Nothing seems to adequately describe the annual Rainbow Gathering except poetry.
After returning from a Gathering, my ritual is to compile all the scraps of poetry I've brought home
into my next installment of "Proof of the Miraculous: Campfire Poetry from the Rainbow Gatherings."
This year, after finishing my six-page epic about the awesome 2010 Pennsylvania Gathering in
Allegheny Forest – "Along the Trail from Heart to Heart" – I was so inspired that I just kept
rolling. These are all unfinished scraps that had been languishing in sad neglect for years while I
irresponsibly entertained myself with fiction and essays. It was quite refreshing to dust them off
and nudge them to completion. Enjoy!
has gathered all the melancholy
of the rains – along with
mercury, sulphuric acid, coal particulates
rinsed out of the sky –
from ridgecrest to ridgecrest
a thousand braided streamlets come together
to bear that weight,
that audible accumulation
The river was once the center, now
it’s a boundary:
gnawing patiently at the foundation of every
bridge that joins its banks,
hauling in a harvest of rich grains
of topsoi – mingled with
nitrogen, selenium, organophosphates
from the fields along its floodplain –
each farmer’s private grief
suspended in its current as it glides
The river arrives
its million moving tons
threading dark as blood through the wetlands,
weaving marshes that teem
with amphibious lives,
depositing the silt and heartache of a continent
in a fertile, toxic debris
before dissolving into the fathomless
compassion of salt water . . .
Wait a little, the last of it is not here yet,
the serpent drags a tail
but no song goes on forever,
not even the blues
Bartering for Oxygen
Bartering carbon dioxide for oxygen, breath by breath,
swapping my daily sweat
for the sweet fruits of photosynthesis,
digesting light from clear across the solar system
gathered by green leaves
and infused with minerals drawn up from the dirt
to brew proteins and sugars, I look up
through the lacework of branches
and sing my satisfaction to the birds,
I look down into the overflowing cups of flowers
and hum my fulfillment
to the honeybees.
The young rooster’s first attempt to crow
is squeaky and uncertain,
a shaky unmusical phrase.
But as the days go by his confidence grows –
confidence in himself or faith
in the morning, I’m not sure which –
until after a month of steady practice
he bellows that age-old salute to the new,
the original reveille,
in a rendition absolutely his own.
We named our first rooster Blossom:
a fryer, maybe a broiler,
who somehow fell off a truck
and showed up in our back yard one day.
It was months before the telltale
spurs on his heels, the splendid red comb
and majestic wattles
gave his true gender away.
Bred to grow fat
in a cage and die at a tender age,
Blossom announced every sunrise for three years
until at last his heart
could no longer haul his weight around.
The morning after we buried him,
his number-one hen hopped up to perch
on a weathered segment of log
and uttered a long, brokenhearted croak
of a crow.
Stretched out here comfortably in the dark,
in no way ready for daylight,
I recognize that arrogant trumpet.
It’s the call of duty, a triumphant reminder
that every one of us is here for a reason.
One more opportunity to live it out,
or at least to persevere
in the search for it,
is about to sear the horizon.
Refusing to wake up is no longer an option.
The Heartwood of This Life
Gazing down through the woods at sunset
into that green infinity
of trees between trees between trees,
I catch just a glimpse
of a distant horizon somewhere
like that black gap
between the farthest, faintest specks of stars
which you know must be
exploding with light
if your earthbound eyes could only see that
through the webwork of twigs and branches
in the waning light,
amid the green and yellow mosaic of leaves, I see
Every breath I take
exchanges something vital with the forest,
every beat of my pulse
springs from the same heart
that spins this pinwheel
as I stand here gawking, motionless, lost
in the rising twilight,
the greyblue boundary of afternoon and evening,
the bright split heartwood of this
A Glance Before Drinking
The water in the cup is deep and clear.
Particles of morning traffic
are dissolving there.
Slats of morning sun
afloat on its glittering, swaying surface
bounce up against the ceiling.
Lifting the cup for a drink
I am looking through the water,
through the cup,
tasting the spring where the daybreak swells
out of the earth.
How does it feel to be on the wrong side
How does it feel to be the last to realize
there is only one side?
Is that why you give the empty thumbscrew
one savage last twist?
Is that why you march your final prisoner
resolutely to the torn-down wall?
And what will you do when the handcuffed wrist
falls into bones and rust?
And what will you do when the rags of your oppressed
lift up empty and fly away?
Will you lock yourself in your most opulent cell
with your electric cattleprod and scream for mercy?
Will you serve your children cyanide to save them?
Negotiate endlessly with ghosts?
How long can you live on alone in your fortress
under the mountain, looking out through the television screen?
How long can you outlast the final assault of death . . .
or madness . . . or love?
A Poem Should Never Rhyme
I do not think a poem should rhyme
or ride that seesaw, metric time,
when it could gallop with the horses
of the heart, the green unbridled forces
of the summer, singing holy nonsense
to the moonlight, leaping every fence
of academic discipline and prosody
in sheer delight at bursting free –
I listen for the dance beneath the tune,
the do-si-do of Earth and Moon,
that anarchistic harmony of birds
that bubbles up between the words
like living water from a forest spring
so early in the dewy morning
that I can’t tell the dream’s reflection
from the daylight’s calm perfection . . .
I do not think a poet should be judged
by rules and definitions, nor begrudged
a playful leap from metaphor to metaphor,
for as the river is delineated by the shore,
the flow of poetry has natural boundaries:
beneath the graceful overhanging trees
it makes its way between two hearts,
as deep and clear as nature’s other arts.
Flakes of dawn go darting
past my window like blown embers
of a disintegrating dream, small
luminous creatures bored with gravity,
a slow-motion storm of crystal
the color of the sky.
The day slumbers on. I get up
stretching, I don't even wonder
The street is covered with an inch
of daylight by ten.
It heaps itself against certain buildings
where the crowd of snowflakes has wrestled down
the laws of averages and fate.
In every shadow, memories of awakening
in the storm of the sun
suffocate one by one.
The morning lies five inches deep
across the sidewalks.
The afternoon is flying.
The Secret of Eternal Life
Is to Avoid the Eye of the Clock
Yes, this is the trick,
to open a book late at night
and hold time still
as easily as you hold your breath,
letting the poetry breathe for you,
so that when midnight comes
it sees you are busy and tiptoes away.
That's the whole secret of living
an entire lifetime
in whatever time you have left:
no matter what you find yourself
doing, there's a way to get inside of it
and let it do the work
so all you have to do is relax
and enjoy the exercise.
I mean the closer you get
to being what you wish to do,
or must do, or simply
do, even just breathing,
the more you forget to glance away
at the glaring digits,
the gesticulating hands,
and the slower time goes by.
Yes, the clock keeps tick-tocking
to itself in the corner, I know, |
but the less often you notice,
the more likely it is
that the minutes will stretch a little,
enjoying their sixtytwo seconds in the sun,
a second will seem to linger
forever on the heels
of the departing present,
and your cells just might occasionally
forget to age.
Yes, like a short-circuit
in the wiring of time, a moment can
glide on indefinitely into the future
while you stand speechless,
with luck even forgetting
to think: not one hair
turns to silver while you ride
those wings as broad as the horizons,
as far beneath you
mighty rivers pause on their way
to the nearest curb or gutter
or stormdrain . . .
News for You
an army of bureaucrats came
to your country and set up
a government, evicting
the people you know from their homes,
locking them up in vast, profitable prisons
for no offense, slipping
subtle poisons in your water and food,
taking your children away
every morning to windowless centers
I've got news for you.
Those people in Washington are not on your side.
Those people grinning on T.V.
are only actors.
The executives on Wall Street are loyal only
to the Caesars in their souls.
The generals in the Pentagon own concrete mansions
deep in the Rockies.
That man in the commercial is selling you
your own flesh, pound by pound, the net
which is all you will have
to leave to your heirs
is gnawing away at your bank account like a worm
in the belly of a starving child.
I travel the creek-bed
doing my best
to keep up with the stream,
stepping from moss to rock to moss
down a staircase of tumbled boulders,
clambering over logs whose bark
has rotted away in the mist,
doubling over on all fours
through the thickets of rhododendron,
vaulting little pools and waterfalls
seeking nothing but downstream,
Then I reach
the road, and remember I was lost.
Ninety degrees: left or right? I choose
The water goes
singing on homeward without me.
Log Truck on the Highway
I wave and smile to the driver –
then let my hand fall
out of silence nod
goodbye to the big tree
riding behind him.
hauling a cargo of smoke and sawdust
caged in steel ribs.
Severed limbs piled somewhere
in a wilderness.
I love to gaze down
through the stanzas of the trees
over the story of the land, standing
knee-deep in ferns, knee-high
to the society of my elders,
breathing deep the newborn
constellation of flowers –
round some dead
relative on the empty pavement.
No one saw the assassin come or go.
The only way to know for sure
the age of a tree
is to cut it down
Then I wave and smile
to the driver in the next truck.
The Hundred Millionth Poem
As the hundred millionth poem rolls
down the assembly line,
a rivet of alliteration here
a symbolic dab of hot glue there
I lie awake, wandering
the junkyard of odd syllables
across the back acreage of my brain,
if the world has room for one more
contraption of rhythm and metaphor . . .
Maybe it’s time to float that treasury bond
to exercise the option of off-planet
a suborbital archive, perhaps, or something bolder:
an irretrievable data-launch
into deep space.
“Ode to a Nightingale” alone
could illuminate a million square lightyears
of useless vacuum!
Or perhaps a less costly, more practical solution:
use all that excess poetry
the empty shafts and craters
where the poets of old mined the mineral wealth
of the soul,
or drilled for inspiration
deep in the hot beating heart of the Earth,
day-night, day-night, day-night,
where some future generation of industrious
young wordsmiths might innocently
dig it up again,
raw material for their latest
invention . . .