dark was the night

the way chickens run is all shoulders
speed of the neck, no arms
the preposterous stillness of the grouse
eyeing me warily
my eyes telling yours secrets my mouth will never speak

peace pie, peach cobbler, peach fuzz everywhere
these are the last days of jumping into the river

take one step nearer, two steps back
to him and even You
i need You like the sun rays on my skin
and he is reading my face
he is translating my body
he is looking me in the eye,

but he can never know me,
this i know,
oh, help me tell the truth!


three women may walk this road at any time of the day or in darkness,
carrying bowls of fresh-picked raspberries with shining eyes.
on the beach not far from me,
a boy has picked up a flopping, dead fish
now he swings it by the tail, taking ginger steps on the hot sand

he pointed out a heron to me, plucked his banjo patiently
recording deep layers of stratus clouds, the gentle ambling of a turkey flock
i climbed into tree branches to pick the plums
greeted the small quail scurrying at the edge of the road

oh my body, betrayer and sustainer
my hands, that have known work and yet remain soft
this is my summer skin, meeting yours as the rain falls down
rest your jaw on my clavicle
your calloused hands on my smooth back

i have seen the scenes and scenery stretched out like canvas over the pilgrims' west
have squatted like a hobo to drink soup from hand-thrown mug
have returned to a land as overwhelming as any i've yet seen

now i examine tree bark
now i stand tentatively under the waning moon


have been finding old pictures,
looking for them in the wake of my grandfather
my parents, like most pictures of our far-west parents,
look happy, beautiful.
pioneering through the 70s on a steady diet of simplicity and scenescapes.
pioneering through, for my mom at least, the overwhelming pain the 80s would bring

i can't stop looking at her face in these pictures--
her young face. (my age!)
her old soul, grey-blue eyes,
knowing more than her size and youth let on

her mouth, not smiling, but looking, smirking,
showing strength and tenderness and resolve
like she had an inkling not all ahead would be sunlight & bikini tops & ski trips with her new husband

now i think of these things sipping coffee
now i try to piece together who i am
and what this means.


r.d.b., 7 november 1929 - 31 july 2009.

My grandfather, my Cherokee patriarch, entered the next doorway, crossed the river far from here.
We are left in a dusky wake, a hole felt not acutely, but endlessly.

I do not know how to speak of these things--
of death, of the 60 years he and my Gramma shared,
of my Dad's restrained and tearless face.

"This is the first person I've loved who's died," my kid sister sobbed,
and she knew him eleven years less than I.

And oh, the stories. I do not want to forget the stories.
His knowledge of seemingly every road & river West of the Mississippi,
Our Mennonite grandfathers marrying our Indian grandmothers,
Walking the Trail of Tears, tarred & feathered & ran out of town.

His California, far-West roots, need for adventure, for space.
His curiosity, small-business schemes, invention-dreams,
smoky ambition and sorrow.
He invested in gold mining, read an astonishing number of books, traveled the world,
had a biker beard and ponytail, called my Dad every Sunday.

An orchard friend stumbled across paths with a black bear today, not 15 feet away,
and I wonder if maybe that is him,
still roaming our sweet earth.