You People

A draft of a poem…

You People

I’m sorry, but murderers hide among your people.
We might welcome you
But how can we know
You’re not one of them?

I’m sorry, but murderers hide in your midst.
We might like your nation
Though you mistrust us
Scratch our souls, squeeze our spirits.

Your people
Or people like you
Sharpen knives 
Crave death
Believe killing brings afterlife of
Virgins and wealth.

Your people
Or people like you
Seal hearts
Claim to follow Jesus
Who opened his heart to outsiders
Lepers and Samaritans.

Someone like you
Might storm our shopping mall
Blow himself up in the Food Court
Next to Big Macs and a theater
Where Star Wars women show bare legs.

Someone like you
Might storm a clinic mosque or church
Spray bullets into bodies 
Before SWAT soldiers arrive
and CNN posts Facebook rants.

I wish you well,
Would like to see you receive help.
But if it’s true as you say–
So many more like you than the evildoers
Why have you not stopped them?

I wish you no ill
Though Allah knows I have cause,
You who have so much.
With so many more followers of Jesus than Satan
Why have you not opened your hearts?

Advice on Ties

Askew won’t do—
Aligned, symmetrically split
Straight down the chest.

No yin-yang curvature—
A two-column chart
Solid where ribs meet.

No tilts in the knot—
A bold line
Level across the throat.

No deviations—
An abstract pattern
Pinned in place.

No pictures, images, cartoons—
People may get the wrong idea.

Sonnet on Burning

While darkness chills we gaze at flame
And though the burn pile heat counsels retreat
We stand hypnotic–by fire we’re claimed.

One side cold, the other hot, we meet
Then drift above the field, dreams revealed
Among cinders floating like fiery sleet.

We roam, our fervor by night concealed,
To arctic oceans, bringing warming potions
That melt by drops their icy shield.

We roam, sultry cyclonic motions,
Until the ground drinks us down
Swallowing our sweat-sated devotions.

After flames devour their fuel and die,
Shivering we linger, wondering why.

Harvest–A Poem

For PepsiCo
Before dark
We harvest
Two hundred acres of corn,
Fifty-six bushels an acre.

We enter the house great-grandpa built
Long before genetic engineers,
Press a button,

Reds blues greens
Dance heaven-pure hues,
Cry, “Yahoo!  It’s Mountain Dew!”
Silhouettes on sidewalks
Pierce synaptic gaps,
Ooze fear.

Seated on easy chairs
We lurch between heaven and hell

While corn ears gush
Through occipital lobes,
Fill truck after truck,
Mutate into syrup.

We guzzle
the carbonated nectar.
It burns double-time
Through cerebellum tunnels
At 33 cents a can.

Colors juxtaposed in shadow
Spill from the box
But cannot quell rage.

We leap from our chairs,
Curse the banks,
And settle back down
For the rest of the show.

Slash–A Poem

The trees are down,
Dying cedars, no great loss,
Condemned to the wood stove,
Useful only as heat.

We cut slash, drag it out
Buck logs into rounds,
Leave a tidy grove,
Much like floods push out the weak and recede.

When the parched field drinks first rains
We light the piles and watch them burn.
Green boughs complain loudest,
Snapping and spitting sparks
That die in the damp grass.
Then we leave, letting night consume the cinders.

This poem will be published this summer in the Timberline Review, a literary magazine produced by the Willamette Writers, headquartered in Portland but with chapters throughout the state.  The magazine will also publish another of my poems, “The Crummy Ride,” posted earlier on this website.  Here’s the link:  Of course I encourage folks to support the Willamette Writers. Here’s their website:, and here’s the website for The Timberline Review:

Red Needles

Betrayed by rust-red needles, dead and dying ones
Hide among their brethren.
With idle time and a saw
I detect them amid the crowd
And cut them down
Capturing and killing insidious threats
Before retiring from the field
Wearing sawdust, gas fumes, imagined laurels
While outside the rust-red needles
Shaken loose from the fall
Add to the forest duff
And the still-standing brethren
Seem not to notice the gaps in their midst.

Christopher Howell–a fine poet

I’m going to break from my usual practice of posting snippets of my work. On February 6 our little mountain village had the privilege of hosting a poetry reading headlined by Christopher Howell, winner of numerous fellowships and prestigious prizes. We were astounded by the beauty and the power of what he shared. By way of thanking him, I shall post one of his poems–hoping that’s okay with you, Mr. Howell.

“Another Letter to the Soul” by Christopher Howell

I think you are among the flowers
that spill from walls and urge
the hummingbirds to drink and drink
from their fantastic hair.
Each day I believe more firmly
in this life of yours among the brilliance
that thrusts and blooms on into the blue
foyer of the sun. In this way
I understand my own flowering
as your shadow left advisedly
against the noise of loneliness
which would otherwise be your absence.
God love you more than dust, I pray
to the fireball lastness of descending light,
and keep you steady while the world
sways on its pins.
Shattered rock and silver rings, music
of the vibrant wood itself: how much matters
and by how intricate a moon?
I have put off from shore to think these
things, the wind right aft, the sail in blossom
toward the godly open certainty
that you are with me still
and joyful
as the small, doomed, brightly painted boat
that I must be.

Rushing Leaves

Like last year’s leaves we rush
For a place to decompose,
A bit of muddy earth
Or pavement where a cyclone fence
Stops us in clusters.

Weathered wet
Then dried to a powder
Before summer winds blow us through a gap
Into right here today.
We expand
We breathe
Blood flows
A billion particles become flesh.

Only hours ago
We clutched tools, strained muscles
Tensioned the very fence that caught us tumbling.

How can we explain it?
We swallow the sun, spit it out, heat the cosmos.
We are the molecules dancing in Buddha’s eyes.
When we call the wind it rushes to us,
When we grasp we lose it all.

A poem first drafted a few years ago, revised today…

The Crummy Ride–A Poem

(Note: Woodsmen refer to the vehicles they use to reach logging sites as “crummies.”)
Past the iron gate we rattle atop the washboard logging road
Navigating shaky coffee cups to our lips.
Woods shiver under frost while to the right
A ridge guzzles sunlight.
Bayberries, tanoaks, vine maple and ferns jostle for space
Among the few token redwoods allowed to remain.
Bap!  bopbababa…
The first jolty bump baps open the glovebox door.
John slams it back, but bopbababa, open it bounces again,
Sending John to grope the floorboard before
Finding a scrench to jam it shut.
Plop! Drops the rear-view mirror,
Like a proud buck deer
Bagged by a speeding bullet.
John pushes it back to its slot
But again it falls dead.
“Piece a shit,” mutters driver Mike.
Past a copse of birches we fork left to a narrow muddy path
Scarred by water bars like huge parking lot humps.
We crawl cautiously atop one then bam! into the trough
While we, left skyward, slam back down to solid seats.
“Piece a shit,” mutters Mike, stopping, the front seat now
Bent back like an easy chair while the two woodsmen
Thrust futilely to butt-push it forward.
“People beat the shit outa this thing,” grumbles Mike,
Now leaning on the steering wheel.
“They don’t give a shit, they jus’ stick their muddy boots
All over the dashboard an’ kick off all the damn knobs
An’ smear the damn windshield an’ leave their garbage
All over the floorboard an’ dent the thing all over
An’ now the seat’s busted–we look like lowriders.”
Ahead muddy ruts have pulverized the rain-soused road.
Mike stops the rig to shift all four wheels into gear while
We await the imminent charge.
We plow into the muck,
Slither a few sloshy feet and stop,
Motor screaming and rear wheels spinning wildly,
Like clamp-trapped weasels impotently raging.
“Ain’t shiftin’ inta four-wheel drive,” mutters Mike.
John unrolls his window to peek at the front tires, which,
He verifies, lounge motionless in the mud, on sick leave today.
Mike backs the truck, lights a Marlboro, then jams the throttle to the floor.
In a roaring rig with blur-whirling wheels and the smell of burning oil
We plunge into the mire.
At a left curve Mike swiftly hand-over-hand turns the wheels,
But we slosh straight ahead, our Kamakazi crummy hell-bent
To crush the enemy’s embankment.
Although Mike eases the gas and touches the brakes
We idle-slide and crunch the cut-through hillside.
“Shit,” says Mike, exhaling smoke.
“It’s just another dent,” says John.
He hurls his half-smoked Marlboro to the floor
Stamps it out and retreats a dozen yards.
“Would you believe this piece a shit’s only a year old?” he grouses.
Choosing the inside rut
He renews the assault against mud and succeeds.
At the landing MIke kills the engine.
In morning stillness around the slash below
We’ll cut fireline for fifty cents a foot.
Someday someone might burn it and maybe someone will replant it,
But now in the cold we drink coffee.


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