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Tim Bellows


Afternoon Off, Writers' Conference, Squaw Valley

One of our housemates upstairs—blonde, slim,
nervous with environmental and literary issues—
sings a Spanish opera I didn't know she had in her.
The edge of her voice tells me she's a beer drinker.
She plays with her castanets a while and I can tell
she's feeling coy, content. (Tonight she's decided
to drink, to perform for our stranger-friends.)
On the narrow deck off the kitchen door
I listen over steamed carrots and rice.
Other housemates are gone for hikes or
new restaurants in the summer afternoon where I'm
lonely and excited, full of no plans, just
sitting outside, now with dessert:
half a cup of spring water with ten drops
of stirred-in He Shou Wu. I too dissolve,
hear the swish of big rigs and cars along the road
Various waterfalls feed an everlasting shhh,
A music, distant, white and wet across the steep land.

Leaves chatter in the upper air, blue-white wind.
Hands and hammers of a builder bang on plywood.
Power saws' heft and grunt rise and roll over into
But I'm all wildlife—an evening bird's music
Coming early to me, no doubt to show me into some
some listening big as any Sierra lake or mountain. His
tips in and out of minor thirds, fifths, root notes—
back and forth in the sifted green-light blend that
stirs under leaves and needles around the condo.
I'm held but traveling along the rivering sounds,
Filing in with the choir into its temple,
Temple, snowbound, far in the Hindu Kush, temple
with a choir of secrets that use one breath
large and lit as northern ice. They sing the prime
three notes,
notes that hold my skin to its bed of blood and
hold my eyes inside sinew and cavity of bone. Notes
that invite my hearing to catch what goes unsaid,
to swoon and fly outward the way you might imagine
dying after well-honed practice or well-aligned
for, say, red potatoes simmering, a cat slinking out
of the cupboard.
A dying relaxed as any accidental nap where I wake up
sense that the woman upstairs has fallen some distance

through sleep. Blonde, slim, empty of her talents and
In thought, I thank her for her reminders in the day's
noise and
Chopin hush, in the cocky clay-ocarina passion of
Spanish opera.
I thank her for all the humming, tapping, pacing music
writers I
do not know—with their all-pervading,
loping strides; broad meadows full of them—
all infinitely elastic, massless,
out to save us all.


Tim Bellows, with a graduate degree from the Iowa Writers´ Workshop, teaches writing at Sierra College in Northern California.  In November 1997, his Huts Under Smooth Hills was nominated for the 23rd Annual Puschart Prize.  He continues to publish rambunctious, compassionate work (in some 85 journals), to gather a collection of poems (Dreams of Long Grasses: Poems In and Out of the Body), and to polish his collected essays on poetry and perception (Toolroom for Dreamers).  He recently published, with Kerby Smith, A Racing Up the Sky.
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