Still Life

September 21st, 2018

Hiking trails of the greenbelt between Crestone and the Baca for almost a year now, I can’t help but notice the random piles of old junk left by squatters and wanderers of bygone eras—hippies, or even further back, miners—under the pinion pines. Stripped trucks, ancient refrigerators, gorgeous mounds of rusty old tin cans whose lids still hang on by a thread decades after feeding someone who didn’t mind cold beans.

Last night one smallish can caught my eye so I picked it up, thinking I might draw it. The inside was full of dirt, powdered rust and bleached grasses caught in abandoned spider webs. When I shook the dark red powder out, the can coughed and spoke in a voice old and gruff, like a slurring drunk bachelor with chew in his mouth.

“Whaddaya want?” the old can said. “I can give it’ya.”

“I want this,” I said, surprised at my spontaneous conviction, and even more startled by my lack of embarrassment or personal concern to be talking to an ancient can.

“This?” the can hissed. “You want this?”

“Yes, this. This sandy, cactus straddled trail. This dog smiling, tongue flopping, as he zigzags back and forth, peeing on every rabbit brush he passes. My house with dishes crusted with Cream of Wheat in the sink. My husband piling wood. My job corralling restless kids into words and paint. My loving, befuddled, Fortnite-comforted sons struggling to become men in the outrage of Trump. My aging face. My ratty hair threaded with wiry white. All this.”

“Your wish is granted,” he said with a force that spit out a piece of grass that picked up a small draft and floated away.

I studied his fragile edges as dusk fell. I placed him on a shelf. He hasn’t spoken since.

Music of the Spheres

September 15th, 2018

We’re all here, and we’re watching a concert
that will never be replicated exactly the same.

Ólafur Arnalds

A soft voiced man from Iceland
samples mute pianos, feeds the songs
to lovely code that sends the notes
again to ivory. Euclidean algorithm,
the disembodied spirit plays the keys.
Did he say the code arranges songs
more human than hands can fashion?

Unimagined tinkling patterns grow,
play one time and ever gone. Inimitable.
Choked, we scroll. We scroll. Commenters
weep without knowing why, string together,
post, well-timed slide shows of nature photos
matched with Arnalds’ almost-sorrow sounds.

Marry wood and spring machines to new
machines to snow, to ice to ears to hearts,
to eyes fixed on handheld windows. Kitchens,
beds, desks and couches glow with solitude.
Outside, choirs of crickets mix the stars.

2018

A Fall Poem

September 5th, 2018

White fuzz on the potted rosemary might kill it
if I don’t do something. Lazy or too busy.
I don’t make the nontoxic spray.
I place the pot in the rain, hope its spores
don’t drift to other plants. Accept its days
are limited. Late summer. Three volunteer
larkspur in fake terracotta, ferny mysteries
that came with the house, are dead, the basil dwarfed,
petunias barely blooming one per scanty stalk.
High altitude abundance pulls back into a paler self.
I rip open papery tripartite pods, cast black seeds
like pepper over the deck. Don’t hope.

Just weeks ago larkspur were cornflower blue,
my childhood’s favorite waxen color.
But I am writing to forget the smell of crayons.
I am writing because my words are scabs
doing work on the cheap while Poetry shouts
and jabs its signs at air, wanting something
more than tired father woe. The scabs
have nothing else to say but this: My dad is dead,
my dad is dead, and I don’t dream or even sense him
in his favorite songs. I can’t project my grief
to make him seem alive in Jacob’s ladders.

What did I expect? I dropped his church
in a canyon south of Lehi. Red rock. So what
if I fed him ice cream in a busy parking lot, drove him
restless up to witness Mount Timpanogos
one more time while listening to LDS radio broadcast
hushed tones of patriarchs and tender wives
in interview selling the dream
of eternal benevolent fathers. It almost felt true.
I’ve no pendant of his thumbprint on my throat.
I only have his hands. And feet. Huge chin. Square cheeks.
I passed them on to children, as will they. Eternally.

It doesn’t matter. Everything you have,
he proudly told me once, you’ve done on your own.
Or something like that. A backwards compliment.
Another way to leave me nothing but myself.
Another way to slap the back of his own painful honesty,
polish this facet of his charming self-lashing:
how great I turned out without him. His absence:
the great hand that rolled, coiled, fired and filled me.
This cracked pot can’t hold him anymore.

2018

Reading Selene’s Essay
When My Father Died

July 18th, 2018

For Mad Max

Reading Selene’s essay when my father died
a self-confessed father-loather, father-broken,
I didn’t feel him pass. No whispers, chills or visions.
Her words carried no parting words from him
except perhaps, in a story she told
on the first day of class with no hint of known patricide:
I was named for the goddess of the moon.
Selene, daughter of Hyperion, the High One.

Often, a girl’s significance, outer & inner, is born
of her father’s mess. Hyperion—son of Gaia & Ouranos
(Earth & Sky)—one of twelve Titan children
who, encouraged by Earth’s child-loyal vengeance
and led by Cronus (Time), overthrew their father.
Only Oceanus cried as Time castrated the Sky, tossed
his genitals into the sea. From their foam sprang Love
& other things. Aphrodite rising on a half shell.

The over-throwers were, of course, later overthrown
by their own brood. Let it be a lesson unto you who kill
your fathers with this belief: others’ truths of him are lies.
Bury him whole. Name his fathers. Your sons, daughters,
too, one day may spring from a sea of your half-told life.
Perhaps half-grown their love of you will wax & wane
like sideline Selene who soon lost her name, a moon
of memory swelling and undressing tides of grief.

2018

Faint Station

June 23rd, 2018

“…on blood antenna / and dust radio”
~Chris Whitley

for D.D.

On those days
static leans hard
on either side of me,
I’m a song
I no longer hear.
You hold me
in the kitchen,
a dial tuning in
to a sliver. Listen,
this is a faint station.
Never out of range,
you always find it.

2018

With thanks to William Stafford, Chris Whitley, and Pete Anderson for the writing exercise.

June 21: Join us for a reading at the Lithic Bookstore in Fruita, Colorado

June 19th, 2018

Lithic Bookstore Poster for june 2018 reading

ABOUT RACHEL KELLUM — Poet, artist and teacher Rachel Kellum lives at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Her passion is to help people of all ages live artfully and mindfully. Rachel has taught English, literature, and the humanities at Morgan Community College, where she also directed the Gallery of Fine Arts.

ABOUT PETE ANDERSON — In his books and in his life, poet, editor, teacher, and adventurer, Pete Anderson explores the ecology of story, spirit, landscape, parenting, and the cultural eccentricities of the American West. He teaches at Adams State College in Alamosa. Writing, he says, is about making a home: in the high desert, in the world of ideas, and in the great mystery of it all.

ABOUT LAURIE JAMES — Laurie James lives on a hill of sand with a pocket gopher, eighteen salamanders, and herds of well-fed birds. She can be found in Salida, picking up twigs on the edge of eternity. She’s performed with The River City Nomads for many years, and co-founded Sparrows, the Salida Poetry Festival.

ABOUT WENDY VIDELOCK — Wendy Videlock’s poems have appeared several times in Poetry Magazine, Best American Poetry, Hopkins Review, The New York Times, The New Criterion, Quadrant, The Dark Horse, Rattle, and other literary journals. Her books are available from Able Muse Press and other book outlets. Wendy is also a visual artist, and her paintings are featured in several Colorado art galleries, among them:The Blue Pig Gallery, Working Artists Gallery, and Willow Creek.

The Big Picture

June 17th, 2018

exquisite corpse

Man Ray, Yves Tanguy,
Joan Miró, Max Morise,
you architects
of exquisite corpse,
bring a woman in,
dream the Siamese kiss.

You four men cannot
deny the yin of orifice,
the phallic sticks
of dynamite, pistols spraying.
Mark it, baby! Come and piss!
State of the art!

Only Miró dropped
the obvious violence—
beneath the body of sex
and death he gave us dust,
creature, appendage,
a lit match, the vague line.

The monster sits
on the back of a man,
dead or simply
fallen with the weight
of his side
of the binary.

Blind to design, men love
to pass sketched paper
hand to hand,
pass land and women
like pieces of folded power.
A game! Art of the state!

Layer by layer they build
upon fragments
of other men’s clues, desire
daring us: unfold this mess,
marvel at our artifice,
our clever disaster.

2017/2018

Forgetting Father’s Day

June 17th, 2018

Today, by noon, your boys
so far have forgotten Father’s Day.
Divorced ten years, their dad
doesn’t want you to remind them.
Backspace the text you started
each carefully chosen word at a time.
In the most despicable way,
you feel better about the year
they forgot Mother’s Day
and he didn’t remind them.
Admit it. You cried. You were glad
they felt badly when they realized
their mistake. But why care?
It’s a stupid Hallmark holiday.
Still, forgetting is pudding proof
they don’t have a clue how hard
being a parent is— infant fevers,
public displays of tangled toddler hair,
dripping snot, the sibling punch,
the teacher’s heartless taunt,
the constant sense of impending… what?
(don’t say or even think it)
with every unexcused absence,
below-average English grade,
the social judgment for every ripped knee
or t-shirt stain, the gnawing guilt
of making time or love or a life
for yourself outside of what’s for dinner,
the fear that any self care you steal
is directly related to why
your child will need therapy
in a decade or two or five,
when they decide to get a divorce
from a wife too little or too like you.
What will they write or say someday,
these children who forget you,
remember your crimes before the good.
With sheepish shame, you look forward
to the stupid holiday, the stupid card
(hopefully homemade with a cut-out heart,
no matter their age), the one day and way
you know they have at least been taught
to enact the performance of gratitude
for you, for their existence and the chance
to grapple with the art of living
on a boat floating on the sea of death.
They and the day are still young.
You are not. Their father waits.
Neither of you hold your breath.

2018

Daily Desert Rain

June 15th, 2018

For Rosemerry

Appropriately shaped and named,
staked irrigation wands
shower parasols of homemade rain
over gnarled, crisp leaves of tiger lilies,
magically resurrecting green blades
I had counted as lost
for having begun watering so late.
Brown needles, the carpet of piñon trees,
sprout stalks of green mystery, like fate.
Everything that needs water,
my darling, patiently waits.

2018

Rufous-Sided Towhee

June 3rd, 2018

“Eastern and Spotted Towhee have each been restored to full species status; formerly considered one species, Rufous-sided Towhee. The two interbreed along rivers in the Great Plains, particularly the Platte and its tributaries.” ~ National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 3rd edition

Chub chub zee, the bird says, while I dig grass out of garden mornings. Chub chub zee.  I know at once I once knew the bird’s name. I wait days for it to come. Too far gone. Google offers only sex slang and a rapper’s name. Finally, I text my boys’ father who taught me its song twenty years ago when we were in love. What bird says Chub chub zee? Spotted Towhee, he texts back, Remember them in Escalante? I do not. They have a red eye! And later, when Grace stops by to help me identify a weed, she explains the bird used to be called Rufous-Sided Towhee. Yes, that’s it! The bell rings. “It’s too bad,” she ponders, “it was more fun to say.”  A sadness flies inside. Like tiny Pluto of my lost youth, someone decides to reclassify a planet, a species, and the world accepts a new truth. Publishers update field guides, birders comply, but Spotted Towhee will never ring in me. “Drink your tea,” Grace says the bird sings, or simply, “Drink tea,” but it isn’t her voice. It is his, drawing out and trilling “tea,” and our boys’ high-pitched throats in mimicry, giggling. Memory opens like morning sky. I mourn the Rufous-Sided Towhee.

2018

On Slowing

May 26th, 2018

If you must go
from here to there
in a straight line,
incorporate a curve.
Another. A third.

2018

They Lived

May 13th, 2018

My tiny Pisces mother gave four
hearts to walk the earth, and we gave six
but know we all gave more.

Ill-timed, ill-formed, ill-born—life is short.
They swam only in our darknesses,
wilted on the wet lip of the door.

But earth is just a shore.
A life is loved and lived in tender kicks,
the secret kisses of a pink seahorse.

2018

Folding

May 6th, 2018

Folding his huge clothes,
My heart handles
Cotton altar cloths.

2018

Feeding My Father

April 21st, 2018

in our age or in theirs or in their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it –
if we forgive our fathers what is left
~excerpt from “forgiving our fathers,” by Dick Lourie

When Lewy
bodies in his brain
locked his arm midair,
I lifted the forkful
of eggs to his open lips.
My mouth opened too,
the way mothers’ mouths do
while feeding their infants.
The unexpected gift—
I found the truth: gaping.
I finally forgave him
for forgiving himself
for everything he did
and could not do.

2018

Touché:
A High School Teacher’s Sonnet

April 20th, 2018

For Derek

The sonnet makes so many students groan
As if I’ve offered them a bowl of mud
If they were cats, the sonnet’s a dog bone.
No love of artful language fuels their blood.
Shakespeare’s long dead, no use to their rich lives
Of spending every minute on the phone.
“Off and away,” I say; their eyes are knives,
Perhaps the tiny screen is their hearts’ home.
I get it—know the small black mirror’s lure,
The raunchy memes, the vines, the sexy text!
But still, such techno banter is manure
In which to sprout a bard’s mind, so complex.
Groan as they may until the couplet’s done,
Some even say they had a little fun.

2018