The Complete Jim-Bob, Shepherd-Man

In This Monody the Author Bewails a Learned Friend, Unfortunately Left for Dead in Distant Lands, 2014. And by Occasion Reveals the Ruin of a Defunct Tradition, Long Fallen from Grace.

I.

Yet once more, yet
Down, crawling down on arid plains,
Parched plains where I search, I…
Search for my flock.

I cannot find my flock.
I cannot find my flock. I

In mountains while they drown
With thirst, while they search for
Deep pools I knew of once. Long ago.

Who would not feed my flock? I
Cannot find
My flock. I

Alone on ridges, moored to a mad man who
Scratches ruts in ridges down there, down
There I hear him, yes humming? Yes? Humming such
Sweet songs down
Below.

Should we stop and listen? They
Are such sweet songs. They should not
Float by, unheard
In these dry mountains, in these parched
Desert lands. I

Will listen.
I will write.

II.
Arise then, you sister siblings, you spawn
Of nine nights of lust and leavings. Arise!

But… where have you gone? I have
Forgotten your mother’s name. I think
Though that she would not be pleased
By this, by this mess of broken harps,
With strings frayed, and by those
Unbound books smoldering so close
To propane fires – yes so close – and
Fed by pens and pages
Ripped from dictionaries. Yes,

I see “Myth” withering in the flames, like a fist
Forming over stolen rubies. And cigarettes still,
Still smoking by glasses with lip stains. Doors
Slamming shut down dark corridors
We dare not take. Foot-steps. Moonlight echoes
Falling across fountain-splashed,
Cold courtyards. Even

The woods whisper of our loss. See
How they hunch together in close conclaves
Of rattling leaves. Also

Our sheep seem so bored
By us, casting back dull,
Hollow eyes – laughing even
In dank desert caves.

They never come when I call,
Howling on my horn.

The apples are: apathetic.

I trudge through grasses that,
Yawningly, sway
Away.

III.

So where were ye guides? Teachers? Shepherds
Of us shepherds? I searched. I searched and saw:

Dead pens, bleeding ink. Busts of bards
With hoary heads: missing. Gone. Taken by
Untamed, wild women who float broken
Hands down stagnant streams, where the drowned
Poet still sings to say:
“Lines fall down here. Bobbing in streams
Without source. Yes, I harshly sing. My
Dry, wasted voice. Please… just please
Sift my limbs from the muddy river. We
Must face the thankless muse, intact. We

See things align. And bent books bend
Back. Yes, washing our tired eyes we see:
The cold casket come.”

IV.

They say the unshorn sheep
Drug off the corpse, and mourn
It now in mountain caves. But,
Still they come, these sad shepherd men, groping
Among the weeds groping, scratching
On this brittle, battered box. Look…

Whitman’s dry walking stick snaps. He
Tumbles down, devouring dust, and
Cries:
“My boots! My boots! I’ve lost
My boots along the way. Down
In the dust, barren of boots.”

Melville, there, watch as he walks
Anxiously pacing, pawing
His sweaty palms together.
Knocking off black hats he does. Wailing
For water in our dry, wasted land.

Eliot, too, fishes from a fir stump. His line
Broken, gnawed through by rats creeping
Through the slimy vegetation.
“Twit twit,” he mumbles. “Jug Jug,”
He cries. Echoes these

That touch an aged Odysseus. Bent man. Hunched
Over man twisting and turning round and
Round the casket carriage, tapping
As he goes –
Ta-tap, on each wagon wheel. Ta-tap. Tap.

Then… comes Milton. Look. He stumbles, blinded,
Frayed fabric lashed to his eyes. While
One hand hangs down, dangling, dropping
Ivy seared and brown.
“Blind mouths,” he mutters. “Dull,
Blind mouths.”

V.

Surely, though, these mourners must not
Be blamed. They plod – along – searching
As we all – search – see
How they look up,
But are not fed. No,
The nostalgic nightingale falls

From the tree. Its lament
We cannot hear
Its lament.
Crying, “Jug Jug”
To our waxed over ears.

VI.

“Is that a capsule we pull up
From the earth?”
That’s time’s grave
That is. “Find then a hammer then.”
No.
We’ll smash it with our hands. “Move
Aside. Move Aside. One, two,
Three…”
“Jug, Jug.” On
The ground, trampled. “Jug.” The

Books we take
Down from the
Shelves. The compass
Wanders round
And round
The map that
Describes
Pastures we
Cannot find.

The clocks are covered,
In canvas.

Round we go. Round
The prickly pear at 5 o’clock in…

“Jug.”

(… Madness. Was that madness,
Just then? I heard:
A dread voice. But it has past,
Shrinking back into
Stagnant streams that do not flow.
We should proceed then,
Plodding our way through…)

VII.

The cedar saplings strewn with broken
Bits of straw. While tall, sparkling amaryllis
Rises above the rest of syringa
Trees, mute in fir forests draped in
Aphroditic rosemary – “that’s for remembrance” –
While white periwinkle fastens itself to

The ground. But, these flowers grow beyond
Our reach. We must not crawl content through
Cedar saplings, frail and withered, while green
Spotted rhododendron poisons our water-bound
Lilies of the swamp we slog through,
Burdened by the coffin we carry, plucking as

We go: Hyacinths. We love:
Hyacinths. “They called me
The hyacinth girl.” Rising up red
From the dead,
Parched brown land.

VIII.

So weep on, woeful shepherds, weep on.
We slouch towards the water-side, gazing
Up at the cliff-side, where, efficiently
Done, crisp figures on jagged peaks hurl over
Our rich, time-worn tomes. While we bleat.
Wailing when they smash and crash
Into the waves, sinking

Down, deep, beyond our reach they
Go. They go. Never to rise again. So,
We wait, aimlessly. Waiting on
Our lone shore.

Wiping tears from pale eyes.

IX.

Thus sang the uncouth swain to his purblind
Flock, to those who hear his wail, but
Bend not to his words. Just

Gorging. Gorging
Gaily they go, picking at weeds, roving
Aimlessly over hills. Of

Pasture lands pale.
Wasted. Sinking
Into the western bay. Away

Then, I’ll go up to fresh woods with
Deeply rooted trees. Where the song
Sings. Where the fresh pasture acres
Wave with fresh grasses that sing
In soft breezes… and that I, lone man
Wandering away,
Long to hear.

Jim-Bob, Shepherd-Man, Part III

The final part of my pastoral elegy. Thanks for following along.

VI.

“Is that a capsule we pull up
From the earth?”
That’s time’s grave
That is. “Find then a hammer then.”
No.
We’ll smash it with our hands. “Move
Aside. Move Aside. One, two,
Three…”
“Jug, Jug.” On
The ground, trampled. “Jug.” The

Books we take
Down from the
Shelves. The compass
Wanders round
And round
The map that
Describes
Pastures we
Cannot find.

The clocks are covered,
In canvas.

Round we go. Round
The prickly pear at 5 o’clock in…

“Jug.”

(… Madness. Was that madness,
Just then? I heard:
A dread voice. But it has past,
Shrinking back into
Stagnant streams that do not flow.
We should proceed then,
Plodding our way through…)

VII.

The cedar saplings strewn with broken
Bits of straw. While tall, sparkling amaryllis
Rises above the rest of syringa
Trees, mute in fir forests draped in
Aphroditic rosemary – “that’s for remembrance” –
While white periwinkle fastens itself to

The ground. But, these flowers grow beyond
Our reach. We must not crawl content through
Cedar saplings, frail and withered, while green
Spotted rhododendron poisons our water-bound
Lilies of the swamp we slog through,
Burdened by the coffin we carry, plucking as

We go: Hyacinths. We love:
Hyacinths. “They called me
The hyacinth girl.” Rising up red
From the dead,
Parched brown land.

VIII.

So weep on, woeful shepherds, weep on.
We slouch towards the water-side, gazing
Up at the cliff-side, where, efficiently
Done, crisp figures on jagged peaks hurl over
Our rich, time-worn tomes. While we bleat.
Wailing when they smash and crash
Into the waves, sinking

Down, deep, beyond our reach they
Go. They go. Never to rise again. So,
We wait, aimlessly. Waiting on
Our lone shore.

Wiping tears from pale eyes.

IX.

Thus sang the uncouth swain to his purblind
Flock, to those who hear his wail, but
Bend not to his words. Just

Gorging. Gorging
Gaily they go, picking at weeds, roving
Aimlessly over hills. Of

Pasture lands pale.
Wasted. Sinking
Into the western bay. Away

Then, I’ll go up to fresh woods with
Deeply rooted trees. Where the song
Sings. Where the fresh pasture acres
Wave with fresh grasses that sing
In soft breezes… and that I, lone man
Wandering away,
Long to hear.

Posted as part of Poets United Poetry Pantry

Jim-Bob, Sherpherd-Man, Part II

The second installment of my pastoral elegy follows…

III.

So where were ye guides? Teachers? Shepherds
Of us shepherds? I searched. I searched and saw:

Dead pens, bleeding ink. Busts of bards
With hoary heads: missing. Gone. Taken by
Untamed, wild women who float broken
Hands down stagnant streams, where the drowned
Poet still sings to say:
“Lines fall down here. Bobbing in streams
Without source. Yes, I harshly sing. My
Dry, wasted voice. Please… just please
Sift my limbs from the muddy river. We
Must face the thankless muse, intact. We

See things align. And bent books bend
Back. Yes, washing our tired eyes we see:
The cold casket come.”

IV.

They say the unshorn sheep
Drug off the corpse, and mourn
It now in mountain caves. But,
Still they come, these sad shepherd men, groping
Among the weeds groping, scratching
On this brittle, battered box. Look…

Whitman’s dry walking stick snaps. He
Tumbles down, devouring dust, and
Cries:
“My boots! My boots! I’ve lost
My boots along the way. Down
In the dust, barren of boots.”

Melville, there, watch as he walks
Anxiously pacing, pawing
His sweaty palms together.
Knocking off black hats he does. Wailing
For water in our dry, wasted land.

Eliot, too, fishes from a fir stump. His line
Broken, gnawed through by rats creeping
Through the slimy vegetation.
“Twit twit,” he mumbles. “Jug Jug,”
He cries. Echoes these

That touch an aged Odysseus. Bent man. Hunched
Over man twisting and turning round and
Round the casket carriage, tapping
As he goes –
Ta-tap, on each wagon wheel. Ta-tap. Tap.

Then… comes Milton. Look. He stumbles, blinded,
Frayed fabric lashed to his eyes. While
One hand hangs down, dangling, dropping
Ivy seared and brown.
“Blind mouths,” he mutters. “Dull,
Blind mouths.”

V.

Surely, though, these mourners must not
Be blamed. They plod – along – searching
As we all – search – see
How they look up,
But are not fed. No,
The nostalgic nightingale falls

From the tree. Its lament
We cannot hear
Its lament.
Crying, “Jug Jug”
To our waxed over ears.

Posted as part of Poets United Sunday Poetry Pantry

And, stay tuned for the final installment next Sunday

Thailand, 2010

Walking alone on days
When the sea is turquoise,
And emits some ethereal glow
That whispers subdued songs
To old men that pass,
Tapping sticks down broken streets.

Tra-la… la…

And moving down streets
In quiet, drenching rain,
While water taps down
From distant jungle leaves.

La… la…

What roots clutch
To earth I’ll never see?

… la…

Jim-Bob, Shepherd-Man, Part I

Over the next 3 weeks or so, I’ll be posting “installments” of a long poem – a pastoral elegy I’ve modeled on John Milton’s, “Lycidas.” Part I follows…

Jim-Bob, Shepherd-Man

In This Monody the Author Bewails a Learned Friend, Unfortunately Left for Dead in Distant Lands, 2014. And by Occasion Reveals the Ruin of a Defunct Tradition, Long Fallen from Grace.

I.

Yet once more, yet
Down, crawling down on arid plains,
Parched plains where I search, I…
Search for my flock.

I cannot find my flock.
I cannot find my flock. I

In mountains while they drown
With thirst, while they search for
Deep pools I knew of once. Long ago.

Who would not feed my flock? I
Cannot find
My flock. I

Alone on ridges, moored to a mad man who
Scratches ruts in ridges down there, down
There I hear him, yes humming? Yes? Humming such
Sweet songs down
Below.

Should we stop and listen? They
Are such sweet songs. They should not
Float by, unheard
In these dry mountains, in these parched
Desert lands. I

Will listen.
I will write.

II.
Arise then, you sister siblings, you spawn
Of nine nights of lust and leavings. Arise!

But… where have you gone? I have
Forgotten your mother’s name. I think
Though that she would not be pleased
By this, by this mess of broken harps,
With strings frayed, and by those
Unbound books smoldering so close
To propane fires – yes so close – and
Fed by pens and pages
Ripped from dictionaries. Yes,

I see “Myth” withering in the flames, like a fist
Forming over stolen rubies. And cigarettes still,
Still smoking by glasses with lip stains. Doors
Slamming shut down dark corridors
We dare not take. Foot-steps. Moonlight echoes
Falling across fountain-splashed,
Cold courtyards. Even

The woods whisper of our loss. See
How they hunch together in close conclaves
Of rattling leaves. Also

Our sheep seem so bored
By us, casting back dull,
Hollow eyes – laughing even
In dank desert caves.

They never come when I call,
Howling on my horn.

The apples are: apathetic.

I trudge through grasses that,
Yawningly, sway
Away.

… More next week…

Posted as part of Poets United weekly Poetry Pantry.

Remnants from the Past in Wyoming

As I think back on the places I’ve been, one recurring theme jumps out that helps to answer that most important question… why travel? Such an all-important theme, for me at least, is the human connection through and across time. Being where other people have been, and somehow reaching back and understanding what made these people tick.

Such connection comes in many forms. I’ve seen it in those great, mysterious cave paintings where ancient hands grace the walls. I’ve seen it in steps worn down by countless feet. And in church walls blackened by candles burned over hundreds of years. These are the travel moments that I most enjoy, and that undoubtedly stick with me the most. The moments I’ll always remember, when all is said and done.

Driving through Wyoming I came across these little mementos of the lost past and of lost, almost forgotten people in the form of wagon wheel ruts, and names patiently cut into sandstone cliffs. The ruts come from wagons plodding along the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s, and that literally wore away the soft sandstone. You can see where the wagons passed – and, by extension, you know that people were here. They went this way. They left something behind, literally in the rock.

Oregon Trail Ruts

Memento from the Past

These remnants of the past come the most to life at the Register Cliffs nearby, right outside the town of Guernsey. The ruts give way to actual human markings in the stone. People stopped here and signed their names, digging into the sandstone with the date and sometimes where they came from. I love this. You have a direct connection to these distant people. You read their names, and can’t help wondering what happened to them. Did they survive the trail? Where were they going? Preserved in the stone we have them.

I also love how telling this is across time. How we need to do this, to make a point of declaring that yes, I was alive, I did this, I was here. It’s such a universal, human need. Anyway, isn’t this travel narrative the exact same thing?

The Register Cliff

Name from the Past

Who is This?

Devils Tower and Around

One main thing that I love about traveling is doing the un-planned. Or I guess a better way of explaining it is looking at a map and seeing that you’re actually pretty close to a place you’ve always wanted to go… and then actually going. Today was that type of a day.

I rolled out of bed bright and early and got on the highway for the hour and a half drive northwest into Wyoming to visit Devils Tower. This is a place I’ve always wanted to go, I think because it’s always seemed like a strange, almost mystical place. And this feeling truly sinks in as you approach it. Devils Tower looms up in the distance, and I swear it’s mainly because of the surrounding countryside. You have this beautiful grassland and a winding river, and then… up comes the odd, jarring shape of Devils Towers, which almost looks like a scar, or deformity on the land. But one thing is for sure, it literally draws you to it, because of its strangeness.

At Devils Tower I also again noticed the diverse people around, people really from all over the world – this actually made the place stranger. I mean think about it. Devils Tower is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and you come here because you want to be here. It’s not a pit-stop along the highway. But then in this remoteness you hear Russian, Mandarin, Italian, Hindi, and many other languages. I guess that’s the power of this place. People come from far and wide.

After walking around the Tower, and watching people slowly climb up its sides, I took a nice, slow drive back into South Dakota down the Belle Fourche Valley, and eventually ended up in Deadwood. En route, it’s striking how much different the Northern Hills are from the Central and Southern. Up North it’s just rougher and tougher-hewn. Down south it seems more genteel for some reason. Anyway, Deadwood I liked, but have mixed feelings about.

I say this because I feel like you can’t really tell what’s real about the town. Or really if anything is real. But what makes it worse is that most people don’t seem to mind, and even prefer the fakeness. I don’t exactly mind this per se, but worry when no one seems to question the information they’re given. It’s like your tour guide says this and that, and even if it’s complete nonsense it’s somehow believed in. Polished history, for a price. The only real highlight of the town, I think, is Mt. Moriah Cemetery, which sits above the town.

Here you have the grave sites of a lot of famous people, like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. It’s also a great place to look out over the town. But mainly it’s quiet and peaceful, and gives you a chance to hike around the grave sites up in the hills. Strenuous at times, but beautiful.

After Deadwood I mainly spent the rest of the day just down the road in Lead, and was spellbound by the Homestake Mine. I mean this place is a giant, massive hole in the ground. But what I find most interesting is that it keeps on winding around beneath the surface for miles and miles. It’s this subterranean city the twists below Lead. I think this is thought-provoking. An entire world beneath our feet.

4 Stanzas for Dominique

1.
Madness,
Dominique it is
Madness – pure, unadulterated
Looking, yes you looking
Out at us viewers, unknown?

2.
Hair, your hair bouncing
In curls, your hair. A touch
Soft of cigarettes between
Lips, pink and pursed together.

3.
Dominique… more… I
Words failing words
Like plates crumbling on floors
That collapse as you walk, float
Across so graceful –
Always so graceful, Dominique.

4.
I, then, hoard away, lock
On rainy days under arms
Looks stored beneath floor boards –
Or, on snowy days, on mountains
Where cars park, waiting, waiting while
Your image, Dominique, is all
Askew, pounding on quiet window
Panes. I look, I do, Dominique,
But…

South Dakota Thoughts

One of the great things about travel is that certain places become microcosms, or little places where everyone seems to come… even if they don’t know why. Mt. Rushmore is definitely one of those places. You see and hear so many different types of people, and it makes me wonder how long their journeys took, and all of the things that happened along the way. There’s already a story before they arrive.

With this idea in mind, I couldn’t help thinking that this is one of the lasting legacies of Mt. Rushmore. Not only is it a microcosm, but this is exactly what the country these people helped create wanted. A place where everyone, from virtually everywhere, can come together.

But, what I never realized before today is also how controversial, and downright insulting, Mt. Rushmore can seem, especially to the Native Americans. I mean think about it, a huge mountain full of white people. Once I understood this, I finally had a new perspective on Crazy Horse Mountain. It makes more sense to me why this mountain is going up – It’s the Native response to Mt. Rushmore. I also really like the fact that the mountain is still being built. In fact, I hope that it’s never finished. It’s better this way.

On a side note, I also enjoyed the Black Hills Institute in Hill City, which has a great dinosaur museum. I loved the fossilized plants the best though – these reminded me of the hand prints in cave paintings. Distant images from the past.

Fragments of a Letter, Found Among the Ruins

Fragments of a Letter, Found
Among the Ruins

Editor’s Preface:
While out on expedition, searching for
Materials for my new book, I came upon these
Fragments in an alcove of a crumbling room tucked
Into the craggy corner of an ancient city, long since
Diminished by time. The text you now see I went
To great pains to re-create. It was faint, blotched, and
Scrawled on the back of a moldy piece of animal
Hide. While by no means an expert, I translated
The foreign tongue myself.

Fragment 5

Alexander, I look back to that day
When I took an arrow, shot
On foreign lands, out beyond those hazy lines
Of our Empire.

Elephants and wild men –
The humming of jungles –
The stomp stomp of barbarians
And beasts – memories, Alexander,
Wet like the Earth wet,
When hit by roaring rains.

Fragment 68

… With screams on Godless nights, razing
People, and towns: Tyre.
The knot at Gordium. Persepolis…
Pounding and pounding the rock steps in
That dry, deserted desert land.

[The next 5 lines are undecipherable]

Wine and fire,
Giggles in royal rooms,
The sweet hiss of flame.

Fragment 1

Alexander, I dealt with death
Alone, sought out solace
Along dank river banks I could not
Pronounce the names of… [these words lost]
White, barren peaks,
Bored Prometheus rattling his chains
On mountains where no clear path
Breaks through. Alexander, your dreams…

Fragment 112

Like violent fits in the night. Us biting
Chunks of wood to ease the pain
Of worlds more beautiful than fires struck
On white Egyptian sands, a journey just begun.

Maps without borders. Empires
Of dust and ice. Sweat
Blooming on brows.

Fragment 3

Alexander, I once whispered stories
To fires that light the night.

[The rest of this fragment worn away]

Published as part of the Poets United Poetry Pantry