Timothy Murphy,1951- 2018; RIP

I cannot do justice to Tim’s many interests and careers here even if it were not late at night. Farmer, businessman; poet and student of poetry, vigorous with unfashionable rhyme and meter (it was said that under the tutelage of his Yale mentor, Robert Penn Warren, he memorized 30,000 lines of Greek and English poetry); adventurer, gay man, gun nut (a 28 bore on the prairie!); Catholic (as another Catholic writer, Michael Gruber, once put it, practicing and trying to be perfect, with no illusions!)

In a just world he might well have been poet laureate, and he was enviably productive too. His cancer diagnosis spurred him into writing at least four extra BOOKS!

He wrote the best poems on dogs of our time, and on our common mortality:

When the returning dove
roosts at your mother’s grave,

Ill bury a box of ash
beside her in the sod.

Vaya con Dios, love,
You were the dog of God.

Our fellow bird hunter, Catholic, and writer Jameson Parker called him “A Predatory Poet in a State of Grace.” Exactly right.

Oh and– for extra cool points: His childhood babysitter was Bob Dylan,

Wild Poem

From a wild poet friend, Tim Murphy, as he fights his cancer battle…

The Four H’s Again
for Steve Bodio

Last night I dreamed I flew an eagle-owl,
her wing span just six feet,
the talons of her feet
clutching my fist, horned ears above her cowl.

We hunted high, hard scrabble Kazakhstan,
my barrel-chested horse
scrambling aloft in force
for wolf, the war bird’s muffled glide our plan.

The peaks above still buried deep in snow,
we rode on broken ground,
hunter, hawk, horse and hound
as sheep and goats lay grazing far below.

A wolf flushed far under a bergshrund’s rift.
Launched, and the stealthy strike was blinding swift.

Tamgaly petroglyphs, Kazakh Steppe N of Almaty, 6000 years old; “4H”. The rider is the stick figure across from the quarry…

Good Bones

Several people have sent me links to Nora Krug’s Washington Post essay on Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones”- you know, the one that begins “Life is short/ Though we keep it from our children” (sorry, no link- still hypertext challenged).

Although I agree with everything she says, and recommend the essay, which also features Smith reading from the poem, I am more cynical.

I think we don’t tell them how short life is because they wouldn’t– couldn’t– believe it

UPDATE: Aaah, here:

Rock and Hawk

“This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the seawind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.

I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final

Life with calm death; the faqlcon’s
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.”

Robinson Jeffers, Rock and Hawk

Black Gyr on basalt in Iceland, taken by Kirk Hogan theee days ago

Rockabilly Poetry!

I finally got Effigies II, the  London- published collection of five Native female poets that includes Ungie Davila;  Most are dutiful to OK, but Ungelbah’s are brilliant, partially because she draws upon the  cultural history of New Mexico as seen through the rhinestone – studded red sunglasses and sensibilties of a talented cowpunk artist and pinup esthete who knows history, rodeos, and the Fifties. I have known her since she was born, in 1987, thirty miles south of the pavement in her father’s house, a unique passive- solar creation built of stone by Mexican craftsmen and tucked beneath the slopes of a little volcano, a house that stays warm even in winter despite the subzero temperatures of Mangas in winter, especially between the twin peaks, Escondida and Allegre, and watched her grow and travel from the ranch to Quemado to the Japanese diaspora in Taiwan and Brazil to the Prado. She has learned from her father, the bronc rider, chickenfighter, and world traveler; from her mother, born to a Navajo mother, now a professional Culinary- school- trained pastry chef, from her ancient grandfather Pete Daniel, prophet- bearded Jack Mormon gold prospector and hand, who has sought treasure off the coast of Belize and in the mountains of New Mexico; from her girlhood mentor Russell Means; perhaps even from reading her old semi-uncle, me. She is at home on the ranch, in Albuquerque, Europe and Asia, at a keyboard, behind a lens and in front of one. She is indeed The Gothest Girl I Can. And these good poems are not even new; I believe they pre- date her  (recently folded) La Loca magazine.

I  have not gotten permission to reprint these poems, as I don’t have Ungie’s current numbers and John is off the grid, but I am sure printing them to promote Ungie’s career comes under the doctrine of Fair Use. And I encourage Ungie or any of her friends who read this to get in touch with me.

 John when Ungie was about one:

Aaaah, a little more…

New Tim Murphy

Enjoy these- they will only be up for a month…

September, an Ode

Song for the Sandhills

Forested shoulders sloping down its valley,
the Sheyenne carves its way through North Dakota
to Agassiz, lakebed of the Red River.
I pass a timber truck to prove that logging
endures far east of our Montana mountains.

Certainly cutting spruces, climax forest,
their seed borne to the plains in bison droppings,
much as the Sioux fled from the Ojibwa
who built birch bark canoes to run our rivers
long before the Lakota learned Horse Culture.

Lake Agassiz burst east, out through the Pigeon
to feed the Great Lakes, clear to the St. Lawrence.
How slowly it retreated questing northward
to bring its mighty river up to Churchill.
Agassiz lapped six hundred feet above me.

Long hunting the Sheyenne National Grasslands,
a vast moraine, scrub oak-clad hills and prairie
draining its watershed forever northward,
bound for the Arctic, bound for the Aurora,
it makes an aging man feel mighty youthful.

No Township, Range or Section

There ain’t no grouse in southeast North Dakota
save for one secret spot I have long scouted,
a half section high on the Sheyenne’s shoulder,
gravel moraine, weather-rounded erratics
left in the wake of our retreating glacier.

An eastern outlier of short grass prairie,
what makes it magic is its silverberry,

knee-high shrubs irrestible to sharp tails
who covet berries dangling at eye level.
Treeless covert, I found it in my twenties
well before dawn, wingtip to wingtip covey
hurrying home from water at a stock pond.

Don’t ask me where, it’s under strict embargo,
but lies less than a hundred miles from Fargo.

Ransom County Rambles

Force five gale from the West, the grouse flushed wild,
and I was porting my tiny Twenty-eight.
The slingshot that I brandished as a child
might have been more lethal.  We came too late,

grouse in the silverberry wide awake,
skittish, flushing seventy-five yards out,
three years since I left grouse guts in my wake,
the prairie lush, healed of our summer drought.

Tomorrow I’ll go back, heavier iron.
Long before dawn we’ll leave our little house,
vest up at sunrise and explore the siren
scent trails of the wary prairie grouse.

Hunting at Sixty-five

Clothe me in camouflage, and like as not
I’ll miss because my reflexes are shot,
my eye is bleary, and my legs are not

fit to pound up four hundred hillside feet
behind young Chucky, every bit as fleet
as Feeney.  Let me not just repeat

triumphs recorded long ago when young.
Let me swirl sips of whiskey on my tongue,
recalling barn doors where my cocks were hung

to air, their entrails in the bloodied grass
where young hunters sigh with a soft alas
this hunt is over, and this too shall pass

when like our forebears we are growing old.
Too soon I shall come in out of the cold.

Best of Seasons

I’ve longed to farm the Sheyenne River bottoms,
their topsoils black as the Red River Valley.
Instead I’ve hunted them for forty autumns.
Wake in the dark, sleepless before each sally,
white line fever, the asphalt still before me,
Columbian the coffee to restore me.

Ploughshares too swiftly bury all the stubble,
no pigeon grasses for the witch doves’ covens,
and every day I pray to shoot a double
jalapenoed and baconed for our ovens.
Sumac turns crimson and the aspens yellow.
I scratch the soft ears of my little fellow

and offer praises to the One who made me
and every side hill scrub oak that will shade me.

A Poem for the New Dogs

Margory Cohen sent this, by the late, great, and much- missed Vicki Hearne:

The New Hound Puppy

Now it is time for her name –

Start the call.  The time may come
For her job, which is to run
Holes in the palpable wind

Hallowed by world and the world
Will collapse, follow this hound
Through meteoric  valleys.

Wolf-shag domains.  Here God says
Himself through the wolf until
A slenderness of hound bitch

With a speed like silk shimmers
At God, all arc and angle,
Revelations for voice.  So

It was in the beginning
And evermore shall be, so
Her arcs speak back to the light

Which is become an affair
Of luminous shadows, so
It was in the beginning

And evermore shall be in
Her temporal impudence,
Intended as litany.

Vicki Hearne

Tricks of the Light
University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London

New Poems from Tim Murphy

To Stephen Bodio

I dreamed I was striding beside your horse,

        dogs coursing in the mist,

        the falcon on your fist

husbanding her inconceivable force.

Shahin, hoping that we were hunting quail,

        spiraled aloft to hover

        as we quartered her cover.

Over the brush we saw a single sail,

then broke the covey. At an explosive flush

       the blinding stoop and kill.

       On a High Desert hill

she nibbled neck meat in the windless hush.

Yours is the hunter’s highest form of art.

       Beside my prairie stream

       I read your books and dream,

sharing the wild passion in your heart.

Horseman NOT!

I never learned to gallop on a horse.

       Just once my Stetson flew

       and even worse, I knew

greenhorn disgrace, bounced from my mount, of course.

Aged six I’d had a Shetland pony rear,

      throwing me to a rock

      where coming to in shock

Timmy conceived a new deep-seated fear.

Soon I’ll fly south to ride with Bodio

      and watch his falcon sail

      high over furtive quail,

hoping my host will let us take it slow.

Mountains for me are best designed for walking,

       hoisting a heavy pack

       up a steep switchback track

or seated on a saddle gently rocking.

Road Trip

Syrdal and I flew down to Albuquerque

to hunt spruce grouse, cousin to our wild turkey.

Steve flew his goshawk (said to taste like chicken.)

It was a thrill to see that big bird kickin’

grouse from the air, felling them for Steve’s hounds

who warily circled our killing grounds.

This was a trip on each man’s bucket list.

Steve’s books and some Youtubes you might have missed

were all we knew of what we came to see,

New Mexico’s desolate majesty

where Steve mastered the art of falconry.

(An ornithological correction: we are too far south for spruce grouse.Though if we did hawk for them, a Gos, one of their natural predators, would be a good choice. Seems that “Sage” would work, poetically and historically, although our population is no longer huntable).

Siberian male Gos on the Hi- Line in Montana, chasing Sharptails, by Rob Palmer at Falcon photos.

Harrison Poem

They used to say we’re living on borrowed
time but even when young I wondered
who loaned it to us? In 1948 one grandpa
died stretched tight in a misty oxygen tent,
his four sons gathered, his papery hand
grasping mine. Only a week before, we were fishing.
Now the four sons have all run out of borrowed time
while I’m alive wondering whom I owe
for this indisputable gift of existence.
Of course time is running out. It always
has been a creek heading east, the freight
of water with its surprising heaviness
following the slant of the land, its destiny.
What is lovelier than a creek or riverine thicket?
Say it is an unknown benefactor who gave us
birds and Mozart, the mystery of trees and water
and all living things borrowing time.
Would I still love the creek if I lasted forever?

Another Wind River Poem

From Tim:

Wind River Justice

Alan riding his first horse from Big Sandy
to celebrate his thirty-seventh birthday:
his mare reared in the lodgepoles when a spruce grouse
flushed and nearly pitched him down a switchback.
My own gelding stampeded through a meadow,
and our young wrangler called those ponies “gentled.”

We braved Pyramid’s boulders, Barnard’s clinkers,
apogees of our climbs in the Wind Rivers,
then turned our backs forever on those summits,
Gannet, the tallest peak in all Wyoming,
the Highline Trail cleavered between the Temples.
We limped, blistered, back to our dusty Bronco.

There stood a girl, sobbing beside the stables.
The boy, his terror turned to helpless fury,
and a young ranger argued mixed-use forest,
treeline grazing, lamb-eating bears and coyotes,
leash law and the permitted use of rifles.
Read the rules posted at every entrance.

Two hikers had surprised the sheep at twilight,
young Lykos growled, then raced across a meadow
three thousand feet above Big Sandy Trailhead,
and a Basque herder shot the German shepherd
which met no blue heeler or border collie,
no, only a rifle.  Wind River Justice.

Bernie Kelly sadly saddled his horses.
Bearers rode up, and Lykos down the mountain,
but who descends it twenty-three years later,
no longer carrying Murphy or a backpack?
Slippery the scree, the pool below unfathomed.
Where is the meadow and the watchful shepherd?