Samples from Mountain Wizard

Demeter’s Lament

The snap had turned the landscape tawny
And the looming mountain multi-colored,
The meadow bronze and aspen gold
Were weather signs across its slope -            
Marking sweet summer’s retreat.
The cold wind whipped the powdered dust        
Into scuttling wisps among the trees,
And troubled the amber fescues, tenacious,        
And knocked their dry sticks one on another                
With a tap-tap like bone on bone.

The knotted huddles of Gambel oak
Had resigned to the resistless.         
Their knuckled limbs languished like arthritic hands
Up from the rocky ground.
Their leaves, honey amber,
And the maple’s ruby fire,
Were fragile gems frittered by careless winds. 
The leaden clouds closed the day
Over the eclipsed autumn woods
And I heard Mater Dolorosa
In the cold dusk and windy
Searching for the fruits of her womb - 
All victims of death’s cruel rapine -
Singing Demeter’s lament for what was again lost,
Sifting her heart’s spent ashes.


“And put out the servant who is of no profit into the outer dark: 
there will be weeping and cries of sorrow.”
Gospel of  Matthew

Two ravens traced the pewter sky    
Like etchings scratched above the trees.
Peremptory, unhurried, removed,
Wheeling like so much give a damn against the setting sun.
Big as black of night,
Smug as crabbed unsmiling butlers
Or sour priests, contemptuous of some apostasy,
All black hat and cassock.

Three bats circled the house at dusk,
Crazy erratic and day-blind
Darting and tumbling in the outer dark
Predictably at close of day.
Sprung from somnolent secret dayshade
Silhouettes against the nickel sky
Carving the wind with cutlass wings
Their peeps mere hints in the gloom.

It’s all about death, the macabre, and madness
On their wings here in the woods.
They’re freighted heavily for all that
With storied loathing and dread,
Lurching through the darkling, evermore,
Unshriven, feared, and despised.
Just like those pretty girls in Salem
Whose fatal youth the pinched old ladies envied so.

Sheep Girl

She held the flock, terrified, eyes abulge,
Huddled and frantic, tight as a knot
At the edge of Indian Highway 160
Fronting the big truckers balling that jack,
Throwing fists of rusty gravel
At the bellwether helter-skelter.
Her two Rez dogs nipped the laggards’ heels
So the fold held close on the threshold.

Thin and long and maybe fifteen
Willowy and ivory smooth
Her blue jeans tight on filly hips.
Awhirl, her long black hair,
Her neck all snap and pivot.
As she watched the trucks come hurtling
Then the sheep
Then the trucks come hurtling.

Then through a break in the careening rush
She bolted like a frightened colt
All knees and wild elbows
The Rez dogs springing and wailing
So the fold held close
And made the other side.

And I only just caught it
If caught it aright I did
Out the rear view mirror.
The Navajo sheep girl
All Indian, real Indian
Here on the Big Rez
Crossing 160 and swallowed by the night.
Lost to the cowboy’s July Fourth charade,
Unsullied by fireworks and revival tent Jesus.

Tinker’s Penny

Non, je ne regrette rien.” - Edith Piaf

She was a delicate mountain flower
A trifling unremarkable darling
An inconsequential diminutive.
But she made my juices flow
And in them my head swam.

She was the petaled perfume
Of my one time, forever, spring.
And I loved her well - 
The best I could -
In my rounder’s heyday.

She was a precious copper
In this wanderer’s pocket, dispossessed,
In my gaudy wagon, spent,
On the back roads’ secret waysides    
My hammer on tin.

What was this treasure, once in my hand,
That I tossed unthinking for a pebble
And now is gone, 
Lost all ways,
Beneath concentric rings?

Woodcraft’s Goodly Booke:
A Meditation

I. The Windfalls

On the happenstance of windfall
Toppled by the hand of a stern weather
That I gathered to the wood pile for the work
The saw imposes a straight-edge discipline.
And I sling the broken limbs in a crook
One by one - and all different -
And cut them there to size:
As it is written in Woodcraft’s Goodly Booke.

II. The Splitting

The axe-head has good weight
The balance deft, the handshake true.
And its fearsome force, a sweet vectored arc,
Pulls on me, holding hard.
The rhythm of the hurtling
And the handle in my clasp, roots me,
Like a ship’s rail does
On the tossed quotidian seas.
And finally down to the truth: 
The sudden snapping split
The crack like breaking bones.

III. The Smell of It

It is the smell of it, then,                     
That blossoms pitchy there
Wafting from the sundered halves
Or mauled to shaggy fours or quintered.
Under swift strokes of steel
And the sight of them, their sinews, 
Gaping from the cleaves
That never yet before were seen
And never again will be.

IV. The Stacking

Then to the labor of the loads    
All cut and split and measured
And the diffident architecture
That I there build
Stacked wood on angled wood
Which when it stood,
Festooned between trees
My back knew it was good.

V. The Fire

The genii of these winter woods
Keep stanched outside my wooden walls
The night’s chill howling goblins
Whose ice-teeth gnash my panes.
Their fire, a galloping dazzle,
Paints ruddy my old cracked hands
Their spirits awhirl up the flue
Their mist, silver, on the crystalled sky.

VI. Prometheus

I read my Woodcraft Breviary
And dry my socks, mizzle soaked,
While outside I see, eyes up from the text,
The sawn ends staring back blank at me -
Tidy shelves of sightless eyes
Winking out under brows of snow.
And I know that fire grows on trees
And was stolen from the gods        
Like the water, from heaven to cistern.
And I blush at once for that silly theology
With which I’ll have no truck.

Copyright© 2010, Thomas Phalen, All rights reserved.