Archive | May 2017

Elk Antlers

 

Snow had fallen before dawn, leaving dripping pines.  The pack was gone from the hills, just the fresh slush from the morning.  We were searching for elk antlers.  A full rack is worth money; the Japanese buy them to make aphrodisiacs: a good activity for spring.

We found bear tracks in the snow.   They were fresh.  Some sleepy bear up with the first heat looking for breakfast.  All we found that day were deer antlers, and tracks that melted down into ponds.

When the wind touched the water, it shimmers like the skin of a dragon, scaly and grey with the reflection of clouds.  Cattails are fuzzy faced men, white with age: stalks brittle, rustling.  And heat awakens the bulbs in the mud.

Outside the window where I work there is a bush so much like hemp it makes me think of pearls and swine.  Dew from the sky forms tears, sweat on five jagged leaves: a dark hand severed by knife dripping blood.

The branches of winter, scabs on a pale background, waiting for the icy flesh to melt: waiting for the week to end and find elk antlers in the snow.

These things I do and see.  I do not do them for them, and they do not do them for me.

 

first published in Living With a Stranger: self portrait, 1993.

Fawn-kill

 

High-noon on the highway into town, red spray from the point of impact and entrails in a bloody ooze.  A yellow line kill left over from the dawn.  And off the white line on gravel, a sibling deer highlighted by the blood: slumbering in death without trauma.

Still, in the cold light of day, did the steel monster get ’em both in one bite?  Or did it come back for more?  Maybe one fawn missed the other.

This morning, mother deer made it, but her children didn’t.  Their spots barely gone, they stepped on a strip where they couldn’t hide.  Mother ran faster, or at least knew where to run.  All those years with men, I guess.

 

first published in Living With a Stranger: self portrait, 1993.

The Girl by the Fountain

In that body warming light of Indian Summer, I saw her sitting by a fountain with the water turned off against the coming snows.  The patches of lawn were moist but unfrozen, and the trees were growing sleepy without their leaves.

She was reading a  book, wearing cotton pastels of blue and magenta that ended  half way down her calf.  The pale skin of her ankles separated her clothing from her canvas shoes.  Around her neck was a chain of Baltic Amber, yellow as the leaves two weeks gone.

Sometimes, in amber, you find an insect who tried to cross over the sweat of a tree a long time ago.  They became trapped as the resin became hard.  They’re dead, but still look great.  If they still had thoughts, would they scream in terror at the ugly beast which wore them?  No more than her I suppose, finding a tomb about her young flesh, put there by her own clean hands.

Languidly, and with great care, her arm dropped down and flicked off the ash from her cigarette so that it would  fall beneath the bench out of sight.  When she pulled those sky-blue pants down around her ankles, was she that careful passing the paper between her legs?  Did she realize where the feces went when she flicked the handle?

In that honey warmth before the ice of winter, the girl on the bench had desire to keep back the coming cold.  And I can remember the fantasy of hope that moved like a desert heat-flicker in my skull; or was it lower?  Looking back at her hot colors, the pile of ashes under her bench, and the leathers I wear, it is no wonder that passions were never shared in our own form of amber.  She never looked up from her book, and I was too weary to dig for fossils.  And inside, my fantasy died.

 

first published in Living With a Stranger: self portrait, 1993.

 

 

Gringo’s

 

Taking a job at Gringo’s Tavern one summer got me away from the library.  Palouse use to boast the best hotel this side of the state before the turn of the century.  A town that had five cat-houses: lumber.

The tavern was right next to what use to be its barbershop.  They used it to store the pop; the old elevator was boarded up in back.

I lived in what was the lumber baron’s house, floorboards two inches thick.  The cesspool was backing up, and the foundation was sinking.  Most of the windows were gone from the upper floors.  Still, it was on top of a hill where you could watch the town and the wheat grow.

Palouse doesn’t have cat-houses any more, just a lot of churches.  All the trees are over in Idaho now.

Somebody once told me about the triad: Steptoe, Kamiak, Moscow Mountain . . . the high campground of the Nez Perce . . . an old Indian woman in a bar.  Looking out of what was left of my windows, I found the house was in the middle of that triangle.  When the wind blew, the floor crawled.

As I swept out the stuff which previous people had left in those rooms; I found an empty box from the Marseille deck.  That summer did have a certain charm.

first published in Living With a Stranger: self portrait, 1993.

 

Living With the Past

The sewage treatment plant in Moscow is across the highway from the Mall, just below the University’s cattle pens.  Around it, in the early spring and late fall flock dark birds.  Someone told me they are starlings.  I think they come early and stay late for the flies and heat the ponds generate: the smell of cattle and toilets from the Mall.

Thousands of birds sitting along telephone lines, chattering about the rotary arms. They are kicked up by noise and motion into black beach balls quivering in the sky . . . weather balloons with minds of their own.

The new theory is that dinosaurs aren’t extinct; they evolved into birds.  Putting their young into shells, they had nothing to hold them; they gave the ground to fossils. And we gave them vacation resorts, to extent the ancient seasons.

first published in Living With a Stranger: self portrait, 1993.

Black Heron

 

We were down by the river one night, having an after dinner smoke on the railroad trestle.  It was late, but we were tucked in the shadows from the buildings across the river.  The light from the town fell on the hills behind us.  Just smoking and talking down there on the bridge.

About then everything stopped.  The town got quiet.  I can’t remember the river making any noise.  We both watched a black heron flying the length of the river.  It flew low, behind the buildings, and to the west.  Herons don’t pass through this town too often.

We both looked at each other and said something like “Woe”.  Two old owls on the rail-head.  But that’s the last we ever spoke of the black heron.

 

first published in Wind Row, Spring, 1985.

Mushrooms

 

On my lawn the mushrooms grow, pale globes, large and beautiful among the green.  And on Sundays, the white church next door releases its children from the confines of parents and pews.  They tear the heads off, leaving shreds across the grass, stalks trampled.

All the while the family gathers on the steps to smile and bask in holy setting, society, and friends.  They have gotten out of the habit of rooting out mushrooms, leaving that for their children.

I think about sitting out on my porch and defending my mushrooms.  Putting on my best degenerate persona and popping a beer to growl, bearded and drunken down at them.  But who’s ever up at that hour.

Besides, they aren’t really my fungus.  They just grow where the alley dogs go.  And the more the children tear them, the wider the spoors spread.  Each week there are more mushrooms.

 

first published in Living With a Stranger: self portrait, 1993.

 

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Beware the Monkey God

 

Get out Muse.  There isn’t any place for you here.

No invocation, no kowtowing to see the empress.

This will be something other.  We’re going to take

you by the lapels and jam our forehead into

the middle of your brain.  This is my evocation

of a god that passed into obscurity before

you had even found that muddy little stream.  In

a world of holograms, this is going

to be the tatwa to end them all, clear in the

murky depths of the intransitory.  With all

your words, you won’t be able to touch it.  So out

with it, open the book, still the bell, light

the candle.  We shall really see Nyarlathotep.

 

It was during the year of the Monkey; we were

drinking beer one night in Rico’s when it all

began to come together in a frightening

way.  The brew had taken us down to the level

where reason shuts its doors if not the curtains.

It’s about there that philosophy begins.  In

this case, it was syncronicity which took us

further than we had dared go before.  The talk was

about Katmandu, one of the temples there, and

how the sacred monkeys moved about the faces

of the Tibetanized Shiva.  There is something

strictly Himalayan in those faces which can’t be

seen in the ones from Southern India; a stark

caricature of a memory that couldn’t

exist in the human sense.  About then, a friend

opened his stony blue eyes  with the effect of

a loaded 44 magnum stuffed in your face.

We all felt it, but nobody at the table ran:

a credit to us all.  Each of us knew that a

horror was about to be unleashed on our

already ravaged brains.  The fact that in our state

we would have broken our necks scrambling over

furniture didn’t cross our minds.  He spoke at last.

“Beware the Monkey God.”  The doom was upon us.

“Beware the Monkey God.” He said it again.

Fortunately he didn’t make the third pronouncement.

The eyes closed to ponder the depths

from which this little gem had dropped.

What fate had saved us from the ultimate terror,

I do not know.  Everybody at the table

began to lapse into the psychic realm where

the words had grown.  The pieces of conditioning

crumbled.

 

Flashback:  Karachi . . . Outside the airport on our

way up country, they were going to stash us in

a hostel for a couple of hours between flights.

We were waiting for a car to take us.

There was a tree on the horizon, big green

sucker, like what you would see lions asleep in.

Something in the tree moved.  What it was I couldn’t

say, but it was bigger than a bread box.  It could

have been a monkey.  I was never really sure;

we were gone before it moved again.  Probably,

it was a vulture.  They have those in Karachi

too.  I had never seen a real monkey, just

the twisted kind they have in zoos.  Captivity

snaps their minds.  My brother use to take me to

watch them.  He explained how when the head-

honcho came out of the monkey-house, the less

dominant ones would go sit in the corners.  Sure

enough, they did.  I had seen pictures of monkeys with

electrodes in their brains, shot into space and all that,

but real ones out there in the world was something

else again.

 

Maybe that was the first time the Monkey God struck.

It’s a sneaky little bugger the Monkey God.

By that night in Rico’s, I’d let it go to the

vulture theory.  But now, with anthropology

101 and ten long years of college behind

me, I still wasn’t sure.  At least I remembered.

People do that, they remember.  That’s what makes

them dangerous.  You have to kill them off quickly.

Leave one alone in a room too long and it will

make an H bomb.  It was anthro that gave me

the first clue.  Sure, I’d seen all the movies, 2001,

One Million Years B.C., (I loved the one with Raquel

Welch) Murders in the Rue Morgue, but these weren’t

the Catalyst, the scientific verification

of what all this monkey business was about.

Here we had the main man, Leakey, white haired and

tan, pointing the way back through time with small

fragments of bodies dug out of an African gorge.  This

was it.  The Trail was getting fresher, only a

million years old.  It wouldn’t be long before we

had the little shit by the nuts screaming out for

mercy.  We wouldn’t give it any.  About this

time the toothpaste ads started to effect me.

People on billboards grinning,  people on TV grinning,

people in magazines grinning.  Christ!  When I passed

them in the streets they weren’t grinning.

When they were, I crossed the street.

 

Flashback: Islamabad . . . We’d been in the hills

all day trying not to get bitten by a krait.

It was a good thing that it was winter,

and they were asleep.  We were taking

a dirt road down when a brightly painted

truck stopped.  The driver asked if we wanted a ride.

He was grinning ear to ear, red betel nut

teeth and intense hashish eyes.  We took the ride;

it was quicker.  Unfortunately, we were straight at

the time.  It would have been better otherwise.

That way we wouldn’t have been worried about dying,

just sat back with the rush.  The Monkey God takes

many disguises.  These days, I think it was the driver.

 

I always wonder what would have happened if my

friend pronounced the third doom upon us all at that

table.  Every time I look at a clear sky, I

can almost see two hairy hands poking through, and

then pulling it apart to reveal the black gulf.

A huge, grinning black-eyed face would drool

down on the world leaving mindless vegetables

writhing on the ground.  It’s awful to think about.

It’s the mundane which takes over the senses,

to make the void between the ears; an emptiness

which is rewarded by the powers that be with

all the trinkets a body could want.  Glass beads are as

good as cash in the open market, because

there isn’t much to loose in selling anymore.

They even throw in a mate to make the sale

complete.   Then you get a little bit extra with

working, sleeping, eating.  I has to be in

a church.  They’re always grinning in church,

at least the reborn ones are.   Let’s hear it for out

Lady of Ultra-bright in the Aisle.  Speaking of

churches, did you know that some Muslims got

together and built a mosque in Pullman, Wash.  There

is one thing wrong with it.  They didn’t put a

loudspeaker in the minaret so the faithful can be

called to prayer.  I miss that in the evenings; some nut

droning out over the city that God is great.

You better get on your knees and pray or God

will kick your ass.  Every god needs a helping hand.

 

Flashback: Band-I-Amir . . .  We had run the road north

with a Peugeot sedan and a good driver.  I

can’t remember how much AID paid him, but he

was worth it.  This was a private gig anyway.

Just me and the doctor, Dr. Watson that is.

We were going to take a look at the tallest

buddhas in the world and then maybe stop to look

at the king’s lakes.  The buddas were in the valley

of Bamiyan near the City of Screams.  It was

either the hordes of the great Khan or some perversity

of its own which gave the city that name.  Nobody

gave the whole story.  All that’s left is the tell,

filled with melting mogul arches.  In the evening

we had dinner in the village and watched a dancing

boy, long past his prime, sweat out an existence

before the group of art lovers.  Most of the time we

just tried to keep him off us.  When we

were back in the yert we drank ourselves to

sleep.  The morning came with embarrassment on the

faces of the buddahs, pink cheeked sandstone in all

its glory.  Two full figured statues, hundreds of

feet high, looking as if they had been there since

the valley was formed.  All around them were caves

which the monks had used to work and sleep in while

creating the images of their master.  The

dark holes made the cliff look worm eaten.  But there

were no orange robed figures hurrying

about.  It would have been a great effect.  I wonder

if the monks watched what happened in the City of

Screams?  From the valley it was only four hours up

to the lakes.  Blue, clear lakes which even have

Tahoe out classed.  Maybe it’s the emptiness around

them.  Nothing really can beat the cataclysmic

emptiness of the Hindu Kush, who would want

to try.  They formed from natural springs which had

built up limestone dikes.  The water was deep enough

so the bottom couldn’t be seen.  Yet for some reason

clear enough to make you think that you could.  The

king had stocked them with trout so his family could

go fishing.  We could see them swimming around the

steep chasms below the water.  That day,

no one from the family was fishing.  There was

a ritual going on.  In the mud-brick mosque

some local wife was in seclusion having prayers

said over her by the local holy-man.  She

was possessed by demons.  Every time her husband

wanted to fuck her, she got physically sick.

To save her from the fiends, they were going to throw

her in the lake and exorcise the demons:

damn cold those lakes.  Watson said she would be

lucky not to have a coronary, probably all

psychosomatic.  That’s what the doctor said.  Good

thing the doctor was too old to interfere, and I was too

young.  We would have gotten our throats slit.  The

Monkey God was running in a pack that day, or

should I say troop.  Sometimes I wonder how I got

so lucky.  The number of times I could have had my

head kicked in are just too many.  For some reason my

ass always slipped out of the sling and the noose just

missed my neck.  That night I just had to be at Rico’s,

just had to hear those words.  They never stopped

echoing.  That was years ago, and the run-on dreams

get closer.

 

Flash-forward: Moscow, Idaho . . . Hemingway was

there.  I don’t know what he did, but I would

set up shop reading cards.  At my back a WWI

memorial, it carried trophies.  The Tales of the Golden

Monkey is running to the end of the season,

and the fair is full of pagans, robes and costumes

from a thousand years of history.  The cards are hot.

In the booths I see a golden Yeti whistling

a tune.  He will sit across from me for the fair.

 

Did I do that, would I?  Closer,

though the pronouncement never comes.

Drum beats on the table shake us back from where

we’ve been.  The lights are being turned up as we are

being turned out into the illusion which the streets

give.

 

I was processing books for the library;

I found one called Indian Summer.

It had paintings and comments on Sind done the year

before I was born.  The chapter I opened

was called “The Monkeys of Karachi”.  It has

started again, and like the cat fading in a tree,

it leaves only a grin.  Its sense of humor won’t

let the third pronouncement fall, but it will

speak in the voice of my daughter every time

someone asks her year.  She was conceived

in the year of the Monkey.

 

first published in Living With a Stranger: self portrait, 1993.

 

Cabin Fever

 

The snow had been on the ground

for three months, and according

to the radio another storm was coming.

Naturally we got stoned out

of our minds.

We took out all the plastic

plates from the cupboard

and played Frisbee at midnight

under a full moon.

We left them in the snow.

By the time we woke

there was another foot of snow

covering the ground.  We ate from

cans and paper for the rest

of the winter.  I’ll know

when spring comes; the yard will be

full of red plastic plates.

 

first published in Bogg, no. 61, 1989.

An Accident

 

Coke white fog in the desert,

black-ice road,

crumpled horse trailer off the shoulder.

The horses are tied to a barbed

wire fence being doctored.

Black Stetson Jeans Jacket is

watching the horses,

not the trailer.

 

first published in Living With a Trailer: self portrait, 1993.