Saturday, January 31, 2009

Counting Cows:

Bobby calculates by cattle. We were talking this evening about the effect of the national financial downturn on the local stockyard. I asked him if he was seeing an effect at the stockyard. (He’s there every Saturday.) He said yes, mainly on the small farmers. So I asked him what the minimum size of herd a farmer would need to keep his head above the water as conditions are now. He looked me in the eyes and said that an unmarried man with no kids would need at least 50 cows to survive – that would be him. And right on the line, at that. Lucky he is, I suppose, that his dog Baby is his only dependent - he said you’d need to add 20 cows per child, until they’re teenagers, then it would take 50.

Just keeping the cows takes cows ~ for instance, the past couple of years have been drought here in Kentucky, which means that the cattle are drinking “city water” – Bobby, his in-head cattle calculator running an instant output, said it would take a calf a year to pay the water bill for the herd. When you add fuel for trucks, tractors, and machinery, feed and hay to supplement what can be grown on the farm, vaccines necessary to battle the illnesses that thrive and spread outward from the huge feedlots in the west, it adds up to a lot of cows just to keep one man and his stock dog going. No frills, no vacations, just the basics - "If I get a sandwich, Baby gets one too." So when he says, “Cattle are my life.” He means it in more than one way. He’s here on the farm early, and seldom leaves before dark. Sometimes it’s past midnight. My admiration for him is boundless.

A lot of small farmers are going to lose their way of life this year. Bobby won’t be one of them, (my fingers are crossed) because he’s sharp as a tack and willing to work harder than most people in our society can imagine. The super giant producers and mega factory farms will downsize, fire a bunch of workers and barely feel the pain. I really wish that our culture would value what small farmers do enough to take care of them.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blue Room:

Once watching out for Cebah became a pretty much 24/7 thing, I (very reluctantly) gave up my divine nest in the studio and started sleeping in my dad's room in the house. Everything about my sleeping loft in the studio had been carefully planned to suit me perfectly, and it did. It made me happy to wake up in that spot, with the dawn coming in through the limbs of the beech and the tops of the bamboo.

On the other hand, nothing about the room in the house suited me at all - the bed faces the wrong way, and the space is confining, but not private at all. Perhaps the worst is that it is well sealed. I like cracks that let some air in. But I decided that it didn't matter; I have a job to do, and for the time being, my preferences are irrelevant. I thought it could be a bit like traveling. When I'm traveling, I know that I'm not going to be able to choose the orientation of my space, or the details of what the space is like, and that's not what I'm traveling for anyway - I can sleep on a train (love it), or in a train station, or in a cellar (Nice is worth it) - on the beach, on rocks and roots, in a corner, or just doze wherever until it's time to move again. I hadn't really thought about being in that condition for an extended period of time, at home. Once I realized that's the way it was going to be, I hung a favorite painting, of the ocean surf and rocks on the Quinalt reservation, for something to look at when I wake up.

I had some paint left over from the cloud ceiling, quite a bit of medium deep sky blue, and some pearl grey. Semi-snowed in and with a little time on my hands, I thought that if I combined the two there might be just enough to paint the room. I didn't want to go out just to buy a paint brush for walls - I loathe painting with those things anyway - so I decided I'd try painting with a large hog bristle brush that I really like. It's only 3 inches wide, but I paint fast. Still, it was a lot of small strokes to cover all four walls!

The color turned out to be one that I'd probably never have chosen for a bedroom in a thousand years, but I'm so cheap and love making things like this work out. I decided to call it "Ocean Mist" - seemed like something on a paint chip. In these photos the color looks even more lurid than it actually is, because of the flash, but it IS pretty intense.
(The third photo, of Chisato's calligraphy ("Water") - is without flash & shows more of the grey aspect. ) But it's a lot better than the off-white paneling that preceded it - trust me. After the walls were done, I went to the studio and picked out some art, some by me, some by my dearest friends, all with water imagery. It turned out odd, quirky, and now I feel like I can actually inhabit the space myself, rather than just enduring it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


This morning the rain changed itself into snow and came whishing through the beeches on the hill.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Numen:

What? You were unaware
Of the conspiracy between the stars
And the tips
Of branches? When you hear the pattern
Does it sound like a hiss of too many whispers?
Those are the years.
Unsettling, isn’t it? That’s just what I was thinking,
Squatting here, for oh, I don’t know how many
Minutes – counting would be obsessive –
I was thinking…
Then I heard your footsteps. I think you’re very
Mixed up to come to this place – what are you seeking,
My child? A vision? Now what would that be of?

It’s dark here. It’s quiet. I like it. Time surges
Through the night like soundless waterfalls, but
This tiny spot on the spreading earth stays stable. When you
Look closely, what appears to be spaces of empty
Gray between the pinpoints are more pinpoints,
Just further away, and the twig tips form a lace
That drinks up the light they make like a sponge.
Over there’s the graveyard, a laid down wall
Of doors in the ground, with spirits pouring through
Like bees into a hive. At this pace
They move through so smoothly
It’s like stroking silk, like the endless stroke
Of a violin. What draws you to this place?

Here, let me get out my little bowl. See,
I can pull one corner like a window and it’s big
As a tub. Go on – climb in. There’s no assurance you’ll
Come out again – no assurance of a thing. Once I’ve pressed
Your head below the surface, look up. You’ll see that the stars
And branches of the trees haven’t changed a bit. The night will
Pass like other nights you’ve known. The sun will come striding
Toward the dark rim of the world arrayed
In a nimbus of red rooster hackles. Wake up, lucky child,

Monday, January 26, 2009


By the end of winter every stall
Had a compressed foot of straw and manure.
Swallows swooped in
Through the open doors, with beak-fulls
Of mud from the frog-ringed pond edge,
Patching rims to hold this year’s eggs in -
Half moon nests stuck to the cobwebby rafters.
The sliver new moon was there in the west,
In air both warm and cool.
After each load, the tractor hauls it
Out in spirals round the field. The tines fling
Funk that falls like manna on the quickening
Grass. The farmer’s arms throb with a satisfied ache,
His chest takes the spring in like a pipe draw, glazed
With sweat his new exposed skin is luminous
As sunset reddened snow. One more time around the
Hill he goes, and parks it in the barn.
Now he can stand, for a spell, and
Contemplate the finished task - listen to
The steady munching, the calve tongues scrapping
In the troughs, the froglets cloud of bell peeps
by the branch, the swallows arcing in the dusk,
and slowly walk back to the house.

There is no greater purpose
Than shoveling shit.

After this
We aspire no higher than to become soil.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


This weekend Jason came up from Nashville so that we could work on "Oft the Loner" - a set of songs, some older, some new. Phyllis sewed, Cebah napped, while we worked almost non-stop for two days - with maybe 5 hours of sleep, max. Time to work on music is very rare for both of us, so we wanted to make the best of the opportunity. We almost did everything that we wanted to do on nine of the ten pieces. There's still a lot to do though.

In the middle of the night we took a break for a walk around the farm, to clear our heads. I took this photo of Dr. Vibe under the barn security light - it looks like he doesn't have a face. I didn't notice at the time if he did - I didn't have my glasses on. We tend to assume that people have faces all the time, but if you're not looking, how can you be sure?

So many people have called or written to ask; "Why do you call your production company 'Deathslab Records' - are you morbid?"
The answer is because we do all of the recording on my antique embalming table. I suppose we could have called it Cooling Board Records, but Deathslab sounds grittier, I think, and technically we are in the South. I don't think that recycling is morbid - it's a perfectly good table.

Of all the paradox laden projects I've worked on, Oft the Loner may be the most so. Solitude, by definition, is something that other people don't hear - that's the wrinkle in this one. We'll let you know when the CD is ready!

Here's the set list:

1. Oft the Loner
2. Cowboy Dan's Return
3. Glass Steps
4. On the Beach
5. Hanging by a Thread
6. Sweet Bird
7. A Kite
8. Town of Dreams
9. Awo
10. Siren Song

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Griot:

Voice X:
Something even stranger
Than those who freak so much on the charge
Of being born
That they immediately die
To do it again – that wasn’t fast enough
You. By the time you were fifteen
Every second flickered dark and light.
Your elegant fingers were horribly
Out-of-place, like anemone tentacles
Reaching for prey – if you brushed against
A string the string sprang
Alive and sang, pleading; touch
me again – assemble cadence,
into living shapes - Give! The clay
That stuck between your toes
Adored you. The stupidity of someone
Believing they owned you wasn’t it -
Unfazed by the infantile suck of furies –
You didn’t do it to escape the demon froth of hate –
It was the unbearably predictable nature
Of their love
You couldn’t take -
The dullness of rote,
The smug spew of thistledown, the succession of
Gasps that passed for breath, the agreement
Between subject and tense,
The worship of the list,
a-e-i-o-u – bleep, blip.

It feels better
sliding through the abyss, even
having the stars
incise their tracks across your face,
whatever… -ish.

The storm between that world
And this pummeled your face with its fists. God
Himself got up off this throne to give your
Ass a kick. Oh Poet – you picked up the kora
And stood by the spring of birth
and praised
The slippery souls who surge
In endless stream, each one clutching
The feet of the one who came before – their
Mouths oped and sound-shapes breaking
Through the slime. That was with half your mind –
The rest twisted itself into the willow, and wept,
But tears of ephemeral gold.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Old Grandmothers:

These two photographs, in elaborate frames shaped like vine and flower entwined tree limbs, were hanging in the hallway of The Old House. When I asked my dad who they were he said, "The old grandmothers", but he didn't know which ones. He thought that one was grandmother Love, that would be Sabra Hughes Love, born 1839, died 1921. That leaves at least two possibilities for the other - Sarah Hale, born 1796, died 1891, or Mary Hines, David Dutton's wife, born 1778, died 1859.

The first image is a photo of another photo - if it is Mary Hines, then it probably was from a tintype. The paper has visible particles of silver nitrate on it, and the image has been enhanced, or altered, with black charcoal, on the bonnet straps, eyes, blouse, and the medallion. The artist indicates the medallion had a face, but not in enough detail to say what sort of. I'm guessing that the artist was my grandmother, Sarah Belle. She had the skill, the nerve, and the fine charcoal pencils, to do it. It would have been a one shot affair - she could have ruined the only existing image of one of her grandmothers, or perhaps worse, the only one of her husbands.

If it was made from a tintype of Mary Hines, it would have been barely possible in 1850, nine years before her death. Photography arrived in the U.S. in 1834, and although it spread quickly - it still seems a bit of a long shot that this image is of Mary. But I think it is - because my grandmother, if she is the one who enhanced and framed these two (the frame is very much in her taste...Victorian Romantic.) would have done a balanced pair, with kin from both sides.

The second photo is likely Sabra Love.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Queen of the Saxons:

The question was not quite what
Do you choose to take to a desert island. Perhaps
They packed all they had – things to cut, surely, axes
And knives, pots to cook in, rope. Or did you buy
Those things once you arrived, to make the journey
Light? Only so much will fit with a man, wife, and two
Children in a horse-drawn wagon. But even if they
Were fairly well-to-do they wouldn’t have left
Certain things – their clothes, and bedclothes – We
Don’t know if they had a dog, or two. We don’t know
If they worried the night before they left. I would have.
I always do.

Surely they had a bible, coming from evan-
Gelical Lutheran stock - but who knows, perhaps not.
There’s an inventory, partial I’m sure, in David’s will,
To his daughter he left bedsteads, beds, 39 quilts and coverlids,
All manner of dishes and cups, a brass candlestick… but
That was after 50 years of living here on Dutton Hill.
In 1809 when they made the trip
From Wythe County Virginia, up and over
Cumberland Gap, I’m guessing they had less.
The trip was planned - there was time to think –
A lot of things to think about, if you were Mary –
What did they take to eat? That reminds me, surely
They had guns.
I suppose that wagon springs
Did not entirely ameliorate the effects
Of rocks on your posterior. Would a lady
Have a cushion, or were they just so much
Tougher than anyone I’ve ever known?
Did she pshaw at Indians? Could she chop
Off a copperhead’s head with a hoe? I’m sure
She could and did. Who goes on something
Called “The Wilderness Road”, back when names
Meant what they said, who’s afraid of snakes,
Or anything , really? She had to be tough
To even make it. I don’t think pioneer women
Were dainty.

So what’s one to make of the only thing
She packed that lasted till
Today. It’s fair to say it was the toughest
Thing of all, and it could be called dainty.
And what’s more it’s pink. It’s growing
In my garden still, an old rose
Called as could be Mary, fairly, Queen
Of the Saxons, “Reine de Saxe” –
A centifolia, which is to say something
Close to a hundred petals of pale
Blush surround a button center, like
A tiny tight wound coil, as though
Little rounds of rose-pale crepe-de-chine,
Soused in the fragrance of love itself, were bound
Into a rose's heart. The whole blossom’s
Not bigger than a silver dollar, and has a
Silvery sheen, but as a flower
It is ravishing beyond price. Like all old roses, the stems
Are arrayed with plentiful thorns, needle small and sharp.
The bush, as roses go, is modest sized – just right
For a garden kept in bounds, but needing little care –
The thing is frankly tough as iron – though not, I’ve noticed,
Inclined to grow for just anyone, anywhere.

Why did she bring this? Was it an heirloom
Of her family, or was it a love-gift – that rarest
Prize, given in courtship by would-be husband
To a much desired wife? Was that the souvenir inhaled
When she brought it to bloom
Again, so pink, so pale -
Here, in her new home?

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Newborn:

Painting these days seems next to impossible, but yesterday I was determined. I thought if the painting was a TINY thing, then I might have time to stretch the canvas and paint it. Alf, my elfin shadow, decided that gnawing on me was the best response to whatever it was that was taking attention away from him, and a host of other things that suddenly decided to have precedence over art also pressed in. So this little 6" x 6" is barely more than swabs. Bobby told me yesterday that several cows are ready to calve. If any were born last night, it must have been a cold awakening! The thermometer registered 2 degrees this morning.
But calves are born into such and survive - there are nine newborns so far this year.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

No Photo:

It was the size of a postage stamp, yellowed -
I found it in the bottom of a box of things
Barely worth saving, things you think
Might have a use, but never do. And because
The contents were of no consequence
I can’t remember what they were, or even who
I thought they belonged to. But I dreamed
Through the little photograph
Of two young men, heads leaned together
To fit in a small space, it seemed, that was
The excuse, but obviously they loved each other
Army buddies maybe, but I knew
From the wild tender light in their eyes
That they wanted nothing more
Than to touch the other – no pillow down
Could give the peace
Each gave the other cheek to cheek.

Looking at it somehow made my
Case for love, with my lover then –
In my longing we were like these men,
Who could show no one
But the camera’s lens
The reason they were such close friends –
no other body on this earth
Could stir such passion
That it must be passed
From skin to skin,
Though in the world’s despite.
We’d found each other against
Every odd, to hell with them!

I transferred it to my own
Little box of odds and ends – I
Tried to situate it in my art – I used
It for a kite whose string
Of hearts was
Held in the teeth of a runaway fox.
For that I had to punch a tiny
Hole through the old and glossy
Paper. That was the last time
I can remember seeing it. The
Collage didn’t really work – nothing
I added to it with my painting
Was half as moving as how
Their light had faded.
And in a season
Mine had too.

We are allowed no history. Tonight
As I’m looking through a hundred years of
Family photos there is no
In a hundred handsome faces
Of what I know is true. Some of these men
Loved other men, but of all of them
Only two
Made a pact with time
That could endure the coarse censure
Of a world that works so well
It cannot give us room
To dwell in peace.
You don’t think
God or nature made us to embrace -
Even a camera knows better than that;
We died in a flash of light
And left the darkness
You endure.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Clay: (Note: post contains excerpts from interviews of former slaves and the descendants of slave owners, made by WPA workers in 1941.)

Voice X: Could you feel me in the mud, Pete? Tamped
Soft between the logs in your cabin, then I got hard. That
Icy winter wind couldn’t get you then. Someone who knows how
Can make me into any shape, man or woman. Wasn’t your head
Made out of clay, back when you were Adam?

Your Hands would make two of mine.
Strong hands, working all the time.
Playful hands, playing games.

I sit at the threshold of the door, I’m one of the spirits
Of this place, and of you, your ancestors are interred
In me, and I am in you – the boundaries of your cells
Have their passages – that’s me
I always have an erection penetrating something
Remember how we met when you were bout 13?

There’s a snake out there in the woods
If you’re out there in the bushes it isn’t like
It is outside – you will be inside that place.
Time won’t be going
The same speed - you won’t know WHEN it is at home.
It’s like you’re dreaming you’re on the side of a hill
And the snake like a lightning flash
Grabs its tail and makes a rolling
Wheel coming right after you – it’s like rainbows
Spinning round, - it’s dangerous, tipped with
You will kill that in the head, take that skin
Carefully off and stretch it on a board
With little nails. Rub the flesh with salt….

#9: “Some of the slave owners were very good to their slaves; but some whipped them until they made gashes in their backs and would put salt in the gashes.”

#5:”It’s called a blacksnake whip.”

And when it’s dry you make yourself
A belt
And that’s for luck.
Good luck in bed.

The snake never stops swallowing its tail
That’s eternity - the Ouroboros.
It’s nothing to be scared of…

#1: “We was goin' thru de woods to a neighbors ter a prayer meeting en a man stepped out in de woad without no head wid all his clothes on en I had jes wropped my head dat day and wen I seed him all my hair strings en all jes stood straight up. I got hot den I'se got cold and he jest stepped ter de side of de road en I went by running.”

...the earth retains an element of chance. Lightning,
though it never strikes exactly
the same spot, hit one man seven times
before he took his own life - it's said the bolt completes the charge.

#3: “Dream of de ded hit always rains.”

Did you feel me when you ploughed? When the earth
Yielded easy to you. The air peeping with little frogs and
The last of the spring sun taking the chill off
the evening.

#4: “You know they all had to take their masters name in slave days.

I will never forget how mean old Master Nolan Barr was to us. I was about fourteen years old and my sister was a little younger. We lived in an old log cabin. The cracks was filled with mud. My Mother done the housework for Master Barr's house. My father and sister and me had to work in the fields. He had a big farm, and owned lots of slaves, and when the old master got mad at his slaves for not working hard enough he would tie them up by their thumbs and whip the male slaves till they begged for mercy. He sure was a mean old man. I will never forget him as long as I live.”

The rain is coming down steady now, the fields are
Soaking it up – it’s not a ditch digger and
A fence buster; it’s a root soaker and a nubbin stretcher.
I’m under the ground, stretching life out like
Rainbow fibers in the soil – dissolving skin...

#2: “"I heard my Mammy talk of "De Nigger Risin". De Klu Klux uster stick de niggers head on er stake alongside de Cadiz road en dar de buzzards would eat them till nuthin' was left but de bones. Dar war a sign on dis stake dat said "Look out Nigger You are next". Us chilluns would not go far way from dat cabin. I'se tells you dat is so. I jes knowed dat dis Ku Klux would do dat to us sho if weuns had been catched.”

The Interviewer (who has a job at this) would like to know if you are superstitious -
Have you ever seen a ghost?
(The concept of a ghost, or haints as they’re called in this
cemetery, is that the dead get stuck repeating themselves –
for instance they are doomed to relive (in a manner of
speaking) the tragic event again and again, on the very
spot where it happened long, long, ago… but it’s
not clear if they know
they’re dead.)

#8: “"My master wuzn't as mean as most masters. Hugh White was so mean to his slaves that I know of two gals that killt themselfs. One nigger gal sudie wuz found across the bed with a pen knife in her hand. He whipped another nigger gal most to death fer fergiting to put onions in the stew. The next day she went down to the river and fer nine days they searched fer her and her body finally washed upon the shore. The master could never live in that house again as when he would go to sleep he would see the nigger standing over his bed. Then he moved to Richmond and there he stayed until a little later when he hung himself.”

On your belt you will hang your hand – a hand
Is some particular things gathered together and
Kept in a bag. You can make the bag out of cloth.
The things gathered together LOOK like what
They do. A certain kind of root
Might look like a blacksnake. That’s the old ancestors
So far back that no one can remember – it’s deep
In that inner place – a tube of blackness
That inverts time and space, out there the darkness
Is as dense as clay, the stars can be pushed
By your fingers through it.

#5: “When he died he had a whole trunk full of the queerest looking things you ever seed. And they took it all and buried it. Nobody would touch it for anything.


You imagine a woman, making her out
Of yourself – wasn’t a woman pulled out of your side
Just after God gave you breath?

#7: “As a rule negro men were not allowed to marry at all, any attempt to mate with the negro women brought swift, sure horrible punishment and the species were propogated by selected male negroes, who were kept for that purpose, the owners of this privileged negro, charged a fee of one out of every four of his offspring for his services.”

The moon was swallowed by a cloud, then
After traveling a short ways through the darkness,
Burst through and illuminated
The hill, streaking through the hickories
Above the spring. We’re high as kites
And walking through the fields. I was horney, as usual
And thinking about what we might do when
We went to bed. All the sudden it felt like I
Stepped through a thin wall of electricity, like
A membrane you could pass through – as it
Passed through you. It didn’t feel good – it
Was shocking but like something hidden too.
You knew no one would believe it.
I thought it was something to do with
The power lines - it was years before I
Figured out I felt it on the spot where soldiers

#10: “So I went after Linda Woods, the witch doctor. She come with a bottle of something, all striped with all colors, but when you shake it up it was all the same color. She rubbed her leg with it and told me to get all the life everlasting (a weed you know) that I could carry in my arm, and brew it for tea to bathe her leg in. Then pour it in a hole in the ground, but not to cover it up. Then not to go down the same road for nine days.


The Interviewer would like to know if you believe
In the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?

#11: “The following is a very old Negro sermon I found in an old scrap book dated 1839, belonging to Mrs. X. She says she has heard her family refer to parts of it at different time in her early life and supposed that the negro preacher belonged to her people. Quote: Mine deerly fren: Ub dar's wun ting wot de Lord abominerates worser nor anudder; it is a wicked nigger! A wicked wite man's bad snuff, dur Lord nose! but dey so dam wite, an so kussed sarcy, day doun no no better, so dar's some appolleragee fur 'em; but I gin yer for th noe as how, a wicked nigger can nibber scape frum de vengence ob de Lord-day's no use playin possum any more dan day was ob Joner coorin it into de wale's belly! (Glory from the congregation)”
Quote? Apparently the Interviewer believed it.

Voice X: “And the king said unto her, be not afraid; for
What sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw
Gods ascending out of the earth.”

#4: "No I'se jes ter scairt ter go whar day call up Spirits."

Voice X:
I sit at the crossroad at midnight, just
A black little hump, like a lump of clay, dark
And slick with poured-on blood. If you hadn’t
Come to meet me here – if you hadn’t had some
Need to converse – you might have passed by
Undisturbed. History is the hand
And that can bless or curse. But now that you’re
Here, glean, if you can, the metaphors
That will raise you from savage brute to
Clever Human.

#12: “There were auction-blocks near the court houses where the slaves were sold to the highest bidders. A slave would be placed on a platform and his merits as a speciman of human power and ability to work was enomerated the bidding began. Young slave girls brought high prices because the more slave children that were born on one's plantation the richer he would be in the future. Some slaves were kept just for this purpose, the same as prize thorough-bred stock is kept. In many instances slaves were treated like brutes and their places to sleep were like barn sheds with only a little straw, on which to sleep.”
#13: “I saw the slaves in chains after they were sold.”

Voice X: Ascending out of the earth, called up –
Disturbed… Will you let them speak?

#14: “Yes, the blood wuz a-streamin' down. Sumtimes theah hung them by theah feet, sometimes they hung them by theah thumbs.”

Voice X: Mercy is not retroactive.

#15: “
No I'se done believe in no ghosts hants or anything of that kind my white folks being "quality". I'se been raised by "quality"!

Voice X: There were once two men
Neighbors and the best of friends, sworn
To love each other to the end. They
Worked two farms divided only by
A little road – so I put on my favorite hat, one
Side white, one side black, and walked that
Path between them as they hoed respective
Patches. After I had passed them, one leaning
On his hoe, commented that my hat
Was black, and was disputed by his friend,
Who saw it white. An argument ensued and through
Hot words their Friendship ended. You could say
I'm the personification of philosophical accident.

#3: “Master White was good to the slaves, he fed us well and had good places for us to sleep, and didn't whip us only when it was necessary, but didn't hesitate to sell any of his slaves, he said, "You all belong to me and if you don't like it, I'll put you in my pocket" meaning of course that he would sell that slave and put the money in his pocket.

The day he was to sell the children from their mother he would tell that mother to go to some other place to do some work and in her absence he would sell the children. It was the same when he would sell a man's wife, he also sent him to another job and when he returned his wife would be gone. The master only said "don't worry you can get another one"

#16: “In this community most of the slaves were kept on farms and each family was given a well constructed log house. They were fed by provisions given them by their white masters and they were plentiful.”

“The darkies had suppers in their own quarters and had much merrymaking and laughter.”

#17: “These slaves were well housed, in cabins, well clothed and well fed, not overworked and seldom sold.”

#18: “I onced saw a light colored gal tied to the rafters of a barn, and her master whipped her until blood ran down her back and made a large pool on the ground. And I have seen negro men tied to stakes drove in the ground and whipped because they would not mind their master; but most white folks were better to their slaves and treated them better than they are now. After their work in the fields was finished on Saturday, they would have parties and have a good time. Some old negro man would play the banjo while the young darkies would dance and sing.”

Voice X:
“Oh the sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home, Tis
summer, the darkies are gay…”

"Nigger aint got no business being sot free, niggers still oughter be slaves. Us niggers did not hev to bother bout de victuals sor nuthin.

"Wen my Missis called us niggers gether and told us we was free I was as happy as a skinned frog but you seed I didn't have any sense. All niggers are fools.”

My dad said: “Pete stayed here until he got so old he
Couldn’t work, even after he was freed. He was
Big, powerful (6 foot 4, 250 lbs) – His hands
Would almost make
Two of mine.
He finally went to live with
His kids in Danville. He
Made a trip back here every
Year when I was a boy, and
It was interesting to hear him talk. One
Thing about him was
That we’d get ready for a meal and say,
‘C’mon Pete’ and he’d say,
‘No s’um, I’ll eat
after you folks.’ He wouldn’t
eat at the same table with us. I guess
it was drilled in his mind so heavy
that he wouldn’t.

#6: ‘Sho de dead can hant you if war not good to dem wen dey is livin'.

As a child I took offense, that Pete
Was buried by the graveyard gate, a ways
From all the rest. But closer to him now, or
Rather closer to my death, the spot seems
Best. His name reminds us of the light
And dark; of who we are, what we
Have because he worked, and,
Considering how this came about
Blessed he wanted to come back
and join us in the earth.

(Images from the Elmer Foote magic lantern collection, courtesy of the Lexington Public Library)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lucy J. Dutton

On the back of this cabinet card is writ:
Sam, Granny Dutton, Anna with Dan
Dutton, Sarah with Willie, Norman.

Granny, before she married, was
Lucy Jane Browning. With her granny
Pennington she fled
the 1833 cholera epidemic
in Jefferson Co.
Kentucky, to make their home in
Sweet Spring Missouri. Amongst the
inventory of things her
grandfather left, the iron pots and skillets,
an oven with its hook and legs, the sheets,
the quilts and beds, dishes, spoons, forks and knives,
the shoats, the steers, and thirty geese, were
listed slaves, including one, named Harriet
who would have been
age 32 the year that Pete was born.
She was the property of
Grandmother Pennington, who, we guess,
motivated by her love, gave Harriet's son, or sons,
to be
Lucy's living dowry.

My great grandfather, Daniel (1)
met her at the state fair in Louisville,
there to sell his wagon load of timber cut
from Dutton Hill's great forest of oaks. They
married in Missouri, 1844, and would have stayed
but on a visit home his father David
offered his seventh son 200 acres of the Dutton
farm, if he and Lucy would move back and tend it.
Daniel went back alone, on horseback to Sweet Springs,
and brought back Charles and Pete. Two years
later Lucy's younger sister, Susan America Browning,
married Martin, Daniel's brother.

In the photograph, Granny Lucy sits, it seems to me,
in self-possessing confidence. Dan holds Anna, who
will die in days of turning six. Sam and Norman, the sons
of Nannie, Dan's first wife, stand at each side. Willie, bedridden
when I knew her as a child, here is a child herself. In the camera
flash she almost merges into her mother, Sarah Belle's
voluminous snow white dress.

On the seat, at Lucy's back, is a crazy quilt, a novelty
in 1896. Phyllis says the stitches aren't by Sarah's hand.
It could be Granny Dutton pieced it herself. If so, some
scrap of wool in it that touched her husband's skin
is as close as I may come to him, great grandfather
who gave me my name. I have no proof that a brass
masonic snuffbox, rashly given to a former lover,
was his. There is, however, a story, that Lucy introduced
her grandchildren to smoke, by
asking them to light, with fireplace coals,
her corncob pipe.

Blood and Tree:

David, (the present and third one
In our tree) wonders at this winter’s game
Of matching faces on these faded cartes de visite
With the names of long dead kin. What
Life, he asks, is in it? And of ourselves,
The lives we’ve animated, stored in our
Machines in bits and pieces – surely future
People, sinking in the muck hole we have
Made them - the tainted air and poisoned
Springs – will disdain to read or even see
The mountains of data in the garbage
We leave. Good question.

And someone, maybe Shakespeare
Rambled on about the seed
of beauty,
Traveling through the tubes of flesh,
Popping out in successive generations
With its charms refreshed
For yet another round of adoration
Or neglect. The beloved being perfect
Only if
It will produce desired effects
And the wreck of unrequited love
Translated into mighty song.

Our individual lives fall
From the twigs, faded or
Glorious, as the
Forces of decay
And every furling second in
The sun is writ into the veins –
One has a shape that catches
The fire of the sun, another’s cut
To lace-work by the ravening worm
And all descend to common earth
Where shape’s undone.

In the dark center of
The old ancestral grove
The ground beneath the trunks
Is slick as glass with hlaut
Nine of every kind are hung
And drip
Their life-force on
The earth from which the trees
Have sprung.
There are no walls, and only
Gibbets to confirm
It is the place where god
And man conjoin. Here who dares
approach the runes stained
With red and black may hear
The things they sign for
Whispered by a creaking
Voice, death’s weight
Bearing on the branch and rope.

Voice X: “All-father! Why
Hast thou forsaken us?”

The corpses in a choir say hush
This is no place for your impertinence. The horror
Of forced brevity is like a hum
Made by a spinning lathe. Science has come
And its knowing moderates
Enlightened shine and
Bloodthirst for things, or so
We’d like to think. Our clay is ever
Mixed with gore, and our war
With the ancient dinosaurs of frost
And fire
Won’t come out well – eventually
We lose.

But lest we dwell on loss
too much, remember;
divination is a game – the faces and the names
upon the cards tell what we wish
and what we fear; where from,
where to; the barricades of too
little and too much… It’s a
for the honing of a thought -

(Voice X: “A god’s no more than a horse
to ride upon.”)

- and on
this thread, like spider’s web
the word weaver’s art
to suspend
our hope anon.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Sailor's Warning:

At dawn the moving
Undertufts of the cloud ceiling
Pushing in from the northwest
Are grazed by the red shafts of the sun
And become something beautiful
If the firey glow is seen as
Beauty, but it’s a sign, also
That rain soon will follow.

By the chimney there’s a leak
That I should fix. After a long space
I can hear a tick when a drop
Hits the linoleum floor, louder than
The quiet roar of thousands on the roof.
It’s another clock, but the time it tells
Is too complex to count upon a watch –
The works would need odd-numbered gears
And something to allow
For how the rainfall swells and slackens.
It’s hard to recognize the pattern
Because the devil

Is in the details. Why can’t God
Remember things without repeating? Whoever
Said what repeats is pleasant would
Have loved this place. The way it’s been created
Can compel you to go sailing over and over,
Even when the sky is plainly warning
What the sea has in store, unceasing rows of waves
Swelling with danger
And underneath, the unsounded dark
Cruised by sharks and squids.
So you watch the sky
But know you must adjust. Your luck
Will be better, I say, praying for beauty
Than mercy. We’re supposed to learn
From our mistakes, but with so many
What we learn is anybody’s guess.

The past returns to teach us; is
That it? The graveyard repeats over
And over that space and time are
Limited, or not, depending on how you look at it,
And the sky suggests infinity, with clouds
like flocks of sanguine sheep, headed toward
the sea cliffs ignoring their own warning
to plunge down and drown
in the very place they were born in. How’s
that for mixing metaphors? Oh poetry, writ
on a computer, are your lights lusters
of a new day dawning? Remind me, as
I’m herding words; the siren’s
Song precedes the storm.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Road Back In Time:

A few days back I was surfing around, looking for early photographs of African Americans in Kentucky, and happened on a collection of images made by Elmer Foote, mostly magic lantern slides, taken in my county sometime between 1900 and 1915. There were a few photos of later date, and to my amazement, this image of Dutton Hill, (on the left) made during the WPA projects (1935/43).
David and I went to the spot and I took a photo that shows the change between then and now.
The Elmer Foote Collection is in the archives of the Lexington Public Library, who very graciously have granted permission for me to work with the images.
The magic lantern slides were tinted, by hand - somehow the color is a bit of magic. And magical to see these images at all - a local photo historian told me that he'd never seen any images of African Americans taken in this county before the 40s, and even those are rare. Although they are probably not relatives of Pete and Charles, they could be. In any event, they are a little glimpse, albeit colored, into what life at the turn of the century would have been like for Pete, and Charles, if he was still around.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Blue Willow:

In the dirt of the ditch running down
Dave’s Holler, as the concealed jay, maybe Dave
Himself if there’s anything to metempsychosis,
Grouched that there was something inside the boundary
Less a problem than a snake or owl, but acting strangely
I graveled out a chip, blue and white, like his feathers.
On it, Spode’s famous chinoiserie bridge, under a
Frond of the cobalt willow tree, but
Something amiss, only two tiny figures crossing
The watery abyss –
The lovers, I suppose, sans her pursuing
Daddy with his whip.
Someone better versed in porcelain than me
Could date it and deny
It sat on Mary’s table.
But let’s say it did.

At sunset snowbanks sometimes
Are aglow with gold and cobalt hues,
Wool dyed with indigo is half the weft
In the coverlet on their bed (she spun and died the thread
Herself), an autumn sky can seem deep blue,
But not much in this wild place is
In 1822. Twelve winters she’s set out
The supper table here – William and Jonathon
were six and nine the first year, now they’re grown
men; Jack, Matt, Lou and Liz, the only girl followed them,
Little David – (and here, I think, she must have sighed, wondering
if and how he would survive. At six she can see he is a dwarf.)
Daniel is two and must be weaned,
Before the next one comes in spring. In her womb she feels
Him move, and prays
She doesn’t lose another baby - like the one, counted
Though he never breathed, that made
Daniel a seventh son.

Woman to man, Man to woman the hexing power
Passes, but it’s inborn in the seventh boy.

Outside the one frost-rimed window glass
The blue and gold has deepened into black,
And the cabin hunkers down to let
The cold wind roar above the shakes.
David will be making his way
Back down from the barn with the milk.
She rakes the potatoes and onions
From the ashes on the hearth, and lifts
The fragrant black iron kettle off
Its hook. The pork smells good.
The table’s set with the willow plates –
The pair of swallows, so the
Story tells
Were husband and wife before they were birds.

The hinge rasp fuses with the rasping jay,
A swirl of snow comes through the
Door, but the lamp goes got
As the years rush in
And nothing is here
In my hand
But a shard.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Walk at Twilight:

At twilight I took Alf out for a walk
following Bobby's tracks
across my late uncle's farm, and recalling
on the way, because we passed the old
cemetery of the Vaughts, how he'd asked me
when I was a kid, headed to the branch for
my first campout overnight, wasn't I
afraid of haints.
He's one now, if he's anything.

Rain has swelled Dry Branch
to a rush. Alf had to swim, I jumped.
We walked up to Bobby, standing still
on the hillside, watching his cows.
I stopped and stayed quiet, in a little while
he asked his greeting question - "What
do you think about it now?"
I think it's good was my reply.
A little more silence and he began to talk:

"There's another new calf over there, see her?
I found her in the branch, the cow'd had her
then she fell in. I got her out, still covered with
blood and afterbirth, carried her over there
on the hill to her mommy and she went to licking it off.
She didn't mind me at all. I raised her - I know what she is, and
she knows what I am."

The great curves of the hills stay peaceful and still
under the cropping of the cows, the grey mist is pulled,
imperceptibly by the branch, Bobby's voice is low, caressing the cows
who gather round him, or graze, some chewing their cuds, the little calf
I saw the other day can scamper now.

"This is good for them, they get used to you being around,
and then when you need to do something for them you can.
I know them - I've got cattle in my blood."

"I can watch them all day and all night, it don't bother me at all."

I stand around too, in the spell of his recounting -
the lives of individual cows, the color of each calf they've had, whether
they are nosey or shy, the story has no end -
the cattle, with their shaggy winter coats, seem ice-aged.
The chilly air bears down as we watch
the new calf get her legs, stand up and find the teat.
"Now she'll get some warm milk in her and warm her body up."
Soft, nearly whispered, the Keeper of the Herd observes
that all is well. I tell him that I've got to head back
to the house.

I walk a fallen limb over and Alf reswims
the branch, across the dimming field a hoot owl
from the dark woods. The Vaughts are buried at
the edge, and the soft-edged pulses of the sound
draw me to the graveyard fence. Many of the stones
are toppled, some fieldstones, ungraven, just stood up,
the lives they mark are somehow related
to my own
by the sodden ground, the farmer's spell,
and the sermon of the owl.

The Path:

January 5 2009
Cold air arrived in the night
Yesterday’s warm rain became
This morning’s chilly fog
I went back to the hidden
Hollow, poised to vanish
Between the flanks of the hill
With a school on one side and
A golf course on the other.
I stepped through the gap
In the fence, and climbed down
The slope
Letting the tear in the mist
Fuse back against the outside.
There were a lot of birds, one, hidden in the cedars
Announced me to the rest, most of them just sit-
ting on the branches, breasts ruffled against
The damp.
I squatted near a sinkhole broken through
To the spring-water running underground
Surrounded by the dark thicket of trees,
Enclosed in every direction with briar patch
Barricades. The rain
Has fed the springs and the sound,
Enclosed and muffled by the heavy thickets
Something over and over.

The path can still be clearly seen
Cut into the earth by repeated steps, a stop
Of stacked stones retains the slope above, the
Moss, fostered by cedar shade, and slender stalks
Of ebony spleenwort line the way
From the mouth of the holler, where the cabin stood
To the springhouse near the upper end.
They would have walked past two
Little enclosures, gardens or meadows, again
And again,
A line of stacked rocks shows
Where something, a fence or a wall
Once stood,
Those spaces filled now with
The powder-blue arcs of raspberry canes
Barely paler than the fog.
I am listening for what the air might sustain,
Not really looking, in case
Their movements might be retained
Somehow, and the mist, in its slow motion swirls
show the infinitesimal trace
Of a body moving on the trail

And I am being very still
Because this might work both ways.

The atoms of the mist suspend
The portals of the mind
Fitting an imagined pace
To what the body left behind;
A trace on the earth,
The round of chores,
A row of stones,
The path back

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Hidden:

33 years ago I had a big crush
that became a revelation. I saw beauty as being
(potentially) sexual
for the first time
just as I was leaving the high school
to walk home through the fields.
From the corner of the school
ground, across Caney Fork Creek,
A challenge sometimes, when the water was up,
Up a long slope, cattle-cropped, cross a long field,
past the Dutton Cemetery.
On a high flank extending out from the hill,
To an old fencerow with layers of wire, all
Grown through and over, with honeysuckle tangle,
I would climb over
And then, so I thought, step onto our land.

This particular day, just after crossing
the creek, as I walked past
The small hawthorn grove,
Which, it being the quintessence of spring,
Was full blown, and emanating, as they do at
Certain times, a light sweet but maddeningly sensual
Scent that hovered in the hillside air around me
Like a cloud of desire -
I stopped, as I usually did,
though not, before, inflamed by love,
To get a drink, wondering, also as many times before
If there wasn’t something about the stone in the spring pool
That suggested it had been placed there,
Or was part of something long gone. The giant tree
Whose roots the spring emerged from
Engaged my fantasy of the tree, said, in old Norse
Sagas to be an Ash, whose trunk
Supported the nine
of the universe. At the root, somewhere
Worlds below, was a spring, a single drink
Of whose icy water brought
Knowledge of all that was, is, and
will be.
I imagined the bark and branches grey
With lichens – old man’s beard
Hoary with fog droplets, the mist
Swirling about the hidden trunk, only seen
(suddenly) if you run toward the base of a limb
wide as a road, but curved, like the back of a
whale breaking the surface of the fog–enshrouded
sea. On other limbs, invisible in slow roiling
clouds of flying droplets, the sounds of branches being
gnawed on and twiglets snapped in mouthfuls
seemed strangely close in the chill moist air,
as though the stags and squirrels
who inhabited the limb-worlds were
whispering directly in your ear.

The well is somewhere unimaginably
Far below, there is no way
To shinny down, unless –
The wind-worn, lichen-festooned grooves
In the mighty bark ,being deep as creviced canyons
In a cliff wall, one did climb down, for days
Or maybe weeks, resting on the wondrous slopes
Of house-sized bracket fungus.
Traveling down, one becomes
Due to a sliding that loosens the certainty
Of dimension
With ever-greater speed, as pressure
In the deep compresses,
The barrier of size is crossed and
The realm of the dwarves arrives.
And that being, really, is not so much
Seen, as sensed, the fog, at this depth, is
Utterly condensed. He
Is the guardian of the spring,
Pausing like a crouched cat to whirl
Around and pounce
On anything near the water unaware.
And you must speak to him
As you speak with a cat, and say
Plainly that you’ve come
To strike a trade. For even past
Crushing the insolent with his fine forged
Hammer he adores
The code is simple;
Give the nature of what
You wish to receive. Don’t be afraid to be
Literal; the drink is visionary; offer
An eye.
(They do wear out in time.)
And this done, and the water
Dissolving, with icy clarity, the
Habit of being in a single place and time,
To something more like
The nine layers of mist world above,
Encircled round

This is what I thought beside that spring,
And that it had excellent watercress.

Little did I know, standing in the
Hawthorn cloud,
That if I walked ten
Yards to the west, I would have stepped into
The ghost-site of
My great, great-grandfather David
Dutton’s house, cedars pushing the
Disarray of limestones about, in
his and Mary’s hearth.
It was a cabin, of course, and he may
Have lived there till he died -
March 21, spring, in 1869.
The spot was lovely, a garden-sized flat
Of bottomland to the creek, approached
On the far side by a road, hugging the bluff
Above Caney Creek. There are, and were likely
Beeches lining the lane,
Reaching out over the creaking harness
Of the horses, dappling the sunlight,
In spring, with shade of yellow green
Leaves, to a pattern beside you on the
Wagon bench. Just ahead a fork goes off
Left to ford the creek and lead right
to the door, facing out and
Set in the mouth of a little hollow just
Big enough to cut the wind and shelter three
Tiny meadows, divided by walls of stacked rock,
Once fences or barn foundations, a path with a ferned
Rock side, leading to no less than 3 springs, the last one
With room for a tiny pond, where a cattail still grows,
beside the remnants of a springhouse of stacked stones.

The holler now is overgrown with a crop
That favors special spots, the pale blue arching
Of black raspberry canes, more
Than I’ve ever seen.
In the middle of the first patch
I discover an even bluer ring, barely
Protruding from the earth, and dig out
An enameled crock rim, swirled with clouds of white,
As though the sky had cleared
And heaven become
A decoration,
Like a joke
Shared with a ghost.

Thank heavens all the tangle of undergrowth
Was there, the tumbled piles of stones, the shadowed
Thicket of the cedar, the claw-set briars,
To form a blind,
And they, my ancestors, grown so remote in time,
That I could see only what I have described
And not
The exact moments they lived and died
Though those too
seem to linger
just a handsbreadth
hidden in the fog.

Did he too, mirror to my steps,
Step into the hawthorn cloud
His last spring
And dream, again, of being sixteen and seeing

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Oak:


My father was Joe, who made his home
Beside the oak, his father was
Dan, who made his home beside
The oak. His father was Dan
Who made his home beside the
Oak, his father was David, and whether
He made his home beside an oak
Or not is not known. How many before
chose oak to dwell by is not known, but
I know the oak is a door
And I choose to go through it.

The floor is dark with acorns, the
Hard horns of their pale green sprouts
Curve down, boring under the damp lobed leaves
Piled in drifts beneath the trees,
Serpent eggs that bore into the earth
Creaking sounds as the the wood stretches
In the night, the bark, if it could be heard, has a sound in it like
Breathing, as though your ear were pressed against
The chest of a rough man whose feet spired out of sight
Into the soil, dark too, and full of tiny cavities
Where the pale rootlets send out extensions,
Until everything below is slowly knitting itself,
Drinking at night something
Down under the stones, some hands of lace
Penetrate the roofs of caves, and catch condensation
In the black tunnels over the pools
Of the spring.
A canopy of foliated holes shows
The sky through them
That looks like the belly of a cloud,
Veined with lightning roots that
Feed it the colors of fire
And whatever it is the bottom of moves
Over the hill and domes itself above the oak,
The fog slithers down ropes onto the top side
Of the leaves with a hiss
The ozone seals itself through the twigs, and spirals
In slow coils along the branches to the trunk,
The breathing sound is hard now, in the crevices
Clogged with lichen, as the channels seal to the ground,
And magnificent torrents of slow blue bolts course
Down, popping acorns like corn, the earth
Beneath vibrates into a low hum, the tongue
Of cold flame reaches the water in the caverns below
And slowly laps.

The price for this is an eye,
Which has been taken, for the night
Of nine generations
You must penetrate yourself
With the shaft of your own mind,
In nine bodies hang
On my rough breast
I am your oak,
And kin.

(The springhouse, just over the slope and directly below where the old oak tree by the Dutton house stood. No one goes there now, but the water is still good.)