Monday, May 7, 2012

Stegner's Last Towhee

Somewhere past 
La Panza
roadrunner runs across the

and freezes 
with wings half-outstretched 
(a gesture shared with the
mockingbirds outside my window,
flushing up bugs across the
street and waging endless running battles
with the noisy robins
a perpetual avian gang war 
raging in 
this new old Nashville neighborhood)
perhaps to stun some torpid reptile
into fatal ectothermic hesitation,
or maybe as a futile bluff against the car,
this dead machine so brutally indifferent to
the subtle body languages of animals,
no way to tell
the great ground cuckoo
 (whose >< -shaped
zygodactyl footprints 
point forward and backward likea pair of antithetical logical operatorslocked in mutual nullification ormaybe reflected angles diverging toward infinite horizons 
past and future)
is already disappearing in the 
rearview as I silently name each bird
we pass as we wind down the 
entirety of
highway 58
red-tail, turkey condor, scrub jay, towhee, red-tail, quail
from my natal grounds about
the foggy upper reaches of the 

and out across the sodic wastes 

and proto-solar scars of the 
red-tail, kestrel, meadowlark

and over the gentle
earthly undulations of the 
San Andreas 
magpie, meadowlark, goldfinch, red-tail

and down the surprisingly 
short sharp scarp of the 
scrub jay, acorn woodpecker, crow, red-tail

and into the mostly motionless 
pumpjack forests 
of the McKittrick oil patch
starling, blackbird, rock doves

and out onto the not quite
completely-drained marshes
along the southern shore of
old gone 
Tulare Lake
littered with cotton and plastic

and great piles of Russian thistle 
stacked against the barbed-wire
egrets, harrier, gulls, starlings, blackbirds
through gritty 
fast food and cheap fuel

and up, way up,
past the great cursive loop
that carries trains over the
where my good old gone dog 
Moose first puppy-frollicked 
in the snow

and Clyde now
in the back is 
nervous going 
up and over 
for the first time ever
(here where Laura Cunningham 
says imperial woodpeckers and thick-billed parrots
once, maybe, flew!)
and past the giant cement factory of 
turkey condors, ravens, kestrel, red-tail

and down, down, down
between the giant white 
turbines slicing deadly huge
scythe-arcs through the sky

and the weird experimental
egg-beatery ones that must
have been a failure since
I never see them in any
other windfarm

and into clear 

and, even on this January day,
somehow blistering
past the glittering jet junkyard 
where the great
old yuccas have
replaced the oaks and pines

and junipers of the morning,
grackles on the move 
reserves for the vanguard 
wave pushing north toward 
Oregon already,

and then past
where great sweating teams eighteen mules

and two horses
dragged minerals out of the deserts 

and into the factories and wash basins
of the world 

and now I have either forgotten my game
or the birds are hiding 
in the hard, bright shadows
of the late afternoon desert in winter

and now a bathroom break
in Barstow 

and then onto the flat
black ribbon of interstate 
that will carry us to Arizona
with a choking radiator
into snowy Flagstaff,
Gallup, Alburquerque,
Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas,
Missouri, Illinois, Indiana,

and finally
down into Tennessee
right into this house

and this chair. 

But sitting here I still think about
that fat, spice-colored bird
–the one who once walked in through the open 
kitchen door, picking up errant quinoa 
from the floor, 

and I looked up from this computer,
2000 miles away,

and I said, "hey! what are YOU doing in here?" 
–way back in California.

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