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Among Neighbors by Taylor Graham

Among Neighbors

Neighbors include those newcomers down the road with their veritable ark of domestic animals large and small; as well as the wild natives of our California mid-Sierra: fox and tortoise, kingsnake and gopher, woodpecker and bat, coyote and squirrel. The neighborhood is the end of a little dirt road and how we try to live together.

 

THE KINGSNAKE

A pomp-and-circumstantial hesitation-
glide across the cinder-
block foundation we were digging
right-angle linear into hillside;

scarlet/black/ermine rings
moving without seeming
in sequent curves, until
without a royal glance behind,
it disappeared.

In its place, nails and framing, sub-
floor, roof and plumbing.
Now we live among robins, juncos,
neighborly birds.

But the red and yellow tanager
and the evening grosbeak
are less common;

and the pileated woodpecker
with its imperial crimson crest
has moved on
to the kingdom
of exile,

for all the seeds we scatter
like beggars for birds—
for all we wish the skinny shiver
of serpent-rings
and tricolor robes,

for all we wish
their grace.

 

THIS ARK

The neighbors’ dogs bark-wag, furry
wet smell against my hand
at the latch. For another week
they’re mine. The cats stay out of sight.
A caged rabbit kicks shavings
as far as bunny-feet can.
The chickens go on scratching scratch.
A cote of doves coos not eternal love
but ever-falling rain on the roof.
The bristled sow’s content
to rummage plastic sacking.
Goats blaaah for human conversation.
The sheep don’t miss their mistress,
but only alfalfa hay. And then
the horses — the Arab flings his crested
head, trumpeting his name.
He drums a heel against his stall.
He outweighs me, hoof
to fingernail. And still the rain
falls on this barn of an ark, where we
drift together, far from shore.

 

LISTENING POST

Between a mossy outcrop
and a bedrock mortar.
I watch a neighbor’s wood-smoke rise
toward the contrail
of a transcontinental flight.

Two overwintered bluebirds peck berries
from the mistletoe beard of a dying oak
whose roots dig into frost-heave,
decomposing granite re-composing tree
and shadow.

Atop a boulder, a squirrel has eaten half
a mushroom-cap and left the rest.
Here’s coyote scat full of manzanita berries,
fur, fragments of bone: what’s left
of gray squirrel.

I imagine I could hear the earth turn
its worms through soil, or maybe
that’s blood running rabbit-trails
in my ears, or else
news on the breeze

from ridges up-east and over.
I stand listening, till it’s time
to go back home.
Can I find a space there
to store this quiet?

 

 

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