I am a writer outside of Los Angeles, and I teach at Mt. San Antonio College. I spent the summer teaching and writing poetry in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Here are some poems that the silence and isolation of the forests allowed me to find.
The End of Glaciers
In this fourth year of drought,
even the glaciers have gone away,
even as high up as Precipice Lake.
Snow has melted today
that fell before the last ice age,
before that land bridge formed to Siberia,
which brought humanity to this world.
It is an ancient water
that has slept here since the time
before we had hatred and jealousy.
It came down on a continent
without war and the idea of sin,
and when we open our taps this year,
we fill our glasses with a wisdom
we have forgotten if we ever knew it.
May we drink. May we listen
to the silence of snow fields and trees.
May we learn the peace of ancient times.
A Memory of Smoke
Today, these mountains are full of the smoke
coming off of the summer foothills,
summer being the moment of fire in California,
and we who were trained
about the horror of forest fire
by Smokey Bear in childhood
and then retrained to discuss the dangers
of Smokey Bear as adults
repeat our mantra
that the fires are merely
the first step in renewal
or that they are clearing the way
for giant Sequoias
or any number of platitudes that are true
but feel wrong way down
in that part of our brains
that we share with deer who bolt
at the sound of a cone falling
that part of our brains
that want us to follow the deer through the fields
and down to the cool valleys and meadows
when we hear that the foresters’ plan,
truly the wise plan,
is to let it all just burn.
Dizzy on Moro Rock
Moro Rock juts out of the mountain
like some buried god’s thumb knuckle
and rises 4000 feet above the chaparral foothills.
If you climb out of the forest side
and up to the top at dawn,
you can watch its purple moths
wake up and feast on
whatever it is they eat
while swallows dive bomb them,
swooping over and over in a kind of dance
of the morning sun.
At least that’s what they did in 1980
when my parents brought me
in the cold dark blue light
to show me what I could see
if I were just silent and watched
and of course the joy of that moment
moved into my childhood legs
and made me dance on the edge and sing
my favorite song, “Salt Peanuts, Salt Peanuts,”
until my father called for me to join him
and we watched the slow motion explosion
of a sunrise over the Great Western Divide.
I suppose that nothing about this dawn
has changed except for me
who sitting at the bottom of the rock
imagines the top and the horror of the fall,
that three minutes of thinking
about all of the things I’ve missed,
everything I’ve failed, how much of myself I’ve lost.
Falling to my death, I would think about
how I grow sick even thinking
about the cliffs and how I’ve lost
so much of my hope and how it used to be
that I could just turn off my brain.
All of that, the dance, the joy, the loss,
the fall makes my breathing go shallow
and deep all at one,
and I sit down hoping to regain my legs
enough at least
to walk for now
where the ground is flat and even.
©2015 John Brantingham