Singing in an American Key

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An American Voice: The Poetry of Gary Snyder – Part I of VIII

“December At Yase”

You said, that October,
In the tall dry grass by the orchard
When you chose to be free,
“Again someday, maybe ten years.”

After college I saw you
One time. You were strange,
And I was obsessed with a plan.

Now ten years and more have
Gone by: I’ve always known
where you were—
I might have gone to you
Hoping to win your love back.
You still are single.

I didn’t.
I thought I must make it alone. I
Have done that.

Only in dream, like this dawn,
Does the grave, awed intensity
Of our young love
Return to my mind, to my flesh.

We had what the others
All crave and seek for;
We left it behind at nineteen.

I feel ancient, as though I had
Lived many lives.

And may never now know
If I am a fool
Or have done what my
karma demands.

Above – Gary Snyder (born 1930), circa 1966.
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An American Voice: The Poetry of Gary Snyder – Part II of VIII

“Riprap”

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way,
straying planets,
These poems, people,
lost ponies with
Dragging saddles–
and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
four-dimensional
Game of Go.
ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.

Below – The foothills of the Sierra Mountains near Nevada City, California, where Gary Snyder made his home in 1970. Note: In the words of one writer, riprap “is rock or other material used to armor shorelines, streambeds, bridge abutments, pilings and other shoreline structures against scour and water or ice erosion.”

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An American Voice: The Poetry of Gary Snyder – Part III of VIII

“Above Pate Valley”

We finished clearing the last
Section of trail by noon,
High on the ridge-side
Two thousand feet above the creek
Reached the pass, went on
Beyond the white pine groves,
Granite shoulders, to a small
Green meadow watered by the snow,
Edged with Aspen—sun
Straight high and blazing
But the air was cool.
Ate a cold fried trout in the
Trembling shadows. I spied
A glitter, and found a flake
Black volcanic glass—obsidian—
By a flower. Hands and knees
Pushing the Bear grass, thousands
Of arrowhead leavings over a
Hundred yards. Not one good
Head, just razor flakes
On a hill snowed all but summer,
A land of fat summer deer,
They came to camp. On their
Own trails. I followed my own
Trail here. Picked up the cold-drill,
Pick, singlejack, and sack
Of dynamite.
Ten thousand years.

Below – The Tuolumne River in Pate Valley.
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An American Voice: The Poetry of Gary Snyder – Part IV of VIII

“After Work”

The shack and a few trees
float in the blowing fog

I pull out your blouse,
warm my cold hands
on your breasts.
you laugh and shudder
peeling garlic by the
hot iron stove.
bring in the axe, the rake,
the wood

we’ll lean on the wall
against each other
stew simmering on the fire
as it grows dark
drinking wine.
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An American Voice: The Poetry of Gary Snyder – Part V of VIII

“Piute Creek”

One granite ridge
A tree, would be enough
Or even a rock, a small creek,
A bark shred in a pool.
Hill beyond hill, folded and twisted
Tough trees crammed
In thin stone fractures
A huge moon on it all, is too much.
The mind wanders. A million
Summers, night air still and the rocks
Warm. Sky over endless mountains.
All the junk that goes with being human
Drops away, hard rock wavers
Even the heavy present seems to fail
This bubble of a heart.
Words and books
Like a small creek off a high ledge
Gone in the dry air.
A clear, attentive mind
Has no meaning but that
Which sees is truly seen.
No one loves rock, yet we are here.
Night chills. A flick
In the moonlight
Slips into Juniper shadow:
Back there unseen
Cold proud eyes
Of Cougar or Coyote
Watch me rise and go.

Below – Piute Creek.
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An American Voice: The Poetry of Gary Snyder – Part VI of VIII

“Hay for the Horses”

He had driven half the night

From far down San Joaquin

Through Mariposa, up the

Dangerous Mountain roads,

And pulled in at eight a.m.

With his big truckload of hay

behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks

We stacked the bales up clean

To splintery redwood rafters

High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa

Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,

Itch of haydust in the 

sweaty shirt and shoes.

At lunchtime under Black oak

Out in the hot corral,

—The old mare nosing lunchpails,

Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds—

“I’m sixty-eight” he said,

“I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.

I thought, that day I started,

I sure would hate to do this all my life.

And dammit, that’s just what

I’ve gone and done.”

Below – Bucking hay.
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An American Voice: The Poetry of Gary Snyder – Part VII of VIII

“There Are Those Who Love To Get Dirty”

There are those who love to get dirty
and fix things.
They drink coffee at dawn,
beer after work,

And those who stay clean,
just appreciate things,
At breakfast they have milk
and juice at night.

There are those who do both,
they drink tea.

Below – Gary Snyder drinking tea during his student days at Berkeley.
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An American Voice: The Poetry of Gary Snyder – Part VIII of VIII

“Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout”

Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

Below – Sourdough Mountain Lookout in the North Cascades.
Sourdough Mountain Lookout

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