The Keeper of Thoughts

so Bill

I was just wondering

when will you be done

taking your photographs

you were never this long

in the roll of film days

when you had a couple dozen shots

but now there’s no stopping you

 

my mother had always been

just wondering

patiently sat filing her nails

flicking through glossy magazines

Harpers and Queen

Vanity Fair

the breathtaking scenery

had never interested her

 

we’d drive out each weekend

take the Oldsmobile panting up

The Skyline Drive or

Blue Ridge Highway

there were swallowtails

and black bears

if you knew just where to look

and point your toy pistols

 

mother watched

from the passenger seat

window wound down

breeze blowing her mini beehive

the ten most alluring women

in the world

she would read out loud and

how to marry a billionaire Bill

 

poor father was a delivery man

never an ambitious bone

in his weary body

the long hours delivering parcels

exacted a price on his arthritis

but you would not hear him complain

just a few more minutes honey

he would quietly say

 

all those Kodachrome slides

he never showed or looked at them

they sat boxed

gathering dust

like his simple thoughts

over time he feared he would one day lose

our sunny days wandering Big Meadows

with mother in the car wondering

 

the names of our favorite places

still sing in my ears

they echo out from overlooks

call me back each year

to Riprap Trail

Hawksbill Gap

Elkwallow and

Bacon Hollow

 

now I am the keeper of his thoughts

unlocked and free to wander

projected overhead

we watch them on the big screen

there’s me I point

pistols at the ready

and mom smiling and waving

a cripple with withered legs

 

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The Sundance Kid

Leaving Sundance, Wyoming –

It’s where the Kid got his name

There’s a definite sense of

Heading home now

Of being called back

Returning

 

Exit 205 to Beulah –

Also a town in mid-Wales

Another reminder

A chat head pops up on my phone

How many tables needed for the Green Fayre in November?

I fire the information straight back

 

Welcome to South Dakota –

The Black Hills hang heavy to the north

A massive white teepee greets me

Gold Wings electro glide next to me

No sign of Rocky Racoon

Just roadkill skunks

 

Rest area tourist information –

I pick up my free state map

The woman advises me which way to go

But when I get there I’m not looking at the scenery

I’m looking out for rocks on the road

Dislodged by last night’s rain

 

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway –

I’m stuck behind two Polaris buggies

Filled with spades and maintenance gear

Thirty five miles per hour

A selection of waterfalls

No passing zones

 

Reminds me of Snowdonia –

Those twisty narrow roads

Claustrophobic

Cold

Wet

Even in summer

 

I grab a Clif Bar –

Sierra trail mix

Peanuts

Chocolate

Raisins to be cheerful

Part 3

 

I laugh at my own joke –

Laugh at the bikers putting on their waterproofs

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Feels like I’m driving through the back end of the tourist season

Lead-Deadwood High School

Welcome back students!

 

The autumn lull –

Fall’s faltering

A time to change the stock on shelves

Snow globes, gloves and winter gifts

Skiers and snowboarders are coming

A different crowd altogether

 

I drift into Deadwood –

The stagecoach departed years ago

Just gun shops galore

Mock wild west saloons

Whip cracking away

I’d like to stay a while but

 

I turn right for Mount Rushmore –

The road feels like it could be slippy

Greasy truckers

Boondocks fifties town is deserted

Stuck behind a pair of careful Corvettes

Forty five miles per hour

 

Experimental Forest Road –

I’d stop to take photographs but

The rain is washing us away

Feels like the land is purging itself of visitors

Turning its back on the summer

I connect up my iPod

 

Bobby Dylan sings –

Where have you been?

What did you see?

What did you hear?

Who did you meet?

And what’ll you do now?

 

Mt Rushmore –

Waste of time

Obscured by clouds

I put away my camera

The Sundance Kid is on the run

Returning

 

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Deliverance

Sometimes the road can be a bastard

When all you need is a quiet place to pull over

A picnic bench in a sunny spot

Take a break

Eat a sandwich

Pee behind a tree in peaceful solitude

 

But all you get are shit loads of people

Men in camouflage

Holiday weekend hunters

Mad Maxing it out in their black

Fume spewing monster trucks

Nothing with Providence

 

All you solar powered meat free

Save the planet tree hugging

Veggie growing hippies

Won’t stand a chance come the day

When, for whatever reason

We have to survive for a living

 

Those redneck gun toting

white trash hoodlums

Will break down your doors

Steal your carefully preserved stash

And leave you to starve out the nuclear winter

For sure

 

Endless traffic

I thought this road would be quiet

Seems like all of humanity and their dogs

Are emptying out down each side

Of the Continental Divide

I can’t leave Colorado quick enough

 

I’ve nothing against your ruddy rocks

You’re just too damn busy

I want my Wyoming back

Or forgotten small towns on Route 66

This is not the place for a solo traveller

I’m just passing through

 

Everyone has their pre-booked itineraries

And then there’s me in my rental car

On a journey with no real start or finish

Making notes for a story that might never happen

A poem that might never be written

Or perhaps already has.

 

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Wyoming Wanderings

Your mind can wander out here

That’s not always a good thing

And time can be a distraction

I try to leave my windows open

Allow the scenery to breeze right in

Absorption without discussion

 

A while back

My speed touched 70

I wandered out into the scrub

Clambered down into a dried up river bed

It twists and turns alongside the road

Meandering like my thoughts

I wondered what it would be like in winter

Or during a flash flood

In full spate

 

I imagined being bitten by a snake

Should I keep my leg up or down?

Would I make it to a hospital?

How far is the nearest town?

 

I stop to photograph a graffitied boulder

Two Dogs Was Here

Imagine one of those tumbling down

Crushing my car

Futile attempts to steer out the way

Two seconds of panic

Then

 

When you start to wander you see things

Nature’s sidewalk secrets revealed

A fox disturbed from his shady nook

Signs of wild animals

Tracks, scrapes

Holes, faeces

Tread carefully

Broken glass

Grasshoppers

 

See how the rain shapes the land

Makes the plants bloom

And the sun cracks the sand

It’s alive and dead

Weathered

Lived in

Worn

 

This place makes you feel alive

The wind and the potential

Danger lurking

I have to move on but I am drawn

To the contorted pock marked boulders

The dried grasses

Pale straw yellow

The sound of their seed heads

A solitary purple flower

Everything

 

I’m standing near to where I saw the fox

But he’s long gone or well hidden

Perhaps keeping an eye on me

Mistrustful beings both

Hunters and murderers

Wary wanderers

 

I turn with a smile

Take one last photograph

I found what I came looking for

A bend in the road

Sweetwater County

Wyoming State Highway 430

Rock Springs to the Colorado border

 

But now it’s time to move on.

 

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Daniel

cutting across Wyoming

the mountains appear just far enough away

to hold back the storm clouds

 

over Cottonwood Creek

past Cottonwood Ranch

the fence leaping deer make light work

of this rolling, undulating land

 

sudden outcrops of red rock

elephant footed in appearance

the wind gusting

nothing to stop it

 

you could get lost out here

in a ravine or gulch

befriend the black crows

the mighty eagles

 

become the next wilderness man

as far away as you want

just follow the telegraph poles

back in time to Daniel…

 

I took a chance

headed out west from Chicago

joined the Emigrant Trail

supplies loaded in a covered wagon

spades, picks, long handled axes

enough wire to demarcate what was mine

a thousand acre plot of sagebrush

hard truths and honest labour

a new way of living

pioneer

settler

adventurer

 

this is my story

part truth

part myth

 

I wasn’t the first man to brave this frontier

there were others before me

natives

trappers

gunslingers

government forces

 

go plant the Stars and Stripes

they told us

find water

a hollow for your cattle

trees for stakes

hurdles

firewood

shelter from the summer heat

the ingredients for success

 

the first year was the hardest

some never made it through

dust driven droughts turned

to winter snows

the big sky our canvas canopy

our kingdom

heaven

hell

godforsaken

god given

 

we fixed

we made good

sharpened our tools

honed our skills

saw out that first harsh winter

with prayers

determination

 

we scrimped and saved

every dime and dollar counted

for in the spring

the cattle men came

our chance to pick the finest

barter prices

share whiskey

stories

fights

 

to have a herd

was to be a herdsman

some might say a cowboy

a rancher

a dream believer

 

with the first calves

some cash to reinvest

a proper cabin

long, dark days planning

cleaning gun barrels

stoking fires

flaming our faces

fortune telling

 

and maybe in a year or two

a wife and family

the privilege to provide

for town and country

 

the old Pony Express route

well that’s long gone

the telegraph poles came

and you can still find me

just follow them down through time

find the town that bears my name

 

Daniel

Population 150

Elevation 7192

Wyoming

USA

 

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(this is a reimagining of history. Daniel, Wyoming is a real enough place. I drove through it today. There’s not much to see but, as with most places, history is never far behind us. I’ve just mixed it around a bit that’s all)

 

Yellowstoned

We are all driving around on this fragile caldera

Aware yet ignoring our apocalypse awaiting

She’s a brewing, bubbling, scenic wonder

Unpredictably natural with wanderlust beauty

Laughing deep within her magma filled belly

Sending warnings out vents and geyser breasts

There to entertain us, fumaroles and mudpots

Hissing, belching, stinking fumes of sulphur

Her colourful pools tempt with innocent eyes

Grand Prismatic Spring and Morning Glory

Clearest boiling blues, cooler orange browns

Either way, her hot tubs are not an invitation

With acidic spit her kisses will dissolve you

The Continental Divide she partly straddles

But one day she will wrench herself apart

Blow asunder, cause havoc, global winters

And all the souvenirs, postcards and trinkets

Will be but reminders as we struggle for survival

 

I’ve been here a few days so I can honestly say

That I’m Yellowstoned out, I’m super volcanoed

It’s time to leave before the next deadly eruption

Hopefully make it back home to relative safety

Just one more night with fading torch batteries

Blood pressure pills and scary late night reading

You can worry about bears, stampeding bison

But underground there is a helluva commotion

The devil’s own Armageddon of vengeance

Today, tomorrow or a thousand years hence

We simply don’t know, we simply don’t care

So let’s keep driving around on this fragile caldera.

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BE BEAR AWARE !!

On our campground sign

There was written this line:

Please: BE BEAR AWARE !!

But where was the bear?

 

We asked the old elk

But she was of no help

And the big bison too

Stepping over his poo

 

We peered round the trees

And up through their leaves

But all that we saw

Were chipmunks galore

 

So we made us a plan

Asked National Park Man

But all he that he said

Was the ranger was dead!

 

Oh, how come he died?

Did a bear kill this guy?

Oh no, said our friend

But he met a bad end

 

He fell into Old Faithful

A geyser most ungrateful

His tubes became blocked

All the tourists were shocked

 

We gave up on our bear

Forgetting: BE BEAR AWARE !!

And back at our tent

With a look of content

 

Guess what we found

Spread all over the ground

A broken camp chair

And a big hairy bear

 

He’d eaten our grub

Was asleep on our rug

So what can we say

Now we’ve spent the whole day

 

They are out there you know

But not always on show

So if you search for a bear

Remember: BE BEAR AWARE !!

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(My attempt at writing a poem for children! I saw lots of animals in Yellowstone – bison, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, white pelicans, ground squirrels – but sadly no bears!)