Brueghel’s Plowman revisited

Bruegel,_Pieter_de_Oude_-_De_val_van_icarus_-_hi_res

Afternoon on Thanksgiving
thirty years ago & we walked up to the cliffs
On Neil Rock, Claire & myself
We’d been living together for
About six months 40 miles away
& had the big meal at my friend
Peter’s & early afternoon began
The walk — I’d lived up there a year,
Two years previous,
& it was about five years before I
Bought my cabin on that mountain &
I was in love w/ Claire & this was before I found
Out she was hooking for the cocaine
She brought home twice a week & well it was
A pleasant chilly walk, the back way
Up through Phil’s place & around the
North side to the cliffs

It was a vision quest thin place, when
Native Takelma ruled the Valley
Complete with a limestone cave
Cave underneath & the blackened
Ceiling etched a good half inch into
The limestone, & there was a place for
A fire & two other rooms in the cave &
Once when I was up there by myself I
Found a smooth red ochre stone the size
Of a half dollar with a clean round hole
That been hidden in a crevice, no way to know
For how long perhaps before Ft. Lane — as there is no way to know
How long until change comes & whether it is good or evil

From the cliffs above you could see
To the North Mt. Theilsen’s pointy peak & Three Sisters
Off in the distance & keep on turning the Cascades to the right
& all of the valley to the West — Mt. McLaughlin &
Brown Mountain & south you can see Pilot Rock &
The tip of Mt. Shasta, the Siskiyou’s off in the distance blue
& in front, down out of the box canyon due east of Ramsey Canyon
The two Table Rocks loom up below you like aircraft carriers at sea
When you see them in the valley fog & level off about fifty feet from the rim when
Medford is socked in every winter & smog warnings come out & some days no sun shines
Because inversion & it’s bluebird clear just above the Valley floor
The Upper Table Rock counting from the Rogue River, & the Lower Table Rock to the right
Because it is down river, & from the cliffs you can see an old airstrip on the top
Of the lower Table Rock & the sheer walls of each are visible & you can see some
Of the volcanic rock of the time, before any counted time — formed this place

But this place is where the Takilma came to pagan worship these two flat rocks,
Below us that day & pray for a good salmon run, & many deer & elk
& for babies to live past three & they made red arrowheads in the lodges down below,
Gambled, smoked from a pipe, leech tannin from gathered acorns & grind them
into unleavened bread, & Neil Rock was a place for a shaman to take young men, & fast them &
Feed them amanitas in potion & invite them to see— while
They mapped with hunger all the places they would hunt
& be able to talk among themselves & never be lost for
Very long because of the long looking —above the sacred rocks,
& the low mountains around Sam’s Creek are off in the distance & now
Divided up ranches, small farms and half acre & a mobile home squirrel ranches that
Divide up Sam’s Valley & south & low from there is Medford, hazy & a grey appearance
& smoke from mills in White City & we’d walked up to take this all in &
On Beagle road directly below & west was the Beagle Sky ranch where for
A fee you could take a six hour class & then jump from a perfectly good airplane
With a parachute down into the valley we were taking in as panorama,
& this began to happen & as generally it did the plane would circle
& a distant form would pop out & a bright yellow, or red
Or white chute would open & from side, to side, slowly float down to the valley,
& I had been used to seeing these parachutes as it was happening

I pointed it out to Claire & a form fell out and the chute opened
& drifted off red, then another & a white chute opened
& descended down much faster than the other
I did not make anything of this & then there was a siren of an ambulance from
Three miles away & I noted this was something connected, we continued our
Hike & tour of the caves; the next day was Sunday & I took the paper late
In the morning & with coffee read of a parachutist killed in Sam’s Valley when
His chute did not open correctly & how he had been the chute packer for the Sky Ranch,
& week or two later I talked to a neighbor that knew someone down on Beagle road
Where the sky divers landed & he said he’d come down a ten yards from a couple
Putting a new composition shingle roof on their mobile home & they heard from the sky:
“Please God! Please God! Please God! Please God!” then heard a thud & they saw him bounce
A bit, & like Brueghel’s damn plowman I did not know, but
I’ve thought of it as a freeze frame & how it played out just like on the cliff
& somehow he should have known to look around & if he did, he would
Look at the just made splash, and being human he’d have probably looked at the contraption
& not connect it with the sky in any manner & noted it only
As the possibility of a large fish or whale, like when I saw the half opened chute,
& his gaze would have gone back to the ship & the mountains in the horizon
& he might have thought of a woman he knew in the city & was seeing &
as I did for years, the furrow to furrow of work, takes plenty of poems away,
until now, but there were children to raise & there were the things I no longer do,
that I did & as years before, we walked off the cliffs that day & I was then the damn plowman
& now have my memory & I can put these fly away wings on any time

& back another decade to be travelling on I-95 to Boston with my English professor in 1973,
Who introduced me to Brueghel’s painting & Dr. Williams, & Bernie’s Peugeot began to
Skid in the snow & went across three lanes of traffic, on two wheels & I looked out
The passenger window while the pavement was inches from
My face & I heard him loudly scream, “Please God!” & we hit a snow bank hard
Below an over pass & as if we were on a just banked billiard ball
We spun back across traffic as cars whizzed by—us now pointed against traffic,
Then pointed with it, & then slid into the median & gasped at being stopped
Pointed in the wrong direction, but off the road & alive
With small damage of some trim to the French car
& I’ve never jumped out of good airplanes, nor bad ones, nor, owned a Peugeot,

Though I’ve been blessed many times; & I’ve cried out to God
& many have been, “Please God!” & I’ve been answered with the blessing of my time,
& am thankful, yet I know as the sky diver fell, he had no notion
Of shamans, or voluptuous girlfriends, or history, or anthropology,
Or Thanksgiving dinner, or jobs, or money, or a new car, or what he did last
Thursday, or Brueghel, or Ovid, or Icarus, or William Carlos Williams,
Or a liberal education in University, he thought no politics & he
Did not have a nanosecond of ponder comparative religion,
The fall was not 20,000 feet, but 2000—no time for a short tight poem either, &
The consequence of his sin was gravity, & by him it was not well considered,
He didn’t think about the separation of Church & State & he knew no contingency
That could have stopped this since on that day he relied on the rote of muscle memory
For his own self-worth; having paid more attention for others than himself, & as this was
This the last time at the packing table—he didn’t think through what he had done,
Jumping on an ambitious whim & it could not be undone & pulling on the tangled ropes & knowing
He hadn’t packed the secondary chute,
& he cried out to God — all-the-way-down.

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