Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

November 16 on the Banks of the Cache La Poudre

I live an analog life. I don’t have a bucket list of restaurants that I need to get to. I stopped recording an annual bird list years ago. I talk more than text to a few close friends. When I dream at night, it usually about the same regrets.

I’m alive at seventy-two because I let go of a passion to coach. Or was it a passion to not lose? Either way, it is so far in the past, that it sits in my brain like a set of persimmon golf clubs that stand, covered in spider filament, in the corner of the garage.

Last year we visited the rim of the Grand Canyon. It felt like I had drifted back into the 1950s. I wanted to buy one of those stickers that I use to see on the station wagons of families who lived in our neighborhood, but it meant we would have to make a U-turn and head back to the gift shop. I hate turning back on a road trip.

When I was a boy in Northwest Indiana, there was wilderness everywhere. Not the kind you see on the internet with photographs of a remote river in Russia that holds enormous trout, but smaller stuff, a pasture across the highway with a creek that held crawdads in the bends.

I could head out in any direction on a bicycle and see something I had never seen before: a black bear in a cage at gas station, a root beer stand that sat with no thought about traffic, a backwash off a river, shallow enough to freeze solid before Christmas. Wilderness is not a destination but a place where you haven’t been.

Everything that takes place on the internet is moving too fast for me. Life is spinning faster than the centrifuge at the gym that removes water from my shirt after a workout.

Should I get comfort from knowing there are billions of galaxies beyond the horizon, and the possibility that there may be a civilization that is not marketing Coca Cola, lies, war and famine? Is creating our own departure built into our skin?

These are not rhetorical questions that I consider, as I head out to walk beneath the leafless cottonwoods, whose roots run deep beneath the river.

Terry Pettit –

A Report From Lincoln

It is late spring in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The dogwoods planted in backyard gardens,
The pear trees on the Boulevard,
The plum bushes in wild thickets at the edge of town,
Have already blossomed.

Sunlight comes early and goes home late.
We are ten days from the summer equinox
When the “Big Boys” and “Better Boys” we planted in clay pots
Will get sixteen hours of sunlight.

The first heat wave of the summer has arrived.
The mayor has asked us to water our lawns on alternate days.
A voice on the radio tells us that out in the country
The prairie grasses are more combustible than gasoline.

A few weeks ago there was graduation.
We had a reception and attended others
With bright punch and small rectangular pieces of cake.
At one of the baccalaureates there was an empty seat for a classmate
Who did not survive a horrible automobile crash
And who we will continue to think about years after
You have sent our own children to college.

This is an interesting time if you are eighteen years old
Living on the rim of adulthood in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Life can best be explained by imagining two funnels
Lying next two each other with their stems connected.
In the first funnel are all the challenges you have survived:
The pain of peer pressure, acne, and bad locker partners.
The meanness than come from friends in junior high.
The time you took the last shot . . . and missed.
The times you wondered if there were too many expectations.

Some nights you spent wondering whether you will ever be loved
By anyone, other than your parents,
Who, as everyone knows, are required by state law to love us.
And who are also required to remind us of this fact
Each time they don’t give us something we want.
They also continually ask us where we are going
Even when we aren’t.
And just where are we going anyway?

To the University, or St. Cloud State, Wesleyan and KU.
Some place where no one will ask us about what we are wearing
Or whether or not we have something on our mind.
Some place where we don’t have to share anything
With a goofy brother or sister
Who we may secretly start to miss.

The next few years, where the two stems meet, is a sanctuary
Where you get to try different things on.
You can try on architecture or criminal justice.
You can try on journalism or marine biology,
Even if you’ve only been to the ocean on the internet.

You can try on new friends.
You can read short stories by William Faulkner till morning
And sing loud songs on the toilet.
You can try out new ideas.
You can be a Buddhist for a semester.
You can give up meat. Or lettuce.
You could take a course in African pottery.
You can break the rules.
You can choose to not make your bed.
You can wear colors that don’t match
And flip-flops to class.
You can sleep in on Wednesday mornings,
And you can choose not to go out for drama,
Speech and debate, student council, French club and track.

You can also choose to do all of those things if you really want.
You can adopt a highway with friends
Or a cat by yourself . . . as long as the head resident doesn’t see it.
You can cut your fingernails and let them fly through the air
As they somersault to the carpet . . . and not pick them up.

At the other funnel at the end of the stems, hard things await.
It will be hard to stay passionate about a job.
It will be hard, at times, to stay healthy.
It will be hard to loose weight.
It will be hard to find the right companion.
It will be hard to stay married.
It will be hard to say no to your daughter
When you have the means to give her what she wants.
It will be hard to be a teacher, a clerk, a coach or an actuary.

The hardest thing of all will be to be a good parent.
It’s hard not to step in and try to make things easy
When your daughter needs to find out some answers for herself.
It is hard to let your children experience the pain of growing up.

But there will be things not so hard as well . . .
Like what is happening to your parents at this moment:

Mom and Dad are taking a deep breath.
They are telling themselves how all your problems were small.
Nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a little discussion
Or a role of duct tape.
They are thinking back to when you were five or six
Playing t-ball and micro soccer
And how, out of all those kids, that you did everything with,
You were the one who continued . . .
Who continued to compete,
Who continued to get good grades,
Who continued to make good decisions,
Who continued to move toward something outside yourself.
Now, they are not so much concerned with where you are going,
But how soon before you come back.

On the night before you leave home for the first time . . .
When you are thinking about a world
That is moving faster than a comet
With opportunities whirling like the stars in a Van Gogh,
Your parents will like awake, quiet, still
Lost in their thoughts of how much they love you,
How proud they are of what you are becoming.

And before they fall asleep
In the coolness of the sheets and your impending absence,
With full knowledge of all the joys and pitfalls that await you,
One of them will turn to the other and say,

“Well she’s come this far . . . how did we get so lucky.”

The Vortex

Walking With Jake at Twilight

We walk beneath the dreams
Of ash trees that line our street,
Each tree oblivious to
An armada of ash borers
Forty-five miles to the east.

Brown bats that live
In the column of our deck
unwrap their wings
As they exit their nest.
Toward midnight
Great horned owls
Will be calling across roof tops.

The constellations begin
Their nightly swirl above us.
It is too soon for crickets.
Too soon for the ashes to leaf.
The only thing blooming:
Three daffodils
Waiting for a table.

Jake is earnest as thief
About this walk
That will not be complete
Without seeing a rabbit
Eating the early shoots
Of spring.

He lifts his right paw
And locks on his target.
Eventually I see
A soft, ragged form
Near the safety of a drain pipe
That flattens itself
In winter’s detritus.

Jake strains at the leash.
With each second he leans
Into air that smells of rabbit,
Then looks at me
as if he could speak:
It is so close.
Don’t you see it?

I do see it, but
I tell him to Let it go.
I understand his yearning
For the hunt and the mysterious,
But for a second time I say,
Let it go Jake,
As if to remind us both
That we are tethered
To something beyond our reach.

–Terry Pettit

On The Eve Of The Ryder Cup, 2010

We are sitting at the bar at Oskar Blues off the diagonal in Longmont, Colorado after watching our daughter’s team play a volleyball match in Boulder, where the linesmen were barefoot and the locals were more interested in the five-piece band than the score. Anne is sipping water with lemon while I am drinking a stout thicker than roast beef that tastes like licorice.

Next to us three men in their fifties are talking about the courses they’ve played. Nancy Grant, a former player of mine at Nebraska, once told me that only thing that was a bigger waste of time than the four hours men spend on a golf course is the time men spend talking about golf after the round, and in particular the shots they could have made but didn’t. Her husband, Mike, is an avid golfer. I completely understand what she meant and I am guilty on all counts.

On the television above the bar three Golf Channel jockeys are in animated conversation about the four-ball pairings in tomorrow’s Ryder Cup matches, which are not named after the truck rental company, but an English seed salesman who first proposed competition between English and American golfers in 1925. In recent years Europe has replaced England because through the middle third of the last century Great Britain began to be not so competitive in a lot of things, among them the Ryder Cup. I always have difficulty getting “up” for a continent.

It is hard for me to get patriotic about the Ryder Cup because 90% of the professional golfers on both teams live in Florida, do not pay state taxes, have beautiful wives (in some cases multiple lovers) who drive BMWs on their way to Whole Foods and Sax 5th Avenue. Having said that, I will watch because I am fascinated with how athletes handle pressure, although it would be much more entertaining if each competitor put up twenty percent of his own yearly income, winner take all.

Later this week I will play in one of the thousands of Ryder Cup spinoffs that take place around the country pitting local clubs against each other. I was the 24th and last man selected for the Mariana Butte Team (a mountain course in Loveland, Colorado) that will compete against 24 golfers from the Olde Course, which sits on flat land in the center of town.

Selected is perhaps too strong a word. For the second year in a row, I will be one of the oldest competitors on either team, making the Mariana Butte team this year by the skin of my teeth, by  finishing with a net 70 in the club championship when several younger golfers allowed their minds to drift to the Broncos, the Rockies, families or fixing the leaf blower. God, how I love to compete. At 64 the opportunities are getting fewer and fewer.

After we finish our meal we get in our car and begin the short journey back to home, Anne happy that we stopped and sat and talked, me with the lingering taste of molasses from the home brewed stout, and I am reminded of the sweet contentment of the children’s book written by Margaret Wise Brown which I read to both our daughters before they grew up into the world of volleyball, SATs, college degrees and marriage. I shall paraphrase here:

Good night moon.

Good night to the three men talking

Swing paths in the Oskar Blues Bar.

Good night to the spaces between the stars.

Good night Anne, Katherine and  Emma

And facebook acquaintances wherever you are.

Good night to garish sweaters and and large white belts.

Good night to my father who turned 89 this week,

Who made my first golf club on a wooden lathe,

May he continue to dream of hickory shafted drivers,

Of walking from the the green to the next tee,

Of mashies, niblicks, spoons and cleeks.

A Brief Encounter at Dillards

Sometimes I see a man in a glance
Into the glass of a storefront,
And for a few seconds think
I know him,
At least below the waist.
Those are legs that allowed him to the grab the rim,
And kick a soccer ball across the street
Into the Clifton place
Where afternoons were spent in
A continuous scrum of football,
Fist fights, mush ball and yelping.
The posture, however,
A bent spoon by a coffee cup,
The belly, the inflated face,
Is a stranger beyond a
The vague recollection
Of neighborhood men coming home at dusk,
Carrying lunch buckets with one hand
While bending to retrieve with the other,
The Gary Post Tribune
Crouching like a rabbit between the porch and the shrubs.

After The Loss

From Talent and The Secret Life of Teams

They consider my voice
An inappropriate companion
To the pounding of their blood,
Hot with fatigue and disappointment.

Their heads are bent
Like a ficus toward light.
But there is no light,
Instead they wait
For the practiced words
That huddle in my brain,
Pocket change from losing.

And I know that I cannot reach
Them with words.

And so we breathe in silence,
A conspiracy of players and coaches
Reassured by rhythmic heaving
Of spent muscle, flesh and synapse.

Each letting go reminds us:

We were prepared.There was opportunity.
We could have won.

These unspoken truths are
What we take with us.
That, and this solitude,
This beautiful, tired breathing.

Walking Toward Dusk On the Back Nine At South Ridge Greens


Brown mulch gathers at the bottom of Fossil Creek
As it ribbons across the eleventh fairway
Where cottonwood leaves settle into the bottom
Of the burn like abandoned swing thoughts.

I am walking the course backwards
Hitting lost balls with a mashie-niblick
Watching our rescued golden retriever
Scurry back and forth from the marsh to fairway.

Golfers in groups of twos and threes,
Windbreakers wrapped to their waist
Pull trolleys with nine to fifteen clubs.
Golf in November is not about scoring.

No one offers advice.
No one is looking to shoot a career round.
The backlit sky is soft on the horizon
Like the pause in my father’s backswing.

Ben brings me a like new Titleist
He finds in the plum bushes
And then watches as I swing for the click
That comes from a well-hit shot.

The ball sails over the railroad trestle
into a wilderness without bunkers,
Or manicured bluegrass,
Out among coyote scat and bull snakes.

Far out on the seventeenth hole
A singleton in woolen cap
Is swinging a midiron back and forth
Walking his way home in rhythm.

As twilight brushes his silhouette
I think of St. Andrews, Carnouste and Royal Dornoch,
The unyielding desperation of the Highlands
Where a herder with a staff and a small flock
Lofts stones toward a place in the dark.