Redwood Souls

(a sawyer’s insight)

The father had some questions,
the mother’s smile, pretty with interest,
listened while the daughter hid behind,
sharing her face from time to time.
Our need was to divert the runoff
from the wooded hill behind
their home, whose basement
flooded every winter.

We felled two dozen redwoods,
each close to three feet thick,
once reaching high enough
to capture fog and salty air.
Taking homes from owls,
eagles, hawks, cougars,
bobcats, foxes & raccoons,
left me stunned with sorrow.
I knew we had a job to do,
designed to protect the
family home from nature’s
continued resistance,
but at what cost?

As a sawyer my job was to mill:
after bucking these magnificent trees
into twenty foot logs, then
milling them into lumber in order
to build a three hundred foot long
retaining wall a minimum of
three feet in height, using full dimension
two-by-twelves and six-by-sixes.

At first the task seemed straight
forward: leveling and aligning
the mill parallel to a two-story
pyramid of logs backed up
to the forest. However,
as I began to unwrap
these beautiful cylinders,
the richness of the grain
became a beacon of colors
from yellow-gold to rose-pink
to blood-red all glistening with life
and I began to weep.
I was struck by the outrage
of the forest at having
to witness my filleting
their brothers and sisters.
(Redwoods are known for
growing in “families”.)

I walked to the edge
of the fading green swale
and knelt, asking forgiveness
and giving thanks for
their majestic bounty.
Each day as I crossed
that marshy meadow
I greeted the woods
asking for their blessing
and forgiveness.

On the days I worked alone
I felt the forest’s presence,
as if including and allowing
me and my thoughts.
I was comforted by
the apparent wisdom
garnered over time
by these gentle giants.

The noise of the mill
kept the animals at bay
but when I stopped
for lunch, in the quiet,
I could hear the breath
of the woods and the
sotto voce’s crescendo
into a full-voiced symphony.
From the buzz of the bugs
to the chee of the red-tail hawks,
the woodpeckers’ percussion,
the chatter of the blue jays.
and the chitter of the
squirrels and chip-monks,
I had the privilege of an
organic orchestra
with my lunch.

The woods began at
the base of the incline and
served as a natural divide
for the wall and “French drain”.
The runoff from the hill
that caused the flooding
we hoped to capture and
divert into that drain.
The finished wall began
well past the rear of the house,
ran to the edge of the swale
and in places ran to a
height of five feet.

I cherish my recollections
of that job for several reasons:
the family for whom I worked,
the hard physical labor
my body gifted me and
my sacred relationship
with the redwoods, I can
look back, give thanks
and say “well done”.

embi 8/9/14

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I rode it on a bet
through the rail-yard
crisscrossed like
past wondrous
steel sculptures
of wheels, cowcatchers and
smokestacks chugging
their lungs for motivation.

Skeleton steel dinosaurs
dip their heads, feeding
from grain cars
patiently waiting in line
with their offerings.
My articulated carrier
rolls past the bones
of the city and the
ramshackle track shacks
to the countryside
picketed with
telephone lines,
stitching a border
on the yellow-green
fields and blue skyline.

The boxcar’s open door
strobes the hammocks,
hills, horses and houses,
with flickering sunset,
distracting from the odor
of penned up sheep.
The hypnotic rumble
and clanging of the
rails and car hitches
lurching and gliding,
gliding and lurching,
provides rhythmic
solace and peace.

Hurtling through space
on the edge of the earth
at 70 miles an hour,
grants an immediate
demand for my complete
self awareness as I
climb the car’s sliding
door frame to the
roof of the car to
stand in the wind
as it rips at my hair,
face, chest and legs.
The racing pastel
panorama of the
dusk-drawn suburbs’
first lights, sparkling
on the horizon,
illustrate a vista
strewn with other
living beings.

Climbing down
from the boxcar
to the flatcar up
ahead, the darkening
skies showcase a
stellar canvas hung
with celestial crystals
suspended in transparent
indigo and cobalt.

Lying on my back on
the bed of the flatcar,
feeling the rhythmic
surge of the steel dragon
charging through the
darkening twilight,
I can’t help but notice
my immediate velocity
against the slow motion
heavenly bodies.

Especially with the blasting,
gusting, roaring, rattling
air shattering passage
of another steel dragon
in the opposite direction

Slightly shaken but not
stirred, I decide to sit
on the roof of the boxcar.
The wind tears my eyes
as I watch the hi-ways
streaming with headlights
while passing stockyards,
junkyards and backyards,
creek-beds, bay-shore marshes,
concrete aqua-ducts
and overpasses, as
darkness drowns the
twilight, city lights
begin to fill the horizon
causing a cautious
hesitation, a slowing down,
as if the surging dragon
is reluctant to enter the
steel bone yard on the
backside of the city.

Once again the crisscrossed
tic-tac-toe of the rail-yard,
patch-worked in shadows,
of dormant dragons brings
this rolling steel sculpture
to a hissing, screeching halt.
The darkness becomes
my ally as I climb down
to the crushed granite
hoping to avoid arrest
at the hands of the
yard guards.

embi 6/27/14

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Father’s Day

How do her tears reach all the way to my cheeks
when we’re just trying to talk on the phone?
She says she’s afraid that I’m not gonna return
that I’m not really coming back home.
Whatever assurance I want to provide
gets choked back when I look at the odds,
truth and hope both, seem to argue each day
while fate rides the whim of the gods.
The home that we built with some of our friends
echoes with half of us gone;
holding out for the time when I might return
is something we can’t depend on.

Last year, Father’s Day was an unconscious affair;
I was a shadow on most people’s wall.
My meals through a tube through a hole in my gut;
a catheter to answer the call.
This Father’s Day, I got to spend with my wife
and our four legged daughter named Chai,
a truly sweet dog I haven’t seen in two years.
My joy and surprise helped me cry.
She’s a big yellow lab who never grew up
and her ass wags the edge of the earth.
She loves everyone no matter their mien,
and she’s been that way since her birth.

I’m in my wheelchair watching my wife
who weighs in at a hundred plus pounds,
holding the leash, to an eighty pound dog
whose strength is completely unbound.
How she contains the force and the drive
is a feat that leaves me in awe,
tugging the leash Chai half climbs in my lap
pulling my arm with her paw.
My wife’s watching me defending myself
from the love of our dog in my face,
remembering when I could play at the beach
while training to keep her in place.

Her watching, I realize, is noticing how
much I have changed this past year.
The arms that I used to hug all I love
can barely reach past my ears.
To reach out and hold what I hold dear
is a dream and a wish I employ.
I miss my arms. Growing up we’d embrace,
so hugging was part of my joy.
Finally accepting the truth of the obvious loss,
her heart is more heavy than gold.
Driving home with our dog, to nobody home
defies her will to grow old.

She calls me to tell me she’s gotten home safe
then I hear the fear in her voice.
Is our future on phones and visits to here
all that we have left to rejoice?
The children have grown and have kids of their own
so their father’s day is complete.
Their life day to day is full of the gifts
that come when each other’s replete.
For us there’s a void defined by the words
used to name the disease that I’ve got,
since no treatment exists for the name that they use
going home becomes probably not.

Still, I have to give thanks to family and friends
who support both me and my wife.
I have to include all my friends on Face Book
cuz you too, are part of my life.
The eternal moments found in the wee hours
would kill without memories of you;
so I rebuild this world with the love you have shown
while I’m wondering how I’ll get through
long nights and long days with a few staff who care,
while I watch my faculties fail.
And yet miracles happen, I see them each day,
for my own, who knows what that entails.

embi 6/15/14

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Bitter-Sweet Excursion

Saturday sidewalk,
kids, dogs, skateboards,
bicycles, packages
and all flavors of folks.
Gourmet coffees,
beans and teas,
dress boutiques
and garden supplies
a bagel shop and
next door delicatessen.

A world tour of
restaurants to
smell and taste.
All too familiar
for the two of them,
painfully so for one.
Alone in a crowd
of disconnected
people on hi-tek
connections in
one sided speeches
generously shared,
she joins the parade
with her I-Phone
against her ear.

Wanting to share
once more with
her lover, she dials
his phone hoping
his hands can answer.
Hearing his voice
she starts to share
where she is while
tears spill in lines
down her face.
So happy to hear
her descriptions
of when
they spent time
with care, that

at first he can’t hear
the tears in her voice
then he crumbles
with tears of his own.
Together they speak
of the wheres
and the whens
together again.

Embi 5/18/14

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I like
hanging out
on the corners
of your mouth.
like a cradle
spills itself
into mischief.

Bending lines
in the sands
of reason,
while testing,
every moment

in the honey
of your giggle
lets me give
up holding up
my so called
grand design.

The privilege of
your presence
grants a miracle
co-opted by
your very own
made of angels,
sunlight, tears
and laughing
teddy bears.

Your reach
is so much
farther than
what we know
or even what
we’re ready for.
I wonder at your
wonder and your
bright inquiry
into everything!

All your mothers
make our world
accessible by
gifting us the
chronicles of
evolution. Their
embrace embraces
all of us. I’m
grateful we are
in our lives.

Embi 5/16/14

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Beyond Repair?

She walks without regard for hell
or heaven.
Her soul’s tripping over sidewalks
grey with helplessness.
The space above our clouds’
become a dumping ground zero
left or right of stardust
falling backwards.

The circus left a trodden
field of emptiness,
the laughter lying
shattered in the grass.
The sun burst and bled itself
dry with humor
best left unspoken,
leaving silence crippled
with good ideas.

Everywhere the air turned east
and felt like saran-wrap,
smothering faith, hope and charity
in a glass embrace.

Wolves sang hunger songs
of children without
breakfast or a pair of shoes
to advertise the broken road
to early death and salvation.

Glaciers melting in
our fears of not enough,
help swell the tides
of relentless greed,
laying bare the breast
of our mother earth to the
carnivores of commerce.

Against the moon hour
habit pulls us out of harmony
with the present twisting
the path to the past
like barbed wire
around Tule Lake
and Manzanar.

Coastal waters gleaming
with petroleums’ sheen,
showcasing a variety of
carcasses preserved
in fossil fuel, left for
our future generations’
unnatural playground.

Toxic cities exploding
into the countryside
like molten lava laying
down a carpet filled
with terminal disease,
disregarded and denied
in gilded rhetoric,
surfing the surface
of pretense.

Cataclysmic offerings
grace our garden
of broken bounty
in protest of the
carnage crafted
out of wanton
disregard for
the spirit of the
blue sphere circling
a stellar gift
we still continue
to ignore.

Embi 5/14/14

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Time Gifting

My visits to the terminals:
family, friends and relations,
were never acutely aware of
the microseconds, the moments,
the minutes, the hours
day and night, awake, aware,
abandoned, afraid and alone.

The need, nay, the craving for
respect, affection, and dignity
are all sublimated by “duty”
and the ministrations of the
been a more conventional
statistic, I can say that this
catagory sucks!!!

Being ignored, talked over,
overlooked and filled with
politely smiled empty promises,
provides this living
mausoleum with the
atmosphere of a behind
the counter butcher shop
rearrranging the carcasses.

Being left naked while
a parade of aides file through,
to stop and discuss their
needs for other patients,
as well as the daily gossip,
has stripped away any
pretense of recognition
as a human being.

Being a slab of meat
annointed three times
a day with soap and water,
meets the coded requirements
of the county and state
while sorely missing
“human contact” but is
still considered humane.

If it weren’t for the infrequent
ANGELS who visit as workers,
family and friends, “hell”
would be a polite description
and “purgatory” a visit to a
country club. And yes I know
it can always get worse!
It has and does, just not
yet spoken.

What I’ve come to regret
was my continued neglect
of the human beings left
to their own devices when
my discomfort or convenience
would not allow the “grace”
necessary for the other
person’s solace and comfort.

Insight becomes a burden
when guilt invades our space.
“Being” with someone else
and their anguish and
uncertainty requires a
personal harmony I
only see when LOVE
is truly present.

I ask forgiveness for my
trespasses over and through
my own heart, let alone,
all the others I’ve managed
to dent, crumple, damage,
crush, void, spindle, harm
or hurt. I’m also aware of
too little, too late.

Embi 4/11/14

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Crystal Ship (a narrative)

My watch was twelve to four, noon and midnight
twice a day.
Wheel-watch, bow-watch and standby broke four hours
into thirds:
eighty minutes at each station left me a little
time to play
my father’s four-string banjo, ignoring comments

Eighteen years old and bulletproof, made of rubber
and cement
I assumed that everyone would at least work
at my pace,
like when our sledgehammers for pounding rust would barely
make a dent
and the other deckhands yelled at me “slow down it’s
not a race”.

The “jitterbug” had steel teardrops mounted on a
spindled shaft
driven by a motor loud enough to deafen
anyone’s approach.
The Bos’n told me how and where to chip, dead certain
I was daft.
Apparently I proved his point when I learned, the hard way,
how he coached.

I’d chipped the section he’d laid out and moved onto the
other side.
Now my ears are ringing, my nose is bleeding and I’m crumpled
in a heap,
then my butt starts aching and I’m wonderin’ WHAT!, and why the
motor died,
while the Bosun’s yelling WTF and should he throw my ass
into the deep.

I was learning that the way I was brought up, went against the
practice set
by the Union protocal. The Bosun’s yelling that I’m taking
away work
from tomorrow’s planned production. I’m not supposed to
do that yet.
I’d been kicked in the butt, headfirst into a capstan, I think the Bosun
is a jerk.

Our deck cargo was train axels corraled by 2x10s then cabled to the
to keep them stationary when we ran into high seas. Alfalfa filled the
cargo holds,
then our noses, throats and lungs when the empty holds were cleaned.
I dread
the next hold cuz the temp is one hundred ten degrees: so I’m dreaming
about cold.

At sea the routine norm was mornings chipping paint and afternoons
my watch
duties til four and then my time off til midnight, then my watch would
start again.
One job was in a bos’ns’ chair undoing shackles with the mast against
my crotch
high up enough to see the ships bow cleaving waves for dolphins
playing, then

eye to eye with a pelican winging past with his catch still kicking
in his sack.
At moments like this the vastness and the glory of the ocean
has struck me dumb.
The ever changing glitter of the sun on living water, dancing
over and back
with the ships’ dip and roll I see across waves and into depths
I’ll never plumb.

Sometimes a storm would brace the ship with power not of man
and we would
have to change our routines to make it through the fury of
watery mountains
and valleys slowly climbed and descended while the wind did
what it could
to push you and the rain into stumbling on the decks
against the fountains

surging up and over the ships’ bow and bulworks. With that much
water crashing
on deck, no watch can stand on the bow. Instead my watch is
on the bridge where
I watch for other ships’ lights. High above me the radar towers’
red light’s flashing.
To my delight the ladder up puts me in the crows’ nest. At first,
just stnding there

is close to God and magical but slippery with the rain and wind so I sit
on the perch
with my legs between the rails and glory in the magnificience. With the
pitch and
roll the tower listed starboard and lee, so I hung over roiling water
with each lurch.
Side to side a slow ark through gusts of wind and rain, while lightening
split grand

sections of the blackened skies. My suspension over water boiling cold
enough for
hypothermia, while the pulse of the storm became my heartbeat,
my mortal self
let go and drowned in the divine and for those fragile moments I felt no
rebuff or
doubt, just freedom from me. But flashlights below said I had to
abort my shelf.

I climbed down into a fury made of man this time, they thought I’d
washed over-
board or somehow left my post. My claim that the tower was the
best possible
look-out, fell on deaf and angry ears. My watch did not include a high
storm lover.
Regardless, my awe of natures’ might has shown me how quickly we’re

The morning brought us broken clouds then sunlight and calm waters
with a salt
crystal deposit over all the decks, rails, booms, masts, chains
and winch cables.
The sunlight set the salt crystals sparkling, magically gifting a world
without fault.
Until the rains, our crystal ship would dazzel the mornings as long as
she was able.

The gift of natures’ yin and yang, her arbitrary push and pull,
or the whim of God,
has humbled me each time I remember and witness a storm.
My lesssons continue
with each storm in my life and sometimes I’m lucky that
the occasional odd
epiphony actually remain. Knowing that life given me, is also
residing within you

completes my connection. Our great grey mother the sea holds us
and our planet
together. While at the correct distance from the sun, we are enabled
and able to
acknowledge order beyond our making. Given my life, I haven’t
always planned it
but maybe, maybe when my time has come, I will be remembered as
a fable, too.

Embi 4/27/14

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Butano Creek (with family and friends)

She runs with the boys,
        sure, swift, slight and blond.
While I challenged, teased
        and bragged about who
would be first off the cliff
        into the pool at the bottom
of the falls, she had already
        launched herself into space.
Our mouths open and
        our egos beyond repair,
we were left with false
        bravado and “we planned
it that way”. Roger and I
        followed my sister, with
the twins and my kid brother,
        coming after, hoping they
won’t jump on our heads.

At the cost of a few
        skinned knees, elbows
and torn fingernails,
        our sport consisted of
climbing the jagged,
        wet, side of the falls
in order to jump into
        the head of the falls
and have it knock us
        back into the pool
while trying to reach
        the bottom, which
did occur, time to time.
        She would bring up
a handful of silt as
        proof of reaching
the bottom of the pool.

The hike up to the falls
        included a walk on the edge
of the creek, sometimes
        wading, past woods, meadows
and occasional summer
        homes. The creek held
brown and speckled trout
        as well as steelhead. Roger
was a serious fisherman
        and we would look for
fishing spots on the way
        up to the falls. Displaying
a patience I didn’t know
        I had, Roger taught me
the stillness necessary
        to allow the fish to trust
our lures. Betrayed by
        mans’ hunger and ingenuity,
they became a delightful

Sometimes an adult
        would make a suggestion
/ request, sending us on
        a mission with bacon
and string. Our “job”
        was to catch as many
crawfish as we could..
        Of course there was the
occasional frog, lizzard or
        inchworm while waiting
for the bacon, tied and sitting
        on the bottom of the creek,
gathering a convention of
        crawdads, to be slowly and
gently elevated to within
        reach of our nets. Sis didn’t
appear to be bothered by
        the twins’ attempt to scare
her with members of
        our catch. Half a century
later, I’m still in awe of
        the creeks’ generosity.

Embi 4/4/14

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Lace Architecture

Early morning walk
in the oak woods
with the sunrise
on the left, I guess
I’m walking south.
Tar, a black lab, and I
are chasing a sheeps’ trail
along the eastern crest
of the ridge. Rounding
the crest, the woods thin,
letting the sunlight
dazzle the dew caught
on the crosswork
of cobwebs strung
a foot above the forest floor.
All along the edge of
that ridge I witnessed
the night time industry
of the spiders’ spinning,
glowing like crystals
on the foot high network,
leaving the edge of the forest
sparkling with the sunlit dew.
I don’t know if Tar saw
what I saw but he stopped
and sat in the trail
as if he was struck
by the same magic.
We stayed a while like that.
As the sun climbed my back
the view into the forest
floor deepened, lighting
up that glistening grid,
until the jeweled macrame
faded into the shaded woods.
The weather, animals
and man all contribute
to the ruin of the shin
lace architecture.
What I now know is
that the night crew
will build tomorrow
mornings’ gleaming
latticework for whomever
chooses that morning walk.

Embi 3/31/14

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