Coming soon from UnCollected Press–Black Ice & Fire–Poems by James Ross Kelly

previews:

Kelly reads from the upcoming book:

Poem for the Beer Drunk Fishermen

In March, 1964 the Anchorage Earthquake sent a Tsunami down the Pacific Coast from Alaska to hit Crescent City, California causing major damage and 10 fatalities. Several of the fatalities happened to men sitting in a bar who thought it would be a good idea to get some six packs to go– and watch the Tidal Wave come in down at the Crescent City pier.

At the Counsel of Oak Flat

 

 

On the right bank of the Illinois River three miles above its mouth 22nd of May 1856,

Chief John said to Lieutenant-Colonel Bnehanan:

“You are a great chief;

so am I, a great chief;

this is my country;

I was in it when these trees were very little,

not higher than my head.

My heart is sick fighting the whites,

but I want to live in my country.

I will not go out of my country.

I will, if the whites are willing,

go back to the Deer Creek country

and live as I used to do among whites;

they can visit my camp and I will visit theirs;

but I will not lay down my arms

and go to the reserve.

I will fight.

Good bye.”

Chief John then walked into the forest.*[i]

 

 

 

 

[i] History of Southern Oregon, 1884 A.G. Walling  p.279

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

Anger of a Kind–after viewing a year of child massacres in Mexico, Peshawar, and Syria

Anger of a kind
rests in the contours
of our palms,
inexpressible

Anger of a kind
with clenched fist
demands hearing of
why & wherefores
to this satiated life

Anger of a kind
bleeds from open wounds
& wombs, distended
bellies, machine-gunned children
nerve gassed children, & children killed by suicide bombs

Anger of a kind
wretches at the politicos,
foreign & domestic,
whose wart-healing
short-term gain
infects itself & all
that it touches
with promises & putrescence’s

Anger of a kind cries to a limpid
unconsciousness not
to accept anguish, suffering,
murder, ignorance, nor placation
solely because they have always been
or, because they have always been  paid off

Anger of a kind stands
witness for all that come after, sometimes
having used a tempered edge for necessary deadly force
and final will for change, & that swift bitch–change herself

This anger is kind.

High above at this moment

The last two pieces of oak have gone

Into the stove

& it’s too dark & icy to get more,

Inside the stove a chunk to the right

Smolders & pops

To the left about thirty seconds

Ago the other said the same

 

It is getting cold—a jet

High above at this moment

Is taking someone

Toward a sad occasion

We all suffer

 

Iris in a water carafe

Is stupidly trying to bloom

In December

 

On the hot stove I dropped Frankincense

This after noon

& a Holy odor

Pervades this cabin

No priests on this mountain

Wind chimes however

Announce epiphany

Unrecorded

 

Lovers embrace in

Immaculate numbers

All over the planet

Genetic material furthered

To be exactly what they

Are, themselves, guiltless after Christ,

Either by love or some other reason

 

Life brings on abundant life &

His own purpose

& like the tides, surges connection

Recedes, then surges again.

Venus Void of course

Stepping out into

The crisp night air under leafless

Oaks, there is a clean

Smell that can only be

Had in certain places,

Venus shimmers off mountain

Horizon, I thought maybe

You were looking at her too

 

Glimmering off your Bodega Bay

The pliable ivory of your face

& red hair

& connected pervasively,

Venus occluded with moon

Four days ago.

 

While you know

I don’t buy Astrology

& for you that’s part

Of your faith & that’s all right

For you then

I wonder about now

 

Three days before this evening

I’m told of twelve people

Are meeting

Three of which believe

That they are from Venus

& have video tape of

Venusian space ship

Landing on earth

 

Life is preciously beautiful

& we are part & parcel of

Gaseous formation of the adjacent

Planet & I would never want

To break up their meeting, & laughing

Though I am

 

Knowing that voiding time

All of this is a togethered thing &

While Botticelli’s art

Which we accept unlike

The Venusian space ship

& how he

Put her so delicately

On the half-shell

With your red hair

 

It is more like

A dream this art as life

Than a reverie

But there in imagination

We loved each other

& shared our last name w/out marriage

no relation & states away

A decade apart our

Birthdays, yet the same?

 

We astonished each other

You were swooped off

To California, but

In this cabin, this damn

Cold Oregon December,

Your red hair spilled across

My chest, your smell like

Lilac must, your

Touch soft, is soft &

Warm air becomes heavy

Acrid smoke fills the air,

A cabin, or a cave,

Or a peat heated shanty above

A wind swept cliff & the sheep bells

Clang in the mist?

 

I saw a reflection in your eyes

Dim light, our bodies move,

& then we were still, & your

Touch again, it should not be

A dream, yet it was

& that’s all we had

 

My heart surged

Not from desire

But from wonder &

Though we never made love you

Were many times on

My arm & we many times kissed

Deep spit swapping passion

& one night we slept together

This imagination makes what it will

Yet you were always a person

Not to be worshiped

But to be known & we knew each

Other in some kind of morphic

Field that came together & said

Remember?

 

I don’t buy reincarnation either, but

The neo-paganism you seemed to love, hey

The playful part I get,

Masks &drums & the anthropomorphic

Notion of animals, like coyote, but

The old gods have always been

Flipping  dead

Pagan playfulness, still has a black ribbon

Running through it to the diabolic,

As did the inquisition,

Or any religious spirit

In every camp—waiting

For the wrong move away

Presence interior & from

Above simultaneously

 

The dimness fades

& the light grows

Too, too bright

I close my eyes

Black ice on asphalt & fire

On the moon

We were both void of direction

Toward God

 

& then I see again your face

Surprised

Then calm, your face changes, again &

Ten out of ten of us die

& you were eventually gone

Earned Wisdom

I hadn’t been home long enough to take a shower

& there came a pounding on the door & I knew only too well

Who it was and he was the last person in the world I wanted to see.

I answered the door.

“Ah Heartache my old friend,” I said,

“Come in you, son-of-a-bitch, come on in make yourself at home.

You know your way around, there’s beer in the refrigerator.

“I gotta  grab a shower.”

He didn’t say a word but headed for the Hotpoint refrigerator

Next to the Frigidaire gas stove.

I got in the shower and washed off the grime from the roofing job,

I’d hated for the last month.  One more week and that would be done.

Then hopefully the rains would start; I’d be off with unemployment checks

Until an editing job promised me, turned up in January

& I could get some of my own writing done,

Without worrying about the wolves at the door

Although this guy and his friends were worse than wolves

I got out of the shower and there he was with his feet propped on my coffee table

Watching the six o’clock news. He had  gone through one sixteen ouncer

& was well into his second —I’d been expecting him

But was wishing he’d gone back to California where he belonged

“Looking kind of down in the mouth,” I said.

“Been with that bitch Envy again haven’t you?

What? And her sister Passion as well.

You sick bastard

That’s what I’ve always admired about you.”

I finished drying my hair and zipped open another tall boy.

I just sat there eyeing the tube with as much attention &

Chagrin at the commercials as he gave Tom Brokaw.

I wanted him out of the apartment but felt some strange

Premonition he needed to be there,

Then there came another knocking at the door.

I answered & there stood

Misery in Friday night togs looking like an escapee

from a disco pogrom  years ago.

“Yeah, I might of known it would be you,” I told him as I opened the door.

“Come in it seems I’ve got some company you’re gonna love.  The beers are where they stay cold.”

And it wasn’t three minutes before there I was with both of them on my couch,

Drinking my beer and arguing about the Baseball strike.

Misery was immediately on the side of the owners  & caps,

Allowing as how he’d never made even one percent of average players salary

While old Heartache lashed into the right to collectively bargain

& protection under anti-trust laws & how Misery’s one percent

Was because he’d never worked longer than three months his life

& couldn’t do anything other than complain well.

I bought out three cans of oily sardines and a bag of chips

before they got around to yelling for food.

I’d scarcely gotten the hosting job done when a banging started at the back door.

“Who the hell could this be now?”

I made my way back through the rubble of beer cans

on the back porch  with its idle fishing poles

& the washing machine that never worked

& there he was—his left shoulder facing me

& looking up into the sky bright almost neon

Twilight of October’s bright changing colors solemnly turning gray

“Loneliness, you bastard,” I grumbled.

“At least you brought beer,”  I told him,

I made my way back into the apartment

Loneliness shuffling in behind me.

“Look who’s here boys,” I yelled

As I went for another one my beers before they were all gone.

I knew Loneliness brought the beer the least money can buy.

Every three months with the change the seasons it seemed

He abandoned whatever twelve-step he was in

& ended back on my back porch with the cheap beer

I made my way back into the living room & they all were making

More noise without saying anything, than Howard Cosell ever did,

Arguing about Self-Pity and whether he was going make it back into town.

“That’s all I need,” I said out loud, “is to have that creep show up tonight.”

I then made a mental note not let him in if he did.

When I discovered that there was nowhere to sit, I took the floor

In front of the tube and they’d switched on a two month old golf tournament

Where a baseball game should have been, &

I knew it was going to be a bad night.