“My Car” published at Silver Birch Press

My Car

by James Ross Kelly

At seventeen I was driving my

Newly restored & shiny red 1951 Henry J

I’d worked on for 3 years,

With its rebuilt, “Kaiser Supersonic 6”

Down Highway 62, it is 1967 &…

Go to Silver Birch Press:

https://silverbirchpress.wordpress.com/2017/01/22/my-car-poem-by-james-ross-kelly-me-at-17-poetry-and-prose-series/

Pacific Yew

I was once paid
To survey Yew trees
In Old Growth forests
In Oregon near Crater Lake
Mammoth Douglas fir & White fir
Covered the landscape, rolling sides
Of Mountains, the Yew were generally
In wet areas, crevices of creeks
They grew as attendant soldiers to the large conifers
Only the fifty to sixty feet the oldest of them
Lining the feeder streams that stretched downward
To Creeks that all ran to the Rogue River
The surrounding clearcuts were littered with their
Brothers  & sisters as they were sexed male  & female
Into large piles to be burned as unmerchantable
In Canada they made them into beautiful hardwood flooring,
After closing a bar in British Columbia I was drinking beer
At a timber fallers home  & complemented him on his floor
As it was gorgeous red hues  & blond running throughout
The lengths of the boards,  & I asked him what kind of wood
It was, as I had installed wood floors for about as brief a time as
I had logged, “THAT,” he said, as he waved his Molson,
“Is Canadian Yew wood!”  & he said it as if it came from the Queen herself
The females have tiny red berries but were no different in appearance
Than the males, but that they were dioeciously conifers with separate sexes
Was something that seemed an oddity, yews were generally few & far
Between but in the right conditions they would form stands that followed
The creeks downhill & appeared as un-uniformed limby
Gnarly red barked ever green twisted with holes & grown
Over defects that were as old as the tall Douglas fir
Their large European counter parts were used as chapels
By early European Christians who took them from
Pagan worshipers that found their otherworldly appearance
In deep forest to be contingent with forested landscape as a being
Rather than separate commodities, & I who had formerly spent
My short forestry career in clearcuts where all this had been raped,
Well, the three weeks I spent with Yews, kind of sealed this notion
That yes this separate place was an amalgam of earth, with a presence
All its own, we were surveying Yew because its bark had been found
To be a cure for breast & ovarian cancer , the worry at the time was
That we had cut too much of it  & the need for it for medicine would
Be its demise in a few short years—perhaps every incurable disease has
Its counterpart, the European Yew were almost wiped out because of its
Prize as the commodity for long bows, this is really more understandable
Rather than the overuse because it was “just in the way,” of D-8 cats and
The ever present need to tidy up & burn the left over’s so we could entertain
The notion of growing back trees like corn that
Rather  had,  in an elegant fashion been growing to cure
The beloved’s:  the grandmother’s, the mothers, the young women whose
Lives were to come into an age of live out of balance
All of us reductionist drones that corporate the lovely,  & the obscure
Into spreadsheets & bottom lines while the checkerboard square clearcuts
Of Pacific Northwest took away the great bands of yew  & the spotted
Owls—who were never seen as created harbingers of loveliness,
& health  & the sure goodness of answers to all our problems

Tribes Have Customs

I was listening to my wife
Tell a story from work
About a small girl with a wad
Of chewing gum in her hair,
& as she drove I was trying
to look at notes from
A lecture by Rupert Sheldrake
From last year, Sheldrake was making
The point that civilizations have laws
& tribes have customs, as my wife talks
About the child I remember her
From last year & her notable step-father
Tattoo Tom we’ll call him, he’s full body tats
& gangland Northern Cali,
Been down by law many times, he
Was out then, but awaiting a jam that
Would likely send him back to prison, in the meantime
He would chat with my wife when he walked the
Kids to school, they were always on time well groomed
& happy, he told my wife of drive by shootings,
& holding the kids in his arms in a safe space
As the bullets tore through the house,
He’d been on the same tier as Charlie Manson
In Pelican Bay, or some other Maximum Security
Can, all locked away from all the rest of us, Tom had made
His amends, but he’d not become a civilian, since
He’d been born into the gang life & the customary model
Was criminality, yet Tom still  deeply cared
For the children & they were happy, but now he’s back down by law
& the little girl has had gum in her hair
For the entire weekend, is always late for school,
& doesn’t always have clean clothes
Sheldrake, from my notes, says,
“Atheistic scientists cannot have the Mind of God
For the source of the physical laws of the universe.”
—neither did Manson

Then suddenly

The Vaux’s swifts that had been up
& down the river feeding on flying insects,
Began to draw close & come together
With high, rapid twittering, high whistled chipping,
In ever tightening circles,
Swirling & swirling,
They all go up to spin together in a great pinwheel-like circle,
Coming more & more altogether directly above the chimney,
Then suddenly,   in one morphic resonant being they come down
& into a whirling black-funnel-down tornado-like cloud gyre,
Fifty feet in height, above the house & then into-the-chimney
In a second or two,
Full of this day’s hatch settling & chittering for
Brick gripped sleep.

An Unkindness of Ravens

On the death of poet David Lloyd Whited

It has been over four fortnights since my friend
David died, his widow at his deathbed calling
Me & asking me to speak to him
Through the phone, he in a coma
Children and Marian around so, I panicked &
I prayed the only Christian prayer
I could think of, “Lord bring him back
We need him here, his good cheer and we
Need more of him and Lord don’t take him!”
I’ll apologize to no man for my panic

When his wife arrived from her
Work that Friday he first allowed that he’d not gone
To work as he was feeling bad, & minutes later he
Was on the floor, that Friday night
Having collapsed trying to sit up with Marian’s help
On his couch, didn’t feel good that day
& he stiffened up and went to the floor
I was 700 miles down I-5 I could not go
& there was no good outcome surmised by doctors
The Poet’s heart had given way

In Alaska I saw repeatedly every deer season
An Unkindness of Ravens as they are called
When in a feeding frenzied  group to
Herald every afterkill of blacktail deer,
A snow laden clamor of raven and eagle
Blood on white snow unsympathetic
As most obituaries but louder, & yet
I know only the antidote of fond memory

David & I as young men
Drank and read our poems aloud
& reading poems we crawled through bars & bistros
& fished behind the Snake River dams
& off the derelict sand barge on Maurey Island
& caught ling and true Cod & sharks out of the Puget sound
I carried him out of at least three bars & one night
Off the Tramp Harbor pier
This was the man that wrote:
“Sadness Drives a Fast Red Car”

He died Sunday morning after Thanksgiving
I did not go to the funeral, did not know of a wake
Cremated out of the hospital & as there is usually
These days, no acknowledgement of the body as a rite
A memorial in a church in Tacoma was due
Work friends, one brother, grieving Marian & son & daughters
I called her the morning of the funeral
& I asked her to open all the windows
In their little  house on the Puget Sound
At the mouth of Judd Creek
When she left to go to Tacoma.

My good poet friend David is dead