SageGreenJournal.org voices out of the West, mostly poetry, personal to planetary...
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poet, writer, planner, mountaineer, guide, teacher & natural resource manager from
Editor's Note: Michael passed away Sept. 26, 2013. Mike’s life and work were a reflection of his intellectual curiosity and varied interests. He spent four years as a steelworker at the Duquesne works while he attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he received a Bachelor’s degree in anthropology, and a Master’s degree in planning. He continued his education at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder Colorado. Mike published seven books of poetry: Steel Valley; If You Can Still Dance With It: Stone Belly and Cold Mountain; Whistleblowers: The Free Radical Railroad; Broken Hand Peak; Underground: Free Radical Railroad; Blue Flowered Lettuce; Hardscrabble; and edited another, Singing This Great Body Together: In Remembrance of September 11, 2011.
Michael was the winner of the 2007 Mark Fischer Poetry Prize. I considered him a great friend and a marvelous poet. "Broken Hand Peak" was one of Dolores LaChapelle's favorite poems. Our thanks to Mike's widow, Claire Mearns of Lafayette, for letting us reprint it here.
You can read more of Michael's poetry at
“Because the virtues of the mountain are high and broad,
the power to ride the clouds is always penetrated from the mountains;
and the ability to follow the wind is inevitably liberated from the mountains.”
Hey, Sun, Wake up!
Wake up, Sun!
It’s cold down here in the dark.
Cup of scalding tea, hot oatmeal --
with a sliver of moon I begin the climb.
Twisted shapes emerge slowly in the growing dawn, until,
breaking free of the horizon, the sun illuminates
a stunted forest of alpine firs.
Bathed in fire, I face the risen sun.
Tai chi on the mountain’s flank
High above dark valley
roots thrust deep in rock
I grasp clouds
Ancient motifs of Taoist monks --
Plucking Bird’s Tail Single Whip
White Stork Spreads Wings
Partition of the Wild Horse’s Mane
Master Ta-Yang Shan-K’ai spoke:
“The blue mountains are constantly walking”
And Dogen: “He who doubts that the mountains walk
does not yet understand his own walking.”
Wave Hands Like Clouds --
shadows cross the valley bottom
Resuming the climb:
“Their virtue is perfect, therefore
they are constantly walking.”
Hoping some of this virtue will rub off,
I also walk a lot,
wear out my boots.
One foot in front of the other,
keep moving, walk a thousand miles,
climb a hundred mountains, from each one
a hundred more to climb.
Pointless, yet so enticing.
“Tao, the way of Taoism, consists of two characters --
ch’o, representing a foot taking a step and shou, a head.”
Without movement, no perspective.
Life constantly wear out shoes.
Up through black rock, Sky Pilot
and Parry’s Primrose --
Each step, walk in beauty.
North, above the upper lake, snow fills the valley headwall
below Crestone Peak and Bear’s Playground.
Still black bears here, but grizzly --
ursus arctos horribilis --is no more.
The spirit of the great bear is gone,
and we are all poorer for it.
“My paw is sacred. All things are sacred.”
In all this land, no beast fiercer than man.
At a loss for something real to fear,
we conjure devils from smoke.
Steps become slower; breathing, deeper, as the air thins.
Step Inhale Step Exhale
We all got rhythm
13,600 feet --
Summit: Broken Hand Peak
and the Earth’s lies below my feet!
Sangre de Cristo --
Blood of Christ!
This morning’s tea pissed now
under the same sun that shone on the mountains
these rocks were worn from --
Cobbly Crestone conglomerate, washed down
amphibian rivers before Tyrannosaurus
was even a wicked gleam in a dreaming lizard god’s eye,
thrust from ancient cthonic sleep
to feathered avian sky.
West: A 6,000’ drunken, ankle-busting stumble
of rock and canyon to the San Luis Valley –
Bigger than Delaware! Flatter than Kansas!
Dwarfing whole Manhattans of human pride.
Old Mexican land grants atop the continent-splitting Rio Grande rift.
Creeks that disappear into 10,000 feet of sediment,
marshes, Sandhill cranes, potato fields,
santos, knee-worn penetentes and adobe earth.
Farther west: La Garita Mountains, Cochetopa Hills,
and the San Juan peaks, all punched up into the sky
by the crashing of distant tectonic plates,
And then, the land’s long declension to its final struggles
with California and the Juan de Fuca plate.
South: New Mexico, Rio Grande,
Sisnaajiní, sacred mountain of Diné
North: mountains all the way to the arctic!
I couldn’t live without mountains.
Gradient fires the blood like a woman’s smile--
quick glimpse of mountain’s flank
through clouds, flash of thigh
under wind-lifted skirt,
sun on wet rock, caress of stone
of soft belly flesh, sexy dance
of mammal joy above the abyss.
Old Taoists went to the mountains
life and truth always walking.
I think of those old immortals,
wandering the wild body of the earth,
caressing her hills and rivers, poems
on bark and rock, eternal truths that no one
would ever hear uttered
beside rain-swelled streams and waterfalls.
To be one of those old men --
laughing and crying at nothing and everything
all day, all days surrounded by grandeur,
eating sleeping shitting carrying water
Beauty all around,
marvelous and ordinary.
Warm air rises as the sun heats the land,
clouds build over the peaks, warning -- go down!
But, jealous of this mountain that I have to myself today,
I decide to gamble on my luck and stay.
I daydream of the glory –
Deep in the San Juan Mountains,
high atop Vestal Peak.
Sun behind me, a pale circle
in the clouds, I float above a sea of mist,
the valley dim yet shining far below.
A huge and haloed figure stretch beneath me.
I raise my arm, the specter raises his.
Spectre of Brocken, glory or saint
“Simply stated, the glory is produced by scattering of light from water droplets
back towards the sun, thus enhancing the light. This enhanced light is what can
cause the valley below to be seen in psychedelically bright colors.”
To command sun and mist, wind and water!
God or shaman, to purge the race, renew the dance, restore
all free and wild beings, set song and laughter loose in the heart!
“Suddenly I became aware that the Boddhisatva Samantabhadra had
bequeathed his manifestation to this human world, displaying many varieties
of visible phenomenon.”
Where is your camera! Kim demands.
But the glory won’t wait for us to capture it, and is gone.
I come to the mountains to breathe
(Upward step, life always walking)
Get above the choking smog-filled air,
my bitterness at what we’ve done to this land --
what we’ve done to ourselves --
aliens, possessing all, always hungry
To caress the mountain – lover, earth
give her my pain, receive joy in return
and the courage to ...
Lightning on Milwaukee Peak!
Reality thunders on the lyric heights.
I’ve daydreamed myself right into a storm
and the sky opens with frightening swiftness.
Hail coats the rocks and I run,
risk broken bones over electric death
as lightning marches toward me along the ridge, crashing all around.
And then, as quickly as it came, the lightning passes north,
sparing me in my foolishness, and the hail gives way to a steady rain.
Wet and cold but still alive,
I’ve survived this brush with mortality.
Cautious now down wet rock and steep grass,
then, easier ground, through the willows, running
as the clouds begin to break.
Give me Life! Struggle! Rapture! Death! Rebirth!
What can matter more than this?
Reincarnation as mushroom, bluebell, in a few cycles
marmot, coyote, ferruginous hawk --
resurrecting the poetry of the soil.
The sun at camp,
a huge bird’s eye,
brings mist up from the meadows.
My appetites are enormous, for now
there are crackers, cheese and chocolate.
“The nation may topple, but the mountains and rivers remain.”
I strip wet clothes, lie naked upon a huge boulder – already
warming in the sun -- in the midst of wildflowers.
Think of old Coyote --
Trickster Creator God Fool --
in delight at finding buffalo after long searching,
shakes his member at the herd.
Do you see it, my member! he shouts,
pointing with it east, south, west, north.
Yes! I see it! I see it!
And I won’t stop talking
until you sleep with your mother-in-law.
Well, that’s Coyote for you,
always getting himself in trouble,
forgetting in his joy that we bring the world to life around us
with song and dance, poetry and celebration.
Tell me, what song do you choose?
Let us sing to the forest, the elk, our own imperfect
and marvelous bodies and the dark wild other.
To this mountain and all
who may pass before her.
The quotes from Dogen and Master Ta-Yang Shan-Kai are from Carl Bielefeldt’s translation of Dogen’s Mountains and Rivers Sutra.
Sisnaajini (Diné> literally “Black Sash Mountain” but referred to traditionally as “White Shell or Dawn Mountain”) is said to be Mount Blanca and the Sierra Blanca Massif at the southern tip of the Sangre de Cristo Range. It is the eastern boundary of Dinetah, the Navajo homeland.
The quotes on Taoism and the Glory are from Earth Wisdom by Dolores LaChapelle.
The information on atmospheric pressure is from physicalgeography.net
The Coyote tale is from Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping With His Daughter by Barry Lopez.
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