, his broom-thin shadow stepping on mine.
I'll turn and he'll be syphoning his straw.
I won't know him, but somehow he's like them all,
his brother or another from last year, picking up
summer work painting or cutting highway brush,
anything for a buck. After a week, he'll know
some locals by name, hanging out by the video
when there isn't work, camped by the river in a tent
or sprawled between shrubs in his bag, staring, content
or in tears by the river, trucks with explosives
roaring behind him up canyon, banned from most highways,
and fine-tuned cars humming home to their mansions
near the ski lodge, their own children touring France
in Corvettes, or gone east to tutors, preparing for Princeton,
for suites in five-star hotels and friends in every town.
First published in The Cape Rock