I live in Santa Cruz County, California, with my wife and a July abundance of plums. Much of my writing has centered on the homeless, which we also have an abundance of in the county. I have work in Storm Cellar, Star 82 Review, and eclectica, and forthcoming in The Homestead Review.
San Gabriel Mountains
I climb the San Gabriel Mountains along the line
where lightning scorched the scrub,
the manzanita vibrantly green on one side of the fire line
and the charred sticks one season softened on the other.
So many hours pass wanting to walk down
into the green, stray farther away from death
with every step, but instead I stagger uphill
wandering a path that weaves between scorched earth
and the grass, waiting for the wind to shift.
When Ordinary Falls the Rain
Standing in the San Joaquin Valley,
I want rain commonplace,
neither holy water nor anointing oil,
not earth-blessing nor puddled
for enjoyment of rubber boots
and a young girl’s splashing.
I want rain not as intrusion,
not slowing down traffic
or keeping heads bowed
and bending shoulders,
a topic at checkout stands.
I want rain familiar, usual,
like a field worker who runs
irrigation pipes down an onion field
shirt wet and pale hat dripping
not slowing a step to notice,
not slipping his grip on the pipes,
not catching the drops from his hat
with an outward tongue,
but looking westward
at the gray of a darkening front
without a furrow or a smile.
Large thin puddles form in thirty degrees of sun on roads.
Large thin puddles freeze in thirty degrees of shadow.
Afield, I note how thin diaphanous cirrus affects form,
how the merest filter alters the objects I perceive.
A warm conclusion to February and cock pheasants lurk on shoulders
of county trunks, red-tailed hawks fly with mice jailed by famine-wrought talons,
streams indigenous turn serpentine and foreign
like the River Jordan turns to turn again, and again turn.
Patches of snow—this alone tells how far the snow has receded.
White dots the northern slopes and marsh, the east side of trees.
Earth, soggy, is not land as such—more like stew, which Hereford calves
sop up like pieces of bread. So in this mud I move.
The field is appropriate to expansion of thought, not refinement.
Irony, satire, and complexity are out of place, and the tongue
rings with persistent ecstasy and new thoughts as the eyes
lose their perplexity by chasing the flickering martins and sparrows.
The immense sky seems near, the order haphazard but prone to clusters:
arbors, thickets, sediments, violets, larkspur, purple thistle.
A field brings me to addition and it is not important to know
if it is sought for such or gives such. It is a place for such—all I need to know.
As most wanderers tell, the addiction is not the knowing what is there,
not the knowing where to go exactly, more the knowing how to go,
an affection for the serendipitous, as well as the why of going.
It's the daring to embrace what arms can't have.
At first, scenery obscures. But as a fence is climbed
the relics of a childhood appear: metal truck, revolver, yellow whistle;
stumble into a glen where forty cows crowd the clearing;
follow the ridge to a valley of old Buicks; unveil the source, and water speaks.
Even the people of these open acres have revelatory surprise--
a woman with four thumbs, annual sandbagging by obstinate Dutch
who refuse to move their tavern uphill of floods;
general store that progress passed; teenage love painted on trestles.
But I am in a pasture. I step and sink,
and sink until I skate like water striders do.
Spring, the first hint, and I part! By stepping, I persist.
The field is a world to yield to and a world to master.
So I move, I move. I roll my trousers in my boots.
A boy ties a cow to a rung in a slab of concrete.
Pitchfork held high, tines tipped with the silver of use,
he runs like the devil to fetch a young bull tied to a post.
I do not long for warm winds and high wheat
and hardened soils, heat, growth, fruition, gain.
For it is spring, and hay mounds remind me of women.
I step and step, daring not to stop, fearing
a long thought will install me. It is the growing
and the growing without. So I grow. Spring, and I part.
O young bull penned from your moon-eyed dame,
straw-strewn, anxious, you shall have your mate.
O cow, let me hear the muddy bawl,
as into the muck, and out of it, I bob.
©2015 Jeff Burt