But what book to get Manuh for this day?
I can’t buy him political history, and biography condescends.
Barry chose modern Tarahumara runners.
I scour bookshelves in the Gobi-Rattler Room,
feeling the hairs on my arm pulling down
John Neihardt listening to Black Elk.
Book cover of Red Pine’s collected Cold Mountain poems
with the photograph of the pine over the cliff
by Steve Johnson, Red Pine’s companion.
Everything that grows in my garden,
practice for what’s coming.
It’s all bonsai, and all bonsai
what masters call pre-bonsai.
Nothing a self-portrait, no pines
Mason Pines below 3000 ft.
Huangshan Pines above 3000 ft.
In a part of Anhui province called Huizhou.
Yellow Mountain the range of mountains consisting of many peaks.
Nothing then, from the Tientai Range of Cold Mountain,
Try and make it to Cold Mountain,
I stare at the cover of the complete poems,
the pine coming from the cliff in the photo.
That’s what I want. That square inch.
That part of my life that looks like that.
The ninety peaks of Thatch-Hut Mountain.
I won’t live to see anything finished,
start and end points simultaneously wild, wandering,
mountain wandering, too.
Yesterday. Birthday of my two fathers,
Wayne and Sig, both gone, belonging to all
that’s gone before the living.
All of us Buddhists. All of us Jews.
All of it happening at once.
The barbecue is on, wood-smoked hickory
sending smoke signals to Manuh Santos,
Mixteco distance-runnng friend,
writer and lover of history, who once
turned to me in his seat on the airplane,
his first flight, exclaiming, Tu Divi, Bodeen,
Tu Divi. Little object in the sky.
We are flying Bodeen, we are flying.
Manuh, 33, just graduated from the university.
We are drinking coffee. I’m listening.
Manuh talks of Adam Smith,
Coals hot, pork marinating,
a sauce of my own creation
over changing kitchens, a sauce that includes lime,
brown sugar and orange juice, plus the rub.
Pork ready now as I place it searing and sizzling
on covered grill, before moving it
between beds of smoking coals.
Manuh’sbeen reading the Federalist Papers,
Adam Smith, Antonio Gramscí (Italian anarchist),
and Huckleberry Finn.
The rich like order, Manuh says, for their own benefit.
He tells me about his teachers at the university
and we laugh in great gulps of horror
as he walks me up the food chain
to the dean of justice who finally says,
Manuh, there’s just not enough evidence
to substantiate your charges.
And Plato. Manuh never leaves a conversation
without a weaving of the real and what’s real
in the Athenian democracy calling him.
Manuh Santos gave this university a run for their money,
(and what about that mission statement).
I’ve come home from coffee before Karen returns.
I’m carrying Marsalis and Clapton live
and from the budget bin, Blind Willie Johnson
If I had my way I’d tear the whole thing down.
Slide guitars in West Valley.
Dark was the Night feels like the Bible that raised me
and I play it over and over driving home.
This is not a North Dakota song
I have to be told it was Vance decades ago,
Decades as Van might shout, Decades,
bringing it to us in the moaning fingers
of Ry Cooder crying in Paris, Texas,
recorded in the memory-forever-in-this-world,
Vance and his time-destroying mailed-in music:
Just what is the soul of a man,
I’m listening, answer if you can
I’m eleven years old walking Seattle sidewalks
blue jeans rolled high to make them fit,
shirt from Spiegel catalog carrying brooms
made by the blind knocking on doors,
let your light from your lighthouse shine on me.
I sell Christmas cards too, but the brooms
sweep me into my life, my mother singing
into my ears through tears.
I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair
and just like that brooms sweep us
right out of North Dakota.
And there’s Karen before me,
Home, as I walk from the grill swept up in smoke.
Sit down I say, sit down and let me catch my breath.
Sit down and tell me what you found when you were out,
Karen, I need to know, tell me:
When you’re asked, later in your crossing,
Did you get enough barbecue in this life?
Karen, tell me:
Did I play the blues to your everlasting joy in this life?
I’m not asking you to answer me, Karen,
but in your crossing:
Did your husband play the blues to your satisfaction?
Karen, are you ready to testify?
I am Karen says, I am. I’m ready.
I’m reading liner notes to neighbors,
Wynton Marsalis in my ear telling us,
Eric played with joy inventing, humanized
through willful creation of community
regardless of personal situation—
some of this means some work on your part, brother.
How you testify about barbecue carries consequence.
It was the step-mother who threw the lye.
Blind Willie sings from the moon, satisfied.
We don’t know who the woman is singing backup,
Thank God I’m satisfied, after he opens with
If I Had My Way. If I had my way
I’d tear the whole thing down.
Don’t get burned, say no to all tasting.
We have traded faith for wonder…
God is one of the words…
Textual time capsules passed on…our inheritance…
Sister Sadie Sadie, old allergenic lab,
days away from her eleventh birthday
smells that pork too, kenneled
with my daughter’s pup. Letting them out to run,
Sadie pushes me into the door as it swings open,
my sandal strap catching on the chain-link
stopping me as Sadie pushes past.
The fall on both wrists shocking, violent,
breaks no bones triggering all the poets in town.
Putting all that thrives in trees into a pot.
The tree not yet announcing itself
to the man in training, wiring and rewiring branches
wondering about the synapses in the brain.
Wandering the upscale nursery,
these trees in 4-inch pots outside on a table
among shopping carts: Norway Spruce,
Italian Cypress, Crupescocyparis Cypress Shorty, and the one
that stops me: Gigantum Sequoia Redwood.
Always, the tree climbers in my life.
From cowboys swinging through our maples
with roaring chain saws to arborists knocking on our front door
asking to climb Grandpa Gum, the elder sweet gum
on the parking strip, rescuing it during falling limb time,
arming me with city politics: Don’t let the city take it.
Don’t let them. They’ll try. Let the tree take the sidewalk,
but you save that tree. The young Christian
as Coltrane played on the lawn, showing me
how limbs could swing in the wind, he needed that swing
in trees, but he needed Jesus on the sidewalk
replacing his parents who gave him a life with no rules.
Poets, too, Barry bringing me Gary Miranda’s Horse Chestnut,
Miranda falling from it, the lesson plan
I couldn’t get in my head with its rich weave,
There are two inside like testicles…later Judy Cole
was named Miss Seattle…my mother groaned
and looked away…, the poem giving me this weave now,
this textured all-at-once present. Now the ones climbing wild trees,
living in them. Wild trees. Between earth and sky.
Nalini Nadkarni, Richard Preston.
The young Englishman finding Crazy Horse in a used book store
inviting me to the tree farm to read. Books arriving unbidden,
left at the door without notes.
Yesterday my grandson looking at the Niwaki Japanese Maple
wired by the front door where we kicked soccer balls,
telling me about carbon dioxide. Neither of us
getting it quite right, until we bring out the book,
pictures showing water and food going up to the leaves
making sugar, taking in carbon dioxide, getting rid of oxygen
as waste. The two of us breathing in and out
until we had it right. Solidarity with trees.
Needing the other. Complimentery different.
Understanding from the 7-year old
what I couldn’t get from the university.
Repotting the Sequoia Redwoods,
branchwalkers canopy trekking on ropes
map the unexplored canopy of Sequoiadendron giganteum,
a type of redwood, world’s tallest tree,
discovering bonsai worlds, small trees growing as epiphytes
high in the crowns. Ropes, climbing knots and tree-climbing saddles,
carried by hand on hands and knees crawling for access
through creek beds searching for the undiscovered, unclimbed tree.
All of this in my head as I repot four year-old Sequoias,
life spans of 3,000 years birthing Christ into the modern world.
One of the trees gives itself up as a symbol,
it’s still tender trunk already noble. Its roots
clipped to thrive in akadama mixed with pumice and red rock.
The three sister trees thickening.
A small forest of Sequoia cuttings, replanted,
on the Northern California Coast.
Pruning roses at solstice,
Ninety-plus days looking at leaves grow
leaving now myself, camping,
all of us, wife, daughter, son-in-law,
grandkids—first time out,
afraid to be without these trees
wrapped around me.
Rose petals fall lovely on the lawn,
heavy in musk, suffused almost, in Rilke,
and walking with knife and bucket
I find myself catching handfuls of blossoms
and walking them to the compost,
separating all but petals
making a bed of roses, the richest bed.
Romans harvested pungent petals
of Autumn Damask for love-making.
Making soil is making love.
These petals, a harvest.
Saying yes to this calling
remains the only way I know
to walk through the door of no guarantee.
I choose Black Elk for Manuh.
Steinbeck’s Burning Bright ends with Joe Saul’s words
on the last page: …every man is father to all children
and every child must have all men as father,
and it arrives as a lifeline. August Wilson
puts the empire’s fear of black men with guns
alongside this: Ain’t nothing you can do in life compared to it.
Right then you done something. You became a part
of everything that come before.
Cold coffee from yesterday preserves fresh.
All women hate housework I tell my daughter.
The notebook is more interesting than the poem.
Grandpa Gum’s trunk diameter measures twelve feet around.
Lowest limb stands twenty feet above a man.
We wanted to air layer a branch
and bring him with us in a bonsai pot
to guide us in the last leg of the journey.
Too dangerous. My son-in-law offers
a family solution. Air layer a branch
from his sweet gum, its gnarly bark
older to the eye than Grandpa Gum’s.
Karen and I carry soaked Spagnum Moss,
electrical tape, a plastic bag and shrink wrap
in morning light among birdsong,
looking at lower limbs accessible
to my short arms and Swiss Army Knife.
Securing a plastic bag around the bark
cut to the cambrium layer with electrical tape,
I slice open my thumb cutting the tape.
Cut bark brings sugars to exposed cambrium
creating new roots nurtured by wet moss
just as the rich fluid rushes to the cut before blood.
Our wounds become rich new roots.
Sadie’s bark at a bird wakes me.
none more than two inches high,
shining bright in new soil.
Lovins' shield, size of a quarter, pinned
bove the heart on Karen's
Chief Joseph Vest for the Children
on its way to children in heaven.
Summer Solstice, 2013