--for Rob Prout
Dodge music heading south in a rig
looking for stories my Daddy would've called
real life, I look at Navaho dolls
in a small trading post called Thin Bear.
Karen writes the name of the doll maker,
Lou Ann Paul, in my notebook.
Bob and his wife opened this place
after careers in education and social work.
He's a jeweler, too, and when I take off
my Marty Lovins belt buckle I've worn
for 20 years, he takes off the one he made
from found .22 shells. We photograph them
in my hand and he speaks Navaho,
telling me names of Navaho artists
whose pieces will become part
of Native American diaspora
once they're sold. I know I'm passing
through, that this isn't a neighborhood
I've walked the past 35 years. Still,
I cringe at the word "tourist." When
Karen and I take our young family
to the barrio in Guadalajara, I stand up
and make an after-dinner speech
at Jose Luis' house, the doctor
for every family who knocks on his door.
He pulls me aside and says, Jim,
you just told everybody you're happy
to be here and you're sexually aroused.
Thin bear and traveling music.
I scratch the rash on my ankle
and remember my dermatologist
telling me years ago, No, I don't
open hearts like surgeons.
I like skin. We take an interest
in what comes up from below,
and comfort in the fact that skin
is the largest organ of the human body.
Maybe these poems can serve as snapshots
for just being here, passing through
in a thin tradition. I hold my camera out
over the rim of the Grand Canyon
in a spring snow storm. No railing,
trying to see something
like the beginning of time.
April 23, 2010
Grand Canyon South Rim
A LOVE POEM
Look at the purple flowers,
on the roadside, Karen says,
driving. Karen with the Dead
taking us into Arches.
Snack on the side of the road
in the mothership. Rub Sadie’s belly
with an oatmeal spray. After her swim
this morning, she sheds Lake Utah
the last of her winter coat. Peanut butter
and jelly sandwich. Tiny herring fillets
on crackers. Karen and the
Estimated Prophet, some whacked-out
Jimmy Row all morning on this big
purple and brown highway.
Karen the Deadhead.
Everything charged. An email comes in
from the city. It’s harder to ride
than drive, I write. Is
, Karen asks Beehive State
looking at the state highway sign.
Rain drops on the windshield.
The sky’s a great big bulletin board.
I drape Karen’s yellow shawl
over her right shoulder. Sensuous,
rounded formations below the cliffs,
sensuous human bodies linked.
Karen says movies use these formations
for underground worms.
When did she see these movies?
What movies made by who?
Karen brings me the wonder
of her universe. She links to
an older time, the ancients
caring for her, keeping an eye on me.
Easier to punch in words
on a computer than to
write through the tightening
left hand in the notebook.
We play at gassing up talk
after we pass the truck stop
where the gauge I read says, Empty.
Her gauge isn’t empty.
What does your gauge read Karen?
This is it, Karen says
many songs later. Good, I say,
What do you mean, This is it.
This is where we get diesel.
Oh, oh, say, oh. Oh, good. I buy enough
to make safe passage at 3.89 a gallon.
I’ll sing Karen’s song for her,
The Dead elegy, Jimmy Row,
I’ll sing it over and over for her
until she gets real tired of me,
Jimmy Row, Jimmy Row,
I don’t know, row, Jimmy Row,
Jimmy row, and she calls for
the relief of natural wonders.
21 April 2010
STORYPATH/CUENTOCAMINO ON THIS DAY
Birsdsong, cattails, stars and a crescent moon. Nearly empty campground and a few tents. I don’t know the birds. Reports from the doctor and reports from my daughter. The further we get from home the closer we get. A poet writes me about God: Beautiful blood in a beautiful brain. I would add dark roast coffee beans in a ceramic mug. Light now, and a second cup. Sadie at my feet, humbled after breaking into her bottle of chewable glucosomine tablets yesterday when we left her in the mothership for 20 minutes crossing into
at Snowville. Karen calls the vet in Utah and the receptionist laughs. Two weeks ago all that I could think about was skiing and now I’m traveling back to the beginning of the world. Yakima is all dried up now, but once its circumference was 20,000 miles, and fed by rivers that never reached the seas. Now it’s shrunken to the Lake Bonneville Great Salt Lake. How many tablets did she take? the receptionist asks. When did I bring her in? A week or so ago? Count backwards at three a day from then and it must be 100 or so. Give her a bottle of peroxide to drink and induce vomiting or let it run out her rear end in an hour or so. We give her lots of water and a bit of dry dog food and here it comes. Sister Sadie Sadie. I monitor the bowel movements of my wife and dog out of the corner of my eye. Who could I tell? Why God chose me to live this life, I do not know but I give thanks daily. A boy from smoking Indian Tobacco in a souvenir pipe and walking railroad tracks taking medical reports from his grown children and sobbing. Will my dog find extreme suppleness for twenty minutes? We pass a Mexican restaurant called the Herradero. Here comes the sun. I hear George Harrison singing as I’m given the access code to the bicameral brain. Before falling asleep last night I read an early version of Martin Luther King’s sermon on the Good Samaritan. Obedience to the unenforceable. He uses this image twice. This is it, of course. Unsustainable obedience. Following the directions we’re given to the end, following past our ability to hear, to the without sound in absurd, I can’t hear it, but I follow, going that far, that is the work of the poet. Choosing a life with no guarantees is a life one doesn’t want to brag about too much in public, Be careful of that word called, it’s been commandeered by civilians, and those so honored are often given starched white collars that look, another poet has remarked, remarkably like nose rings in cattle. As Karen thought about what she read at the North Dakota rest stop she carried it all the way down the mountain. She saw backwards in time. She looked into millions of years and saw the ancient shoreline of the Lake Bonneville Great Salt Lake. Needing land, now, high on the mountain, they’re building expensive row houses. You can see it from the freeway. Call it the highway. Listen to the singers crossing to the other side.
20 April 2010
THE DAY KAREN BECAME A DEADHEAD
She found the original shoreline of the
Great Salt Lake.
Then she turned off National Public Radio.
She said, That’s it, like she was sailing out from the Ballard Locks.
She was driving the mothership. When we stopped
for the night she had a dish of Karamel Sutra Ice Cream.
19 April 2010
LEAVING AGAIN WITH KAREN AGAIN TRAVELING
Ancient ones watching over Karen
as lone certainty, or certain as Vishnu Schist
the poet said say hello to, I say again,
I must be on borrowed time, thank you Old Ones
lifting us up, take us down, take us
to the desert floor, let us get close
to that river. Here, on the
after the 45th Parallel and the North Powder
before that, meandering, we follow
in the mothership on I-84 East
heading south to
. Baker City, Oregon
My sister sends me the movie, Oh,
The poet says, Say hello to Vishnu Schist.
We eat a simple meal of pasta
and take a walk with Sister Sadie Sadie,
who sleeps at our feet. Our first night out
in a series of measureless nights crossing
into our 42d year or our 45th, depending
on the way you count backwards
to say 4 billion years. We sit
at the little table where I try to comprehend
and Karen reads me the paper.
18 April 2010