The Works Of Buff Whitman-Bradley

Buff Whitman-Bradley's poetry has appeared in many print and online journals. He is the author of two books of poetry, b. eagle, poet, and The Honey Philosophies. With his wife Cynthia, he is co-editor of the forthcoming bookAbout Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War (PM Press, 2011), and co-producer/director of the documentary film Outside In. He is also co-producer/director of the new documentary Por Que Venimos. He and his wife live in northern California.

All Poems © Buff Whitman-Bradley

Although I Am Too Tired

 

Although I am too tired

To go to the woods today

I will nevertheless

Go to the woods today

Aiming to evict the little natterer

Who after my hectic week

Has once again take up residence

Inside my brain

Prattling on and on without punctuation

About matters great and small

Until his obsessive yammering

Starts to make me feel a little loony

Like now

 

Best is to find a log to sit on

Near a grove of redwoods

Or a comfortable boulder beside a creek

And gradually shift my attentions

From the jabbering fellow inside

Outward

To the sunlight angling through the treetops

And warming small patches

On the cool wet ground

Or to the deconstruction crew of woodpeckers

Jack-hammering the trunks

Of defunct oaks

Or to the slow waters

Performing pianissimo arpeggios

In the rocky stream bed

And when my cerebral chatterbox realizes

He has lost his audience

As always he will scutter away

Into the tangled green undergrowth

Without a backward glance

Leaving me alone at last

And once again able to hear myself

Not think

 


Bikes & Trains: 9 poems


1.

A young boy is riding his bike in the park

Pumping his right hand up and down making chuffing noises

As I pass by I ask him Are you driving your train

He looks at me sternly and says This is a bicycle


2.


The day Joe Ragsdale got stung on the dick by a bee

He and Monte Conway and I had ridden our bicycles out into the woods

Where we built a fire and cooked Spam and Wonderbread for lunch

Afterwards Joe walked over by some milkweed to take a pee


3.

Time goes more slowly closer to large masses

So if you are planning to visit the red spot on Jupiter

You should not travel by rail because

Although the trains there are never late they never actually arrive


4.

The boy who had no friends loved his bicycle so much

He brought it into his room every night before he went to sleep

It was the first thing he saw when he woke up in the morning

And the two of them would lie there for a while talking about their dreams


5.


We reserved seats on the all-night train from Uruapan to Mexico City but

Found all the places occupied by Tarascans taking their meager wares

To the Saturday market and I shamed myself by shouting at those

Quiet people with laps full of children that my kids had nowhere to sit


6.


Imagine a few million of us riding our bicycles day and night

From cities and towns and villages across America

Arriving all at the same time in Washington D.C.

And surrounding the Pentagon to demand our money back




7.

On the Bullet Train to the deep north the great poet Basho wrote:

Harvesting rice they

Pause to watch the train flash by

Parting the white mist


8.

In one of those cheesy parking lot circuses a bear

In a red coat with gold epaulettes rides a bicycle across a tightrope

In the darkness outside the ring of bright lights

An owl trills, the bear looks up


9.


In his numinous solitude a young boy

Drives a locomotive through the crowded park

He has disguised the locomotive as a bicycle

So no one will know



Boy

 

Someone cold and hungry lived inside

And loneliness wore my shoes

 

At night I could hear the trap doors downstairs

Opening and closing their jaws

 

And tomorrow's bewilderments

Shuffling and muttering outside my room

 

I tuned my crystal set to heaven

Hoping for instructions from God

 

And mornings walking to school I thought

What if I just kept going?

 


Desert Night


How solitary and forlorn they seem in the moonlight
The cactuses standing next to their shadows
Like figures in an Edward Hopper painting
Waiting at the midnight depot
For the last bus out of town
Or the unscheduled arrival of love



Elsewhere

 

When you were able to escape at last

You strode away in seven league boots

Convinced that distance was its own reward

Now from the promontory atop your decades

Where the gales have subsided

And the air rings like a silver bell

And the view is generous and long

You look back to realize

That however tirelessly you accumulated mileage

Hauling yourself across continents and oceans

Whatever wondrous landscapes 

And intricately puzzling customs

Cracked you wide open

And whatever revolutionary ideas spun you around

And mulitplied your gaze

On your resolute journey to elsewhere

You were never far from home

 


Home to Roost 


Not all of them live nearby

Most have gone away hundreds even thousands of miles

And because they are flightless it is no tea party

For them to come home to roost


They have made lives for themselves in the new places

Husbands wives kids jobs Rotary Club memberships

But when the call comes they know they have no choice

Except to make their way back to you


Some of them punch holes in cardboard boxes

Climb inside and mail themselves to your address

Others put on tie-dyed clothing and hitch-hike crosscountry

Still others borrow motorcycles from friends


However they travel they begin arriving in large numbers

On your front porch day after day for weeks on end

And you find places for all of them around the house

In bedrooms in closets in cupboards in the shed out back


Like you they have grown old and are too exhausted

To peck out your liver

Some have a kind of domestic fowl dementia

And can’t recall what they have returned to reproach you for


But you have not forgotten anything you remember

All of their names and would recognize any one of them

You ran into by chance on a downtown street

In a way you know them better than anyone else


You are strangely comforted by their presence every night

You listen to them clucking softly as they settle down in their fresh straw

While you lie sleepless in the wide-eyed dark hands folded behind your head

Staring up at the blank ceiling and counting chickens



New Year's Morning

 

There are some I know who would suggest

That I regard the majestic egret

Appearing out of nowhere just now

And alighting on the neighbor's roof

As a message from the spirit world

An auspicious omen, say, of good fortune

In the coming year

But I am no interpreter of signs and portents

Have no talent for the ethereal

Cannot imagine what an egret could mean

Besides egret

However I am able to report

That a sharp intake of breath

A momentary surge in the blood

And a sudden flutter of elation

Can haul a ponderous heart

Up out of its dank basement

And launch it triumphantly

Into the dazzling day

 


Tabula Rasa


A man sits at a table and faces a blank piece of paper

The piece of paper could be anything say a map of London

The man begins driving a bus across and up and down the page

One of those open-air buses filled with camera-pointing tourists


The man speaks through a microphone and points out

Interesting sights along the way the word contumely for instance

And the sentence Under the perfumed eyelids of the Contessa

Famished wolves lay in wait for the gentleman from Athens


After a few hours the bus pulls over just off the edge of the paper and

While the passengers pick up their souvenir-filled tote bags and debark

The man thanks them all and tells a cute story

About a puppy and a blind boy and the word debark and everyone chuckles


The bus is gone but now there is a small wooden boat

The man shoulders the oars and drags the boat out onto the page

He rows toward the right-hand margin into the teeth of a howling gale

And although he pulls the oars mightily he seems to be getting nowhere


As the rain cuts into his flesh like millions of tiny knives

And the little boat is fiercely knocked about by the wind and the waves

He is tempted to cry out to a heaven he doesn’t believe in

And a god he doesn’t approve of but


Decides instead to look Davy Jones square in the eye until one of them blinks

The next thing he knows he is waking up on a driftwood-littered beach on

The far side of the page remembering black and white movies he loved as a child

Fred Astaire floating above a polished floor and singing Gotta dance



The Light in the Attic


Late one night it suddenly occurs to you
That the woman you once loved so fervently
You believed you could never live without her
Has shrunk to the size of a tiny sparrow
You glimpse occasionally out of the corner of an eye


While a boy you treated badly in third grade
Whom you haven't thought of in decades
Has grown enormous and comes thumping down the stairs
To harrow and torment you with such ferocity
That you whimper and cower under the covers


If only you had a white handkerchief to wave
You could surrender and negotiate a truce but
All you can do is try to outlast him and he does leave eventually
Making his way back up to the shadows of the attic
Where small birds roost in dark corners and flit about
In the faint erratic light of a bulb flickering off and on



This House We Did Not Build

 

Some theoretical physicists are saying

Their calculations suggest

That the universe had no beginning

That no infinitely dense singularity

Erupted with a lusty kaboom

Spewing forth the raw materials for galaxies

Black holes crickets and all the rest

No start no finish forever and ever amen

Eternal and uncreated is our cozy cosmos


And where does that leave

The one some call Creator?

If God did not bring forth out of nothingness

The whole shebang

And further does not

As evidence amply demonstrates

Intervene in its workings

Then perhaps said Deity

Feels as helpless and sad as we often do

Witnessing the relentless devastation

Of this house we did not build

 


When the Headlines are Unbearable

 

When the headlines are unbearable

And my fears for us all

Fester in my heart

I know I can walk into the hills

To sit by a small creak

Watching dusty sunlight drift down

Through the branches of redwoods

Bay laurel and madrone

As I listen to the water's slow drawl

The chittering of squirrels

The flicker's bright cry

And in the generosity of the woods

Find relief from my despondency

But I must acknowledge the privilege

That makes this possible for me

And not for the little girl

Whose family resides in a cardboard shack

In the middle of a dystopic urban landfill

And not for the parents of that little girl

Who spend their days hunting paltry treasures

In mountains of toxic garbage

And I must ask what is my puny peace

Compared to the pornography

Of the manufactured misery of billions

 

I know that I must not remain in the wooded hills

That I must always return to the broken world

And the struggle for justice

I know the great lie

Fostered by the lords of greed

Is that a few matter most

While most matter little

And I know that any hope we may have

Of overcoming the depredations of the plundering class

Will grow from recognizing in each other

The grace and grandeur of our one shared life



When We Have Finished Dinner

 

When we have finished dinner

And I am cleaning up in the kitchen

And you are in the back room phoning a friend

I wonder what happens

To the long conversation we had

Over pasta and salad

 

Do our words and phrases and sentences

Hover above the place mats and crumpled napkins

For a few moments

Then rise up out of the house

Into the cold black night

Continuing through the atmosphere's layers

And by way of some quantum wrinkle

We do not yet understand

Catch a ride across the airless tundras of space

 

Do they disperse then

Heading off in a thousand different directions

To the remote latitudes of our teeming galaxy and beyond

Some eventually finding their way

To this or that inhabited planet

So faint when they arrive that they seem

More like thoughts than words

 

And centuries from now in a world the twin of our own

Will someone walking in a field in late afternoon

Hear himself think what I said to you tonight

Will our grandchildren's children have a world to live in . . .

And feel a fierce twist of grief that takes his breath

Shaken that such a question

Would enter his mind