Downwind from a shaggy headed bull the air is alive with a damp odor of hides. Lightning and thunder or prairie fire spirits him, or a mild wind like this over the rise, with cows grazing the valley below. The bull on a bluff, tail slapping flies and nose to the wind, I stalk him low through the tall grass, frame him on the horizon with equal parts of earth and sky, and focus on infinity -- his great horned head turns the other way.
Our horizon closes in. Against our wills we are made to taste the earth. We learn our lesson again: find shelter -- every breath brings us back, further back, until at last we retrace our steps to the steps we sat on in front of the Sunday school where once we learned our catechism: _sons of Adam_, _we are clay_. Nothing we drink washes away the dust. And how long we wonder must we live with this fine falling rain dusting the half-buried faces of our sleeping children?
Friend, to guard against a blue day when no game fish is willing to fall for your hula popper, take some local advice and for insurance carry a soup can you can fill down the street with earth- worms dug from Frank DeVivo's compost. Forking over coffee grounds, egg shells, and melon rind, he'll dig for you and give you what you want, throwing in any night crawlers he can find just in case you need the added premium.
Always the opportunist, its buzz words insinuating a way into your dreams, double-jointed, with collapsible wings and legs for water-skating, the smart anesthetist sticks you when you feel it only too late. And if you wake from sweet sleep punishing the air with karate chops, it only bobs and weaves on the breezes of those close shaves, and hums in your red face even as you curse. Lighting your house up like a Christmas tree, you swat at walls and grab wildly, squeezing the air from your fist to end its tiny life. Relaxing your white knuckles, you open your hand to find a smudged hieroglyph and see in the crevasses between fingers it unfolding itself like some Houdini brushing his clothes off, climbing into the air, earning your grudging applause.
Like a salmon fighting falls, once I shouldered wind, wrapped in an overcoat in my private war, when a blackbird threw itself up from dried grass, hit the stiff head wind and hung there, beating wings-- my spirit cheered. After a long moment of fists pounding a door, its spirit buckled, and I thought all was lost-- but with set wings, it sailed the wind away.
I wished to tell you once, _Sleep now, hold this quiet_ _close to you. Sleep will_ _bring you closer to yourself_ _and teach you the possibilities_. Tonight, alone, and childless under this wide moon, I share a father's concern. My thoughts drift toward you now, as your father's did then, on a night when we talked and you slept little between dreams, his words straying from the paths of conversation as your cries reached him from a room teeming with stuffed animals, all called by their first names. Tonight, walking an unlit country road, I remembered you when the night had grown too big for you, or your bed too small. Once again, the night has brought us closer together. But tonight, under this sky, I know that any man can bless. So Elizabeth, whenever you wake fearful, may you wake to a voice close grained as oak, strong enough to hold the darkness at bay, strong enough to hold you. And someday, may you remember how, from lilac branches outside your window, song sparrows woke you to another life.
Farm boys lost to this world immortalize themselves, their dates, their broken engagements. In finely tuned machines, they try to make the crooked ways straight by speeding head-on into lovers' headlights and out of this life where cotton withers on the branch and no rain falls. A world all wrong for them, they leave it for a good girl or a dream gone bad. Cracks in the earth grow wide enough for livestock to fall into. The nearest beer is miles across the county line. Across the way, some others, tanked up and riding high, talk loud, laugh. Shouts. They have been to the other side of the county line, their faces dimly lit by flames. A rough circle of torches and men. In dirt at their feet, an armadillo is trying to crawl back into its uncharted ramble, its night-walking life where moonstruck eyes can hide from torchlight. One of them has it by the tail. He is one of us who live and work under a burning star, crawling out of our everyday lives to answer the unspoken summons of the night and take this beast of the dark, the shadow-ridden, and coolest hours, for its life is one of ease. This is something he must do, even if it does not bring rain, even if the wild animal inside does not die out. The trapped beast, doused with whiskey and gasoline, crawls farther and farther into itself, until lit by a single matchstick, the dying animal blossoms into flames, lighting the darkness, lighting our faces.
In memoriam, James Wright One of your books, now out of print, I didn't buy. I might have borrowed it in good conscience, smuggled it into Indian Summer light and found some quiet place beneath a sycamore, far from the dust of book shelves. But a friend told me, Here take mine, copy it. The proprietor told me he would not break the law, but I could and could use his machine, saving 2 cents a page. I didn't want to steal bread from your widow's mouth, but my friend lent me his copy-- your book handed from friend to friend. You would have approved if I read you right. I had to give up my place at the machine for another. When she left, the machine fired one, two, three, fourteen copies of "October Ghosts" before anyone reset the counter. For my copy $1.61 plus tax. He didn't charge for the thirteen. And though I know this lament will do you little good, I am ready to pay and will be ready for the authorities when they come to collect what I owe you as they figure it. But the way I see it, my friend and I, and the rest of us-- all honest citizens-- owe you thanks for your plain talk and your breaking into song like a man in church, who is aware always he is a man in church singing, so he sings, sometimes a half-step behind, sometimes a little too gravelly voiced, yet he sings like the man he knows himself to be. And though it may be vain to hope even one copy falls into the right hands, I know at least one has when I return my friend's book-- yours. Which belongs now to those of us you've left behind.
Before the end of the world came for him, Bo Sample dozed as he always did every Sunday behind the wheel of his oversized pickup outside the Baptist church. Across the street Jed Bowlin, with his jug, lay propped against one of the brick walls of the high school before wild trumpets announcing destruction woke him from his blurred dream. Inside the church, no one was giggling anymore at the Davis boys' coonhound howling from their pickup in his cracked treble. All singing stopped when a voice like a runaway freight train's commanded the walls to shake, shingles to fly off and follow, and the church, too, to fall to its knees. Then everyone knew the dog was not joining in with the singing congregation but tuning to a note higher than G. When the twister struck, what Jed Bowlin saw sobered him: trees flying, the ball park's chain-link fence uprooted like a weed, crazy flocks of shingles, and one yellow dandelion at his feet. Later, though all the lines were down, word began to reach us, how some men had to pry Bo's broken body from his mangled truck, how Clara Hammond's newborn flew out of her arms when the roof blew off, how she stared into the screaming funnel, how she came to when they found her baby, cooing and unharmed, still blanket-wrapped in an uncut patch of timothy, and how Jed Bowlin, who saw it all, threw down his bottle and was born again.
Roosevelt Dime Viens ici, boys, viens ici Parlez vous Francais? Oui, monsieur. Comment ,ca va? Tres bien, merci, mon oncle. Pas mal, merci, mon oncle, et toi? Tres bien. Look what Uncle Lucien has for you. A dime! a shiny new dime! and a nickel, too! I knew it: E Pluribus Unum-- In God We Trust. But this time he didn't ask. A nickel and a dime, for my brother and for me: In Uncle Lucien We Trust! Here, boys, which one you want? The big one or the little one? Uncle held out his hands. Make cents, now, it makes sense. Who first? Youngest first this time. Little brother grabbed for the greasy nickel and held it tightly in his fist. Everyone laughed. I got the dime and the joke, too. You make any cents? Uncle said. I held up the dime. Right, mon oncle, makes sense. United States of America E Pluribus Unum In God We Trust. One thin dime, ten cents.
Gentlemen, first, let me reintroduce Mr. Jim Beam. Now, after having chosen a good vise, we must choose a hook that will hold and lie like a wild-eyed fisherman hanging on to your sleeve. Let's make him a small fish lost in big water. He'll be hurt, too, injured, a sort of cripple. That always calls the big Cutthroats out from under cutbanks after more blood. Clip off the barb, too. Be sports, give the poor suckers a chance to throw our hook. They'll still have to fight the current and our taut lines. Let's have no flashy bird of paradise or oriental fighting cock. Unassuming North American bucktail will do for our western, Missoula, big sky variant of Mr. Red-Nosed Dace, a game and gimpy little guy, nosing his way against the current. White, grey, black, and brown streamers will wave to Dolleys from the riffles and boiling white water. Wrap some tinsel clouded over like old chrome, sunburnt and tarnished to flakes on the bumper of a stalled Chevy weathering bad skies from the side of the high road from Philipsburg to Kicking Horse. Where did Mr. Beam go? Somebody, please, tell him attendance is mandatory. Now wind those threads tight. We don't want any threads of our fish stories unraveling.
Back again, the chickadee we noticed from our frosted window's melted peephole, whose coming and going we watched for: the one with the crippled leg. His wings worked overtime just to stay balanced on his perch, still he hung on, with his one good leg. one good leg. When he reappears again to visit our feeder, alighting on a branch of the rose of Sharon, it's as if he is telling us: Hang on a while longer, the winter is over; let's pick the millet from among the stones, and see what can be done with one good leg.
"Paradis's title, TORNADO ALLEY, is audacious. By giving Jarrell's famous metaphor of the poet as a man who spends his life standing in thunderstorms waiting to be hit by lightning a new twist, it requires that the poems which comprise that title live up to a most difficult claim. And they do: Paradis's art is patient enough and is so hard-won that, poem by poem, they do." -- Jonathan Holden