Within Close Range: Bullies

Because our home’s so far away,

I’m the first picked up by the bus each day

and the very first stop after school –

which makes every student on our route

sit forty minutes more each afternoon

and me, an unwelcome sight.

Full of hormones and hate,

those in last few rows of the long, yellow bus

moan and groan

as soon as I climb on,

making me nervously skitter to the nearest seat

where I crouch and hide and wait.

The hardcore insults come later

and louder

cloaked in the anonymity of the rumbling and motion

of our rolling prison.

Deaf to what he hears,

the bus driver just stares ahead

and goes where he’s told.

United by the same neighborhood,

in the opposite direction,

they snarl and nip at the back of my neck –

piercing my thin skin.

It’s us versus them,

in every nasty word.

But the “them” they think I am

is absolutely absurd.

When their rabid, backseat words

have more than their usual bite,

I step from the bus

and race to the woods,

searching for a way to shake the hurt

in the thick, dim patches of unpeopled forest.

I disappear among the ember-colored leaves

which cap the many trees of Shoreacres

before the heavy freeze

steals the color from the land.

And there, I simply am.

Where I step to the sound of my breathing,

the movement of the clouds,

and to the busy hush of forest life about,

reminding me to go about my own;

and to heal my wounds

with the comforts of home.

The Wind and the Woods

The highland winds howl through the valley,
rattling the windows of our house on the hill,
shaking and bending the world at their will,
as the Midwestern in me braces for a storm.

Intense and unforgiving. Possibly spinning.
I feel my body – tense and taut –
preparing for the worst with each swollen gust.
But this is just spring in the southwest.

Pacing through the house, anxious to move,
or for everything to stop,
the dogs and I head out for our walk.
Prepared for a fight against the wind’s tough talk.

Outside I find more bark than bite
the winds are strong, but warmed by the high desert’s light
Layers are shed as we head to where the pronghorn graze
and the sweeping winds blow songs across the tall grass.

Downwind of us and warned,
the herd has up and gone,
prompting me to turn against the unrelenting gusts
and start the journey home again.

Past fuzzy Cholla and Prickly Pear lurking in the grass,
nipping at the paws of distracted dogs
drunk with newly moistened worlds in their noses.
Noses lifting and twirling with the breezes.

But oh the smells, rebirthed by frugal spring rains;
appearing and disappearing, for the cloudless air is always shifting,
enlivening everything, including my spirits,
with its transient sweetness.

Wandering up the hill toward home into the dark of the grey-green pines,
a Great Horned Owl lifts off a nearby branch.
One grand flap of her powerful wings, and then, a silent shadow
moving up the hill to a low limbed Juniper, heavy with slate blue berries.

I follow quietly, passing the fallen remains of a pine long dead,
which looks like an old skeleton without a head.
Hidden in the shadows of the boughs, the owl waits.
Only taking flight again when she is in my sight.

It’s then I start to wonder, who’s taking more delight
in this hide and seek game in the wind and the woods.

I can feel her watching us move up the hill.
And in the still, our eyes finally meet, albeit brief,
before she spreads her broad, stealth wings
and disappears above the trees and tailings of an old pit mine.

We hear a raucous raven at the top of the tree
where I hoped the Great Horned Owl would be.
But the owl is already on the go, into the blow, and out of sight.
Though I very much doubt we’re out of hers.

Unleashing the dogs as home comes in view
Nellie’s off in a flash on her reptile pursuit.
Zigging and zagging, but never succeeding.
(I think she’s just teasing.)

I shout her name, but it’s squandered in the gusts.
so I lose myself in the wind’s white-noise
and pressing my self against its hilltop strength,
find my peace and place in it again.

Winged Chatter

I try to find a new way to wander across the rolling hills of scrub and pine and stretches of grass each time the dogs and I go walking

So every day, I get to see familiar things in a different sort of way.

Sometimes this leads to new treasures like old, sun-bleached bones for my growing bone collection,

a newly dug den with earth so freshly excavated it’s still moist and brown;

an ancient juniper at the top of a ridge, rounded like a giant, perfect mushroom cap, where generations of cattle resting and rubbing in its shade, helped make its flat-bottomed, fairytale shape.

But mostly, it’s not knowing where the dogs and I are going,

except out

to explore this small patch of hilly land near home

where Mingus Mountain rises behind Chino Valley to the east, Table Top Mesa and Granite Mountain command the views to the south,

and scattered homes along long, dirt roads in the near distance remind us we’re never alone.

As does the jackrabbit springing from shrub to shrub, with its skyscraper ears that quickly disappear,

and a flock of quails lifting noisily from an impenetrable cluster of Apache Plume, in near perpetual bloom, at the side of the wash.

Which, like my path, is always changing.

Crumbling.

Reshaping.

Exposing tunnels dug below the surface

(that look like sunken eyes, sunk deep in deep, dark sockets);

and hardened roots of Pinyon pines clutching eroding walls,

refusing to fall,

to succumb to the changes.

Green clinging on so few branches.

Yet clinging.

And fruiting

and feeding the creatures who live in the washes and brushes and hollowed out trees;

in the boulders and burrows and fields, where me and the dogs keep wandering, because every day it keeps changing.

Each bloom.

Each moon.

Each orbital click.

While the dogs keep on sniffing and sniffing and sniffing, and finding their own unique way, which these days is through a grassy stretch of fleeting monsoon green that tickles my knees and their noses.

Past Prickly Pears with their thorny pads, crowned with green, pink and purple fruit, growing darker and bigger and bolder and sweeter.

Across the grass where the air is fair and the land is electric with tiny, winged voices that buzz here and there.

Humming strange, chatty words in my ear.

While modest patches of yellow, white, orange and purple wildflowers barely boast that they’re there.

But they are.

And so are we.

Blossoming.

Buzzing.

Changing.

One Square Mile

We’d been in Prescott several months

before I felt quite brave enough

to wander a mile of state trust land

neighboring our windy, new hillside home.

Raised in the Midwest, it was like another world

harsh and barren – and continuously warned

of giant spiders and big mountain cats,

poisonous snakes and thieving rats.

Instead, I learned of high dessert ways,

where life and death are on display.

In each cow for slaughter in the shade of a pine;

in the shy, white blossoms of the desert moon vine;

which shun the sun all summer long,

closing their beauty to everyone.

Then as the gentle night unfolds,

so does each petal, bright and bold.

And fleeting.

In every piece of a recent kill,

neatly picked clean from above and below,

until nothing remains but an armful of bones

to bleach and decay in the perennial sun.

Each time I’ve wandered this rolling terrain,

it has begged more questions and felt more sane;

and given me moments I’ll relive again

with a broad, happy smile for all that’s been.

Of days making circles within this wild square,

with the weight of the world or nary a care;

the moment the dogs and I walked up a hill,

where a herd of pronghorn stood scattered and still.

Two dozen, or so, at rest and at play.

Not bothered enough to run away.

Even as the dogs whined and pulled at their leashes,

they just raised their heads, and I stood speechless.

With earthy colors of white, black and wheat,

small groups spread out, but young close to teat.

Watching us.

Watching them.

Feeling the ache of the dogs in my arms,

and wanting to keep all present from harm,

I called for calm and aimed for home,

turning my pack from the wondrous tableau.

We hadn’t gone far when I felt the ground shake.

The once placid herd was now wide awake.

The dogs were frantic. Nearly pulled off my feet.

I turned to see the herd and me just about to meet.

Digging in heels and holding on tight,

I stared to the eyes of the leader in sight.

With the herd right behind, and us just ahead,

it was up to this doe as to how this would end.

At the very last moment, the doe darted right,

followed close by her clan, who were now in full flight.

The spray from her hooves shot into my gape,

as we watched the herd and our narrow escape.

Just the other side of a short, fat tree

the pronghorn passed just feet away.

Turning with the herd, thus turning their keeper,

the dogs spun me round, so I dug my heels deeper.

But instead of the group going forward and gone,

the leader turned back from where they had come!

A dust cloud of pronghorns surrounded all sides.

Dogs yanking and whining and losing their minds.

All I can think is, “Keep anchored! Hang tight!”

And that no one was going to concede this wild sight.

For how could I make someone truly believe

that I was in the middle of a pronghorn stampede?

When the final white butt disappeared in the dust,

leaving us trembling, I laughed – as you must.

“Holy shit!”, I screamed out, again and again,

as I looked for my breath and steadied my friends.

We climbed the last hills of this special square mile,

to our tame, little world, where we’d rest a while

and dream of dust clouds.

Winged Chatter

I try to find a new way to wander across the rolling hills of scrub and pine and stretches of grass, each time the dogs and I go walking; and so every day, I get to see familiar things in a different sort of way.

Sometimes this leads to new treasures like old, sun-bleached bones for my growing bone collection, a newly dug den with earth so freshly excavated it’s still moist and brown; or an ancient juniper at the top of a ridge, rounded like a giant, perfect mushroom cap, where generations of cattle resting and rubbing in its shade, helped give it its flat-bottomed, fairyland shape.

But mostly, it’s not knowing where the dogs and I are going, except out.

To explore this small patch of hilly land near our home where Mingus Mountain rises behind Chino Valley to the east, Table Top Mesa and Granite Mountain command the views to the south and scattered homes along long, dirt roads in the near distance remind us we’re never alone.

As does the jackrabbit springing from shrub to shrub, with its skyscraper ears that quickly disappear; or a flock of quails lifting noisily from an impenetrable cluster of apache plume in near perpetual bloom at the side of the wash.

Which, like my path, is always changing.

Crumbling.

Reshaping.

Exposing many tunnels dug feet below the surface (which look like sunken eyes, sunk deep in deep, dark sockets); and hardened roots of Pinyon pines clutch eroding walls, refusing to fall, to succumb to the changes.

Clinging green on so few of its branches.

Yet clinging.

And fruiting and feeding the creatures who live here.

Here in the washes and brushes and hollowed out trees. In the boulders and burrows and fields, where me and the dogs keep wandering, because every day it keeps changing.

Each bloom, each moon, each orbital click.

While the dogs keep on sniffing and sniffing and sniffing, and finding their own unique way, which these days is through a grassy stretch of fleeting monsoon green that tickles my knees and their noses.