Up There

When I was a little boy, around nine or ten, daily after classes at three o’clock I was sent down to City Park, a good mile’s walk from school – later I would be picked up by my stepmom in her little blue Maverick around five o’clock to be taken home.  This all happened in Valentine, Nebraska.  So I had a coupla hours to tear around unsupervised after school, and I did lots of exploring, mostly trails and streams.  One day in spring I was swinging on the creaky chain swings, those ones with the black rubber seats, just very gently swinging after having caroused away an afternoon on the trails, and having shoplifted a whole pocketful of candy on the way to the park, I’m chewing on a Rocky Road marshmallow bar biding my time ’til the step came (before which I wash my mouth out in the creek so she doesn’t smell the candy), and lo and behold what should I observe but the two hottest chicks in the local high school come screaming into City Park in their Camaro, smoking and laughing and cussing and looking hot with their feathered hair and tight bell bottoms – one of them’s gotta shit but the bathroom’s not open yet ’cause the park service won’t open it ’til summer.  So I’m sitting there spinning around in my swing listening to the chains unravel, and they’re cussing around wondering what to do, and boy they sure are cute (I know this because the step has just started giving me sex ed – with my pa’s Playboys no less, so I have a good barometer to go by – “Keith, this is the clitoris, here the vulva, these are the labia, and inside the body there are the fallopian tubes, and the ovaries attach here, and down at this point is where the kaka comes out…” and so on through the various parts of the female anatomy).  Well, after their little conference the girls glance over at me and of course I look away when they glance, and in the end the one who’s gotta shit pulls down her jeans behind the partition that gives entrance to the girl’s can and she squats down and from where I sit on my swing I can see the round flush of her ass cheeks peeking from below the partition and from between them comes these little droplets of girl poo.  Somehow, in my child heart and soul, I know I am privy to something sacred, so after they roar off in their hot car, I take a look around, saunter off my swing, and wander over there to the girl’s restroom.  I have my favorite stick with me.  Hmmmm, I wonder, strangely aroused at ten, “Do girls shit the same thing as boys?”  I squat down on my haunches, flip the turds around with my stick.  “What is this liquid here?”  I scratch around in it.  And this piece – it looks like there’s some hairs attached to it.  I decide they look like deer turds, only bigger, and better, and stinkier.  I am mesmerized.  I had seen one of them hand the other paper towels out of the glovebox.  These towels were neat to me, too.  Not really much on them, but to know they had been “up there” really made me shake inside.

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And the Driveway Went Mad

Middle school, Valentine,  NE.  Dirty pants and crooked glasses.  Flat Nebraska plains, the Niobrara river and the Sandhills.  I’m wondering about Kenny Scripter over this cold beer.  How I fought him!  First trying behind Steven Hale’s house, and having Hale’s mother lean out the back alley screen door and yell, “No fighting here!”  So surge to a driveway across the street in front of an open garage, and the crowd moves along, the middle school crowd of thirty or forty girls and boys, and he and I at the center of it all.  And all this had begun over a football at recess.  My football!  No mine!  Word spread like wildflowers – Haines is fighting Scripter!  Haines is fighting Scripter!  Throw open the bathroom stalls!  Loose the hinges from their jambs!  Haines and Scripter!  Haines and Scripter! 

I put my books in my locker after eighth period and had my back to it all, but there were countless howdies and well wishes, slaps on the back and you can do it’s, and I felt forced into it, so the thing went down in a driveway, the crowd parted and we two were set in the center.  We went at it.  Me, a halfbreed Apache living on the edge of town with my folks in a trailer park, he, a son of a poor farmer beyond the other edge of town, further removed than I.  We fell to and I landed several in a row because I was quick, not too powerful, but I hurt him.  We matched up well, equal weight, I had the height and the reach but he was a bully.  The only thing I was unsure about was how desperate he was to win.  After I landed a few I saw he couldn’t hang in there and he did indeed get desperate, so he started windmilling.  My pretty face was left intact.  I ducked under the windmill and reached behind with a right and came up with a big swooping uppercut which connected and placed him on his ass.  The driveway went mad with screams.  That is when a strange thing happened to me.  Me, an outsider, and Kenny, another solid outsider, well, what does the crowd do but take me on its shoulders and parade me around town, up one street and down another.  Meanwhile, I’m looking back over my shoulder and there is Kenny spitting blood and waking up, staggering after the crowd, yelling “I’m not done yet!”  And I knew he wasn’t.  So I look to the crowd beneath me, thinking, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be at all – I’m up here on the madding fury and all’s I want to do is run back and help him up, wipe the blood off his face and maybe try again.  No windmilling this time.  But they carry me until they get tired. 

Later, Kenny and I become best friends, and I would walk across town, he’d meet me halfway there at the edge, and we’d walk out into the prairie to his father’s farm and there we shot 22’s and double barreled shotguns by the river, milked the goats, ate country breakfasts, and wandered the land in countless adventures, young, skinny, barely clothed, whooping – we would sure get red and brown!  Outsiders blending with outsiders.  It was perfect.  But still, no taste for goat’s milk!

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here is a short poem for my mother, who passed away when i was little. it’s meant to be sung in a chant.  shima means “my mother”.



Leaving the city for the mountains

au au au

Shima I know you loved me

au au au

Gone down Mescalero way to see my relations

au au au

And all our relations they say HI!

au au au

Greyhound bus depot

Greyhound bus depot

au au au

Leaving the mountains for the city

au au au

Shima you know I always loved you too

au au au

It’s always painful when I think of you

au au au

traveling the road ahead of me

au au au

Greyhound bus depot

Greyhound bus depot

au au au

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The Morning World

The Morning World    


     Through the mist there are the mountains. It is dark yet on the valley floor where the city is and I can see to the east where the mountains are that behind them there is the sun and the pale blue color of a clear desert sky.  It is the morning after the first heavy snowfall of the season.  The air is crisp and dry, and the fires have been burning all night long into the cold dawn where the wood smoke has risen high up the sides of the mountains to rim the valley in a blue-white veil.  Later the veil will be burned off by the sun, showing the mountains sharper and cleaner and whiter and purer against the sky, stronger and standing more absolute than usual in their bright majesty of long tall centuries.  This is how they belong, incontrovertibly majestic and without peer, sustainers of prayers and dreams and heights and visions.

     As I walk, my breathing is light and visible and I think of the breath of wild mustangs in the high deserts of Nevada turning their heads in the snowfall and moving forth slowly in search of food.  I can hear the strike of my boots on the cement resonating down the street across the ice and it is the only sound in the air other than the chirping of the birds.  The early morning is a vital and precious thing, invigorating and astounding in its clarity.  All around me there lies the snow, heavy and soft and thick like a velvet curtain fallen.  When it warms further toward the midafternoon and the sun has been out good and strong over the mountains, it will be important to walk beneath the overhanging limbs with a high upturned collar to prevent the melting snow from falling down the back of the neck at the slightest breeze.  But still, it is a quiet and motionless morning except for the tiny hardy birds that flit from limb to twig to fence to eave to steeple. Starlings!  There are so many of them!  Fifty or more in a single tree, quick and tireless and wary, hungry for seed or crumb.  Occasionally too, there is the stray cat who pauses in mid-stride to observe my approach, only to slink off in a continual search for warmth and food before I get near.  There are people as well – two or three early risers emerging from their doorways like sleepy children born into a new season, yawning over steaming coffee and shivering with cold and excitement.  The cold is a shock and cheeks redden quickly.  The people are fast back within their homes.

     This is the morning world of the city in the valley.  This is the morning world, and I am alive in it walking its streets, counting its cars, listening to its birds and songs and tires and doors opening or closing, watching the mountains through the buildings and thinking of how life is hardest and truest on the mountains where somewhere there is a hare with a twitching nose at the edge of a meadow beneath a bush, unconcerned about death or the long solemn vision of the hawk on the boulder in the sun.  Amidst the waking life of the morning I oddly think of death and the talon and a small clear squeal lost against a high long sky that is pale and empty beneath which there drips from a wound a red trail of blood onto the mountain.  Always there is death in the winter on the mountain.  And down on the streets where I am walking there is also death, but death longer and slower and more weary, cold loveless and lonely and far less majestic or poignant.  There are those damned cats, you see, who when pausing to look, look down the walk over the snow without a clear conception of their own imminent deaths, but somehow appear so forlorn and hopeless that when they bow their heads to move on it is as if they know, deeply, that their struggle is now tenfold the greater and you cannot help but sorrowfully look after them at their tracks that are fresh down the alley behind the backs of buildings that their people once lived in.

     Turning away to walk on though, I hug myself against the cold and declare that, despite the arrival of the cruel season it’s good to be under the sun in the morning world and it’s good to be present and attentive.  I know know I am alive because I can see my breath and I smile at this, ever aware of my own mortality.  But beyond that I am aware of the heights of deep and emotional living, my visions and my dreams, and pleased to be not just breathing to one day die without ever having been aware.

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The Way it was With Natalia and Me

here is a brief one from good ol’ salt lake city – liberty park to be exact, holding hands with the woman, our breath in the air and the glint of snow on the ground, snowball fights and snow down the collar, snow angels and much laughter but in the end we could not make it work completely, and it’s still painful to think of.  here ya go, nat.


The Way it was With Natalia and Me


     On winter Sundays there was the park in the afternoon.  In the park there ran a river and along the river beneath a row of tall think pines we would walk across the shadows of the pines that stretched long across the walk and over the river.  There was usually the sun in the west that shone hard on the eastern mountains and turned the underbellies of the scattered clouds pink against the sky where it was easy to lose the hawks of the city in their quiet magnificent ascents from the park’s aviary.

     Besides the hawks there were the mallards and the geese who spent much time in the eddies of the river dipping their heads into the muddy bottom in search of bugs and calling out to one another in frantic bursts of noisy quacking while others alighted into or flew away from the water in groups of seven or eight and the whole scene was just one noisy busy tumultuous flurry that made one think mostly of a quiet wind across the shoulders of the ascending hawks.

     But sometimes over the noise of the ducks and the geese we would her the drums and be drawn away from the river over to where there had formed a circle of people who played their drums and shook their rattles for the dancers who danced very seriously with their eyes closed.  The drumming would start off very simply and at first we would only be able to hear the bass beat but as we’d come closer we could begin to pick up the fills and by the time we’d arrive close into the circle the beats would get fast and intricate and if everybody was good and concentrated the fills were perfect and inspired and the dancers would be maddened and we who were standing about could not help but to whoop or howl as the music built to a crazy free for all and then crashed at the end after it had become too much, too much to sustain.

     That’s the way it was with Natalia and me.

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Girl with Bread

the following harkens back to the days of working as a ranch hand when everybody would come together on bright summer days to help bring in the hay or turn the garden over, chop and store wood for the winter, mend fencelines, or any of the myriad chores necessary to keep the ranch functioning.  all the men particularlylooked forward to mealtimes, especially if there was a certain beauty present…

Girl with Bread

The men come in from

off the land

dark and shiny and thirsty,

gathering around the well-spigot


they squat on their haunches,

bending down toward

the cold water to

wet their lips and

rinse the earth from

the crevices of their hands.

They take time in preparatory ease,

reclining in the shade against

the giant oak

like the spokes of a wheel

around a hub,

boots gently rocking in the breeze,

passing around thick

hand rolled


They quietly stroke their hair behind their ears and

lean around slimly whispering that


the light looks most beautiful

behind her at noon on Sundays,

after chapel when everyone is gathered

around the table for lunch when she

enters into the dining room

with the tray of fresh made bread

draped in steaming white linen,

heavy and drooping and held shoulder high.

Behind her

they can glimpse the kitchen as the door

swings wide and from the kitchen comes

the laughter of their women

and the aroma of the bread and

the meat and

the roasting chilis and

the stews and

the fresh perfume of the girl that

brings the bread.

She is there for the briefest

of moments,

backlit by the noonday sun

bright from off the white

courtyard stone.

Her one good Sunday dress has seen

better days – hem fraying at the ankles,

cotton fabric thin enough to show

the length of her legs

all the way up to her pubes.

It is for this reason

that the palms of

the hands of

the men

sweat in the rays of the sun.

Her legs –



astoundingly effortless in

their fantastic composure,

there set apart at shoulder width –

what well balanced musculature at work beneath

the glorious jeezus-forgive-me outsplayed cascade

of her Sunday best.

By Christ,

the men are challenged at their boots,

and it makes them


and useless,

makes them stroke their hair back behind their ears

and look away and

slimly whisper.

Beneath the table

feet shift and

ankles cross,

long calloused fingers work at

bluejean kneecaps

frayed in panicked unease.

Between each of the men

there is a chair,

an empty chair,

but it is only her back that she gives them,

laughing and

shaking and

proud and

quick behind the door

with the others.

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Feast Grounds at Mescalero

back again for awhile.  i have been thinking alot about mescalero and my cuz marnie.  after tribal jail i split the hell out of mescalero and caught a bus to cali.  that was awhile ago.  it was good to go back and live there when i did.  lotsa drama though.  i gave marn a necklace i carved and inlaid with turquoise – it was a thick heavy thing which i wasn’t sure was fit for wearing but i tried it out for a bit and it didn’t break.  i think she hung it on her rear-view mirror ’cause she didn’t want to haul it around on her neck either.  later it broke she told me.  i wonder what happened to it? 

marn worked as a firefighter way before me and watched out for me when i was just getting going on a crew.  i didn’t think anyone gave a damn but she was family and looked in on me to make sure i wasn’t dying.

feast grounds at mescalero comes from 2000 – 2001.  at the time i was working for the forest service on a type 2 wildland firefighting crew.  one time we got sent to the Guadalupes  to help on a growing fire there.  they split us into two crews, one night crew and one day crew.  one night macgoosh led us up a treacherous ridge in the dark of night which we would later look back on in the morning light and shake our heads.  it was as if we had transversed the spine of a giant watermonster.

ahh well, 

Feast Grounds at Mescalero


N’de beauty,

I once saw you at closing time

weary and grinning,

back and forthing to “Indian Car”

at Bar 3 downstairs at the Inn.

I was there too, trying to look sexy.

I kept making eyes at you,

but I was afraid to ask

my cousin who you were.

Then, two days later,

I saw you wheeling your cart through

the canned meat section at the Super Mega Discount,

buying Spam to go with

your potatoes, homemade tortillas and

your traditional Mescalero 30-pak.

I wanted to ask my cousin again,

“Hey, who is that girl?

Does she have a man?”  ….but then,

I didn’t want to know because

I was afraid you might be related to me,

and what good would that do either of us?

Third time I saw you,

you were in your greens and yellows,

coming down a Guadalupe wash at dawn,

face sooted from the fire’s black paint.

I only saw your toothy smile then,


but I knew beyond that

your beauty

by heart.

Now here,

feast grounds at 2:00 a.m.

everybody drinking arm in arm around the fire,

back and forthing to an old ’49,

I see you again,

N’de beauty,

dark limbed tempest

reddest spinning flower

crazy in my red red blood.


I have black desperate hair that’s been

long in love with the fever of the wind,

and I don’t have a home, I don’t have an arbor,

I don’t even have a tent,

only this old blanket my cousin gave to me,

but won’t you sit awhile anyway and

drink with me and

teach me that old ’49?

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