The Shifting Ground


The Song of Tamalpais (Feb. 2014)


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#4 Resonance


Resonance is the power that evokes enduring images, memories and feelings.

Though I have for years now walked happily across the rolling coastal hills of Northern California, the shady, mixed community forests of the White and Green Mountains of New England, rock everywhere underfoot, will always be first blush of my enduring love for the wild.  Consider the dusty smell rising off the hot asphalt just before a summer thunder shower, which always made me feel like one of the sturdy oaks behind my parents house in suburban Boston, roughly set to attention by the stiff wind:  'This is something you ought not to miss,' the wind would insist.  'Wake up!  For this is precious and will make you grow broad and deep inside yourself like the river.' (Funny how the wind sounds a lot like Langston Hughes)  These are the gates that pull us beyond our small points of reference, and fold us into the deeper movements of the earth.  It is about place, and it is personal, calibrated to our own sensibilities born of that time and place.  And who am I, and who are you, not to listen?

#3 On Resistance and Commitment

Forging ahead today to keep the momentum of this commitment to write each day for one month, I pull myself away from the internet and its wide, sparkling sea of gems, diversions and straight up time and energy suckers. Habits die hard, we're all familiar with the truth of that.  But lately I have started to see that habits are master shape shifters which, with mercurial grace and subtlety, vanish and return moments later newly formed.  Maybe it is useful to see this as a game that asks us to look beyond the surfaces, no matter how beautiful or revolting, and sink into the feeling body as the only reliable measure of choice.  I shut down the browser and almost instantly space opens, like after a loudly buzzing overhead light is turned off and the nervous system lowers its guard.  The internet is an obvious example.  What is the siren song that takes your attention off the course you have set?  You probably won't shipwreck and be dashed on the rocks, but isn't being suspended outside your body deep in a dream of you-name-it one kind of death?

#2 On Shame and Superfood

Wild Blue-Green ( Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, for lovers of Latin out there~hip, hip, hooray! ), a fresh water algae cultivated in klamath Lake in Oregon, is said to have optimum nutrition owing to heatless processing and the cold, pristine waters where it is grown.  Yet under conditions not fully understood, Wild Blue-Green can transform into a deadly toxin that kills just minutes after it is eaten.

This easily-crossed divide between life boosting and life threatening I find deeply compelling, and a welcome reminder that the seeming  nature of things is essentially fluid and can dramatically change in any given moment. (What a fantastic inducement to hold our experience lightly)  A powerful healing plant holds within itself the power also to take life.  The natural world holds up many such mirrors, and I find great hope for myself (and for us all) in this instance of life reconfiguring to death since then, surely, what appears initially in our human dimension to be destructive has the capacity to yield imagination, love and cooperative action.

#1 Breaking Ground

I can't say exactly how it happened, or why, but we have slowly drifted from one another, words and I.  No drama.  Nothing like the younger days when the torch song singer of French and Egyptian extraction with the dark, unfathomable eyes had my heart wrapped around her baby finger.  And she would twirl that little finger for the sheer fun of it all, and for the chance to see the fullness of her reach.  Storming out of cafes, late night calls, flashing, brilliant eyes, the fleeting gifts of her full attentions and affections.  Ordinary moments were off the menu!  As far as I knew in my stunned, intoxicated, horny youthful innocence, that seemed just who she was, and I loved her the more for it, painful as it was. 

This love of the word is of another sort.  It is a dance with an invisible partner who appears and disappears on her whim, though I don't doubt for a moment her return to me.  Hers is the small yet persistent voice that I know intimately and gladly lend my ear to each lifting or falling tone, each breath, the unspoken promise of wholeness in each word.  

Rodentia Mortis

Trail dead center stopped.

By what fateful act

Of god or foe

 no tongue can tell.

Perhaps simply the unraveling

of life’s weave.

Fragile crush of body

like some @ mark cold-cocked

for being bastard child to true grammar,

Coarse hair scorch-black-orange

of crème-brulee 

driven by hot blood’s pulse

after scent and flicker

of this living 

here~

end of the line.


We too arrived here pause

To wonder at your freeze frame

Punctuation against hard-pack

California earth.

And in case essence

That should not linger does

We press lightly against

Shut eyes

coins of our words 

to speed your way:

“You, my friend, were an excellent digger”

These few tokens offered,

indulgence bought against dying alone,

secret hope in heart’s deep chambers

of similar benediction, usher

to our passing

when that day comes.


We turn, thus, and lift eyes

To broad western pine

Standing its vigil the next ridge, 

To brooding face of December sky

Familiar and inscrutable,

To all possible destinations

before us still.

(December 2010, Berkeley, CA)

The Exiled

A tattered veil is all that keeps/The exile of the heart.  

Why not tear that thin curtain/And rush to freedom?/Yet the jailer and the jailed are kin, of one blood./ This jailer, Judgement by name, /Is he that you know best./He is like a brother now./  Once he asked always to come along,/As brothers do./And you indulged him./Later his shirts hung on your/Side of the closet.  You did not object./And now he is always with you/Pouring poisons into your waiting uncertainty./His suspicious face in the mirror/You believe to be your own,/No longer can you tell/Your hand from the forger's!/

But there is time yet.../He is most obvious in the mornings, /And the cock has crowed/But once,/And the sun, bringer of second chances/Crests the ridge as you waiver/On the edge of that tin dream/You pray will/Once and for all/save you.

(May 2010, Berkeley, CA)


To Vanishing Point I Watch Thee Softly

I hereby fore swear and surrender allegiance to/and use of/the following:

coffee/processed foods of any stripe/my favorite TV show that tracks/the moral struggles/of a sensitive, soft-spoken serial killer/And, oh yeah, did I say coffee?/

I surrender self-defamation as a past time.

My three boyhood droogs, Shame/Rage and Despair I relinquish./When i left home at 22/I thought I had seen the last of them./It seems they found me/on FaceBook./I un-friend them now.  They'll never miss me. 

Excuses carefully dressed/in the righteous garb of considered/choices/I grant extended holiday.

I redirect the mental currents/that like a fisherman's net/cast their stifling web of words/across native promise and goodness,/just long enough to see/point of origin/long enough to touch stillness/beneath the tumult.

A last farewell/to the closet laden/with grey, ill-fitting suits~/these I offer in exchange/for one custom honey-bee body/and wings, of course./So clad/I set about pollinating the broad earth.

(February 2011, Berkeley, CA)

Goat Rock-a-by-Baby

Sonoma deep wild swells

kiss a cold stone lover,

neither budges

rapt by this lullaby

out of time.

(November 2011, Berkeley, CA)

I send you kisses

I send you kisses gritty

and sticky like cotton candy

or a storm

of dandelion seeds shattered,

suspended above you
in their explosion of possible
to keep you filled with the light
that draws the thick curl of jasmine
from the faint whiteness,
the light that wakes within us all
the torrent that flushes before it

the dust of fear

and slouching doubt
from the hot asphalt of the old road,
and clears the way

once more
for your heart's desire

(510) 704-1351     jamesryderyoga@gmail.com