Sunday, December 22, 2013



A vision revealed 
Where I must go 
To find the secrets 
Of another life:
A dirt road, overgrown
With red maids and popcorn,
Winding up the hill
To the first ridge overlooking
Sycamore Creek. Surrounded
By fiddleneck brighter
Than gold, the miners left only
Dynamited holes
Near house pits
Trampled by cattle.

Redbud near Pounding Stone

I scrambled
Next to waterfalls,
Through primeval woodlands
Until I found, on the second ridge,
A pounding stone, a pestle
Near mortars brimming 
With water, a bobcat 
Flowing by me less
Than five feet away. The slope

Pounding Stone
Near Confluence of Three Streams

Grew steeper as I struggled
Up the faintest trail
To the confluence of three streams,
Finding another pounding stone
And house pits on a ridge a few
Hundred feet from the top
Of the hill. In the wetness,
Under the buckeyes and oaks,

Personification of Over Soul

I felt a presence, so foreign
To me in this life, but so familiar
To my soul, that I performed
A ritual of adoration for
The Over-Soul, as if 
I had come back
To this ridge after
Many lives to experience again
Timeless currents 
in the vast fields
Of earth and air 
and water and light.

Ancient Trail

I returned years later,
Straining the rest of the way
On hands and knees to the top,
Discovering an open pit
So deep I couldn’t see
The bottom, a semblance
Of the old Kings flowing
In the dried up reservoir
Off in the distance. Perhaps
I lived here once before
As a man digging
Holes his entire life,
Or as a shaman
Calling the spirits,
But at the summit,
I felt once again
One spirit flowing within
Everything we can know.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


River Canyon

On the way up, I needed 
words to calm myself, 
on this winter day when smog 
smothers the valley again, grays 
the rocks half a mile away                               Take a different path.
where the creek shines like chrome.
All afternoon I explored the paths 
webbing down to the creek
where pounding stones and trails 
are all that remain of the tribe 
that once settled on cleared, 
gentle inclines. I ventured up 

Squaw Leap

the steep slopes toward the top 
to claim it as my own in the late                         Take a different path.
afternoon sun. For all of an afternoon 
I trespassed, perhaps not meant 
to look down anymore 
on the grayness below that never 
clears. At the edge of the cliff I lost myself 
easily in the breath of trees and grasses, 
above chemicals ruining mind
and body, knowing I cannot protect             Take a different path.
these hillsides. Not long ago 
the tribe was ravaged by sickness 
and finished off by murder and 
starvation, the air and water 
and the remaining creatures no longer 
belonging to the earth. I have always 
kept some faith in my feet, and I hiked 
past cattle that fled in absolute terror 
of me or refused to budge 
when I approached, all
without horns. Those animals                            Take a different path.
could have done me great harm, 
but didn't. I have brought you here 
to the edge of this cliff to remember 
the valley as it was before the earth 
was sold. I will remain
as a few magic words that fly 
from this cliff over the valley 
to write the language of flowers 

Baby Blue Eyes and Goldfields

gone forever, to bear witness 
for the air and water passing 
through everything living, to ease 
the desolation of those who believe                   Take a different path.
that all must wisely share the earth, 
and although I may not even be meant 
to be the voice, my words will take you 
part of the way, past the last trees 
to the rocks at the top behind which 
a mother is lying beside her newborn calf, 
a young bull grazing, so powerful 
and unconcerned you might think them 
godlike and pure, untouched                         Take a different path.
for generations, the huge horns 
without garlands, without blood. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Ancient Path Kept Distinct by Cattle

I park near a load of rubbish 
dumped by the road, and, struggling 
up a hillside, follow a path not sure                Take a different path.
it is thousands of years old, but finding

destinations, the leaves of sycamores 
floating onto pounding stones
or into the stream where they are dragged 
along by the current and sucked under.                  Take a different path.

By the pounding stone, a lip 
of earth extends from the slope, 
large enough for a bed. 
A house pit? Below that,
                                                     Take a different path.
rocks stacked on 
each other--a miner's grave? 
Beyond the creek, five trails 
join at a hub between the river

and the creek, where a rancher 
dropped blocks of salt, the questions           Take a different path.
asked a moment before lost 
in the grass, empty in the curl 

Pestles in a Pounding Stone

of a leaf. According to mystics
 the ether contains records
of every moment within eternity, 
a memory of every individual                 Take a different path.

experience within the physical
plane. Somehow I know where
to find the pounding stones 
and house pits and trails 

along the creeks, as though some                        Take a different path.
inner sight has been granted me--
a man powerless, gauche, 
and unworthy. Wildcat Mountain 

looms in the distance from many points 
of the ancient trails, the distance 
undisturbed, no one approaching 
with news of forces sent to capture me        Take a different path.

or drive me off the land, 
the mansions planned 
for forty acre lots. I dig 
into mortars brimming 

Fiddleneck in Housepits near Pounding Stone

with grass and earth, the dry 
oak leaves needling my fingers, 
the pounding stones deep 
as icebergs, the air, smelling                      Take a different path.

of rain, still in the quiet woods. 
I dig out a pestle and turn 
the tapered end
toward the hub. This web
                                                   Take a different path.
once kept a community
alive, yet I
am lost, searching 
the valley for signs 

of the city in the smog                                 Take a different path.
and finding none, nothing keeping
the rancher from selling off
to some developer, the trails,

snaking between buckeyes 
and oaks, etched for thousands
of years in the earth, always 
vanishing in the grass.

Friday, December 6, 2013


Pounding Stone with Pestles

A ghost cackles a warning, falls 
like an arrow before flaring its wings, 
plunges towards headstones, then rises,
lost in pines. Leaving Clovis Cemetery,

I parked under a cloud of stars 
near massive oaks, an animal warmth 
emanating from the rough bark,
the sun still inside the cells

of everything breathing. I breathed 
deeply, as often as I could pay attention 
to my breath, the sea of smog 
just below me. Ages ago, 

you taught me the ways of birds,
and I sighted a woodpecker winging
from one oak to another, clinging
to the top branches. A meadowlark 

Close Up of Pounding Stone

tilted back its head, its call bubbling
over the grassland. A shrike stepped 
from a twig, free-falling, floating 
up above its prey--to impale 

on barbed wire for its cryptic 
butcher-shop cache. No one kept 
the houses from crowding closer.
Caked by cow droppings, 

paths still weave into clearings, 
mortars the only sign, roots 
pulling the tribe upward into petals
of goldfields and lupine, high

into branches and leaves, 
into air. Went down 
on my knees before 
the pounding stone, so many

Pestles on Pounding Stone

herds and flocks invisible
in the currents of breath,
and once again heard the cackle 
and pounding, felt the fierce

shadow flowing over me 
like a ghost, the mortars
empty as eye sockets, 
portending an end 

without grace. Did I sleep, 
hearing the meadowlark
as one momentary ring appeared
on the water, then another, the petals

of the purple chinese houses 
beginning to tremble, the oak canopy 
awake with quiet tapping, whatever 
I needed to say lost

in the still sound vanishing 
gradually with my dreams, 
all the roots quietly sucking up the rain, 
the creek beginning to flow again?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Flowers by the Creek

They arrived in a junky Ford at dawn:
The King is dead--how can we go on? Mid
August, a light rain lacquering the asphalt,
our wheels meandering to Bear Creek. As I slammed
the door shut, a tiny pine cone stung my face.
Chasing each other through dense brush,
down a steep slope to the stream, splashing
through rapids, sliding down stones, our 
pants soaked--how easily we could have
broken our necks, but I kept up even though
they were two years older. (I had spent
ten years keeping up.) Wordlessly
picking sides, my buddy and I cornered
the catalyst of the battle, pelting him
with tiny cones, and when we ran out 
of ammo, the enemy nailed us both 
and careened away, vanishing in manzanita.
Minutes later, a stone crashed through
the canopy, thudding nearby. Another stone,
the size of a fist, hit the humus five
feet away. We screamed threats at them,
but rocks rained down as we raced up
the slope, the battle petering out
when we cornered them, my buddy
holding me back. We chirped with joy
all the way back to the car. Thirty years
to the day, it hit me as I woke up:
They must have known--in early May,
I had been caught naked in a car
and shamed by the police, my best friend
no longer allowed to see me. My father
had died in late May, but my friends
didn't mention that either.

Larkspur by the Creek

So I returned to Bear Creek, the terrain
more treacherous than I remembered,
and struggled through dense brush to the first
boulders by the road, nothing beyond that familiar.
I hiked over fallen trees, broken branches,
until the slope dropped off abruptly, the creek
hundreds of feet below. As I thought about
turning back, I slipped on loose gravel and fell
flat on my face. Shocked by pain,
I felt weak, a little sick, the blood pounding
in my ears. I thought, if I passed out, I
might slide two hundred feet down the slope
onto the rocks below. 
                                 C'mon, get up.
Shake it off, I told myself, because that
is what my friends would have yelled at me.
I stood up, legs wobbly, and struggled
up the hill to safer ground, almost
passing out before I plopped down
on a smooth stone. As I slumped,
I remembered how, once, when
I couldn't stand, they grabbed me
under the arms and pulled me up,
steadying me until I could lurch forward.
That, I muttered to myself,
is how you save a life.

Friday, November 29, 2013


Memorial: Pestle in Mortar

Near a series of smooth holes
in the rock, we sat quietly
for hours, not catching
anything. In one hole, a butterfly edged

on the slick surface toward stagnant water.
In another, two butterflies hung frozen,
wings open, the web
barely visible against gray stone.

You died a week later. Twenty years,
and the butterflies are here again.
The stone is cool and smooth,
almost comfortable enough 

to sleep on. In another twenty years
I will wake, the same 
age as you,
the water still flowing

into the deep pool as you gaze
at the leaves of the buckeyes,
the butterflies rising and falling, our bodies
still shadows in the flowing water.



We rubbed stalks of rosin weed and held
our fingers to each other's nostrils,
inhaling deeply. Late summer, the air
opening a small slope in the brain

that flowered with ever-increasing 
abundance, the neural energy shooting out 
vines, panicles, corymbs, spikes, racemes, umbels--
burgeoning, blossoming, dying back 

and supplanted, our breath taken in 
by these creatures and given back 
so tenderly and diffusely--no one yet ever
recording the impact from the breath 

of this flora on people or vice versa. The year 
my grandfather was mustard-gassed in France, 
Native Americans were setting up their last
encampments in these hills. A hundred

and forty years or so after the Spanish 
first wandered here, my dad was shipped out 
to Okinawa where he remained as Friant Dam 
was constructed, altering forever

the flora and fauna on the valley floor, 
the first firebombings causing great fire storms 
that sucked oxygen from the air, incinerating 
those caught in merciless winds. You proposed

a short study of breath before time finally
catches up to these hills. I proposed that, for
a decade or two, we watch the flora growing 
on this small slope where the barbed wire fence 

suddenly ends, before the subdivisions are dropped. 
For the price of a stealth bomber, we would ensure
that numerous experimental subjects are healthy 
and fed well enough to experience fully

the unspeakably lovely flora growing
in their own thoughts while they breath. 
Then we would determine the exact
connection to us of all wild, breathing creatures. 



Thanks to you
I know when I'm close 
to blue curl by its scent
and go down 

on my knees 
before the tough stalk 
with tiny purple steer skulls 
that shine like ribbons--

chanting blue curl,
blue curl, because 
its breath summons a nearly
forgotten feeling, 

one by which 
I might know 
you again
after all this time. 


Baby Blue Eyes and Fiddleneck

I have wanted to leave memorials 
without wasting breath, perhaps 
without any words at all--so many trying
to be forgotten. Instead 

I leave everything at dusk 
finding a clump with shining eyes 
still by the road, certain
that it remains unseen, 

suddenly flapping, 
looping erratically 
and vanishing 
back into the earth. 


Pounding Stone and House Pit

It rose above an ancient trail, 
up a steep slope carpeted by pretty face 
and tidy tips, nearly swallowed 
by monkey flowers choking a spring, 

strong enough to ruffle the fur 
of a coyote next to Holland Creek. Long ago,
near that stream you had found peace, lost 
in the invisible web spun by swallows 

swooping around your head, so, as you wished,
it returned, swirling over a pounding stone,
into a mortar where you had found lizards 
curled around a pestle, the ancient tribes gone

ages ago, your last breath still flowing 
in countless veins 
of lupine, fiddleneck, goldfields,
and squirrels, rabbits, bobcats....

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Pounding Stone at Confluence of Kings River and Big Creek:
Pine Flat Reservoir in Drought Year

I submersed myself
In the reservoir, plunging
Down the denuded slope into
The canyon emptied by drought,
And settled on a pounding stone 
At the confluence,
Where a newt floated
In a mortar next to a pestle,

Newt and Pestle in a Mortar

An ancient trail leading
West toward another abandoned
Village, and east toward the flats
Through a thick, underwater crop
Of cockleburs that flourish
Wherever the reservoir
Has chewed away the woodlands,
A chimney looming alone
With the name Chuck Morris
Chiseled twice before the house
Drowned and floated away.
Forty years ago, my family
Migrated from L.A., all
Of us in a van winding 
Around the reservoir a month
later. We settled on a spot
Near the flats and while
My father fished, I stumbled
On a web and gazed transfixed
At the intricate tapestry until
I glimpsed a bulbous spider.
I fled as if I’d encountered
The frightful weaver
Of our fate, and I found
Upstream the foundation
Of a ranch house, the concrete
Broken up by the roots
Of oak trees that claimed
The former rooms, the rest
Of the house swept away
By floods over the years.

Foundation of House in Floodplain

And there I heard the voice
Of my daimon: “You will
Be back in thirty-five years.”
Thirty-five years later
I returned after several floods
Had torn through the canyon
Sweeping over our favorite
Hole. One year, I teetered, 
Amazed by the force 
Of the flood and sensing
A hush underneath the roar,
A silence rising as the flood
Slowly subsided. By then
Most of the people in that van
Were gone, my father,
Grandparents, and uncle side
By side in Clovis Cemetery,
My brother in another state,
My father, forty years ago,
Always facing the depths--
I could not tell him
Of the voice of my soul
Or how I could feel him
Tuning his soul to the quiet
Rhythms of water as he
Cast his line and waited....
I no longer grasp water
Or miss the webs
Torn by the wind
Or even attempt to cast
A line as I immerse myself
In the quiet, spiders marching out
Of a crack and wobbling
Toward me, a timeless peace
Drenching the floodplain....

Monday, November 25, 2013


Tiger Lilies, Tamarack Creek

His living room the same
For thirty-three years:
Immaculate sofa and carpet,
A cuckoo clock, a decoupage
Of children kissing
(my aunt’s creation)--
I was fourteen again,
Paralyzed on the sofa 
After the funeral, their
Only son, who resembled me,
Crushed in a car accident,
No time in between as I squeezed
Again between my mother 
And brother on the sofa.

Baby Blue Eyes

At the funeral, my uncle, sobbing,
Had grabbed his son’s hand
From the casket and wouldn’t
Let go. I waited, next
In line, suddenly turning away
And bursting through the chapel door,
Tears streaming down my face,
Perhaps the first time I ever cried
For anyone else. I paced outside,
The door suddenly too heavy

Dead Bush Lupine

To push open, until
The funeral director kindly
Opened it with one hand and motioned 
Me inside. Of course I went back inside,
But I don’t remember anything else.
Three decades later,
At Rose Hills, my uncle
Searched a few
Difficult moments for
His wife and son, 
The headstones all flat
On the ground. As I gazed
At L.A. below, I couldn’t
Remember any years passing.
Had I continued pacing, lost
Among the headstones,
For thirty-three years?
Was my uncle crying beside
The graves because his son
Had unexpectedly returned,
But fat now and bald--
Or because I now resembled
My father, who died three
Decades ago? Had he kept
The house the same, hoping
This day would arrive? I
Was always just a few
Hundred miles away.
Suddenly I knew why my uncle
Was crying again:
For thirty-three years,
We couldn’t find
Each other. His tears
Were also for his wife
And his son, yes,
But as he cried, I was, happily,
His nephew and his brother
And his son, no years ever
Having passed, none of us
Ever lost again.