home photos drawings about the poems reasons... more poems collaborations translations family pictures movie intros

The Single Backbone Country

Outside the targets called cities

Away from the crowds walking shoulder to shoulder

Away from the bastards who breeze through the green light and leave you with the red

Away from the interstate, the symbol of no restrictions

The freedom you feel driving along, open road ahead

Planet's edge in the distance

Wind from an open window caressing your face

To walk along the interstate is a revelation of destruction

Dead animal comrades, the discarded packaging indicating the presence of humans' passage

To hitchhike down this road is to be one with the brothers on the ramps present and absent

It is also to be at the mercy of the cars which pass in an endless stream

Each guided by a free person

Away from all these things, a river continues downhill

Toward the sea

Which is far

The river centers a valley, a smiling visage, gentle slopes rolling

It is the cord that binds it together

The streams flow past the woods and into the fields

Joining it all into one

It is the single backbone country

So called by the original people

When they returned from their exile

It is a land of people who depend upon and support each other

As the body does itself

Or as a house stands, one stone, one beam, which holds it up

Or as the interplay of earth, sky, plants

Original animals and men was

One species supporting another

Food for the tribe

Our buffalo heritage is gone

Along with the virgin stands of forests

The weeds of the prairie

I wouldn't waste any tears on that

But we can inquire within

And know how much we've lost

Without knowing what we've lost

Some of it lives on in the country

The hills are still there

Indigenous birds mngle with those from elsewhere

People blissfully unaware which are which

As the songs blend with the rising of the sun

New trees introduced onto the continent

Give the land a new face

The trees planted in rows along country roads

And the streets of town

A contribution by some long dead farmer or another

Organizing the landscape to suit his own ideas of perfection

And indeed, the trees are perfect

Long colonnades of living wood on either side of the road

Paced evenly, the waving leaves meet directly overhead

The tunnel is alive

The cars pass over bridges and roads

Marks on the land which have changed everything

Curving down hills, black and gummy in the sun

They pretend to be endless stone surfaces

Cemeteries and parks, playgrouunds and parking lots in the towns

Replace the old open spaces with new, unalterably changed ones

The country has many nerves now, many bones

Many tissues joining each to each

Yet somehow in the mind's glance it remains single, straightforward, clean and very new

The single backbone country

As seen long ago

Clouds blow in from nowhere

And the heat relaxes

The wind picks up the humid air

The light fades, the sky darkens

Everything is filled with the certainty of immediate change

Promises fulfilled, events become actual

The wind throws things around the streets

Curtains move inward, then, reversed are sucked against the screen

Like breath the movement, inhaling, exhaling

In the country the rows of corn and soybeans shake with relief

The trees at the edge of the field no longer keep silent

As the first drops of rain fall over the contours and folds of the earth

The sky is awesome and dark

A mass of clouds, an indistinct pattern

As the rain becomes more intense and washes down

Over the windshields of the cars headed west

The wipers carry it away endlessly

Over the sidewalks of the town, darkening

Over the windows

Onto the streets, down the gutters, into the culverts

Which carry the rain to the river

Goal of all precipitation

Center of the geography of this valley

The single backbone country

The world that is

Illimitable as a gentle curve

Sloping away towards the houses

Black angel

Spreads wings and arms

Over the tombstones and evergreens (one, dying, red as rust) in the graveyard

Peopling the green mounds broken by ancient trees

Her one arm extended outwards in a gesture of mercy

The other raised to the sky

The palm of retribution

Her place is here

She is great, unusual, for this city

Too small or too poor to have statues in public places

Lacking even the usual stone presidents and heroes

So she is a landmark

And people, each to each, relate a tale, that is, a legend

As she marks the grave of a couple with a Russian name

And since there are no dates carved in the base for the woman

They say

The angel was white

He was rich, he bought it for their grave, and dying, told his wife

She should not marry, or have a lover

But as she did not obey

The angel turned black

The black angel is massive, and calm, and says not a word

But in the distance, among the houses

Something flaps above the pines

Like hollow bones clacking

Tiny pennants flap moodily

Three on either side of the telephone pole

Isn't it like the river

At low water

To expose the mud flats

With such little drama

Bridge there

Built some time past


A bronze plaque that is never read

By the few who pass by

In the bright sun and that radiating heat

Eternal witness

Speaks of an early ferry

Pulled across the stream

By human arms

At this spot

Toyota monsters buzz along

In an endless stream

Over the concrete

A clear blue morning

Over the tract of weeds

By the edge of the development

I seem to sing the body geographic

I'll take you down a path

Through rain and saplings

There is a huge stone there

Standing alone

Almost hidden

Covered with moss

Unmoved in years

If a stone

Can be gentle

She is so

The stone stays as she is

Another body, in the country

O strange!  Waywardness of the heart

For love knows where to draw the line

Attaching the heart to the rest

And will be there, soon enough

In body, as always, in heart

That cord and that line

Within a frame that supports the body

Heated from within

Cooled by breezes

One backbone

One of many parts

Padded by discs

Guarding a most central nerve

And feet upon the ground

A most eternal connection

A single backbone country

A land most central

Centralized in the unity of a river

The sky gathers in

                            its skirts

Cumulus cluster at the zenith

The wind enlarges as the trees explode in sound

The cottonwood speaks to us

                                              in big voice

The cottonwood, in the wind, by the stream

Peace to you, O strange land

Peace to the land changed

And stripped of what pays

Peace to the people

Who respond to its weather, its texts

Its visage

This world has no corners

The horizon a perfect circle

Nameless shallow pond

On a green lawn

Behind a fence in spring

Peacefully reflecting

All that is blue

I stand in the country

Near heartbone and breastpond

Hog's back rising with its thick woods

Slight calls of birds

And the smell of fresh air

This pond a wide drop

Wider than the eye

To vanish under summer sun

Like all history, lost

When I am so overcome

With sleep as to fall

Hopefully I have stopped and taken notice of

The auspiciousness of the place

Hopefully I have cooked and eaten

Some things from the earth

When I am so overcome

With sleep as to fall

VIII:78 - IX:79