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

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



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


Then calm, your face changes, again &

Ten out of ten of us die

& you were eventually gone

from Black Ice & Fire: Poems 1974-2014 by James Ross Kelly      

Second of three encounters with lions

When I was about 32
I was climbing around Neil Rock
In cutoff jeans & tennis shoes
& the rest of me a poor example of Tarzan
As I was on that hot day
& I heard this same
Guttural coughing noise
coming from the manzanita patch atop
Neil Rock as I was standing on the
Cliff where 100 feet below me were
Two does with fawns & a wind current blowing
Straight up the cliff face & just
Earlier held up a golden eagle w/in thirty feet
On a float by, now I was high as the rock faced cliff
But I knew what the coughing noise was
& when I knew—hair stood up on the back of my neck
I had no mean border collie & I knew I
Was meat that had messed up
A lions meat hunt & the guttural noise continued
& admittedly scared, I momentarily went into a flight mode
& making it about 15 feet I saw a huge
Dead manzanita trunk & grabbed it
& began to beat the dead wood off it for
A twice sized baseball bat & turned toward
The brush & could now see
His tawny cat body in the brush tail twitching
Sizing me up & I struck the ground
Repeatedly &now in full fight mode I spoke
To the mountain lion, “Come on,” I yelled,
& other bravado I do not recall,
& yet the big cat lingered perhaps finding my expletives curious,
& he did slink away, & I sauntered down the hill
& deposited my manzanita cat killer, behind the front door
In my cabin down the hill, after I’d walked off
The adrenaline & later I told my neighbor this tale
That he did not believe
& I think he did not doubt me so much,
As his urban, “moved to the country..”
Presentiment, foolishly doubted that anything wild & fierce
Could be close enough to watch their every move, while they
Jogged & walked through this forest.

The Red Gate

That last time I was to the farm
where running through creeks, chasing
small birds and my imagination,
I had grown up
there was a red gate my Grandfather had built

Much of the paint had blistered and peeled
as its weight had pulled the corner post
forward toward the earth that it also
had leaned for, still functional but barely so

Fashioned with boards and bolts that
had gone through hand augured holes by
brace and bit—I still remember
that tools’ shininess from years of use

The gate separated the farm from
an adjacent well-to do horse ranch
where fine Arabians pawed at the
sawdust in tight functional stalls

North of the gate had been our barn
that burned several winters before the funeral
all the animals had gotten out & though
the gate was only five feet away it stood,
a bit charred still, & latched to the fence

It had swung open mostly for bartered loads
of hay and occasionally for myself, to get closer
to a fox or deer in the next field and sometimes
to deliver Christmas cakes to affluent neighbors

The farm changed hands to distant relations
by marriage; who after the funeral came offering
condolences and money — I stood there looking
at its form as the content of memories, of ghosts,
of the distance of wealth, of long ago laughter
of a presence of sorrow the screeched
like a rusty hinge

I Saw Ted Barr Smiling…

I saw Ted Barr smiling
That self-assured smile that Teddy smiled
Full of himself and his friends
I saw Ted Barr smiling down a long shot freeze frame
off the railroad tracks from the back of the Hersey street house
Where you could see half way through this little jumbled up town
I saw Ted Barr smiling at an empty paint spattered easel
And the guitar stand standing now on Union street
But I saw Ted Barr smiling from Clancy’s Pub
In Dublin town and I saw Ted Barr smiling
in the Log Cabin on the Plaza & the “Good” Club &
I saw Ted Barr smiling at the oars in the small row boat
through the morning mist and the glass surface of Immigrant Lake
I saw Ted Barr smiling now a true new immigrant on the shore we have yet to go.
It’s where I saw Ted smiling on his friends that loaded Teddy grin..
I saw that smile on Skidmore street where a brush with death
Brought on an on rush of oil and sweat and sweet fullness and life, lugubrious
Thighs and breast and haunch and thigh and pert cheeked tongued
Women on canvass, I saw Ted Barr smiling on oil and death and long legged
Sex in our life’s dance on pity and blood and the half-light of the last of the last
Summer of a Century of so damn much pain –I saw Ted Barr smiling
Teddy who’d never got caught in the cob web of what ‘ought’ to be
I saw Ted Barr smiling at the piano keyboard on Union street
I saw Teddy smiling the blues, I saw Ted smiling at us
I saw Ted Barr smiling at his one true piece of art— his own Amanda
Proud father he was I saw Ted Barr smiling at us that loaded fat Teddy grin
& I can’t pound these keys hard enough to let you know that howling wolf growl
because I saw Ted Barr smiling…


Sporadic gunfire
in the distance
of the hills,
& the Fall’s hunt
was always
the Octobered drysmell
of chaparral
& that clean mean click
of manzanita breaking
through the drivers,
coming down & out of
far recessed ravines,
where the large
lone black-tail bucks waited
their solitude
for the coming rut,
only to be flushed
out of almost impassable
hiding, & then the high
powered velocity of the crack
of a modern firearm
would deliver the yearly venison
tabled later
in the fall,
perennially seasoned
w/salt & black peppered
for biscuits & gravy,
the crisp taste of the High Cascade,
I remember how,
our bitch border collie shepherd dog
would cower in her corner,
teeth chattering,uncontrollably and shaking,
shaking, at that near& far rifle fire.


In the last part of that time of dusk
when shadows meet the first departure of light.
over three fingers of the river
a Great Blue Heron performed an aerial pirouette.

Down with wisped blue gray feathers braking air
and into one side of a small island,
a fan of tail, a wing dipping
and to the other side,
where eddies and small pools
held more frogs and minnows,
only to see a man fly casting and then
beat wings hard, around and again upward
through reddened light–down river.

That moment, bare, infinite,
myself standing in sand,
exchanging cigarettes and amenities
with another fisherman,
whose back is turned upstream
to the sound of faster water
I could not call his attention to this sight
and continued our conversation, with the sound
of river as chorus–I remembered the long legs
of a woman I’d met the night before, as
gray blue wings passed
slow and noiseless over our heads.

After the Hull Mountain Fire

That third summer after the Hull Mountain Fire
I picked black-cap raspberries with my youngest son
Where my upper cabin had been..
& as he was five —we made pie..
Half dozen pies if my memory is right
& even if it is not I do remember
A sweetest of wild tart taste to those lightly sugared pies
We made in my propane oven late in August, &
Shared with friends & me having survived
Two years of single fatherhood,
Adept at answering all
Questions with not all the facts
Told to this child
Amid fireweed, blowing white seed
For a light purpled white breeze
From that still black landscape where fire had burned
& we were at the upper cabin site where I wrote..
Where the black-cap raspberries had vined into profusion &
Were delivering black goodness one-by-one
Into my stainless steel pail & my son was happy,
Two years before this afternoon
He’d put his cherub three year-old face into his small hands
Drowned with tears &
behind our house he sobbed, “I have lost my family!”
One year before that day,
I tended the fire line I built with my oldest son;
Before the fire hit us–when it did
It burned slowly downhill from the box canyon
Over the ridge where much differently it set pine needles, in
Hundred foot high tops of old growth
Ponderosa Pine, curled to the exact direction this
Hundred twenty foot conflagration blast furnace
Came out of the canyon & spilled downhill
Creeping & calming to a twenty foot wall of flame,
Half mile from the ridge & thirty feet from my back door,
Three years afterwards you could still see in tops of Ponderosa snags’
Black needles pointing the flames exact direction from
Hell of that day where,
After the fire line was complete around our home &
Having taken my family all to the valley below
To watch our mountain burn
By a swimming pool—fearful but safe..
I  came back to tend the fire line alone
Arriving pretty much as the fire did & taking
Comfort in this feat I then began to keep it that way
With a shovel until my good friend Graham
Evaded National Guard at the bottom of the hill
& drove up the three miles of bad road into
A forest fire to help me
Our fire-line held that night probably because
A Mexican fire crew found us at two in the morning,
& relieved our aching backs
& I made them all heavily sugared coffee
& as they tended the line,
A burning tree fell on the house at three A.M.
Three of them cut it away with axes
At smoking dawn, I remember talking
With their foreman about the beaches of Nayarit..
San Francisco, lo de Marco & La Penita de Jaltembre,
We saved the lower cabin which was our home;
It did not burn that night; I lost the upper cabin.
This fire had turned a corner like an angry police car
& burned back uphill consuming its red wood deck & its
Windows blew out on the side hill as
Fire & 5000 acres of burning forest had
Melted my cast iron wood cook-stove
Into a sway-back hulk from a greater furnace
Than itself & it is now a rusted artifact twenty feet
From the black-cap berry vines
I got pies from that day..
Fire took the life of a tractor operator a day after
It took my cabin
& one year from the fire I was divorcing..
& for a time
I raged like a hundred-foot blaze.

Caught up in the Air

A dozen or more three hundred year old black oaks spread
over the top of the south side hill of our farm
a two acre pasture on top &
our house sat on the edge and overlooked a small
twenty acre valley bottom with a creek & across it
was a similar hill of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir
to complete the farms north edge as a cross section
of a small valley running from our house south/north

One afternoon after school when I was 14
I walked out through the oaks to find my Grandfather
a man in his early eighties, he had turned the
place into a farm in only about four years

It was his son’s farm who owned a business
in town and twenty miles away, my grandfather had
used his own money, to build a lambing shed, then
chicken coops, then a substantial barn, and a half acre
garden down by the creek that was irrigated
by a pump and sprinkler and we all ate
very well and the tractor was an important tool

Every day in his sweat stained straw
cowboy hat he was on his son’s Ford 8N tractor
to the garden, the sheep shed, the creek,
& when I went looking for him my radar
was set for the Ford tractor

The tractor was the 20 team of mules
he used to own when he was
a successful farmer on the Great Plains
& he had started as a cowboy breaking horses for a living
& was at the door of change from horse drawn everything
to tractors, & power from oil
that began to feed the world
shortly before, banks and the great depression
ended all that for him

For our little farm, the tractor plowed, the tractor fertilized, the tractor planted,
the tractor cut hay, the tractor raked hay, and the tractor bailed hay
the tractor hauled hay, the tractor mixed cement,
the tractor toted injured animals,

I found him sitting on a 5 gallon bucket
his hat on his knee & embarrassment on his face
a look I’d never seen before from
the most affable man I’d ever known
“Oh Jimmy,” he sighed, “You have to do something for me,”

He had left the Ford tractor out of gear and did
not set the brake while he got off to do some chore &
the 8N had rolled down the hill…

The hill had about a 70 percent slope
& almost a straight drop got it going at such a high rate of
speed that when it hit the bottom it actually bounced
over a fence at the bottom of the hill and while airborne
hit the pasture & bounded over another small
hill by the apple trees and rolled out but not over
into the fresh green pasture;
beside the still slough where bull frogs were
letting go in their slow & late afternoon jug-a-rums
& I by his narrative, I was now looking down wide eyed overthe hill
& out to where, yes in the green pasture—thered tractor was sitting motionless

“I’d like you to go down there,” he said pointing but looking away, “and if there is nothing
wrong with it, drive the tractor back up here and never-tell-my-son-that-this-ever-happened.”

I went over the top of this steep hill side amazed & imagining again
the trajectory and the perfect angle of descent that kept
the 8N from turning over and fully expected something broken
as his narrative told of a loud noise when it hit
the bottom of the hill, before it leapt the fence

& yes, I was wishing I’d seen it happen, but
when I got to it I could not see anything broken & I touched
the button starter next to the gear shift,
it fired up and I drove it back up the 100 year old
road bed that was at one time the road from Medford
to Prospect, that now let us take a long gentle slope up
and down to our house and farm, &
he was relieved & I never told his son of the driverless 8N’s wild ride

Another afternoon when I was 17, I found him on the
concrete floor of the barn having fallen and broken
his hip while tending an animal, I gently got him
In the carry-all I attached to the back of the tractor
& very slowly got him to the house, before dark where
I called and we waited for an ambulance, to come twenty miles from town
& they operated & pinned his hip
& told him he’d never walk again.

Before he left the hospital he told me that was bullshit
and he’d be walking on a plane to fly to Kansas, as he was determined not
to die in Oregon as he thought they might bury him there,
& he mended, in a hospital bed in our living room, started out on crutches
& progressed to a walker, & then two canes & then to one

That next fall I and a neighbor killed three nice bucks
across the creek where I knew they could be waylaid
& I drove them back draped over the tractor
up the old Prospect road past our house where
my grandfather was standing on the back patio watching
us return & he raised one of his canes
and brandished it in the air, as we drove past.

That next spring I accompanied him to the
airport and saw him walk with one cane up onto a 727
& as he got to the door he turned around
& waved his Stetson hat down at me on the tarmac,
& then slowly turned around in his cowboy boots
& entered the jet to be caught up in the air & I never saw him again.

Oregon Dirt Farm

Our creek was about a half- mile
from its entrance to the River
an adjacent ranch pumped water
from a dam it made thirty feet
from our fence & the creek backed
up each summer to flood a feeder
ditch to a pump that rerouted the tributary
over 500 acres, lifted the water from a
Massive electric pump & poured water
on dry desert ground to irrigate alfalfa,
Deep growing legumes, & we
Leased this ranch one year while the land
Changed owners, I cut hay, raked hay, bucked
Bales of hay & we sold nearly all of it in massive tight
Stacks, where other small farms would come &
Buy this one year boon that we’d come by, in this process
I had a free run of 500 acres that was liberating at 15,
having been confined to 20 before that time, the
River became my own, with four good riffles & a salmon hole
There were pear trees & a pond that had two foot trout
That produced one every other cast, I worked all summer
& helped build a shop and earned at the end of the summer
Twenty dollars, & was pleased to get it & buy a cheap military surplus
Deer rifle, & it dawned on me decades later, that I was really some sort
Of bond slave, but I never had a thought of that as
Every hot afternoon on a tractor, & working with my
Grandfather, real farming seemed to me to be the greatest adventure
Of my life, it was the last serious farming my grandfather did
& before the depression he had owned a similar spread,
& the money financed good things of which I have no recollection
I do remember sense of the wealth of the earth,
& the smell of new mown hay and the dust of the harrow before we planted oats
I remember taking a friend of mine, a punk just moved up from L.A.
To the river & pointing out quick sand & watching him swagger
Out onto it & tell me I was full of it & when he began to
Jump up & down I saw him sink to his armpits,
& I pulled him out laughing hard, & that
Summer was probably the best summer of my life up to then
Big farm meals, morning, noon & evening hard work but plenty
Of time to do wild things between the haying and the harvest
When the owner came the next year their gentrified ways took over
But they let me and no others, still have the run of the place except
I couldn’t shoot their deer, & I made good use of the riffles & could
Hunt ducks off the far pond, where the trout, took dry flies
& spinners every evening, I saw a world expand & purpose &
Our 20 acres had been sufficient for subsistence but that summer
My Grandfather & my uncle and I sweated for money, I had no notion of
Other than the twenty dollar rifle,
that killed big black tail bucks,& my friend who ignored the quicksand warning,
became a heroin addict in 1972, & current ranch owners who are not gentry
shot a neighbor kid with rock salt–for fishing in their pond.