Winter, 2003

John Harris

Three Poems

Owens Valley Blues
Dry as scripture the bed of Owens Lake glistens
in November sun like crusted blood.
The air is gritty with broken promises.
I've made this trip a hundred times, never
in an empty season after summer, before snow.
Roadhouses where I wasted my youth trying
to get lucky have vanished,
along with the ribs of steamers that freighted
Cerro Gordo silver to Olancha, bringing back
cheap whores and expensive lumber.

On this trip I resolve to do things
I've never done before.
Watch the Leonid meteor shower from
Kearsarge Peak above Onion Valley.
Visit a graveyard
in the shadow of Temple Crag.
Talk to the bristlecone pines
on Methuselah Trail
and learn how to survive in hopeless soil.
I know I won't get lucky.
My luck ran away in hospital slippers.

Tonight in the town where Mary Austin
wrote The Land of Little Rain
I'm the only guest in the only hotel.
My room fills with ghosts.
Most of them followed me here.
I open a window to
the cold night air, to voices
crying out about the terrible things
we do in the name of love.
I try to answer but no one listens.

Early in the Christian Era
one of the Desert Fathers explained
that he went into the wilderness
not to find God but to be found.

or anyone out there

it's lonely
as a tomb in here
and I'm going down in flames.
Find me now. Find me now. 

Note to William Pillin on the Sabbath
Bill, the two things Jewish about me are
the cut of my pecker and my wife.
Half my bloodline tended the ovens where
your people turned to fertilizer.
I never wrestled cheek to jowl
with the angel Akriel.
I seldom get heartburn or constipation.
But listen! when the scroll of your breath
opens to a poem, when your words
rain down like manna I become
kosher, Orthodox, Hasidic.
Hirschman says all poets are Jewish
or all Jews are poets

I forget which

and yes Bill, this infidel, this goy,
this hooligan in your land of candles
and wine trembles like the walls of Jericho
when you say "Better earth as a brown fist
at my throat than a soft bite of worms,"
or "Can one truly sing
without this terrible knowledge?"
Bill, what blood cannot do for me
Your words have done.
Shalom, Pillin. Hals und Beinbruch! 

Remembering Richard Hugo
Dick, you'd prize these dog days in Trona,
sunlight louder than bad shitkicker jazz,
nights dull enough to base a sermon on.
In Blanche's Bar & Grill propeller fans
and glass after clammy glass of beer
check-dam the Panamint Valley heat,
rising like a flood outside. The only whore
in town wears store teeth and a railroad watch.
Suppose you holed up here, on the run,
and running out of luck. You couldn't leave.
You'd arrive in a lather, boiling across
a range where wind still works the claims
that miners flattened their hopes on.
You'd settle down with your thirst.
Pickled in sweat skinned by the sun
and hung out to dry you'd last a lifetime.
Dick, history's wrong

Custer never quit,
he's here behind a bar trading salvos with Dakotas.
Death and failure take forever here,
and time means nothing to the sun, the wind.