Bust It Like A Mule at Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival

 
The Bust It Like A Mule Band performs Kevin Morgan's 'Workin Man' - Photo credit Colin Mulvaney, Spokesman Review

The Bust It Like A Mule Band performs Kevin Morgan's 'Workin Man' - Photo credit Colin Mulvaney, Spokesman Review

When the Bust It Like A Mule crew was asked to do our show at the 15th annual Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival, I had no idea what to expect in the way of a response from the audience. I mean, we were sharing the stage with such musical luminaries as John Reischman, Fireball Mail, Rob Ickes, blah blah blah blah. And I was going to be reading. To an audience. From a book. My book. READING to an audience that was used to and or expecting to hear amazingly talented musicians, not some yokel hollering at them about a crazy Okie from a bygone day. 

Before our set, I was rubbing shoulders backstage with musicians warming up their well worn instruments, I with a well worn book in my hand ("Hey, Harmonic Tone Revealers, you're sounding awesome, wish me luck, I'm going to go read the hell out of this book. High fivesies?"). And it dawned on me - WHAT HAD I DONE. But dear reader, it was too late, and I, and therefore the show, must go on.

And go on it did, like a backslidden holy roller on a runaway tent revival.

I was not surprised that my musical crew killed it - brother Jacob 'The Kid' Mannan, my beautiful wife/creative partner/southpaw fiddle champ Jenny Anne Mannan, and the Baritone Bawler himself, Kevin Morgan, were amazing playing their original Bust It songs, as usual. From the very first rich bellow of Kevin Morgan's 'When The Mountains Call My Name': "I was born an Okie, and when I was a BOOOOOOoooooyyyy..." I was reminded that we do indeed have something special here, and those in attendance seemed to agree.

All in all, it went well, and people seemed to like it - we even received high praise from Spokane's newspaper the Spokesman Review as 'the oddest quartet to grace the stage'. (Read the story here: "Beneath gray skies, Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival rolls on")

It has always been my vision to make Bust It Like A Mule larger than life, a living, moving, breathing thing, Cotton Kingfisher walking off the pages of the book and hitching it up to Glacier Park where people still spot him and tell stories about him fighting wildfires and bears and befriending children and Indians and making peace with the earth in general. And it seems like this is happening - one guy who bought the book asked 'Who is Cotton Kingfisher?", pointing at the cover, and I beamed with pride as a I replied 'I made him up'. A couple I chatted with after the show was headed to Glacier Park later that day. I told them, 'Say hi to Cotton for me', and I do believe they did.

There have been times when I have told the Bust It crew that it might be time to hang up our rucksacks and pack up our pulaskis, but every time we do, we get another chance to tell the tale of Cotton, of my family, of America again in story and song. And I've gotten to thinking - why move on? Why not settle in, do an album of the songs (Anyone who would like to donate to this cause send me some money)? Cotton is larger than life, and is 'mean enough to take on the whole West bygod', and he's got a million stories to tell and be told about him. So I have decided I don't think we'll ever stop playing this bygod show( I should probably tell the band). I think we'll continue to play it on public radio and at bars and Women's Clubs and libraries and bookstores and churches and the Bartlett and wherever people are looking to make peace with the earth, as long as they're looking to hear this peace preached by the oddest quartet to grace the stage.

See you at the next show,

Caleb

Photo credit Brad Sondahl

Photo credit Brad Sondahl

AMERICAN $%@#&

 
17884066_629161153946153_4702933425429001080_n.jpg

Woody Whitman

In the key of E

I am American Slang,

the Word a living breathing bleeding thang

the cuneiform inebriated with the god of the dang

The world aint asleep, you just gotta say their name

Don’t shout at the dead, call to the awake

Rush like a drunk bum on the masses,

Spewing spittle and giggling nonsenses,

O world, be not ashamed of Noah’s nakedness, embrace it!

 

I am Woody Whitman

I am JE Jones,

I am Caleb Henry

Holy as a rolling stone,

I am American Slang

Black Dutch Heinz 57 mutt

Cherokee wannabe but a pagan punk

Noah’s crow still out lookin for dry land

A poorman’s po boy with a blue collar hand

A folk artist workin for the salesman man

Hollerin:

Drunk drunk drunker n a skunk

Cryin on the porch a grown ass man

Crying for beauty cryin for truth

Cryin for my children the American youth

Cryin for those that can’t get drunk drunk drunker than a skunk

I call verse to my people,

My people be broke, my people be peasants,

my people be plebeians overcomers and addicts

My people be people

They’re American Slang

My manic histrionic histories told

In the wave of my hand around the fire,

Listen to me dithyramble like a drunk shaman,

I am writer, read me roar!

Listen to me now at 40 score

Just now in the hoar,

I bring fire I bring flint

I bring Patsy I bring Kent

We all American Slang!

I bring the south I bring north

I bring east I bring west,

I can’t cross the seas cause I broke my wings

But I soar like a vision

Over the face of America’s deep,

Oregon born Washington found

South come West on a Greyhound

Washington train smoke in Spokane’s craw,

Bum with pride enough to saunter

across a greenlight in front of the law,

Spokane jawbone of a gentle ass

To slay the masses

 

I am American Slang,

Dang!

Jumped up Jesus

Holy is thy name

John the Baptist

Baptizing Jesus in His own name,

They’re American Slang

The Father the Spirit the Son one and the same,

Creator, Daddy, Old Man, content in his own make

So what loves he gives he gives and does not take,

And if you think this makes sense

You lie in a white man’s grave

I was baptized at the bend of the Colville River,

Jesus wringing out the bend like a snake,

Ring the rod and let us all partake

In the cuneiform coming awake

The hieroglyphs moving

The dialects changing

The Tower of Babel spread across the states

Remember what we once built to try and make us great

My people my people we’re going to be ok!

We’re American Slang

Take not the living word in vain

Be alive and living on this cosmic corporeal plane

I am the prophet you think insane

Ye who would cut my long hair with a chainsaw

 

We are American Slang,

Get up jump up get living again,

We built the highways, we hacked the roads,

We put Them on reservations,

Covered the cries of the stones,

They are American Slang

We put them in chains

And bent their backs,

Then Frederick Douglass went and busted our yap

My daddy with Bloods doing the Vietnam dap,

They all American slang

Thank god we got black

Bleeding into our Red White and Blue,

I’m a whiteman how about you?

I see your skin I aint blind

But I also see mine,

Whitebread cracker toein a red line,

WE’RE All ONE TRIBE!

 

We are American Slang,

Cowboys and Indians hallowed be thy name

Lightning struck the bison

But it still walked across the plain

That’s American slang

Let not these days pass you by

Howl an American prayer at the sky

Ever race every religion every creed every tribe,

Black and blue red yella and white

I will give you my blanket tonight

I will sit with you and give you what is mine,

I will embrace you,

I will slight you,

I will sin against you against my best intent,

But please be kind when I go hellbent

Cursing at night setting up my goddamn tent,

And I will try to do the same

When you take my name in vain

We all one tribe,

We one people under the God of the Same,

We all American Slang!

 

I am American Slang,

 Son of the father of the man

My daddy a medic in Vietnam

Johnny Doe signed up to beat the draft

Just like the rest got the royal shaft

They be counting bodies like sales quotas

(Relayed to the dealer behind the roulette wheel of the stock market

within the casino of the federal reserve),

daddy John Doe father of the man

son of the man

He patches up the leftovers from the meatgrinder of war

Trucked in on iron birds dangling entrails,

Hueys screaming war cry of jungle crusher and rome plow

Bloods brothers honkys blacks whites, Vietcong vietnam

All spilling the same color of blood

Sons of the man sending them to their goddamn

My daddy was a corpsman in Vietnam

American Son

Never got to use his goddamn gun

But saw all the damage Cain’s stone done

And I seen it I seen it to

In my mind’s eye from the line of my father

In the dreams expressed from my daddy’s aura

The son of the man was the father in Vietnam

Transference cosmic inference

That and the pictures in the attic upstairs

O Sons of Cain!

Be kind!

O Sons of Cain!

Be wise!

O Jesus Christ

Be kind

O Sons of Cain!

Be kind!

O Sons of Cain!

Be wise!

O Jesus Christ

Be kind

We are American slang,

                The States a living moving breathing thang,

                Aint no Perishing Republic nor Untarnished Star

                De Tocqueville thumbing down a car

                Car break down he don’t get too far

      Now get on out and push the car

That’s American Slang

America I sing to thee

Sea to goddamn shining sea

And every other thing in between

To all the people and all the races

All the hearts and hands and magnificent faces

All the great God cities and hidden places

The cornfield the rows to hoe

The forests the mountains where you are free to roam

The towers of glass where the people mass

The rivers and lakes and graves of the past

All an American succotash

All American slang

         Wildly different all the same

A living breathing bleeding thang

Now that’s American $%@#&!

Jesus’ Sermon on the Spokane River

“Children,

wear your shoes near the River,

so that the glass and rusted metal

shall not harm you.

Surely,

I say unto you,

The Word is not that which must be done,

but that which was, is and will be done.

As this river is and was and will be,

and is living and moving,

so is the Word, and so you in it and it in you.”

Some there asked of him

“But master,

you say that the Word of God is not a command,

what then must we do?”

Jesus said unto them

“Surely I say unto you,

swim in the River.”

Many people marveled at his words,

and swam in the river

to be washed of their sins.

And Jesus swam

with them in the heat of the day.

When the Religious Leaders

heard this, they were angry with Jesus,

for he said

“Swim in the River,”

when the sons of man asked them what they must do.

Then those with Him

followed Him down the River

past the Bowl and Pitcher

to the Spokane rez

where He healed a sick Indian boy

whose drunk father asked of Him

“What must I do to have my son healed?”

And both the son and the father were healed.

The Cowboy

 
IMG_4425.JPG

I'll be reading from my story 'Lonesome Drifter' tonight at Northwest of Nashville at the Bartlett! If Office Depot can pull themselves together, I'll also have chapbook copies of the story of Beau John Earl, The Cowboy, a washed up Texas Troubadour trying to write his elusive hit. My lovely wife and host of the Grand Ole Opry er I mean Northwest of Nashville will be singing originals she wrote for the story, as will my brother Jacob Mannan, voice of the Cowboy...

"He was starting to wonder how much longer he could keep up the charade with the boy and the boy’s momma, the charade with the whole of Nashville. Showing up here and there, not showing up when he said he would, staggering into town to play his hits to some loyal fans who were getting fewer and further between.  Sometimes he wondered what had happened to his songwriting career. He’d had his records, his hits. Others had recorded his songs. But you couldn’t coast on your laurels these days. You had to write a damn hit a day, and he wasn’t no Hank Williams."

See you tonight,

Me.

 

IMG_4431.JPG

American Psalm

 
5EC183AF-3E1D-4D42-BDEB-17DE61C9B303.JPG

 

America, I wanna embrace you

I wanna kiss you full on the mouth.

America, you broke my nose

but lifted my spirits, amen.

America, you have given me much,

I’d give it back (I say)

to sit at the table

with the Sons of Slaves

and Native Daughters,

with farmers, railworkers,

roustabouts, hobos, migrants

and the least of these, the children,

my children, amen.

America, in your great wingspan is a bosom

of warmth and wonder,

of struggle and toil,

a great heaving, a great crying,

a great laughing, loving, living, dying.

America, my forefathers fought under your flag,

it cost my father his youthful ideology but

not the love of his country, amen.

America, I am You, She is You,

We are You,

my children your legs your hands your feet,

your bone your blood your matter,

this grave task not lost on me,

as I stoop they are rising,

Daddy up above have mercy upon me,

bless the children as medics and migrants.

If Christ walked through you, America,

he wouldn’t hitchhike the Interstate,

he’d walk the backroad,

‘Follow me”

he’d say

and I’d weep for I could not -

Christ, I have a mortgage, a car,

a family, a job, amen.

America, I wanna punch you in the face

and kiss you on the cheek,

let’s get drunk on the Missouri River

until the second hitchhiking of Christ,

children rowdy, everybody holler,

singing songs of allkinds,

mankinds, womankinds:

rattle & bone

& drum & twang

rasp & moan

& hum & chain

prayer & chant

& piousprofane

pick & hack

& cough & clang

curse & cry

& holler & weep

shrill & shriek

& chirp & cheep

buzz & chuckle

& laugh & blow

suck & whistle

& sing in the row

O America, I love you.

And everyone says Amen.

A06E89A0-2FD9-4D5C-810C-4A1223FACDDE.JPG

Road Trip

 
0B904F12-BB68-4036-A726-F6D7A27BDE56.JPG

Taking a road trip across the states

driving like Jehu across the plains

Racing against the jungle crushers & rome plows

building stripmalls

for an international economy

of beads and trinkets

See the crow fly over the land abreast us

door gunner in a Huey

above the delta of the Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio,

racing the bison

who races the steam engine into the atomic age

The earth cries out

 I AM

America cries out

I AM

“I am full of your bits and pieces,

bullets lodged within my flesh of many colors,

pierced with the people’s jewelry and trinkets

a roaring dead flowering mammoth

of a thing so great a billion galaxies support me

to support you

Wyoming stripmined for my black flesh

Don’t knock it flip a switch I light your way”

The woven threads of humanity

the patchwork quilt of the States stitched together,

worn and thin and coming apart in places,

been repaired in other places

by our cosmic momma,

black family right behind us

at the grave of unmarked slaves,

native boy in back of truck

in white town with native name

Like Jehu we drive across the states

leaving history in our wake

Lewis and Clark the Oregon trail

the Louisiana purchase manifest destiny trail of tears

confederation of tribes confederate and union

the badlands bighorn cup of coffee at Wall Drug

up and down mountain’s spines

the American earth jagged ossified tilted bent

broken exploded frozen in glorious wonder

We race the mastodon mammoth

the great floods the scablands

lake beds fossilized

(God flung down fire lake bed up and dried)

American gods loiter in the air nameless

and many named,

the first peoples migrants from the Tower of Babel,

don’t want no hand out

just want a &@$$@#* job

The children cry out

It Is!

The family cries out

We Are!

They see things wondrous magnificent

awe inspired and inspiring

Man blasted man made

nature hewn God gave

American walkabout American landscape

from cradle to grave

going forward looking back

stopping in motion to BE

We cry out

I am!

We cry out

We are!

Jehu driving across the states

vintage travel trailer in our wake

America crying out

I AM!

 

Grunge

 

Thoughts after the death of chris cornell

Seattle, a deepseated sorrow in its rusted bones, spirit of the Suquamish haircut, whores and loggers and seamen miners mills skid row underground.

(A logger a seaman an indian a whore lost their parts to the Puget Sound from the spume doth rise Seattle)

I was in a mall when I overheard on the radio that Cobain had killed himself.

My friend and I ran out, could it be true? We were boys and it broke our hearts.

Layne Staley weighed heavy on my spirit big voice small frame wasting away pale emaciated hunk of junk. (O Demri I join thee)

I had a dream about him as a ghost once when I delivered papers in Seattle

(In the nothing dark dooms of the AMs, dark and cold and salt spume air)

I myself a ghostwalker, a nothing, a wasted mess of a man who’d lost his way.

I almost didn’t make the sorrow of those hours.

 Jared my young friend who delivered papers as well wasn’t at the Georgetown warehouse one 3am. He’d shot himself in the head with a pistol I never knew why, I threw a rolled up PI off the pier into the Sound for him and I cried.

Chris Cornell just died in Detroit. If it couldn’t be Seattle, a ghost of a rusted bolt of a rock and roll city is fitting. (We walked there once to St Andrews to hear Rufus Wainwright, the city an apocalypse of empty streets and boarded windows.)

As a boy, I heard him as the voice of Gabriel, Of Gideon, of David.

He is now silent but for Valhalla.

 

Years past: On Capitol Hill, a phone call from my mother in law informing me in a broken tone that my wife’s younger brother had died in a car wreck in Tennessee.

(O so far away hotter than hell and humid bloodstained highway)

I was on the sidewalk on Broadway, outside of work, I dry heaved and people passing me asked if I was ok, someone put their hand on my back kindly. O Seattle.

All these deaths, the Mike Starrs and even Scott Weilands and John Baker Saunders overseen by the patron saint himself, Andy Wood.

On earth, there is a darkness that overtakes us like the rain off the Pacific.

The grunge of the flannel and dirty denim long hair and a beard hunkered on a downtown stoop against the crashing sea of suits.

The junk, the jangle, the cry of the city and spirits of the sea.

And yet, there is a ring of mountains there is the sound of the sea.

Yes, there is no better Elysium than when the sun shines in Seattle ringed by the mountains and lapped by the sea.

Tim O'Brien reading

IMG_2988.JPG

It was a pleasure to get to hear Tim O'Brien read from his The Things They Carried in Spokane the other night. I've always loved his writing, and his delivery of it was even better than I expected. Afterwards, it was worth every minute I stood in line to get to meet him and yap at him about my dad being in Vietnam. 

I've learned a great deal about verisimilitude and weaving fact and fiction through storytelling from the master. There's something unflinching and brutal yet tender in his writing that always makes me want to stop writing because its already been done so whats the point? And that's whats good writing is all about.

"You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you. If you don't care for obscenity, you don't care for the truth; if you don't care for the truth, watch how you vote. Send guys to war, they come home talking dirty."

How to Tell a True War Story, The Things They Carried, pg 66.

 

Old Christmas Ornaments

 
FullSizeRender.jpg

How many Christmas ornaments does one family need?

An infinite amount come to find out,

if collecting the ornaments of the old,

they carelessly given away after death or divorce or downsize,

or maybe with love and sadness gifted to the world at large

from their safe nests in closets, basements, garages and attics

We love the Shiny Brites made in the USA,

but also cherish the slender stemmed delicate candy colors of Poland,

silver beads strung together with wire from Germany,

even Czech and Belgium and Japanese

More than just useless trinkets by their lineage,

a history of War and death,

 conquering and rebirth,

the history of rise and fall,

of the woes and joys of entire nations

 

I open each box or container with care,

I inspect each one,

blackened wires affixed for hanging by a mother no longer here

(yet her soft singing and maternal chiding still ringing in the crystal),

some of the hooks ridiculous and large,

bent by the clumsy hands of a child

(this child no longer a child but the memory remains)

 

Lift the pink and orange and green striped balls,

the silver and gold and pink and blue,

cosmic colors a manmade rainbow,

the snow crusted, the besparkled,

the finely felted nativity scenes,

the recessed reflector rainbow worlds,

teardrops, tassels, shapes the crowns of kings,

lift them delicately and inspect them,

each and every one a familial amulet

 

Once removed, in their empty container find fossils of past holidays:

silver tinsel, tufts of angel hair,

old strings, ribbons, receipts and price tags

gift tags, pine needles and the like,

these finds a gift to me every time

 

If you take your time in the ritual

of discovering these Christmas castaways,

you’ll see a reflection in their glass looking back,

a refracting back beyond yourself

Look now, don’t grasp at it, be mesmerized:

you can just make out the origin

of the crystal balls in their own surface,

their birth, the faces of their makers,

 now see people shifting in the murky swirl,

see mothers and fathers and laughing children,

momma cooing crying child,

grandpa hollering at grandchildren wild,

see distant relatives and once homes,

see sister and brothers, some lost, some found,

aunts and uncles, cousins and friends,

see loves and losses, sighing and dying,

abundance and lack, sickness and health,

see the scroll unfurling

            Now be still and listen:

you can hear the dull roar of war overtaken by a gentle song,

 a song of joy and hope and light,

you can hear songs from beyond the grave,

you can hear them singing in the Undying Lands

 

After this ritual of reverie and reverence,

these old Christmas ornaments

are given new memories,

they are given new life, new hope, new joys,

new songs and shouts and laughter

(Waylon crashing, Tennessee shouting,

Violet laughing, June chattering),

new children growing, new mother chiding and singing

as they are hung on the Mannan family Christmas tree

and put in clear vases on shelves and hutches by Jenny Anne

to sparkle and glow and watch us grow old

 

Poetry Reading

IMG_2163.JPG

I had a great time reading last week at Spokane's weekly poetry open mic, Neato Burrito's 'Broken Mic', hosted by the truly electric Fitz. I went absolutely buck nuts reading 'Oregon Born', and nobody kicked me out, so that was a good sign...It was especially special as my creative brother/best friend Kevin Morgan read as well. If you have never heard Kev read such line of his poetry such as 'Be I a skulldug skald?", you are missing out!

For any locals, I'd encourage you to go on down to Neato Burrito any Wednesday at 6.30 to listen to the folk and professional poets of the region (and beyond), and maybe try some of your own verse.

It's a great crowd, good drinks, good burritos, and you have no idea what/who you'll hear.

I mean, I have been working on an audacious outrageous 'American Slang' verse, so I'll probably see you down there soon...

 

Glacier Park Verses

 
FullSizeRender.jpg

Drive to Glacier

Smoke from burning slashpiles

hanging in the ranges

with the stuffing torn from clouds

my spirit over the face of the steep

 

O Flathead Lake,

I will go to your shore

and be baptized awake upside down

breaking surface on another time and place,

returning to my family anew

 

Old Service Road

Old service road

below the highway along the river

trampled muddy

by the Uruk-hai,

the deer, the oxen

O service road muddy and forgotten,

I saw you

 

BIson Train

The bellow of the bison

                                    train

headed west to join the ghosts of American Commerce

dead with the bead trade and buffalo runs,

the stock market and federal reserve,

that and Corporate American Objectivism

 

Montana means mountain

Hunchback hump of ridges

          kneeling at the foot of the mountains,

ridge to range and back again

Boars back bristling,

plutonic pate, fold of stone,

          riot of bucking broncos

a wake as far as the eye can see

One range meanders on into the next

here in olde montana

~

Nothing but the Mohawk

of a mountain

Scalped by white men for its wood

~

A prescience of presence

the mountains beyond the trees

great shoulders for the big sky

there just out of reach

~

Little Chief rises up an altar before me,

Spirit visions loom behind me,

Going To The Sun over my right shoulder,

Goat Mountain over my left,

Angels at my back,

The hayyoth crying

Holy Holy Holy

~

Patches of sun on the mountain

the clouds move east with the train

~

Singleshot Mountain,

A cut of marbled meat

Cosmic slab of Bison steak,

fatty quartzite

running the length of the cut

 

Lake Vision

A kingfisher hovering over the face of the deep,

Jesus walking across the waters of St Mary’s Lake

The first People here

remembered the mystery of the spirit

and of the fire of the earth

long since forgotten

under the hammer of science

and the adze of religion


Crow

Crow flying abreast the highway

You defy as the crow flies

If I were you I would follow

The river or the rail

 

Indian Highway

FullSizeRender.jpg

 

Indian highway,

Line of black oil cars

Parked on the rez

Broke down single wide teepees

Under the shadow of the continental divide

I.

Blackfeet boy

In the bed of a white pickup truck    

with 3 dogs riding

2 black labs and one that looks like a coyote,

what will you do today?

Will you help rustle up 6 black cattle

with yellow earrings

who lie along the road

unfenced and bored?

Will you herd the 3 horses

grazing near White Calf Mountain,

free as Old Man intended?

Or will you rescue your elders

on horseback

entangled in sapling stands

driving the herd?

II.

Indian father

 stepping from white mini van

along the side of the road

rifle in hand,

and your son, he with rifle also,

what do you seek?

Lame cattle? The horses? A grizzly?

The hound we will come across a mile south?

Do you hunt for deer?

We saw them hiding on Goat Mountain

two too young two points

III.

Hound trotting masterless

Along the highway

Two black collars and brown ears,

Where are you going?

IV.

Looking down upon the Lower Two Medicine

Where generations of Blackfeet have scattered in the wind

Bud Light bottles clutter the steepbank

If you fall, you will die

If you are drunk, you may survive

 

St Mary’s Lake Verses

IMG_2035.JPG

 

3 crows fly over the matchstick forest

black tears

on St Mary’s stone cheekbones

I halt the children for bears

But the crows already warned them

~

On the shore of St Mary’s

Another planet another time

Wind punching the laughter out of us

Jesus walking across the water whipped

Into our eyes

I die and am revived

Before my children’s eyes

Oregon Born

 

On Oregon Born

I have always admired The Cantos of Ezra Pound for its sheer epic obscure historic audacity. Pound paints a picture of a breathing life and time that have since been forgotten. It was his Bible, his tome, his greatest work that only perhaps he himself understood and appreciated. It’s like a nearly indecipherable Leaves of Grass, scholastically bombastic, but so scholastic what scholar will have it? This is why I love the very idea of it. What other tome of poetry has a thicker tome as its compendium?

In Oregon Born, I have endeavored, in my poetic alter ego Woody (Guthrie) (Walt) Whitman (with a dash of Rod McKuen), to write my own personal tome, my Cantos, but instead of obscure forgotten history of those I do not know, I have given you obscure self-reference and family history. Because this is my audacious attempt to explicate my and my family’s history and the region from whence we come, it is to you, I am sure, obscure. Therefore, I have written an annotated version, primarily for myself so that I have a log of what in the hell I am actually talking about as I grow senile, and for my children and their children to know who they are, where they come from. I believe language, storytelling, verse, are living- it is more than just the written word, it is breathing and spoken (just as the breath of the Creator still moves in all of us and even in the Earth itself), and as such, slang, accents, vernaculars, family stories and the like tell stories of regions, families, historical events. Therefore, I have made an effort in my writing as I grow older not only to embrace this, but to scribe them into a giant family lexicon (I've come to call my style of the living word American Slang).

It is a powerful experience to dig into one’s past, to really take out a shovel and dig like a gandy dancer, man, dig, dig one’s past, one's parents past, grandparents and great grandparents and their places and faces and stories, the past of progenitors, the good the bad the ugly. I started this digging up of bones process some 6 or 7 years ago doing research for a novel I was working on. This novel turned in a 360 page epic (I was trying to write my Invisible Man-Ralph Ellison) that will probably never be published, but the knowledge and mythology it gave me allowed me to write Bust It Like A Mule, and several other pieces based on my kin and raising. It has since influenced all of my writing, for what is writing without getting to the base of what one writes about? If I write of a landscape, I can write of a forest, but what is in this forest? What types of trees? Coniferous? Deciduous? Of what family and make? What of the flora and fauna? It is the same with writing about the forest of one’s life and family history. Who was my Great Grandpa Jones, my mom’s grandpa? Why was he a moonshiner, a gambler, a drunkard who died alone and broken on skidrow in Portland?

From there, one is able to travel the paths of forebearers and know where one came from. You can know your kin and in them know yourself, in humility call out their genealogy in the town square to put them to rest, you can cry out their names to give them place, you can cry out your own name and in it see the tumult of the years they before you fought through, the skins they died in – in this is a cosmic humility that causes one to see the grace bestowed upon oneself and bequeath empathy and compassion for those that have gone before you.

So it was with Oregon Born. To sum up this verse, I can say that I come from a very blue collar, humble (yet proud) upbringing. I grew up in my grandparent's house in Portland Oregon with my grandpa’s accent echoing through the newborn fog of my imagination, his cigarette smoke and slang permeating the tiny Crisco kitchen. I grew up with my grandma making sweet tea on rainy Portland days and calling us children our first name followed by ‘Henry’ as an affectionate term.

I grew up with my dad working in mills, cleaning mill stacks, pulling green chain. I grew up in Church, learning the Ten Commandments and words of Jesus, singing hymns with my mom and aunts.

I grew up with WWII and Vietnam vets, with survivors of the Dust Bowl and the Depression, men and women who had seen a life that was a whole lot worse than anything you were seeing now, so in a word, my raising was ‘toughen up’, or at the very least 'you're fine'. This was not some harsh platitude dealt out by insensitive Pharisees, it was a life lesson my ancestors had learned as children and passed on to their children. It was real - they’d seen death and poverty and work enough to break a back, they had lost everything and moved on like the Israelites in the desert, they had feared the actual end of the world and seen their own mortality in typhoons out on the Pacific and in the barrel of a 45 leveled at their head by their own people (these are stories left to be annotated for another day...).

As a child, the raising, the rearing, the learning, the burden of forefathers and foremothers can be great, it can be backbreaking and scarring. It is only as an adult that we are able to go back through these raisings and see them for what they are, good or bad – the teachings and experiences of real people, not demons, the raisings that have forged who you are and what you are, and in this, be not ashamed or cowed, but be emboldened, humbled, strengthened, empowered.

And so it is that I set out Oregon Born, really just a rattling can of a line ‘I was born on the wind of Prefontaine’ that stuck with me after a camping trip with the family on the Oregon Coast.

It was only after several failed attempts, conversations with my wife and my mom, and a drunken spurt of verse writing (as is usually the case in these Woody Whitman epics), that I felt I had what I had come for – an audacious obscure personal history, a calling back to my ancestors, a calling back to my kin carried on the wind just as the shamanic wind howling on the Oregon Coast, a wind that still haunts me as a grown man, as if some cosmic plane I walk while living. Yes! This is living, this is writing, this is breathing and being! I said this to myself when I began this verse, and I did not stop until all the living was wrung out of me.

It took me awhile to get the very last line, a wrestling of who I was if I was all these things laid down. It finally came to me one morning, an aligning with my at times (by me) overlooked grandma Jones, she reticent in my grandpa Jone’s colorful, wild shadow. It came to me,  obscure to most, understood by the family, a cry of joy to my longsuffering grandma who had seen death and struggle and perpetrated her own hurts upon her children just as I do mine.

Yes! I said aloud. Yes, I am Caleb Henry! I have been named in love and struggle, I have been called forth to cry out my name given me in American slang in a jampacked home in Portland Oregon smelling of Camels and Crisco, fried chicken and bacon, of raspberry jam and wet boots and people! People! My people! Good and bad, right and wrong, loving and broken, faulty, sinful, kind, worn down, worn out, rougher than hell, neglectful, open, loud, proud, poor, warm, indefatigable, my people all the same! And I love them and my raising, I love my own history becoming History, my children’s history, America's history.

And so I set down my audacious self referential song, my first verse in my Cantos, my Song of Myself, out of love, out of a look back while striding forward. But most importantly, I ramblespokewrote it in an attempt to do that which is the hardest for all us humans to do, which is - just to be.

Love to you all and your people,

Caleb

Oregon Born (Annotated)

 

I was born on the wind of Prefontaine,[L1] 

a Vietnam Son’s son with a blue collar trade,[L2] 

a greenchain puller, a hoedad, an Okie digging graves,[L3] 

a gust of spume off of Coos Bay[L4] 

in the Columbus Storm that day,[L5] 

a midden ghost in Yachats,[L6] 

Bandage Man hitchhiking to Portland[L7] 

in the pall of the Tillamook Burn[L8] ,

my own greatgranddaddy’s bum drunk specter

(murdered for his WWI pension check)

still wandering Burnside

in Portland on skidrow[L9] 

 

I was born in Oregon

in the western fertile crescent,

the land of milk and honey[L10] 

even for the southerner if you can

wash the accent and the poor off of you[L11] 

and bust it like a mule[L12] ,

I was born to Sitka spruce Oregon yew

redwood cedar hemlock fir,

sweet wild blackberry brambles

(some an invasive species introduced by migrations

just like my people, well before my people,

all people after the First Peoples),[L13] 

my people buried in the loess of the flood[L14] 

in Willamette National Cemetery[L15] 

on the footstep of the greatest and deepest of oceans

from whence the seas of the deep were unleashed[L16] 

 

I was born to lumber,

to sawmills pulpmills lumbermills,

(From Tillamook to Portland to Eugene

and everything in between)[L17] 

to work, to digging and picking and backbreaking,

hacking, shove and lift and push and pull,

cleanliness is next to Godliness but labor is Holy,

I was born to the poor and humble

and the hubris that only poverty can bring,

to veterans, soldiers, sailors,

American sons and daughters,

bluejackets[L18] , drill sergeants[L19] , doughboys,

dogfaces[L20] , gunner’s mates,[L21]  corpsman, doc,

in the can of the Hickox [L22] with the Dammash DT’s[L23] 

eating gravy on white bread watching KPTV[L24] ,

communion of sweet tea breaking Tillamook cheese[L25] ,

to moonshine, rotgut wine,

reformed alcoholics and the Church of Christ,

to guitars, Hank Williams, the Bakersfield Sound,[L26] 

to a southern song in a northwest rain,

to they of the dust bowl and depression,

they of the damp rumbling lumberyards in Oregon,

vanished Vanport on their tongue[L27] ,

 

I was born in a tangle of trees

downwind from Mount Saint Helens

in the shadow of Mount Hood,

spitting distance from the graveyard of the Pacific[L28] 

under the eye of Terrible Tilly[L29] 

I am of Ramblin Rod, Tom Peterson and Les Schwab,[L30] 

Fred Meyer, David Douglas, Heceta Head Ghost,[L31] 

  Stewart Holbrook, Ken Kesey, Ima Ellen Jones,[L32] 

Weyerhaeuser Weinhard Willamette, [L33] 

of Mannan Nolen Gossett Jones,[L34] 

I am of mills, seaports, old growth forest, farm,

wigwam burners [L35] and mill stack cleaners[L36] ,

Gresham, Sandy, Portland, Eugene,

Springfield, Tillamook, Netarts, Florence,

Yachats, Newport, Sweet Home, Tigard,

Seaside, McMinnville, Lake Oswego,

Oregon City, Beaverton, Troutdale, Umatilla,

Damascus, Clackamas, Multnomah Falls,

                     The Dalles, Grants Pass, Bend and John Day,[L37] [L38] 

the spirit of my grandma’s little brother

walking over the Deschutes River where he drowned,[L39] 

I was born to the Clatsop, the Umatilla, the Tillamook, the Alsean,

the Athabascan, Klamath, Siletz and Siuslaw,[L40] 

to volunteer hoedads and Okies and drunks,

to gyppos, bullwhackers, lumberjacks, mackinaws[L41] ,

catskinners, choker setters, fallers and buckers,[L42] 

gandy dancers, sawdust eaters, short stakers,[L43] 

peach pitters, potato pickers, orchard sack slingers,[L44] 

 factory workers, master plasterers, spikeknot counters,[L45] 

swing shift, graveyard, day shift, any shift,

indigo denim worn white to the bone,

tin pants and rolled up Pendleton sleeves[L46] ,

water off a Filson’s back[L47] ,

fishermen, hunters, sportsmen, outdoorsmen,

medics, mailmen, millers, lumber salesmen,

makers of ends meeting,

naval church deacon Oregon trail hitchhikers,

I was born to the people of the berry brambles

rough and tough and leathered and weathered,

bent and twisted like the shorepine and sitka on the seastacks of the Coast,

they as wild and as sweet as my Texas grandma’s

homemade raspberry jam canned in her Portland kitchen,

I am Caleb Henry! [L48] 

 [L1]I grew up in Eugene Oregon in the posthumous age of the great runner from the U of O, Steve Prefontaine. He died May 30th, 1975, almost exactly one year before my birth, May 31st, 1976. I was born in his wind: "I am going to work so that it's a pure guts race. In the end, if it is, I'm the only one that can win it". Here he is my cosmic Hermes/Mercury. (Jung sees Hermes as the center for ‘synchronicity’, events being meaningful coincidences.)

 [L2]My Dad, Kent Foster Mannan, was a naval corpsman in Vietnam from 66-70. After his release, he eschewed a medical profession for the more blue collar/Oregonian way of living by working in mills.

 [L3]Dad pulled greenchain (pulling lumber that matches required dimensions to put in a pile, a lumber sorter) in Oregon at Weyerhaeuser.

 Hoedad: a proper term for tree planting counterculturalists in the 70s, and a tool for planting tree seedlings quickly. In this sense, a ‘treeplanter’, and speaks to Oregon’s volunteerism and massive replanting of forests decimated in the Tillamook burn.

Okie digging graves: Grandpa (and dad for a time) worked at Willamette National Cemetery when I was a boy, where ironically, grandpa’s dad was buried, where grandpa is now buried, and my dad’s parents as well.

 [L4]Steve Prefontaine was from Coos Bay. Also, a nod to the mythical creation from sea foam.

 [L5]My mom talks about the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, or the ‘Big Blow’. As a girl in Portland, Oregon, she and her sister were playing in the yard while the wind picked up and blew two by fours through the air. The storm ranks among the most intense to strike the region since at least 1948, likely since the January 9, 1880 "Great Gale" and snowstorm.

 [L6]Yachats is the site of ancient native midden grounds through which the highway 101 was built - hence the ghosts of natives being restless. My dad’s parent lived there for a time.

 [L7]Bandage Man is a famous Oregon spook. I remember my grandpa telling me about him as a boy. He’s a figure dressed in smelly bandages that comes after you in your car, or while you’re camping. Local to Cannon Beach area. In one version, the ghost of a doctor who disappeared in a car wreck.

 [L8]The Tillamook Burn, which I have written about extensively, is the name for several fires that burned the great old growth forest on the coastal range of Oregon. I grew up with the stories of great devastation being told to me, especially by my grandpa JE Jones, my mom's dad, who was greatly impressed by the burn – maybe partially because he had worked in many mills in that area.

[L9]My grandpa’s Jones’ dad, Jesse Earl Jones, was by all accounts such a mean moonshiner that he was ordered by the authorities to stay away from his family. He was also a drunkard that sadly, ended up dying in the 60s on Portland’s skidrow (from the term skidroad, see Stewart Holbrook's Holy Old Mackinaw). The story is that he was found in a flop house with visible signs of beating, such as a broken arm, and the money from his newly cashed pension check missing. The story I heard through the years is that they figured he was murdered, but it was never proven. The official, accepted, cause of death is drunkenness. Murdered may be poetic license in a strict sense. Here I call out his name as my ancestor, to give him rest.

 [L10]The Willamette Valley was advertised as the land of milk in honey in the 1800s to entice settlers. It is known for its rich soil, great for agriculture.

 [L11]My Grandma Jones was from Texas, my Grandpa Jones from Oklahoma, they came West during the Depression and settled in Oregon. They struggled with poverty and biased perceptions prevalent at the time.

 [L12]From my novel, Bust It Like A Mule.

 [L13]Specifically referring to blackberries introduced by Europeans. Some ‘Black raspberries’, as well as salmon berries (and many other berries) are native and abundant in Oregon. I grew up with wild blackberries and raspberries everywhere. I remember my mom pulling the car to the side of a busy road, so we could gather raspberries from a deserted lot. You often see these brambles thick as thieves in burned out or logged areas. The First Peoples, the natives, had a wonderful garden of wild berries.

 [L14]The rich silt soil, loess, of the Willamette Valley is said to be the result of glacial floods from Idaho and Washington glaciers/glacial lakes.

 [L15]Both sets of my grandparents, and my great grandpa mentioned earlier, are buried here.

 [L16]The Pacific Ocean. The seas of the deep, from Noah’s flood.

 [L17] My dad’s dad was a lumber yard owner, my grandpa Jones worked in lumber and mills for many years, as did my dad.

 [L18]Navy

 [L19]Grandpa JE Jones

 [L20]Army

 [L21]Dad, a Naval corpsman in the Vietnam War.

 [L22]Grandpa Mannan was a Gunner’s Mate on the USS Hickox, a destroyer, or ‘can’.

 [L23]Grandpa Jones was a former alcoholic who went to the Dammash hospital in Clackamas (since torn down) in the late 60s and came back sober. He was sober the rest of his life.

 [L24]My Grandma Jones used to make a common meal of fried chicken with gravy on a piece of white bread (Military - Shit on a shingle).

KPTV was our favorite TV station in Portland, playing cartoons, old movies and old shows like Perry Mason, Dick Van Dyke, The Twilight Zone, I Love Lucy…

 [L25]Being from Texas, my grandma made sweet tea. Drinking sweet tea in Portland Oregon is the perfect symbolic scene of my raising.

Tillamook cheese – Tillamook cheese, from Tillamook, on the Coast not far from Portland. Iconic and delicious. You must go to the Oregon Coast, and when you go, you must stop by the Tillamook Cheese Factory.

 [L26]Grandpa Jones was a singer songwriter. His family migrated from Oklahoma, and his sound was similar to the Bakersfield Sound. He was a big Hank fan - I liken him to a ‘poorman's Hank Williams’.

 [L27]Vanport was a city within a city in Portland, made to house workers for the WWII ship boom. It was the nation’s largest wartime housing development and the scene of one of Oregon’s major disasters. My Grandpa Mannan, out of the Navy, lived there, until the place was flooded and destroyed in 48. The family story is that Grandpa and Grandma Mannan left, and when they came back, their home was destroyed.

 [L28] A treacherous stretch of sea where the mouth of the Columbia empties into the Pacific, North to Vancouver island, South to Tillamook bay.

 [L29] Terrible Tilly- Tillamook Rock Lighthouse stands on a jutting basalt outcropping over a mile in the sea from Tillamook Head. It is named for erratic weather and dangerous commute, claiming several lives since it was built in 1880. Now decommissioned, it serves as a columbarium.

 [L30]Ramblin Rod is a beloved Portland kid’s program character from KPTV. I grew up as a boy watching his cartoon program and smile contest in the mornings. We frequently stayed with my mom’s parents, our Jones’ grandparents, in Portland, and I can still recall waking early on their living room floor and turning on Ramblin Rod to watch Looney Tunes and Popeye and the like.

 Tom Peterson was a famous Portland retailer of furniture and appliances. We used to laugh at his unique TV commercials, his famous buzzcut and his wife ‘Gloria, too!’

 Les Scwhab built a tire empire that is still running today in the northwest.

 [L31]Fred Meyer was a local retailer who grew his business to a great western chain, still going today.

David Douglas was an oldschool Scottish botanist (Douglas fir) that made great discoveries in the NW. My mom and her siblings went to David Douglas Highschool in Portland.

The Heceta Head Ghost would be Rue, of the Heceta Head lighthouse in Newport, Or. She was said to be the ghost of a woman whose child fell off the edge of the cliff into the sea and died. I wrote of this ghost in one of my (many) unpublished novels American Son.

 [L32]Stewart Holbrook was a former logger turned writer whose book ‘Holy Old Mackinaw’ made a huge impression on me recently. He wrote for the Oregonian for many many years. Though he was from back East, his tough wild slang and real writing epitomizes the Northwest and my people.

Ken Kesey, Oregon author – one of my favorite novels is One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.

Ima Ellen Jones- My grandma, my mom’s mom.

 [L33]Frederick Weyerhaeuser, the Weyehaeuser timber company. Dad worked for them when I was a boy. They're a household Oregon name.

Henry Weinhard, Weinhard’s beer in Oregon.

Willamette – in researching this name, it is a derivation of an ancient Native name, the meaning not completely clear.

 [L34]My lineage

 [L35]A scrap lumber burner at a mill, named for it’s shape.

 [L36]I remember a story about dad being lowered into a mill stack to clean it.

 [L38]By no means comprehensive, this is a list of Oregon places familiar or meaningful to me. I was born in Portland Oregon, and was raised in Portland, Sandy, Eugene and Springfield until my family moved to Washington when I was 8.

 [L39]My grandma Jones’ younger brother, Odelle Nolen, drowned in the Deschutes River in a rafting accident. He was a police officer and fine young man by all accounts – It was often said that my grandma never recovered from the sorrow of his death. I was raised with his memory very close to the surface – he was spoken about often, and his pictures adorned my grandparent’s walls.

 [L40]A holler out to the Native Americans of the area. Not a comprehensive list at all, but names on the tip of my tongue from the area or my own reading.

 [L41]Gyppos – Lumber contractors.

Bullwhackers – oxen drivers, especially in logging.

Mackinaws – a slang term from Holbrook’s ‘Holy Old Mackinaw

 [L42]Catskinners – dozer drivers

Choke setters – One who chains a log to be moved. In my grandpa’s song ‘A Song and an Old Guitar’, he sings that he ‘set chokers behind a d-8 cat’.

Fallers and buckers – tree fallers, buckers cut the fell log into lengths.

 [L43]Gandy dancers- Shovel and pick men.

Sawdust eaters – (saw)mill workers.

Short stakers – temporary workers.

 [L44]Peach pitters – grandpa Jones worked in a cannery when he came West (I think in AZ) as a young man. He told a story of pitting peaches by hand with a paring knife to be canned.

Potato pickers – my mom talks about helping her dad in potato fields, picking potatoes to make a buck.

Orchard sack slingers – grandpa also worked in orchards to make ends meet. My mom has a photo of him in a tree picking apples. In his scrawl on the back of the photo it says "Another day/Another $. Maybe."

 [L45]My Great grandpa Mannan, Guy Mannan, is listed on an old census as ‘Master Plasterer’.

Spikeknot counters- spikeknot comes from a limb at an acute angle seen when the log in sawed lengthwise at the mill.

 [L46]Tin pants – waterproof pants common to NorthWest loggers, typically paraffin soaked canvas, very durable.

Pendleton – Pendleton is a historical Oregon blanket company, known for their shirts.

 [L47]Filson is a WA clothing company known for their waterproof jackets perfect for duckhunting, the Pacific NorthWest, or just good old fashioned hardy work wear in general. My dad still has his dad’s Filson jacket, and damned if it isn’t still in excellent shape.

 [L48]My grandma Ima Jones, my mom's mom (mentioned several times in this poem) was from Texas, and settled for life in Oregon with my Oklahoman Grandpa JE Jones, whom she'd met in a migrant camp when he came West. She used to add 'Henry' to the end of us grandkid's names as an affectionate, silly nickname. I can still hear her Texas drawl - 'Caleb Henry, you get on over here and give me a love!"

Oregon Coast Verses

 
IMG_1683.JPG

Oregon Born

I was born on the wind of Prefontaine,

a Vietnam Son’s son with a blue collar trade,

a greenchain puller, a hoedad, an Okie digging graves,

a gust of spume off of Coos Bay

in the Columbus Storm that day,

a midden ghost in Yachats,

Bandage Man hitchhiking to Portland

in the pall of the Tillamook Burn,

my own greatgranddaddy’s bum specter

( murdered for his WWI pension check)

still wandering Burnside

in Portland on skidrow

 

I was born in Oregon

in the western fertile crescent,

the land of milk and honey

even for the southerner if you can

wash the accent and the poor off of you

and bust it like a mule

I was born to Sitka spruce Oregon yew

redwood cedar hemlock fir,

sweet wild blackberry brambles

(an invasive species introduced by migrations

just like my people, well before my people,

all people after the First Peoples),

my people buried in the loess of the flood

in Willamette National Cemetery

on the footstep of the greatest and deepest of oceans

from whence the seas of the deep were unleashed

 

I was born to lumber,

to sawmills pulpmills lumbermills,

(From Tillamook to Portland to Eugene

and everything in between)

to work, to digging and picking and backbreaking,

hacking, shove and lift and push and pull,

cleanliness is next to Godliness but labor is Holy,

I was born to the poor and humble

and the hubris that only poverty can bring,

to veterans, soldiers, sailors,

American sons and daughters,

to guitars, the Bakersfield Sound,

to a southern song in a northwest rain,

to they of the dust bowl and depression,

they of the damp rumbling lumberyards in Oregon,

vanished Vanport on their tongue

 

I was born in a tangle of trees

downwind from Mount Saint Helens

in the shadow of Mount Hood,

spitting distance from the graveyard of the Pacific

under the eye of Terrible Tilly

I am of Ramblin Rod, Tom Peterson and Les Schwab,

Fred Meyer, David Douglas, John Tornow,

  Stewart Holbrook, Ken Kesey, Ima Jones,

of Mannan Nolen Gossett Jones,

I am of mills, seaports, old growth forest, farm,

wigwam burners and mill stack cleaners,

Gresham, Sandy, Portland, Eugene,

Springfield, Tillamook, Netarts, Florence,

Yachats, Newport, Sweet Home, Tigard,

Seaside, McMinniville, Lake Oswego,

Oregon City, Beaverton, Troutdale, Umatilla,

Damascus, Clackamas, Multnomah Falls,

                     The Dalles, Grants Pass, Bend and John Day,

the spirit of my grandma’s little brother

walking over the Deschutes River where he drowned,

I was born to the Clatsop, the Umatilla, the Tillamook, the Alsean,

the Athabascan,  Klamath,  Siletz and Siuslaw,

to volunteer hoedads and Okies and drunks,

to gyppos, bullwhackers, lumberjacks, mackinaws,

catskinners, choker setters, fallers and buckers,

gandy dancers, sawdust eaters, short stakers,

peach pitters, potato pickers, orchard sack slingers,

 factory workers, master plasterers, spikeknot counters,

swing shift, graveyard, day shift, any shift,

tin pants and rolled up Pendleton sleeves,

water rolling off a Filson’s back,

fishermen, hunters, sportsmen, outdoorsmen,

medics, mailmen, millers, lumber salesmen,

makers of ends meeting,

naval church deacon Oregon trail hitchhikers,

I was born to the people of the berry brambles

rough and tough and leathered and weathered,

bent and twisted like the shorepine and sitka on the seastacks of the Coast,

they as wild and as sweet as my Texas grandma’s

homemade raspberry jam canned in her Portland kitchen,

I am Caleb Henry *

*My grandma Ima Jones, my mom's mom (mentioned several times in this poem) was from Texas, and settled for life in Oregon with my Oklahoman Grandpa JE Jones, whom she'd met in a migrant camp when he came West. Grandma used to add 'Henry' to the end of us grandkid's name as an affectionate, silly nickname. I can still here her Texas drawl - 'Caleb Henry, you get on over here and give me a love!"

 

Oregon coast Firestarter

Mottled white ragbag lichen

with a palm of witches hair

pinched from the windbent

trunk of shorepine

make a good firestarter

if it hasn’t rained for days

 

Coastal Forest

Snap masted mastadons

bleached by lightning,

white ghosts amongst the living

yew, redcedar, the redwood,

the fir, the sitka spruce,

hewn by the gales

to resemble the sea itself,

misty ocean echoed ranges

of limb shattered bearded spruce

a tangle of tentacles,

the mysterious octopus of ancient arms,

 the council trees of the ancients,

an army of wizened spirits

whispering wisdom in the wind

if you can listen

to creak and crack and groan and moan,

hoary, phosphorescent with lichen,

horsehair, cat’s tail, ragbag and the like,

these forests a wild tangle of wet murmurings

and tales untold,

unhaunted anymore but for sightseers

 

My memory

Driving the Oregon coast

is a rummaging through my memory,

sifting through shake shingle roofed seahouses,

weathered tanned bleached clapboard houses

crawling with vines and brambles,

fumbling with bits of broken sand dollar

in the pocket of my Pendleton,

razorshell crabshell

searching for agates with my mom as a boy,

sight of white gull like the Holy Spirit,

picking through driftwood

playing that once with dad on the sand,

 bits of colored rope smelling of the sea

a living thing,

the cosmic roar in my cognition,

the lull of the tide far out seen from the top of a lighthouse

in an overlapping lazy quilt of spume,

looking down and out at lonely cragstacks

to give a sense of depth and perspective,

the horizon being but an ending

to which the sun retires each night

in a great explosion,

I drifting sifting shifting

through memory in cold sand harsh wind blue sky

with the blue sea all one in eternity,

the presence over the face of the deep

 

Flotsam and jetsam

The sand cluttered with the night’s washings,

ribbons of brown confetti enwrapping strange treasure,

bits of colorful rope twisted, unhinged,

shards of sand dollars, shells, smooth stones,

razorshells, half a littleneck clam shell,

a D-Day of dead gulls, cavities filled with sand,

their cries now just a windsong,

‘who shall have this piece’,

an oil soaked heavy snapped plank

three bolts rusted and jangling,

wood worn smooth and unnatural

as if by a holy wind,

Dungeness moltings and mole crab minutiae

awash the tidewrack,

bull kelp just waiting to be whipped,

bottles, some trash, rockweed clumps and seethrough jellies,

blackened coals half buried in sand,

look now and gather while you can,

tomorrow it may be gone

 

To burn a fire of driftwood

The shamanic

            the primordial fire,

made of far flung timbers

collected on the beach,

flames licking, whipping

an immediate glaring heat,

 pink with mystical woods,

pink and green and blue,

shades of the sun itself

Sift the driftwood and gather a stock,

who knows what far flung fantasies

will befall you in its sweet Sulphur?

The heady balm of brine,

mysteries of another time,

each piece of weathered wood

sacred, carved smooth by father sea,

pickled with spume,

alive and teeming with the deep

Aflame, it releases its malt vinegar vapors,

peppery pine sweet oak,

cumin of crackling ancient spruce,

many colored wonders swirling in the smoke,

licorice wisp of the yew and ash,

charred chunks of sun bleached unameables,

bone smooth swoops,

sand encrusted wonders,

sines and wavelengths the shape of the sea themselves,

 hulk of rotted redcedar fermented and dried,

twig of manzanita limb, hulk of Douglas fir,

Japanese bamboo husks,

the aspen recognizable by its curl of bark

browned by the elements,

far flung timber from across the world,

traveling nautical miles

drifting along the shore,

chosen, placed,

placed for your gathering to mystic rite,

pine of all shapes and sizes

(white, sugar, knobcone, ponderosa,)

alder, birch, aspen, juniper,

conifers and broadleafs mingled

stacked together to burn,

where else is this assemblage?

Choose each limb carefully,

burn thoughtfully,

muse upon its catching

Larch hemlock oak cypress maple,

pinecones salt basted and cured,

a wellworn side of cedar bark,

just the bark and it burns blue,

a jumble

from limbs to twigs to trunks

These woods placed together on the fire

their sweet wisps combining to an incense

of something so ancient it is new,

an unknown memory in the smoke,

a cognizance unawares,

the peace of prescience,

this driftwood bonfire an offering

to the sacred unknown we all know

 

Ode to sitka spruce

Sitka spruce

tideland spruce,

in temperate rainforest rising,

along the coastal rocks

a bulwark bent and sculpted

by the wind itself

so that you take the form of the very sea,

you take the form of the elements while still standing,

your wind gnarled silhouettes on jagged seastacks

headbutted by the sea,

on the stacks in the bay of Girabalidi

your stripped limbs

perch for the heron and egret and eagle

Further inland along the creek

you rise up a widowmaker in the wind

Along the crusted coast of Cape Meares

you bend and sway covered in horsehair

and lichens and mosses,

ancient wizards

Your octopus limbs

 council seats to the ancients,

sitka spruce

 tideland spruce,

taking form of wind and sea,

I sing of thee

 

In Seaside

Between the Necanicum River and the Pacific Ocean

just blocks south of where the river meets the sea

lies a town, a carnival, a saltlick of a place,

where the mountain ash’s mysterious staves

climb to orange berries much brighter and clearer

than in the Inland Northwest where you live

You look to the sky as you strain to hear the ocean,

a flock of geese is taking the highway 101 south for the winter

 

Tillamook Burn

They bullwhacked the great old forests here,

stripped the lumber to near extinction

What they couldn’t log they burned on accident,

holy old mackinaw with a careless cigarette,

maybe campfire or donkey engine spark,

not once, not twice but thrice,

the Tillamook Burn inferno

Once as a boy while driving to the Coast

my grandpa told me great tales of mountains burning alive,

he with fingers yellowed from nicotine,

his western fried Oklahoma accent a song to me

What they couldn’t bullwhack

they burned, burned old growth forests

that changed weather patterns inland,

burned parts of land no white man

nor red man had set foot in

for fear of spirits that resided there

But the fire, it did not fear these ancient spirits,

it just burned them the hell on out,

and if not for the volunteer spirit of Oregonian hoedads,

my dad as a Cub Scout,

these spirits would have nowhere to go

 

Wild blackberries

Sea at our back

slogging through sand over the dunes

covered in beachgrass and scotch broom,

a sprout of yellow hairy cat’s ear here and there,

down to the shore pine and invasive wild blackberry bushes,

harsh brambles big around as my thumb

and ten feet tall,

Waylon and June learn their lesson

tangling with these spiky krakens

by scratches on head and hand,

Waylon and I take sweet revenge by

plucking the ripe blackberries,

washing them in a plastic cup at camp,

and savoring each and everyone

 

Birds of Oregon

Looking out on the swell and crash of the sea,

forever an invisible line far out

There a squadron of double crested cormorants

dive low behind a folding of waves

their black memory swallowed up

I watch the place they vanished,

 and where they should appear

floaters on my eyes,

but I never find them for going blind

I see the gulls,

 Thayer’s, glaucous winged, Western,

I see the tern and sheerwater,

I see the crow and raven back in camp,

I saw an osprey, saw a hawk,

I see the white crowned sparrow,

the Canadian geese taking the 101 south for the winter,

I see the herons and egrets,

 bone harbingers

                       in Garibaldi sea stack spruce crucifixes,

but I only wonder for the disappearing sea crows

 

Driftwood fort pyre

On the spit of the sea

windward side of Nehalem bay

against the prevailing westerlies,

there was a wonder of a driftwood fort that stood,

a great log totem erect buried in sand to mark its place,

a driftwood fort worthy of my childhood

 Our last day at the beach,

the driftwood fort was a smoldering wreck,

victim to a burning pyre the previous night

It angered me that someone would disassemble

a great monument so

Such a transient age,

an ephemeral generation,

building nothing we cannot burn

 

The children and I sit in the sun

the wind at our back

warming ourselves

in the driftwood’s still burning bones,

mourning what we cannot rebuild

 

The lights of Babylon

there once was a time

when man was not jealous of the stars

he was not selfish with light

a fire and modest glare contented him

he respected the dark for what it was:

an ending that would end

 

Reference: Stewart Holbrook, (Holy Old Mackinaw), Ellis Lucia (The Tillamook Burn), Plants of the Pacific Northwest, Northwest Trees, Birds of Oregon, Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest, Trees and Shrubs of the Pacific Northwest, Audubon's Pacific Northwest Field Guide, Ghost Stories of Oregon, The Oregon Companion, my mom, Nehalem Bay State Park, the internets, my fragile memory.

Bust It Like A Mule on Spokane Public Radio!

 
KPBX's Station Manager/Bust It Bookshelf producer Vern Wyndham.

KPBX's Station Manager/Bust It Bookshelf producer Vern Wyndham.

I am very proud n honored to announce that Bust It Like A Mule will be read in its entirety by yours truly in the way God intended it ( jacked up southern fried West Coast) on Spokane's premier local Public Radio Station, KPBX, beginning Monday, August 22nd. Yeah, like this coming Monday... It was truly a labor of love and consternation, and I appreciate everyone involved. Thanks to KPBX Station Manager and Producer Verne Wyndham for his affable demeanor in the midst of my wild ramblings. I had a blast sitting with him in the new firehouse studio and getting to the know The Voice Of Spokane. Thanks to producer and retired English teacher Mike Aleman who first opened up the book and wondered why it had no commas - I'd like to thank him for his time, talks of poetry and reading aloud, and his stories of his grandpa who rode with Pancho Villa.

This all started when former Lady of The BookShelf herself, Nancy Roth, heard me read at B&N's in April, and she has been a true champion and supporter of Cotton and myself and we couldn't be more grateful. Nancy, I have a newfound respect for you after reading just one book for the program, and a book I wrote myself, no less.

Reading this book out loud proved a worthy challenge even for myself, and I often told the guys it was like hopping a train - run like hell and hold on tight (try saying "she is amazing from her hips to her toes to her mug making swimsuit sewing breakfast cooking landscape painting guitar playing sexy singing self" 5 times fast). Hopefully this energy comes through in the broadcast, because that's what this wild new American Folktale is all about.

So tune in starting Monday, the 22nd, at 6.30pm PST to KPBX, available to stream on their website by clicking Listen Live. Show your support and listen and let KPBX know if you like it!

More on Bust It from the horse's mouth:

Introduction to the book

The voice of Bust it: Interview with the author

The American Edda

The Field Museum

 
  After a visit to Chicago's Field Museum, 7-29-16

  After a visit to Chicago's Field Museum, 7-29-16

Great white cathedral smelling of formaldehyde

halls high ceiling ringing with children

and humanity in general,

what an anthropological wonder you are,

binding together the mysteries of man and nature,

they on the tip of my tongue converging,

with my mind, spirit and heart conversing,

of man, of woman, of bird and beast unsung,       

I marvel at you!

Giant fighting African elephants in the main hall,

                pachyderms mid tusk thrust

seen by children over one hundred years ago,

the great vaulted ceiling above

still ringing with their shouts of wonder if you listen

Sue the T rex holding court with the elephants,

bones rattling as she rumbles at you,

blink once blink twice it lumbers before your eyes,

how is it this mythical beast once strode the earth?

but it did, it did, and here is the proof before us,

extracted from the earth’s bosom,

the skull a cast,

go up one level to see the real thing too heavy to mount,

beaten busted and bruised from the wear and tear

of years and the unknown tales, injuries

Beyond these seminal sentinels

glass cases brimming colorfully with extinct birds,

death their only exhibition,

skeleton of the auk, flightless plight of the passenger pigeon,

ornithological wonders,

 taxidermed beasts of all varieties encased in glass dioramas,

narwhals, walruses, posed frozen in time,

 lion gorilla owl fish crane moose caribou wolf tiger shark,

giraffe hyena bison antelope rhino,

all a snapshot hung in time, a dimension on a wall,

glass displays like the random pockets of a mad boy collector

emptied for the world to see,

utterly filled, jammed, crammed,

filled with pinned butterflies, fossil invertebrates

arm jarred by a stuffed leopard near the dinosaur head,

scattered with trilobites and primeval things from the bottom of the sea,

every specimen and phyla imaginable, unfathomable,

a zebra stands attention near a shadowbox scarab beetle family,

a floating owl, frozen falcon, mollusk fossil cornucopia

 

Behold!

Artifacts of the ancient peoples of North America,

obsidian tools and copper jewelry,

stone spear tips to bring down the mammoth,

did you know this about our country?

Did you know the indigenous, the aboriginal, the original?

The Hopewell the Mississippian the Clovis people,

follow this trail of our land jostled by children

and elderly couples pausing,

wend through the years forward,

the ceramic ornamental bloodcatching bowl of the Mayans,

the cruel economies of the Aztecs,

Mesoamerican tools of ingenuity and cruelty,

mankind will hew wonderful and horrible things,

of toil, of ornament, of war,

the war clubs of the Pacific named for the damage they inflict,

blunt skull crushers and razor skin splitters,

Maori whale bone war clubs,

feel the spirits in this room of masks and drums

and eerie silent jungle demon sounds,

did you know the Papuas built a Men’s House

nearly as great as this museum, because they did!

I stumble from room to room dazed by it all,

the Native American garb from Swanee to Umatilla

to everything in between

except for the Blackfeet missing where they should stand

with a note on their absence

much to my disappointment,

the painted robes and beaded buckskin

standing attention an army

of living ghosts gone with the buffalo

Befuddled with wonderment I cannot stop,

there is too much to see,

the Terracotta warriors of China await you in a dark room

as they still await their fate, giant toys to be lifted and moved

as pieces on a chessboard, generals, archers, charioteers,

sentinels for the dead

 

Be made aware of humanity

                this old museum murmurs in every dark corner nook and cranny,

be aware of beast! Be aware of leviathan!

Be aware of plant, mammal, butterfly, bug,

                zoological and anthropological, wonders of

archeology, archaeology, ethnology, paleontology, botany, paleobiogeography,

geology, gemology, biology, taxonomy, ecology, Egyptology,

entomology, meteorology, metallurgy, oceanology,

ontology, pantology and all the other ologies combined,

be aware and be amazed!

Take a stroll through a time machine whirring quietly,

glass displays flashing ages by in the wink of an eye,

a snap of the finger, in the passing of a school of children rushing,

and be made aware, be made aware of humanity and its wonders

and horrors, his progress and digressions,

her mad will and resilience and ingenuity,

my God, what a strange beautiful marvel, what a mystery!

Following the path of this time machine stepping in and out

of epochs unimaginable

suddenly grow sober in the bowels of a reconstructed

Egyptian tomb,

sweet Lord the 5000 year old painted hieroglyphics are real,

and they are ancient, beyond me,

they whisper, rustle hoarse and hoary

from the book of the dead,

they release the ka and the ba,

the shrouds of Osiris, mummies,

                                                                          sarcophagi you can run your hands on,

rough as hell and heavy granite,

my God, how did they do it?

Be now sobered by the mummy of an infant,

press your nose to the glass and linger upon it,

and suddenly be sobered that this little one

is a dead child, a dead child with once a name,

now but a curiosity for the masses,

how have we done so much but know so little of ourselves?

How do we build such things of wonder

beautifully inscribed, inlaid and ornamental,

yet we forget how we even did it,

how did we come to be so much so that we

marvel and gape at a dead child like a side show curiosity?

It is beyond me,

I wonder and am sobered

But I must continue through the mummy cases and stone scrolls,

the hieroglyphs that have enchanted me since I was a boy,

I stand breathless amongst it all as families

see the overtook in my expression and soundless words,

I my dad reading every historical marker on family trips

But no time to dawdle, three hours in this place a pittance,

level upon level, room upon room,

you must see the sculptures of Carl Akeley,

he the father of modern taxidermy and bronze,

one of the museum’s fathers,

you really must see his beautiful bronze sculptures

depicting an African lion hunt

(they get their man in the end),

you really must see plant and gem and jade exhibit,

the Egyptian jewelry, monster plants, Chinese pottery,

the unassuming alluvian rhino graveyard of Nebraska

encased just beneath your nose,

schoolboys running down the marble stairs

as their chaperone shouts them down,

you must rush past nursing mothers, Chinese parents,

you must hear the 11 year old boy tell his mother

“It is sad to me”

when he reads her the names of the now extinct birds

displayed

 

Oh the wonders!

Did you know the totems of the Haidas

rise like towers

and smell of burnished beaten wood,

smoke, sweat, and the salt of the sea?

Have you seen the magic grizzly totem

rising above you in the shadows?

My word, the things the Northwest Coast and Arctic peoples people wrought fill room uponroom,

                                what a creative people, even animal snares totemed, ornamented!

It is stunning

 

Then go from the pasts of peoples to the bones of beasts,

grinning gaping smiling waving,

Good God how did these walk the earth?

Terrible lizards, behemoth fishes,

crusted rusted triceratops skulls,

walk under the neck and walk the length of brachiosaurus,

and as Job, behold Leviathan!

See synapsid, tetrapod, stegosaurus, parasaurolophus, African pareiasaur,

spine tales, back scales, armored bone plates,

yawning ancient glaring masks of the terrible,

beautiful living sculptures of times gone by,

browned mastodon tusks taller than a man

all backdropped by the beautiful monstrous murals

of the primordial by Charles Knight

Then mind cluttered as one of the displays,

turn away to look out the museums’ many windows

to the great lake,

a storm blowing in, sailboats bobbing,

and beyond like monoliths the towers of man in the near distance

rising

 

All the bones bones bones bones, resurrected burials,

smell of taxidermy and preservation

pervasive, musty, old, archaic,

welcoming and warm,

dazzling, wild, magical,

this building itself a wonder of architecture,

neoclassical, massive, welcoming, grand,

skylights in the Stanley Field Hall shewing forth light

down on the foyer on the muses

looking down on the visitors milling,

Two muses on either side illuminated:

                                                                                               Record, Research,

The Dissemination of Science and Knowledge

I run my hand along the inlays, the porticos, the ionic pillars,

gape up at the antique chandeliers,

marble stairways leading off into silence and rich wood doors,

what natural phantasies are being uncovered

 in dark wood rooms

by mustached khaki explorers and women in great bustling skirts?

What strange beasts are pickled in jars, bones collected,

stacked, strewn, neatly labeled, bugs species specimens artifacts

all within the cold holds of this behemoth’s stone bones?

Surely this is a great Church

to all things that were and are and will be,

a temple to a Living God

 

Running here and there in a frenzy,

my brain gives out though my eyes continue to devour

and register new things, old things, ancient things,

the bronzes of Malvina Hoffman,

o they are wonderful and I wish all to see them

and to see them for this reason –

that they were originally meant to convey

the Races Of The World

to categorize, to classify, racialize, humankind,

caucasoid, mongoloid, negroid, australoid,

now their original intent revoked but their stark beauty breathtaking,

barebreasted African Nubian goddesses,

Sudanese girl, Kashmiri man in lotus pose, French beard,

so real you long to touch them to unfreeze them back to life,

I admire this Anthropological Temple

for revoking the original intent of these bronze displays

yet still letting them stand,

a living conversation to be had if we all would have it,

all of us standing in the museum together,

man, woman, child, young and old alike,

all colors all races all people

from every corner of this teeming earth

 

Legs aching from manic walking slow meandering frantic gait,

you must leave this sanctuary but you are reluctant,

you stroll to the main Stanley Field Hall,

under the skylights a young boy accosts you

to show you a replica of a Magellan penguin skull

and a girl a shadowbox display of Chicago bats

that fly around this very museum at night

As the time machine slows,

the path winds down,

the peoples and their makings

                                and plants and rocks and beasts

                                                                                all blending together in a kaleidoscopic blur,

you linger in hallways reluctant,

echoes of war and hack of hatchet on wood,

ring of chisel on stone,  thump on softened copper,

drums, calls, chants, cries, trumpeting beasts,

jungle critters crying, howling, yowling, feet stamping,

a parade passing, history making, colors flying then dying,

echoes now faint to a whisper, a rustle,

a river receding,

finally leaving the great Church of the Pillars Of The Earth

and the whispering Breath Of God,

turning back to look fondly upon

the great main atrium one last time to say goodbye,

standing outside under a tree from the rain waiting for your ride,

eyes roaming over the beautiful sprawling temple

and its vast columns until you at last leave,

now an ordained disciple of the Earth and all that is in it,

of all the peoples and of all the tribes,

be now a voice in the wilderness crying,

crying out for all to hear even as the earth cries out        

 

Further Research:

The Field Museum

Malvina Hoffman Sculptures

Carl Akeley

  Terracotta Warriors

Charles Knight

"Where the hell am I goin"

On our way back from a recent trip to Missoula Montana , we stopped to look for Cotton. We didn't see him, but we did find some signs...

If you're on the Interstate 90 passing through Montana, take the St Regis exit and you'll be at the exact spot Cotton started his journey to The Land Where The World Began by asking a young gass station attendant 'Where the hell am I goin'...the station is now a godawful travel center, but the spot is just the same.

If you're on the Interstate 90 passing through Montana, take the St Regis exit and you'll be at the exact spot Cotton started his journey to The Land Where The World Began by asking a young gass station attendant 'Where the hell am I goin'...the station is now a godawful travel center, but the spot is just the same.

The kids skipping stones and looking for Cotton on the Clark Fork River just beneath the railroad tracks.

The kids skipping stones and looking for Cotton on the Clark Fork River just beneath the railroad tracks.

If you listen long enough, you can hear the tales of Cotton in the wind here on the rails above the Clark fork River in Montana.

If you listen long enough, you can hear the tales of Cotton in the wind here on the rails above the Clark fork River in Montana.

Lake Pend Oreille Verses

 
image.jpg

Field Before Us

In the field before us

just beyond the fire

purple penstemons sway

with the wildgrass and arrowleaf balsamroot

If you walk amongst these wildflowers,

pausing to partake,

you can hear bees buzzing,

you can see the hummingbird coming in low,

you can hear the robin see the swallow

feel the shadow of the hawk

In the field before us,

the children and I find these things

 

The Stars

I.

Sky blue sky

Sun goes down

Watch for the stars

But not too hard

You’ll go blind unless

you simply let them come

First one

then another,

then another

that winks and leaves,

look for another,

back to one,

look back to the blank blue

and there it is twinkling

making you a fool

Venus, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter,

 who can tell,

the others taking their time

Then from the gloam on high

look to the fire you are making

the bread you are breaking

the children you are raising

After all is quiet again,

you sit with your love,

 smoking a cigar

you look up

and laugh

for the stars are so numerous

you cannot remember

which came which

and what came first

 

II.

 

Standing outside the ring of light

I admire the stars

In unfamiliar latitude and longitude

I cannot find Orion

but I can see the big dipper

Connect the dot to dot geometry

a one dimensional plane

to my childish eyes

really a curved cornea

with depths insurmountable

So vast that when I return to pee later

I can just make out the milky way

a vast sheet unfurling

indiscernible to the focused eye

 

Berry cobbler

Berry cobbler

in a coal fired

steel dutch oven

                    thou hast made me whole

 

Lake Pend Oreille

O Pend Oreille!

Scraps of the Missoula floods,

glorious scraps indeed,

from the Clark Fork River to the Pend Oreille river,

the vestiges of an ancient ice stampede,

a jokulthlaup hemmed in by the mountains ranges

of the Cabinet, Selkirk and the Ceour D’Alene, running to the Bitterroot valley

O Pend Oreille,

you have no bottom, I tell the children as they wade.

The Kalispel astride monstrous prehistoric sturgeon

that the Navy boys from WWII scared off

From Buttonhook Bay looking north

towards the back of the Idaho batholith

A channel through which the floods

carried rich silt clear to the Willamette Valley

where my family settled and I was born

The lake deep blue dark

surrounded by stands of ponderosa pine, spruce, fir,

growth tangle at the lake's edge of creambrush ironwood,

black hawthorn and Saskatoon berries,

pink wild prickly rose

Along ancient deer trails,

the ghost highways of the Kalispel,

we stroll with the children

down to the water’s edge,

the quartzite carbonite

mountainous formations rising up before us

unmarked but by scar of flood and scab of landslide

we have never seen

 

image.jpg