By Matthew Rangel. (University of Alberta Libraries, 2010. 5-07 Cameron Library, University of Alberta Edmonton, AB T6G 218) cloth $25 University of Alberta Libraries
Book Garden, Exeter, CA 559.592.2538
The Russell light fills the bowl with shadows
Canada spills its cold on down
The snows over Idaho settle on the willows
Drifting over stubble covered ground
She left with the fires of August burning
Sheʼs back where skies are cloudy all day
Romance torn on barbed wire fences
She always missed the rain
Tilting at enemies not hard to find
Nostalgia for what never happened
Shotgun holes in all the signs
Canʼt remember when the happy ended
Black horse planted long ago
The sorrel gelding turning gray
The clouds build behind Bull Mountain
She always missed the rain
Truth covered over by the sin of pride
Forcing you to choose a side
Always wondering which is the lie
Hidden under a clear blue sky
Too old to sing that worried song
Dreams wrung out by men disguised
In a place settled way too long
Simple wrongs obscured by rights
Fear twisted to look like strength
Itʼs hard to stand alone in this country
Thin wire stretched miles wide
Wish for difference in the same story
Sun sets early in the west
Winters long on short days
Metal roofs drip off nightʼs frost
She always missed the rain
by John Reedy
Ice rain falling and Bukowski comes to mind,
his poem on style, which has to do, finally,
with grace or lack of it, which is why
we like girls with that antelope kind of lope.
There’s no grace in fat, no grace
from the hearts of men who wear ties,
no grace from no-Eros stentorian women.
Seventeen year old girls used to have grace
back when I was seventeen and eighteen
and nineteen, and Irish girls who snicker
at Mass usually have grace if they
don’t have the kind of thick ankles
you can see too often in Cork.
Ice rain is falling and the wolf-dog grins
as he drags me onto crusted snow
a foot deep. What is so goddamned fascinating
about half-buried-in-snow sagebrush?
Who, precisely, pissed here?
That is the canine question.
The human questions are always
about other people’s gratitude,
or love, or sex lives, or dope habits.
And this brings Charles Bukowski
to mind… and how the academic poets
never really liked him
and how Bukowski was loved
by the French, who have style,
even when they are gutless.
Yeah, ice rain is coming down
as if written by James Joyce in something
like Dubliners or maybe in expatriate dreams.
And it’s falling, falling when I have the wolf-dog
sit, goddamnit, sit, so I can piss on the sagebrush
that is so important to him tonight.
I am drinking late… not writing,
terrified of finishing a screenplay
I have no idea of how to pitch.
I am drinking late and hearing
(no electronic help here) old friends
curse assholes with finished basements,
because, somehow, a finished basement
reveals a jagged, busted window
in one’s soul. So a girl comes to mind,
and girls always come to mind,
like what does she look like at sixty-four?
And then I don’t want to keep that
thought rumbling in my skull.
Drinking late… not writing,
I mention to the wolf-dog
that he is going to catch up with me
in the age run. He just wants to go
back outside so he can run circles
around me like an over-medicated canine.
He will not entertain the concept of aging.
But so what? He likes my singing,
which will not lead Tom Russell to ask me
to record a duet with him anytime soon.
But the wolf-dog likes my singing
so much that he dances on ice…
nearly goes down as I laugh.
Ice rain is falling and I want none of it.
But I have all that I can possibly own.
by Red Shuttleworth
By Tim Z. Hernandez (Texas Tech University Press, 2010. 2903 4th Street, Suite 201, Lubbock, Texas 79409) 192 pp. Cloth $26.95 www.ttuo.edu
Tim Z. Hernandez’s writing isn’t new to me. A few years ago, at the U.C.L.A. Book Fair, I bought a copy of his book, SKIN TAX, because I liked its cover. Of course no one can tell a book by its cover, but I liked the title too. The purchase, justified.
Opening SKIN TAX, as my husband and I were driving north on 99 coming home, I found myself overwhelmed. The words in the book were even more beautiful than the cover. The poems sang of life in this valley, life elemental, life I saw around me, life I shared. My husband drove; I read to him. We both recognized a voice singing the pure music of language with an unusual power and an honest eloquence.
BREATHING, IN DUST, Tim’s new novel is gut-bustingly, heart-rendingly graphic. It is a difficult book to read, because it holds nothing back. But it is truly an unforgettable book, so emotionally wrenching that a reader must stop and mark a page, to rest for a time, before being able to read further.
It has been over a month since I read the book, and I have read other good novels in the interim. But chapters from in BREATHING, IN DUST stay in my mind as whole units. They will not leave. BREATHING, IN DUST is a profound book of adversity and pain, and also triumph. At the end of this book, not only has Tlaloc, the protagonist, risen from its pages to a secure place in the reader’s pantheon of memorable literary figures, but its lesser characters: Zeta, Alajandro, Jesus, Talina, even a bakery truck driver, have emerged as both the saints and martyrs of California’s Central Valley. They, too, are the book’s heroes.
Challenging James Baldwin and John Steinbeck, Tim Z. Hernandez’s triumphant novel will hold a place in the ranks of American writers of social conscience through its sensitive humanity. But this author’s glorious attention to the rhythms, sounds, and nuance of language make the book transcend journalistic goals. BREATHING, IN DUST is literature. I’m proud that such a book came from a writer here in the region of America where I live.
A beautiful child, who worked hard at his spelling and times-tables, was killed in a drive-by six years after he left my third grade classroom. He wasn’t the target of the shooting, merely present in the same house. He shared no guilt. As so often happens here, he was another accidental victim. I’ve never found the words to write out the harrowing grief I felt.
Thank you, Tim. You know the words, and have spoken them for me.
– Sylvia Ross
By Laurie Wagner Buyer. (Filter Press LLC, 2009. P.O. Box 95, Palmer Lake, CO 80133) Paper $12.95. www.FilterPressBooks.com
In 1994, Laurie received the ‘Dry Crik Chapbook Award’ recognizing ‘the poetic achievement of a past contributor to Dry Crik Review – an individual whose work furthers the understanding & connection of man to the land’. That 1995 print run of BLUE HERON has long been out of print. INFINITE POSSIBILITIES is her fifth poetry title since then. ACROSS THE HIGH DIVIDE from Ghost Road Press received the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America in 2007.
The prospect of recouping printing costs for a collection of haiku is a real challenge for a small press in these times. Each of Laurie’s haiku is delightfully personal and insightful, but this is more than just haiku because Filter Press has designed the book to be an attractive journal as well. None of the pages of INFINITE POSSIBILITIES is numbered and each is nearly blank without lines, save for two or three of Laurie’s haiku at the top or the bottom, allowing readers lots of room to put their own thoughts down.
Give me one more chance
to dance naked in the moon light
capture childish joy.
The book may be aimed towards women writers, but I intend to keep my copy on top of my desk and try to use it regularly, let Laurie’s haiku trigger lines of my own first thing in the morning. She wrote these 365 haiku during a year while she and her late husband were ranching near Fairplay, each one a specific observation or little epiphany from that Rocky Mountain landscape.
Was that a blackbird
or just the squeaky gate hinge
in my husband’s hands?
INFINITE POSSIBILITIES makes a perfect gift for introspective friends and writers, to become a special place ready to record daily thoughts and events in more artful ways than ordinary journals.
Sun and wind on skin
not one single thought intrudes
in this seduction.
This is a refreshing collection consistent with Laurie’s unique ability to capture and get in touch with her natural surroundings, succinct perspectives to be digested and enjoyed.
By Wallace McRae. (Gibbs Smith Publishers, 2009. P.O. Box 667, Layton, UT 84041) www.gibbs-smith.com 168 pp. Cloth $19.99
It is difficult to be objective reviewing this attractively bound collection of short stories without some pride in the evolution of cowboy poetry since the mid-1980s, within which Wallace McRae has been a major influence and mainstay. And though there are several published collections of short stories on the genre’s bookshelves, STICK HORSES will be what future collections will be measured against, in part because of his accomplished storytelling style, but also because of his authentic insight.
McRae cements his background with great characters such as “Wilkie”, a Frost-like ‘Hired Man’ with a penchant for alcohol who came and went from the ranch without the formality of being ‘hired or fired’ when McRae was a boy. Whether enjoying the tender awkwardness of his relationship with Cheyenne neighbor “Albert Tallbull” or laughing through “Census” taken to extreme and ridiculous hyperbole, McRae is an excellent storyteller. And not all the stories are humorous, not all questions answered as in ‘Trespassing’ which harkens back to much of McRae’s poetry that confesses and examines certain idiosyncrasies of ranch life.
Storytelling is a lost art for many obvious reasons, but these valuable antidotes tell who we are by where we’ve come from. These tales are full of common sense and a once common rural ethic that has been lost to most all of us with progress. And though these stories may be a window to understanding for urban academics and outsiders, a glimpse of a culture past, this collection may be more important for those still living in rural settings as McRae validates a cast of characters from a lifestyle that is truly and uniquely ours. Thank you, Wally.
By Tom Russell. (Shout Factory LLC, 2009. 2042-A Armacost Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90025) CD $15.99 www.tomrussell.com
I have to smile with Tom Russell’s recent journey away from sure ballad-making with his new CD “Blood and Candle Smoke” on the Shout Factory label. This introspective collection of twelve tracks is perhaps more like orchestrated poetry, certainly more subdued and cryptic than any of his twenty albums since the 70s. All of these tracks are the caliber of songs that will grow on you, becoming richer with each successive listening. And that is the test at this juncture, I think, not whether a Nashville hook line will sell a million copies in six months.
Perhaps I misjudge the music buying public, but Tom may lose a fan or two with this one, yet I’m quite pleased that he continues to explore thought-provoking territory where he will gain even more diverse fans over time, a natural evolution that begs the question, “Do we in our 60s have something (left) to impart, something to leave behind?”
This personal excursion is not light listening, boys (and girls), each track full of pregnant and relevant phrases, expertly and consistently mixed and recorded to enhance the subject matter of each that range from the love song “Finding You” to the more prophetic “Mississippi River Running Backwards” – truly a complete work of art. I enjoyed every single song, especially “Nina Simone”, “Guadalupe”, “Crosses of San Carlos” and “East of Woodstock, West of Viet Nam”.
Because there are some rich lines here that really need to be reread and savored, the liner notes and lyrics are deftly placed inside the CD cover. Though fresh and contemporary, all of the uniqueness of Tom Russell’s singing and songwriting style is embodied in this superb collection of songs, a distilled concentrate that should endure for a long time.