Mannan & Renz Sportswear

 
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I've been drawing since I was a kid, and got into drawing clothes and fashion in JR High. I designed copious T-Shirts, ties, shorts, suits, all for a fictitious clothing brand (another story for another day). So when my brother Jake called me up last year and asked me to do some drawings for his fashion line Mannan&Renz, I was stoked.

Some of my early 90's 'fashion art' - I give myself a 10 for creativity, and a facepalm for fashion sense.

Some of my early 90's 'fashion art' - I give myself a 10 for creativity, and a facepalm for fashion sense.

After our initial conversations on what he was looking for, I had a vision of Leyendecker with a broken nose, or jacked up Mad Men ad copy. As the project went on, my art morphed into sailors with tattoos, WWII Willie and Joe types, bums, Depression era workers, pin up girls, smokers, drinkers, farmers, linemen, some of them not wearing anything resembling an M&R piece of clothing. But every single rough and rowdy ink spattered working man and woman I sketched embodied the core of my brother and his business partner Kyle's vision - to bring back this durable American spirit we seem to have forgotten in an age of transience. I was so taken with this vision that I feverishly researched and sketched hundreds of items and characters from a bygone age when things were built to last because they HAD to - more than that, when these things wore out in the elbows and knees and heels from busting it hard all day riveting or building or bouncing babies or tugging lifting sweating working, you patched them up and passed them on to your people because they held a nostalgic, totemic value.

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My brother has always loved fashion and clothing, especially older clothes, shoes, and military gear, taking this obsession to the point that he has more vintage Pendletons on hangers than eBay, and surplus military wear worthy of a museum. He can pull a jacket off a rack in in any thrift store and tell you what its made from, where it came from, look at the tag and tell you the era, scan for moth holes and runs and tell you within a matter of seconds - 'This is a good buy, grab it.' This is why when he and Kyle looked for partners to bring their vision to the masses, they got some damn good ones. And it's why you can trust that these items are of hefty beautiful lasting quality - Jake has looked over each one, pored over them, sent them back, cut them here, lengthened them there, field tested them, wore them out, wore them down, run his hands over them, looked at the tag and said 'This is good.'

Renz & Mannan.

Renz & Mannan.

So you should grab it.

I have worn M&R's baseball jacket in Spokane and across many of the United States, across the pond to London, I have tromped up and down from the White Tower to Buckingham Palace to Liverpool Station in my White's Boots, I've worn M&R sweaters while flying, driving, camping, drawing (no ink spilled on them cross myself and hope to die), and I can personally attest to their comfortable, durable, snazzy quality.

So get on over to M&R's Kickstarter, and get you a piece of clothing or pair of boots to last a lifetime. Aaaaaand a drawing of mine.

Caleb

The artist in his 'studio'.

The artist in his 'studio'.

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ART SHOW

 
Singer songwriter best friend Kevin Morgan with my portrait of him at Terrain. I am supported by my youngest child and arts partner in crime, June Dixie, age 4.

Singer songwriter best friend Kevin Morgan with my portrait of him at Terrain. I am supported by my youngest child and arts partner in crime, June Dixie, age 4.

I had a blast showing some art and reading poetry at Terrain 10! Thanks to all the volunteers and movers and shakers that make Spokane the vibrant arts community that it is. I believe that art and creativity can change the world for the better, and its beautiful to be in a place with people that believe and support this as well (Check them out : Terrain).

Portrait of the artist as a yapper.

Portrait of the artist as a yapper.

My beautiful wife and kids are real champions for supporting my madness, I am who I am because of them. The older I get, the more I realize that my creativity aint nothin unless I can share it with my people and pass it on to them, and this is what I am striving to do more and more. I think that about sums up the constant journey of the artist, to seek to give away what compels them.

Artsy fam

Artsy fam

Oh, before I go, thank you to all the other artists who were amazing, I am the least of you.

Loves, create,

Caleb

See you at Terrain 10

 
Awesomesauce poster by Karli Ingersoll

Awesomesauce poster by Karli Ingersoll

I am very excited to have some of my arts n words chosen to be in Terrain 10 (!), "an annual, one-night-only, juried multimedia art and music event celebrating young and emerging artists in the Spokane area."

Thanks to the jury that thinks some of my mad American Slang was okay enough for general human consumption. I, like Terrain, believe "that art, as a part of a robust culture, helps us more fully understand our world and what it means to be human", and I am proud to further this vision with them. This is a great, highly anticipated event thrown by an awesome organization, and you should definitely come, with or without me!!

See you there, me.

 

 

 

On creating “The American Folk Artist & The American Songstress”, and Folk Art in general

 
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On creating “The American Folk Artist & The American Songstress”, and Folk Art in general.

With a detail of pertinent symbols from the work.

Caleb Mannan

I call myself a ‘folk artist’ because I am 'self-taught' working man with a manic compulsion to create.

Some of the tenets of my folk art are:

·         We are all made in the image of God, our Good Big Daddy. He being first and foremost a Creator, we are Creators too – we must create, for it is holy, healthy, and good.

·         My art is informed by limitations – limited first and foremost by formal training in all practices, limited by supplies and monies, limited by time (in that I am blessed with a job that pays the bills). But in the end, these limitations have been the edge to whet the blade of my creativity.

·         In order to create ‘folk art’ (simply blue collar art created for enjoyment) one has to be fearless, guileless, uninhibited by outside eyes or forces. It is when the grown man is nearest to a childlike state of faith that he is closest to God – it is the same for the artist.

·           I would never discourage formalized training (hell, I need me some), but I would always encourage creating regardless of it. I would encourage creating regardless of one's own evaluation of merit.

·         Some people have a muse – I have a Trickster. Some people wither for lack of the Muse - I go mad if I do not folk The Trickster.

·         I am who I am, I cannot change it – for this I give God the Credit, the Glory, the Blame. Therefore, I will express what I am through my creations with confidence regardless of accreditation or acknowledgement. I call this creating by faith, following my feet, ‘the wild meanderings of the heart’.

·         I believe creating should be done regardless of return.

When I use ‘self-taught’, I merely mean that I have a mad driving ferocity curiosity to figure it out, whatever it is (How the hell does one draw a skull, a tree, a gun, a woman, a child? How does one write a novel? A poem? A story?). I have a joyous yearning to do, so I go forth and seek the ways/means to DO IT. I do not mean that I decry formal teaching or that I am not a learner. On the contrary - I humble myself and sit at the foot of others and learn from them (There is no room for hubris in the folkie – the goal is the innocent faith child). I believe humility is the greatest characteristic of the creator, or a person in general - one who has perspective about one's self, a sense of humor and even disregard for one's self and what they are creating. I actively seek to learn. This learning is a voracious nagging curiosity that will not be sated until it is.  I was never formally schooled in art (I guess I did have a drawing class once when I was 14), but learned to draw from comic books, reference books, anatomy/medical books (As with Basquiat, Grey’s Anatomy was a great help), book illustrations, historical art books and Biblical paintings. As a seeking manic must man, the library was my mother. Being from a small town, museums and art galleries were not an option.  I went to my first art museum with Jenny Anne when I was 25, I saw a Van Gogh and cried…and promptly went home and began wildly trying to Impressionism.

My huge artistic breakout was when I was in Jr High, and Jim Lee began drawing the Punisher: War Journal series for Marvel comics - I was taken with his crisp clean style and copied panel after panel, pose after pose. Also, Kyle Baker’s Dick Tracy trilogy (1990?) blew me away, and you can still see his influence in my lined, contorted cartoon faces. My friends at this time, Brian Siemon and Kevin Morgan, were also creative boys that were better than me and a huge inspiration/encouragement – I stole everything they knew. We all created comic books together (they sucked, of course), my brother Nate (now a graphic designer) would sometimes do the lettering on my ‘covers’ because I didn’t have the time or the patience or skill for this nonsense (still don’t).

Kevin went on to high school, where he took all the art classes he could get his hands on. I was schooled at home during this period, but Kev taught me everything he knew about painting when I was 21 or so, and changed my life.  

Over the years, my art waxed and waned, and though I never quit it, it eventually took a back seat to my first love of writing as my major outlet of personal expression. 

 Earlier this year I got back into experimenting with painting after a long hiatus. The urge was undeniable and uncontrollable, as all my creative urges are (This is the manic creative Spirit of my boyhood hero, my Grandpa JE Jones, singer/songwriter/poet. Just as grandpa had thousands of songs and poems, I have a grip of novels, thousands of short stories, millions of verses scads of art). I was sitting in Church doodling when I had the wild idea to paint a portrait of Jenny Anne and myself. I wanted to convey our artistic partnership and our love in a creative way, as I had never been able to do before. I quickly/badly penned this idea in my tiny memo book, and it was on like Donkey Kong in Mario Cart slipping on a banana peel (N64, of course). I went home and attempted to sketch it a few more times before tossing it aside as a wild hair.

But it wouldn’t go away. I continued to draw, pen n ink and even paint, as well as write some short stories, all the while this idea at the back of my brain and tip of my tongue. I eventually ordered a huge roll of canvas half ass playing chicken with God, following my feet and the wild meanderings of the heart. I took the kids to the library, looked at folk art books, inspired by John Kane and James Castle. But the blank scroll of Moses sat in the basement for months, collecting dust.

And yet, The Trickster wouldn’t leave me alone – I could hear him cawing around the corner just as I have my entire life -

“Caw,” he says. “Come on man,” he says. “Caw. You know you wanna. Caw, Caleb, caw. Caw, man. Caw caw caw caw caw caw caw cawkity goddamn caw - ”

So I followed my feet some more, and began making paintings on plywood in the garage, winter snap still in the air, the baby June Dixie following me in my wild arcs, chatting with me, keeping me steady on the earth. I did these experiments on plywood, in gigantic scale, because, you know, it couldn’t be normal size. That wouldn’t be right… that wouldn’t be epic enough for what I wanted to say. No. It had to be HUGE. Such is the audacity of the folk artist, with little regard for shame.

After these initial experiments, I began in earnest, sketching poses, making Jenny Anne pose for me, making our oldest Violet take pictures of the pose. I painted a portrait of Kev on cardboard in cheap acrylics as a warm up.

I knew I was onto something.

Then in a manic fit one night while at home (August 28th, 2017, to be exact), I toted the giant roll of canvas from its haunt in the basement into the garage, threw it on top of a busted train table headed for the Goodwill and cut a huge swath of it, took down the punching bag, humped two pieces of plywood together end on end reaching to the heavens, to the garage trusses, tacked the canvas on the plywood and began sketching, messing, sketching drawing laying out measuring, running back and forth to the house and garage for supplies, no not that, that doesn’t work, yes, this charcoal, not the pencil, no sumi ink, ye are not the answer, house paint why are you not working, Jenny Anne looking up from her homeschool prep every now and again to smile at me and purposefully not ask what I was doing.

Since I am self-taught, each time I set out to do a work such as this, I have to re-learn what I have taught myself – not unlike breaking my bones and resetting them with each new project, so each time I nail what I am attempting, especially with little pain, I surprise myself. And it goads me on.

When I laid out the initial sketches on canvas, I knew I had what I wanted, so I began with house paint and learned that the house paint I had was too runny on the canvas, so I began using cheap acrylics I had on hand and some older, higher quality Liquitex colors I had, a few still left from midnight painting sessions with Kev some 20 years ago.

Thus began 2 weeks of mad ferocity in the garage, every spare minute after work and on lunch breaks, I listening to music (War on Drugs, Queens of the Stone Age( the kid’s favorite - their new album Villains is GREAT) The Doors, Hank Williams, Lee Bozeman)  and painting with frequent visits and hours spent with the kids and Jenny Anne, the younger two, Waylon & June Dixie, spending the most time with me through the process, playing and chatting with me while I stood on a wooden blue Ikea stepstool I stole from the kitchen or knelt on the dirty concrete floor. I used an old card table as my rickety disheveled work station, scattered with paint tubes, art books, Van Gogh Matisse Dali, books on actually HOW to paint, my sketchbooks, sketches, pencils brushes cups water empty cans, a thin film of sawdust from the nearby chop saw work table covering everything. It was a mess of a process and lack of routine, dipping paint straight from their bottles or on a palette of cardboard and even a seashell from the Oregon Coast I managed to rustle up in a particular frenzy. It was a mad dance of actually dancing, dodging the kid’s bikes, running to Ace Hardware to mix pistachio paint samples (Valspar, baby) and eventually to Spokane Art Supply to purchase decent paints (You cant have a great American portrait with the American Songstress done with Wal Mart Acrylics), scrambling, swearing, squinting shouting, some drinking, of coffee and of gin and of beer and sparkling water, some cigar smoking, some sitting, some thinking, all under watchful eye of children and cats and loving support of Jae or I alone by myself at night listening to the sounds of the neighborhood around me from my garage lair.

It was nuts.

 And lots of actual work. If there is one thing I learned from my mom and dad and family in general, it’s to put your head down and WORK. I apply this blue collar ethic to all my creative endeavors. Bust it like a mule, man, go go go throw your back into it.

 But most of all, the whole thing was just fun as hell. To tackle and be tackled by a daunting project beyond the self. To quit, cussing and ranting, and come back the next day with new perspective. To learn new things, new shadows, new techniques. To have Tennessee, age 9, come to the garage and gaze upon the painting and say "Good job, dad." To have Violet on a Razor scooter provide feedback when I had lost perspective. 

Through the entire process of folking the trickster on this portrait, my wife and creative partner, mother of our beautiful children and musician extraordinaire, never once discouraged my madness, nay, but even encouraged it by standing with me late at night, being my second set of eyes (especially on her eyes, which gave me fits over the entire process) as Ray Bradbury’s wife, and for this I would like to thank her.  I can say without equivocation that my wife has never once, in all our relationship, ever discouraged my folk creativity (she has gently asked me not to use paints on the dining room table anymore - there has to be a line somewhere, I get it, I get it). Over the years, she has actually encouraged and driven my fervor. This is, I believe, the height of creativity – partaking in it with a lover, friend, partner, muse, who encourages and comes alongside of you, and this is why we jokingly refer to ourselves as ‘The Mannan Creative Co-Op’. I believe this is the highest form of cosmic fulfillment, love and peace upon the earth, and I am blessed with it.

The pose of this portrait is a direct reflection of that, Jenny Anne’s left hand, her sinistral/strong hand (she’s a southpaw) on my right shoulder, I being dextral. I once read Nietzsche’s philosophy of the sinistral and the dextral working together to create great things, and I have explored this theme in writing throughout the years.

Anyhoo, folk diatribe ended, I have written up a symbolic detail for this painting, I hope you are able to read it without rolling your eyes. I have written before that I am ‘symbolic to a fault’ in my writing, and in my art its even worse, because symbols are actually symbols, in that they are expressive pictographs instead of simile word symbols. OK I’ll stop now.

I love you all, we are all one tribe, may you create great works with those you love today, now, and forever and ever, amen.

                        Caleb

 

The American Folk Artist & The American Songstress, Detail:

 

The Artist: I am seated in our yellow chair from our living room, which I have folk painted before. I am seated to reflect my ‘pagan Christianity’, my ‘marching to my own drum’, as my momma is won’t to say about me. It is a pose of non-rebellious ownthink, individuality . It also signifies humility in regards to my relationship with Jenny Anne, especially in the arts. I am deferring to her as more than my equal in all regards.

 The pose is supposed to be masculine, relaxed, humble.

I am wearing my ‘uniform’ of Levi’s and a white v neck t-shirt. My face is blue, I’m not sure why – I was Matissing, Van Goghing here. I like to layer layer layer on faces, each layer being something new until you have something that you know is right.

My tattoos: The tattoos I have on my skin are always symbolic. I didn’t put the kids in this picture because their names are tattooed my left arm, in the painting just as in real life. Also, I am terrible at painting children.

My feet are on art tools, and on my book Bust It Like A Mule, a wink and a nudge to my ‘folk artist’ self-designation, in that I have ‘broken’ both art and writing. Ha!

My bare feet: I, a Van’s slipon fan and boots in general fan, am barefoot - this represents vulnerability, in my relationship to Jae, but also, to the world, releasing my art for all to see.

Beneath the yellow chair is a clutter:

Tanqueray bottle: I just loooove gins n tonics, I love gin, especially Tanqueray. I have written several songs about gin, one of them says ‘There aint no gin in the kitchen, there aint no gin under my chair, there aint no gin in this whole house, I been up n down everywhere’. Hence the empty gin jug under my chair.

Miller High Life can: Our family all American cheap beer of choice. It’s the champagne of beers, y'all! Product placement a wink to Warhol.

American $%@#&: American Slang is an outrageous long rambling poem/song I wrote under my poetic alter ego Woody Whitman about America, dealing with art, race, religion, war, among other things (Think Ezra Pound and Walt Whitman have a son named Hanna Barbera).

Oregon grape cluster: I was born in Portland Oregon, raised in the Willamette Valley until I was 8 years old. This is where my mom and dad are from, and we still have family in this area. They could have kept Portland weird by keeping me there.

The American Songstress: My wife and creative partner Jenny Anne Mannan represents the Saint, my Saint/Valkyrie, her strong hand (Southpaw), on my strong arm, my right, in accordance with the aforementioned philosophy of the right and left working together to create great works of art. She is standing upright to represent her strength, her resilience, her Joan of Arc quality that I find so admirable. Here she also represents the strength of Women, especially as creators, artists, musicians, outside the need of legitimacy from men in these practices.

The pose in general, as I have spoken about already, speaks to the bond of marriage, creative cooperation, a coming together as one, equal individual children under the sight of God.

Jae’s hair is braided to represent the Valkyrie, as I call her my Valkyrie, in essence, my creative muse (This is also represented in real life and in the painting by the Rackham Valkyrie tattoo on my upper left arm). I believe Heaven is Vahallaish, with drinking, fighting and loving, a swarthy Walt Whitman Elysium, therefore, being raised up by a Valkyrie is just a goddamned good thing. She often braids her hair like this and I find it very fetching (When we were first married, I had very long hair, and she used to braid a small strand for me. Now she just cuts my hair).

She is wearing an actual dress of hers and the black booties she loves so much.

Stuff by Jenny Anne’s feet:

The Bible: We were both raised in religion, though we have come to our own understanding of the Gospel together that forms our family nucleus. Jenny Anne is an amateur theologian, from Lewis to Capon to Forde to Luther, she loves it all.

The fiddle: Jenny Anne is an amazing musician and songwriter (Hence the ‘American Songstress’). She is a fiddle champ from back when she was a little girl.

The Kingfisher: Jenny Anne is holding the Kingfisher, which represents The Holy Spirit, the Now, BEING, Making Peace With The Earth. I've written about this extensively, especially in Bust It Like Mule. Kingfisher County is a County in Oklahoma, a County near where my grandpa JE Jones was raised before his family migrated west during the Dust Bowl. The protagonist in Bust it is Cotton Kingfisher from Oklahoma, who settles in Glacier Park in Montana. Last year, when we visited Glacier Park, we saw a Kingfisher floating on Lake McDonald. I saw this as a sign.

The mountains: Mountains, where we were raised, our home, and Elysian longing. The Selkirks.

The Dove: Representing redemption, grace, forgiveness, love, peace and hope. It is carrying a Ponderosa pine bough for (Inland) Washington State.

Pink Sun: Truly the most ‘snapshot’ symbol in the piece (other than my watch, showing approximately 3:30.39ish, when I was painting it) – the wildfires from Montana, Oregon and Washington were raging as I painted this, causing a shroud of smoke to settle on Spokane for a week, making the sun an apocalyptic pink blot.

The crow: My spirit animal, also representing my creative Trickster (‘Some people have a muse - I’ve got a Trickster’).

Wheat and wildflowers: This represents my idea of the afterlife, heaven, Elysium, Valhalla. Directly tied to Stevens County, Washington, where we were both raised – these are actual wildflowers from the area (I believe yarrow and…?).

The river: Jae was raised in Northport, WA, on a piece of land that went down to the Columbia River. I have written that she is ‘a little girl on the big river’. She loves water, and rivers, especially the Columbia and the Clark Fork in Montana.  The river also represents the rivers in Eden, and in a mythical sense, the Eridanus (Eridanos), where Phaeton’s flaming body was doused when he fell/was struck from the sky.

Red and white stripes: Merica, y’all!!

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Glacier Park Dispatches

 
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Sept 1 –

In Glacier National Park As a wildfire currently burns. Can't help but think of Bust It Like A Mule, and its hero Cotton Kingfisher, who fought the blaze that threatened Stumptown...yesterday we heard Sperry Chalet burned down, despite their best efforts. Wildfires break my heart, whether man caused or act of God, and to see it in The Land Where The World Began, The BackBone of The World, one of the most beautiful places on earth, is disheartening.

  Going to the Sun Road is still open, we can see smoke rolling over jagged gapes scraping the sky. Visibility was ok at Logan Pass, but down into St Mary, the mountains, spitting distance across the lake, are just ragged dark thoughts through the smoke pall. At Logan Pass, I asked a Ranger how the visibility was down at St Mary, he pointed the direction of the lake, where a gray curtain hung. “Well, St Mary is that way,’ he said in way of an explanation. I am sure he is tired of people asking about the fire, but I found his seeming indifference offputting (My irritation with him could have been due in part to the fact that someone stole my spot in the overcrowded Pass parking lot). Near our campground at the foot of the Flathead Range, by West Glacier is a firefighter helibase, the helicopter thrum is everpresent, gunships in Nam echoing through the mountain ranges, strange iron birds dangling orange morning stars from their bellies full of fire retardant. We have prayed to Old Man for the fire to die.

"Well, St Mary is that way".

"Well, St Mary is that way".

Sept 2nd, Saturday-

 Smoke was thick in the morning, awoke to the sound of more choppers coming and going to and from the mouth of hell. Went down into Apgar Village -. I was surprised/dismayed to see a roll of a white billowing over Mt Stanton (?) slow but sure, at the Northern end of Lake McDonald, and I feared for McDonald Lodge, which we know has closed up, workers packing up and getting out just the day before. By my guesstimations, the Sperry area is northwest of here, and to see the smoke directly north our position was alarming. Rented a faded red dented dinged motorboat called 'Gunsight'(after the mountain, I suppose) and zoomed on the East bank at a good clip, 6 year old Waylon terrified the whole time, clinging on in the boat for dear life. Made it about half way across the lake, from here we could see the progress of the smoke, if not fire, and it was enough to inhale. The haze had thickened to blur the mountains and their secrets. With a sense of dread, we turned back, against the wind and a good chop on the surface buck shunting us about. Violet and Tennessee, our eldest 2, dipped their hands in our wake, June Dixie and Jenny Anne in the bow of the boat guiding us like beautiful mermaid mastheads.

Made it to the West bank, Howe Ridge, the remnants of once fires (the big burn and again in the 20's) making that stretch look like a ghost planet, rising bleached widowmaker snags and green scrub (where there is death there is life, where there was fire there will be greenery), scrawny pine.

 Made it back to Apgar all in one piece, June, the baby at 4, seemed the most delighted and impressed with the whole experience. Back in the village, it was strange to see the tourist hustle and bustle all in the shadow of the fire. We ate ice cream at Eddie's restaurant/mercantile under a black and white photo of a traditional Blackfeet burial, skulls and body in a tree. They say if the wind changes they could evacuate the Lake McDonald area all together. O Sacred Dancing Waters, jump up and flood the bygod fire devil off his horse.

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Sept 3, headed home:

Left Glacier area about 11am, we heard news of an impending evacuation, and the haze near our camp was worse than before, the sun an apocalyptic pink blot. We had thought about staying an extra day, but there was no point. Said goodbye to the park, a white shroud above it like God leading the Israelites bleeding into the valleys and the gullet of the Middle Fork and Flathead. We have heard an evacuation is impending (by the time we got home, West Going to The Sun Road was closed).

Went into Whitefish to tour spots where Cotton Kingfisher once strolled (working on a Bust It Like A Mule photo tour for the blog), the haze was thick but the town was busy. Taking the 93 South along Flathead Lake the smoke is so bad that I turn the headlights on. This obscuration continues along the 28 through bone dry blond Flathead Rez, and only begins to clear along the Clark Fork, nearer to St Regis.

Hit the Interstate (always a begrudging acceptance) and stopped in historic Wallace Idaho for a bite - couldn't help but notice the antique wall mural in the Smoke House restaurant of a tranquil mountain range nature scene, bears and long horn sheep and deer in ranges devoid of smoke.  

Finally made it home to Spokane, far less smoke, but a wisp still evident.  Unhooked the trailer while the kids played wildly, Jenny Anne read a story to June (A Hole is to Dig) and finally they all bedded down, exhausted from the adventures and happy to be in their own beds. I can’t help but wonder if this fire will be of a magnitude that they pass its memory on to their children and grandchildren, just as my grandpa did to me as we drove through the bones of the Tillamook Burn to the Oregon coast.

Saw that I had been contacted by local news channel to call in about the fire, but it was too late. It was then that I realized I should be a war correspondent, trying to fit poetry into tragedy.

As of now, the Park is still on fire.

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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 $%@#&

 
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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

 
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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.

 

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American Psalm

 
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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.

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Road Trip

 
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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

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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

 
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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

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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

 
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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

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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

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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.