“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 &…

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

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

Now, let-me-tell-you-this-story..

I was in Peter’s cabin in southern Oregon, in the summer of 1981,

Peter had finished Seminary in 1965, & having done a stint as a

Chaplain in the Navy, or maybe it was the Army, he declined  to be ordained,

& went to work selling books for New Directions,

In 1967, he’d been hitting up book stores for

James Laughlin, & he stopped in

San Francisco—took LSD, & tried briefly

To become King of the hippies & realizing there

Were too many pretenders to the throne, he

Then retreated to southern Oregon, where

He bought a very small cabin in the woods & went on forays

For Amanita mushrooms every fall and spring on the Oregon coast,

He’d dry hundreds of  them & step into an altered reality most every day, then

Run ten  miles &  in his mid-forties he looked like an athlete in his twenties,

Peter had an estranged wife in  northern California & a young daughter

& was dating a nurse from the Psych ward in  a Medford hospital,

When I met him, & the first time I was in his cabin, on a round oak

Dining table was a copy of Wasson’s, Soma: the Divine  Mushroom of Immortality;

An ethno-mycological study—the cover a stark-white layout

With two   bright red  Amanita Muscaria  mushrooms w/white spots,

You will see this entheogenic mushroom in illustrations

Of Grimm’s fairy tales & even Disney’s Snow White, but Wasson’s contention

Is that this mushroom was instrumental in prehistoric world religion

& that is widely held now, as a naturalistic explanation of religion

& the summer after college I house-set my English professors apartment in Cambridge

& read this book, & Peter, impressed that I knew anything about it

Proceeded to let me sample, his stash of Ammanita Pantherina’s which were not red

but the color of gold leaf  & fruited out in the springtime & stronger than the Muscaria, &

two weeks after I’d had several small doses, I came over one morning for coffee,

&  Pete fed me six dried pancake-size mushrooms

I went up on his roof  & about an hour later he gave me five more with water,

I laid down and looked at the forest, took in the madrone trees and Douglas fir

over Pete’s house & though slightly nauseous I began to get really high,

I moved slowly off the roof from a ladder &

I came down & made my way around his house & out to a postage  stamp size

Lawn of about hundred square feet that was adjacent his house, & then

Down a path, beside his driveway & a small pond he’d made, with a pole

Bridge arcing over the top & transplanted river iris in the bank where a spring fed in

& I continued up the path where there were  a number of  Washington Lilies, whose

trumpet shaped white flowers on stems five to six feet tall, exuded a fragrance

that can waft 50 feet or more & these radiant lilies are named for Martha Washington

& walking by this air filled  florescence in white flowers nodding  facing outward

pale-lavender on the outside & tiny purple spots on inside, tips slightly curved back

I continued toward & into a stand of Ponderosa pine with black oak & Douglas fir mixed in

& now a  dry balsam smell  & now I was about a hundred yards from Peter’s cabin

& suddenly there was a man walking ahead of me I’d not seen before

He slowed, I got closer and I noticed the man was in a grey robe &

He turned around & I saw clearly this man was Jesus, & as

He turned I noticed a demeanor that was not one of annoyance, but

Yet it was as if he had been distracted by me,  from some other more pressing  intention, &

He had looked like this was going to be a necessary explanation for a too

Inquisitive child, & I had said nothing  & yes

there was seemingly white light  when I got close, much like the lilies

“I’m going to show you something,” He said,

“that most people don’t get to see until they die..” &  then

He touched me on my forehead with the flat part of a right forefinger bent slightly inward,

His hand making a half fist, & instantly inside me & every atom, every molecule of every plant,

& every rock,  & every tree & the water, the air & the bright blue summer sky—became

Love, as a base of experiential reality more real than anything I’d

Ever known, or have known since, & love was very apparently— the construct of  everything

& it was all pervasive & all around me,

& in me, & then breathing deeply, Jesus having since departed,

I staggered back to Pete’s house where there were now three people sitting on his lawn

&  I  loudly announced to everyone that,

“All there is, is love!” & they laughed as

I  announced this over & over—& I told no one about the Jesus

Part of this story—for about 35 years,

& I do not think I was supposed to..

I did assume this was a drug induced phenomenon, a vision none-the-less,

This phenomenon in the charismatic world is called an open vision,

Then after having  again, my own subjective yet, extra earthly always unexpected

Sober encounters with this same Jesus, though not as Christophany, as I’ve described, so

Eventually, I discounted naturalism as a notion & a base construction of reality

& just accepted that yes, of course it was Jesus,

& yes, I needed that, & I needed to know this was so, once & for all & always

You see, one week before this encounter  I was in Rock Creek Canyon & I—a stoned hippie,

Had scratched in large letters, on a rock, “God is Love,” & I knew this was true, only as philosophy &

Left it there for someone to find, & that this Jesus found me, & straightened this out &

He has been finding me in my own wondering ever since,

Now a reality & then a notion, but that notion now brings barrier, while this other is

As faith, eternal sustenance, sure goodness, & loving  kindness, &

Because it really is true that despite everything else, really,

Love is all there is.

 

 

Red is Dead

I was his foreman on a large
Tree planting crew in Northern California
In the early 90s a mix of hippies,
& working men, contracted to Big Dog Steve
Who was a mixture of both, &
Who planted with the crew, we were planting a large burn
That had been allegedly accidently started by
Pot growers, in their nightly clandestine
Kitchen duties deep in a National Forest
In 1986 & we had half the contract done, I’d lost 25
Pounds, had a sense of how to get trees
To everyone & do the quality control for
Inspection, I’d planted for six years myself
& it had been going well, we
Called him Red, I think his name was Robert
& he was likeably strange, walked on his hands
In front of the camp fire,
In the evening where we were all spiked out at
Camp & for some reason for a while I thought
He’d been burying trees, & I sought to figure this
Out & found he was completely innocent, which
Would have been stupid since we were being paid
By the acre, & he was getting an hourly wage, however
It was happening sometimes & I’d catch guys stashing trees
& burning weed in slash piles & taking up the line later
After 20 minute breaks, while everyone else slaved
In our reforestation Gulag, but I realized after awhile
Red didn’t ever do that & kept his head down, &
He started hanging out with Stomper, a Eugene Hippie
Who blew weed hard every night, but Red began to get
Weirder, than normal & after the job was over, I accidently ran into a guy
Who was Red’s roommate & he told me Red was schizophrenic, but OK
If he did not go off his medications, & when he did he had
A pension for fire, walking around the house saying, “Its gonna burn,
It’s gonna burn, Its gonna burn,” & Red did have a shave in the pen for starting a fire,
But that was ten years before that, & the meds were supposed to take care of it,
& Red had been on the straight & narrow of getting well, but
Later that month I was told Red was dead,
I’d heard he and Stomper went on a job in western Idaho
& Red who had been off his meds for a month
& blowing a lot of weed with Stomper, had poured gas on himself
& sat himself on fire, then as a burning man,
Jumped into a holding pond meant to provide
Water during Forest fires & Red broke his neck
& drowned as the flames were quenched in the pond
& Stomper came back to their camp from town &
After smelling a lot of gas, & walking around for an hour
He found Red & had to go back into town
& call the State Police who did not exactly figure all this out.

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.

Both Men Were Heavy Weights

The fight was not
As one in a ring
As most bar fights are not
Motion & the narrowness
Of the bar blurred each punch as there
Was no pedestal—they were
Both timber fallers, suspenders
Dirty hickory shirts, fallers’ pad on the top
Of each suspendered shoulder, &
It started all at once, Richard
Threw the first punch after
The other cutter said dryly, “The talking part is over..”
& away it went arms punching & a few
Wild swings a couple almost boxing stances all
Ever so briefly, but mostly toe to toe slug fest
& Richard was landing regularly
His opponent was six four,
Richard was six eight—both men were heavy weights
It was volley for volley, of big guns
& the Tiller Tavern was the
Arena & as there had been no announcements
The crowd, took a while to come alive,
& the roar began & the entirety of loggers picked sides
Richard’s crew and the other’s but the action
Had gone down to one end of the bar tipped
Over the cigarette machine & was moving back
To the other end & everyone was getting out
Of the way and it was a time when no one
Thought of calling the police &
They were all 30 miles away, anyway &
Bodies and chairs and tables were being pushed &
Upended & some glass began to crash
& two big men slugged it out, head & body punches
Thrown & answered & the shorter giant
getting a couple good upper cuts
& Richard landing rib crushing body blows,
Trying for a body quivering liver shot,
Blood had begun to flow from faces of both men
By the time they reached the other end of the bar
& the thundering crush and bare knuckle blows
Seemed to be wearing on Richard’s opponent &
He began backing back up the bar toward the door
Counter punching then just trying to counter punch
From blocked blows that were answered with body shots
& then a half dozen clench fisted blows from Richards’
Dinner plate size hands sent him to the floor &
As he fell, he loudly coughed, “Enough, enough,
You damn win, enough stop.” & Richard
Backed off and let the man get up, bar towels
Were passed to them both for the blood &
Everyone went back to their beer.
The next day Richard had to work on a side
Of timber in the Umpqua Divide steep & down in the hole
& had almost a mile climb straight up & out of his patch of
Fallen timber, & the show had stopped as the humidity
Dropped where any spark would cause a forest fire
& by the time Richard had humped back
Up the slope to the landing where the crew were gathering
To end the day, at 1 p.m. all had been up at 1 am & work started at two
With a long “crummy” ride to the landing at 4:30 a.m. & dawn & it was now 105 degrees
In the shade, & as Richard humped up from the bottom
His chainsaw bar balanced on his shoulder & the fallers
Pad taking the bite out of the big saws weight, that hung over his back,
With his right hand in front he controlled the machine with each measured step up
& with the sheer gravity of the ascent & packing up his gear he felt most of yesterday’s fight,
Bruised ribs & arms & a cracked tooth climbing & using the Gospel sure footedness
Of his caulk boots in each spiked step up & the climb became still more painful & the top
Beckoned and there would be soon cold beer & the pain felt somehow good &
Heat had begun to impinge on each sweating step going side hill up & switching back
Closer & the side of the mountain that gave off the perfume from just cut stumps
& balsam smell of the just down Douglas fir, and though Richard didn’t look
Mt. Theilsen’s craggy pointed top stuck out of the blue
Hot air but the landing got nearer, & Richard’s tin hat started to
Pop over the top of the landing’s edge & as he got his chin
Just above the shot rocked surface, he saw a pickup setting 10 feet
Away & his opponent from last night sitting cool & clean
With his arm outside the cab & they met eye to eye again,
Though Richard was looking up at him now,
“Bet I could take you right now,” he yelled from the pickup above the landings noise
“I suppose you could,” Richard said wearily & the man in the pickup grinned,
Richard lifted up his chain saw, and gas, and gear to the landing
& then the pick up slowly backed up and turned around by the yarder
With its big diesel engine still idling
Richard stood up as yesterday’s rival drove off the dusty landing
In front of the high pile of bark stripped logs
That had been pulled over the rocky hillside from a mile below
& in the burning heat Richard took a long drink of water,
His hard hat tipped back, while watching the pickup make dust
As it backed off the landing in front of the next log truck
That was heading for a White City mill.