Sunday, August 31, 2014

Climbing Stories

Photo by Lisa Spangler, 2008

An afterthought, almost, before I left Flagstaff: if I wasn’t going to climb
the Humphreys Peak trail, then I’d at least walk up a low trail to the west
to look at things and place them in memory. Step, step again, raising my
feet up through tangled grasses until I slowed, then stopped, out of breath.
Hands resting on thighs, I saw it: a prayer stick, up ahead and half-hidden.

Near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, I took an ill-planned canoe ride with the man
I was seeing, through grey arroyos whose brittle layers shattered into flat
flakes when we used our paddles to push off the little canyon walls. Those
walls were covered with Dolomedes tenebrosus, spiders the size of my hand;
I left the water, climbed a ridge, slid down talus slopes to a highway below.

At Enchanted Rock, I learned how to tie in, how to wedge my fist into a crack
and pull up while pushing off my toes, how to keep my weight on my feet on
those granite ledges that seemed to shrink when I’d look down. My arms would
cramp, my fingers bleed, and there was nothing to do but go up, up, until I felt
my top-roper’s hand; walking down, I tripped, almost pin-wheeled off the rock.

Climbing’s a site-specific poem of motion and weather and rock. Its stanzas and
breaks, its assonance and rhyme, are co-written by the climber, place, and time.
For this climber, ascents were exhausting, descents wild and uncontrolled: yet
for all my fear and bloody scrapes, for all my awkward pitches and failed grace,
what I climbed always gave me a gift: the things I could see now, closer to the sky.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Hadley Paul Garland, "Moon Set," 2009

“While most plants open up their stomata during the day, cacti and other nocturnal plants such as the agaves and aloes open their pores at night.” - LiveScience

Opening up’s risky in a dry country. That star near our skin is desiccant,
lifting enough moisture from every pore to make our blood thick, our
thoughts parched. So we adapt, become nocturnal, move like revenants
among moonlit cacti. Even the spectrum shuts: at this midnight hour
it’s all rods and scotopic vision, no cones or colors. There’s a pulse to
these nighttime walks, the heart’s systole and diastole echoing stomata
as they close, then open. We breathe together; our spines gather dew.
Above us, jeweler’s velvet and the spilled bowl of far stars arcing: fermata
with a dot of moon. Stomata and lips part open in the high desert night;
inspiration and exhalation, an exchange of damp sighs across taxonomies,
sighs but no sounds save a dry scuffle: a mouse darting out of sight,
perhaps, near the base of a dozing creosote, stomata shut. Astronomies
older than ours were an opening up, a gaze into mystery;
my insomniac self lies awake, on the other side of that history.

Monday, August 25, 2014

When My Father-in-Law Sang Jimmie Rodgers

"I'm a thousand miles away from home just waiting for a train." - Jimmie Rodgers

Most people smile and nod when they hear someone sing the blues; they
rarely cry. Maybe the smile's in recognition, kinship with the feeling of the
lyrics or with the singer's delivery. Maybe it's from a pure pleasure taken in
the musicality of the song. Whatever it is, don't ask people to take ahold of
this dowsing rod, this poetry. This poetry finds deeper water underfoot; it
twitches over lyrics, saying "Dig here, dig deep, dig now." When my father-in-law
sang "Waiting for a Train" to us today, the poem leapt in my hand, pointing
down to brackish water not yet drunk, unquenchable thirst, the tears beneath.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Walking on a Shell Road in North Carolina

From "The Birth of Aphrodite"

I never liked Watteau's "The Pilgrimage to Cythera."
It seemed a confection, nothing like the goddess
born from sea-spume tinged with blood and sperm,
borne on a scallop shell, sharp edge slicing the waves.

Watteau's dry brush evaporates in this god-haunted
place. Aphrodite is here, there's no place she is not,
but here we must meet her at the end of a shell road,
shards of oyster shell and scallop cutting our bare feet.

"Isn't she the goddess of beauty and pleasure? Then why
is the walk to meet her so painful?" It's the breakage that
paves the way, a sparrow says; it's love's pilgrim path, coos
a dove. I suck a drop of blood from my thumb where a wild
rose pricked it. Aphrodite might be laughing as I pick my way
down the road, but she'll know I'm her own when I arrive.

Friday, August 22, 2014

While I Stopped for Coffee

“The word virga is derived from Latin meaning ‘twig’ or ‘branch’.”

Driving here means being pressed into a thin layer of
horizon, thinner than the scant soil overlaying caliche,
by the pale blue hand of the sky. That hand fingers a
diffusion of light, opens: its gift to me dark, feathered,
subliming before it can touch the parched fields.
There’s nothing twig-like about this; what streams
from those clouds looks soft as a small child’s hair.
If La Llorona still weeps for her drowned children, it’s
virga she weeps, her tears never touching the ground.

Friday, August 15, 2014


The details wash out, I try to fix them in my mind and can’t
quite: the vast loneliness, the lilac-gray altostratus filtering
over coruscating gold oxbows and ponds, the fugitive colors
of a rosary of small lakes 33,000 feet below. The seating is
intimate here, thigh touching thigh despite some small shifts
in position, the improving book and pursuit of a perfected
self a tangible yearning in the man next to me, or in me, it’s
hard to tell we’re seated so close. His fingers are fine-boned,
clean, almost delicate, his narrow face a hands-breadth away.

The angels' point of view: a silk mesh that sieves the world down
to the accidental touch, my internal weather, an overexposure that
bleaches me. Who am I gathering these baubles for, if not you?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Memento mori

The moon’s still fat, that radiant
pearl, but a bit lopsided as it wanes.

A pair of moth wings, tattered and
dusting the front porch, but no body.

No Perseids to be seen, and then I
remember: we’re the shooting stars.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

At Pease Park

Sensate: the word a scrim between the world and me. Words can’t carry
all my selves extended through the maze of a fingertip whorl, a glance.

Yes, I feel the grit between my sock and my heel, feel a tickle of sweat as
it trickles down my lower back, smell the resin of wood fresh-cut, of wet dog.

I see runners, each one a spectacular joy and catastrophe, gravity and time
playing with them, with me, their motion telling stories they wouldn’t admit to
a breathing world exhaling beauty everywhere, the roving eye of this beholder.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Laguna Gloria

Imagine, just for a moment, that you’re here with me. We sit on a bench
under cottonwood at the edge of a lagoon, where cicadas and dragonflies
break the heat of the day with bronze-laced wings. In my left hand, I hold
a burr oak acorn; in my right, a rain lily pod and two mountain laurel seeds.
It’s August, and my palms are warm and damp. The sun sets, the moon rises,
the Perseids wink in and out like fireflies. Imagine, just for a moment more:
light on dark water, as from my moist hands to yours pass the acorn, the rain lily,
the mountain laurel, their dreams of dry husks swelling, straining to sprout.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

On Beholding a Digital Version of Giorgione's "The Tempest"

"…the beauty which agree,
In many a nameless being we retrace,
Whose course and home we knew not, nor shall know,
Like the lost Pleiad seen no more below."

- Byron, "Beppo"

In this representation of a painting, the characters are delineated,
but what they mean, who they are, the arc of the narrative—that
takes some looking. And by looking, I mean: hold still. Breathe. Look,
without forming words, look for alignments and breaks, hold descriptions
back even as they tug at you, ignore them as they pull at your sleeve.

Now, begin: There is a figure, female, beautiful, naked and adorned
and nursing a child. She looks frankly at you, a faint smile in her gaze.

There is a youth, looking off past the frame of the painting (or wherever
the image was cropped). There I am, or there you are, at another vertex.

And that vertex places you, me, us, right where the stream flows, at the
disjunction made by the rushing water and its low banks, outside the frame
and still in the picture, invited in by the gaze of the character and her smile.

It's different than words, this sort of storytelling—space can be time, and
the gap between the youth and the woman and me, or you, can be passing
time. The baby could be the youth. The viewer could be anyone, but now
the viewer is here at a keyboard, calling the moving water to mind, calling
the storm painted in the distance a source of the rush and cut of the stream.

The bones of the painting, the alignments, provide space for the connective
tissue of story, and the image becomes an object of contemplation. There:
I've broken the silence and all that's clear is words spill out of me, nothing yet
revealed about the painting except myself. That may be enough, though.

It's in the seemingly empty spaces between, where the story waits patiently
for you and me, the necessary characters at the vertex outside the frame.