Two from the High Desert

The Trill

There above, there is a skylight, and a trill:

one of the household birds over my head—that

little colony of customers we have

among the richer troves of neighbor folk

with ponds and fancy feeders.

Across the view, a line of hills, a line of clouds:

they twine, a marriage of sorts, an in-out

mechanism—as marriage is, as love. Dark day

of blessing. There’s plenty rain. There has not been

rain for a thousand years it seems to us, nose

dry, throat dry, smoke in the eyes for weeks.

Never they say, never it breathes but pours.

When the fires burned a month ago:

from the three States: north,

west of us, our own across the ridge—smoke

lifting haze, apocalyptic light, smothered

the morning. There is a sign among the trees,

as if some wore a robe of mourning,

the robe a desiccated brown,

a prophecy: the dead among the live, those

who’ll await the once and future discontent,

those who will sleep without awakening.

Out with the dog and it’s as if a world,

a world was ending, as if the bomb, [the bomb

you may remember,] had dropped at last. And not

a flower in the garden all this year, no single

flower to humor the dry heart. But, there above,

the trill. To understand! To understand something

at last: how anything is given. How anything

evolves, and where it gets to, to what end—

where all seems endless [endless in purpose,

teleology.] Will the bird’s trill be a trill only?

Only a trill and past forever? In the red future?

In the abyssal present? Here plunging down to

some concretion, some fabric below which

it is not possible to go—and there it stands, the

trill, [stands?], no: suspended rather, suspended

in the restless, resting, eternity of air. And so

above, the trill. If it’s not possible for me, life,

joy, in its most ancient, laughing habit—at least

the beak. Let the bird joy, live, signify there is

some purpose in the purposeless.

There is no movement forward. Despairingly,

you try to move but cannot. Yet everything

connects. Sometimes, you know, the poem can-

not stop: from day to day, a gift in fragments.

—Nathaniel Tarn (b,1928)

Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers (2008)



At Wovoka’s Ghostdance Place

I blow dandelion heads

across Wovoka’s ghostdance place.

Hear tractors whine through alfalfa fields.

Hear the call of deer continuing history.

Feel moment to moment

the river’s bend, shift of jetstream

bringing rain, heat in snakes

moving across highway.

I bow to magpies

drinking in light from dark,

old sediment, to grass waving

with resilience, to the force of everything

here long before us.

The way it was and who it’ll come back to be,

yielding, yielding

to all of it

that’s yielded me.


Walker River Nevada

Vernal Equinox, 1990


—John Brandi (b1943)

Shadow Play: Poems 1987-1991 (1992), also in Heartbeat Geography: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1966-1994 (1995) 


“Tarn’s work brings together mythology, Western and Eastern philosophy, political commentary, scientific investigations, naturalistic descriptions and very personal love poetry. This poetry redefines nature and art for human culture, bringing a genuine psychological and linguistic curiosity about the human mind, about what it means to be human.”

~ Brenda Hillman, Jacket


To stop life’s turn to nightmare

adopt the colorful patience of birds.

~ Nathaniel Tarn 


I love John Brandi’s ‘pledge to clarity,’ his politics in the sense of witness, his candor, his delight & heart towards children & friends, his terrific travel details…[his poems] sing with life.

~ Anne Waldman


Rumor has it he’s been tossed out of saloons throughout Bali & swamis lock the gates of ashrams when he’s in town, yet monkeys seem to like him.

~ Fishdrum


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