WHEN THE MOUNTAIN DOES THE CHOOSING
STEEPS ON SOLSTICE
1. We skied steeps on solstice,
grand children, 11 and 9. Four of them,
cousins, and a handful of others, night travelers
from other stories--big ones--
who found our fire, the campfire.
Traveling in the Mothership's zendo love
enables an entry through darkness
into mountain time. This time
comes through North Dakota white-out,
highway blizzard wheat fields.
Enter the faerie world through a crack in the rock.
We drive into Cascade Mountain
blizzard of changing weather. Central Washingon
on any map--And Our
Faces, My Heart,
Brief as Photos. Poetry
gives our time the prayers
the gods have taken away.
We don't outlive the mountain.
The television in our hearts
carries us into weather,
watching Oprah interview Michelle
as she's preparing to leave the White House,
my wife and I talk about her dress
and where it comes from. Everything I say
seems ridiculous to Karen. Oprah shows
photos of Michelle over the past eight years
and we feel like we're looking through
a family photo album: Michelle in the classroom,
working out, When did
you feel the most tested?
Oprah asks. We as
black women better be able to do it,
Michelle says. Sasha and Melia.
School trips. We're
the happy side of the White House.
Because of the weight
that the President has...
And we're dealing with
people losing their houses.
We need to be
substantive, but there also needs to be a little levity.
House of the People Open the doors really wide.
Dancing. In the garden. Alma Thomas' art work.
First black woman's art.
Resurrection, from 1966,
hanging in the family dining room.
Girl Scouts and their tents on White House lawn.
You know we've changed
their lives forever.
Being a grown-up. This
would be really hard if I was 20.
Just being straight up
grown up helps.
I've been in the
world. ...coming up against some stuff.
Oh you think that,
I'll show you.
Fist bump between
Barack and I
referred to as a
terrorist fist jab,
She smiled only when she felt like smiling.
Blue black dress, buttoned at collar
pale green stripes across arms
goblets filled with flowers
and flowers at the flowing hem.
Let me live my life
don't dial it back,
don't dilute it
Melia was 7 and Sasha was 10
Two little girls trying to figure it out.
2. All of this, and grand children skiing,
me keeping calendar, them keeping score,
Sammie and Josh get the powder and clouds
Kate and Dheezus get powder and a storm.
And we start all over brown bag lunch at High Camp
a paper cup with
honey through a straw
and back on skis, out to Couloir,
narrow gulley on the mountain--
they want trails through trees,
...be careful of tree
I can't get you out of
too dangerous, and the next day
four sisters from the liminal world
for two days, telling stories, listening,
trying to catch up. They're not from
Minnesota any more, mama.
Occupation and immersion
from both sides.
On the second day, solo with the youngest,
the one who set these days in motion
dharma girl with a camera, strong in leg
aggressive, wanting the black diamond
down steeps over and through moguls.
We do that getting strong before lunch.
Flying through the Northern Sky
she urges her skis to match
the energy she carries, driving parallel
down fall lines until she reaches
unpredictability. And then lunch
with the home-made tamales
from Maria in our backpacks.
We clean lenses from cameras,
come one, we're going into Storypath/Cuentocamino
where light changes faster than we can see,
every moment different, every moment blind
and exhausting, a chance at it on the other
side of the boundary line. No chance
of avalanche but the return
dangerous for what you might bring back,
nobody will believe you in pure image
reality dissolving in both worlds.
Who can you tell, liminal one?
3. GRANDPA'S MOUNTAIN SCHOOL
This hike in snow
this time, these days on skis
wouldn't be real
without the children.
The mountain time
is all fraud without kids.
Without them it's all pretense.
The steep slowdown began
with Mom, beginning to leave us when grandkids
started arriving. Talking with God
in those early days. I'll try this:
Under two and over 80.
Walk with these ones,
I won't stop until you stop me.
The mountain school brings
its own rules. Heavenly curriculum.
from dream practice.
School, from Latin, Scole.
Leisure. You take
the high road,
I'm low road wired this way early.
This road wants to enter the Faerie world
of Scottish folklore. My friend
and his wife send back music from Scotland.
To take the kids out of school,
that simple. Ski buddies for an old man.
Written with objectives with language
to sail through school boards. Teaching,
always subversive. See:
Mythology, Mountains, Literature,
History of the British Isles. Vocabulary:
Glen, Landscape, Scotland.
Mortality, Immortality, Faeries,
Celts, Piper. (Don't isolate Underworld.)
Pre-test: Listen to what the narrator says about the song,
The Bonny Banks of
Who wrote the song? Why did he write the song?
What is the high road? What is the low road?
What is the spirit world? How do you get there?
Other questions to ask (depending on your students),
How is time different in the Faerie world?
How much Faerie Time did the man spend in the Faerie world?
How much Mortal Time did he spend with the Faeries?
How had his village changed when he came back?
Can you stop listening to a song as soon as it's over?
How? How not?
Which version of the song do you prefer?
You get the idea. And practical things. On the night before
the field trip:
1. pack your clothes. Check for socks, underwear, gloves,
lift ticket, helmet and goggles, parka, ski pants and boots. Grandpa has your
2. Pack your lunch. Include sandwich, fruit, cookies, and something
for your ski partners.
3. Unit in Scotland and Travel: With your parents, look up
the country of Scotland on the map. After you have found Scotland. Locate
England and Ireland. Then look up the Cascade Mountains in Washington State.
What do you think the differences are between stories in Scotland and stories
in Washington State? What do you think might be similar between Mountain Life
in the Cascades and country life in Scotland.
4. Go to each member of your family and thank them for one
thing that makes them special to you. Ask them for one reason that they are
happy that you are going skiing today with Grandpa and your cousins.
5. Read a chapter in your library book before you say your
4. It's above zero with wind.
Before we leave
I check his clothes.
Give him my down quilt
from REI, a good move
We make it to High Camp
Snow's good but all powder
blown off exposed slopes.
One run down Northern Sky
and we're done. Zero degrees
plus wind. Let's go photograph
ice in the river. The other school,
not so good. Nouns? Verbs?
Ski into those trees. Where's the action?
Pee behind that big fir? That's right.
Pee is the action. Dog pee or yours?
Yes, your urine is a noun.
I'm going to pull the truck over here.
Take the camera. Focus on the ice.
Find something in the ice
no one has ever seen before.
Bring back a dozen images.
5. COLD, AND COLDER
Temps below zero in town
for a week. Not good.
Temperature's at home read
on the minus side of zero,
but snow and cloud cover
has me thinking temps might be
warming up. Josh and I
haven't had a solo day
in two years. His twin-tipped
Rascals having to brake
that long for the youngest.
New snow in mountains
signals warmer temps?
We decide on this thought.
Park the Mothership
at Deep Forest Camp
using Little Buddy propane heater
as we dress. Our skis
carry us to the Triple
and over Big White
and we ski to High Camp
for hot chocolate.
Wind has blown any fresh snow
from our best attempt
It's too cold in wind.
Let's explore ice in the river
and see if we can find some images
with the camera.
Skiing with children destroys
abstract evil. I carry two backpacking
shovels in the mothership
for cave-digging. They come
apart. Grandchildren enjoy
caves as much as skis, almost
deciding to eat and sleep inside
before thinking about wet gloves.
Solstice light shows up
for more than two weeks
if one can escape consumerism
and one doesn't have to take
but two steps out of bounds.
I have been in the mountains.
My son lives there. Go early
stay late. Work with available
shadows. The mountain itself
clouded, or six inches of an alpine
fir protruding from ten feet of snow
on just this side of the sun.
The Mothership is zendo
dream shack, part practice,
part koan, an exercise
with insulation, a cave
for children. Spending
the night takes one to the stars
outside of time, stay warm.
Get closer to the ice crystals.
6. SKIING WITH REXROTH
Our campfire is a
amongst a hundred
peaks and waterfalls.
--The Wheel Revolves
All morning looking for Rexroth on skis
in his Collected Poems from Hamill,
finding so much else,
the first rip in his mountain tent,
rain coming in, and his take
on Americans looking for passion
by taking in a movie matinee.
Alerted to the recurring dream
by a Facebook entry from Sam,
recalling his winter solstice birthday.
Dragon and Unicorn accompany Rexroth.
He carries Li Po skiing in the mountains.
Both of us, he says, like waterfalls,
and he turns his skis towards black and white water,
maneuvering swiftly over avalanche crystals,
through thickets of dwarf maples
buried in snow. The long poem
a hymn of love countering
anti-Semitism of the time.
Fully present in time, flawed and funny
in the prophetic. Anarchic and mystical.
Opposites of the other.
Lots of cabins, and year-round swimming
in rivers. Nature and contemplation.
Gathering mushrooms in his sixties,
listening for the temple bell,
thinking about his poems,
should have learned more,
should have been funnier.
One of the ones
shitting in golf holes at midnight.
The priceless letter to Williams.
And relentless on organizational men
as well as their wives.
Sympathetic to the young:
is whatever we feed our angel"
cross, sea, stone, flower, angel.
The poem and the poem revised.
The life and the life remembered.
The body and the dark juice of the beloved.
Walking roads, walking forests.
Day and night in both.
As long as you're living for purpose
you're not free. He calls for religious empiricism
describing all experience.
Funny and rude. Antidote
to Eliot and Pound--Rexroth responds
with a quest after the bomb.
Hymn of love, personal against
the impersonal before him,
with all of his faults superbly
placed on the page,
empirical in mystic display:
Picture of a nation gone
stark raving mad.
Keen on the young American male.
Each one knows that very
soon the State
is going to take him
He is inclined to
prescribed for him
in the advertising
Real religion--not believed, but practiced.
Here, in the west, river swimming daily,
tramping in snow, skiing, making love,
a contemplative eliminating the appetite.
7. READING W.S. MERWIN'S GARDEN
WITH GRANDMA AND GRANDKIDS
ON THE WAY TO SCHOOL
Temperature in the car
reads -6 degrees outside
but it's tropical in the car
surrounded by generations
ancestors we lost track of
music entering the right ear
where I'm placed in the trees
of being, the boy who is me
years and decades ago
walking the gravel road
just outside of city limits
in the North Dakota town
BB gun in hand
just past Shit Creek
and that yellow Meadowlark
on the fence post singing
This morning Karen driving
sun coming up on snow-covered
hills the purple sky behind us
me with the Merwin poems
in the passenger seat
accompanying all this
I read one line aloud
turning to the children
but happiness has a
shape made of air
Karen saying, Explain that one,
it was never owned by
it comes when it will
in its own time
Me trying to hang on to just this
for now it doesn't matter
without in fact getting it
or not surrounded as I am
6 January 2017
8. REMEMBERING OUR SHIELDS
IN DEFENDING SMALL GARDENS
I will teach you, my townspeople,
Williams wrote, talking funeral.
So many ways to grieve in the poem.
Many ways to carry us
through this day. These stars.
So many. What the writers imagine,
listening to him, the President-elect.
Humiliation and unbelief. Our children
watching us in our worst moments,
have never seen anything like this.
Friends talk like GI's
inventing rage with language,
failing, flailing. We listen
to the Buddhists: Vengeance
is a lazy form of grief.
We listen to the Christ-woman,
Partiality, and its one-time
use in the New Testament.
And the Buddhist again,
Relief happens only
when the whole truth
comes out. My own
kinship with the Bodhisattva.
Karen and I talk about
the jeweler, our friend,
and his shields. We carry
them from our studio rooms
to the living room,
hang them again. I'll wear
the quirkiest and queerest pins, too,
all shields, and I'll not leave
the house without them.
Because of Crazy Horse
we know the subversive
as true way, the power in
On the mountain with children
skiing, dry winter camping
in the mothership. Intense
Epiphanies of snowflakes, children.
Nothing prepares one
for the return home
six weeks after the election,
thin metal edges sharpened
still holding us to the mountain.
from Winter Solstice,
2016--18 January 2017