Writer’s Workshop: Kim Stafford
Selections from Kim Stafford at the writer's retreat at Lee Kelly's studio
Truth in Pitch and Steel
There was a time, on the ranch in that
ravine, we had a river-powered sawmill—
flume brought fast water to spin
those cutter teeth through yellow pine.
Shavings flew, planks slapped flat,
rain wrote trees and opened
their pages all in one go.
Now it’s harder to find truth—
you need government, a great deal
of industry to read the origin grain
an old tree holds. You watch
firs grow, feel rain fall, and wonder
about the heart of time that made
us older, farther from before.
I guess you don’t know what you have
until a story is the only way
to get back home.
Scars on the Sculptor’s Table—for Lee Kelly
Here the drill bit fed.
Here the ball peen fell.
Here steel hair fell from the turning lathe.
Here the file, forgotten beneath the one-ton load,
gnawed striations into the battered skin of this
my bed of pleasures stunned by hammer, cutting fire
and acid etch, my chain-hoist slave, my shear knife,
grinding wheel, tap and die.
And what of all they carried away,
my truckloads of desire, my burning visions?
Do not say, “He made this or that.” But say,
“He knew how to heal a seam.”
In a Trance of Wonder that the One Who Planted these Quiet Trees Sits Beside Me Here
In the beginning there was a little dancing light on my fist.
My hand opened, the glimmer glistened there. I lay in the crib
below the window below the great old cherry tree while blossoms
fell across the sun spangle that reached one long filament of fire
down to me. In the beginning there was evening when the dark
began to peer in at me, to soften the tree, the corners of obedience,
the skeleton shape of knowing, to leave a smudge of affection,
shadow, quiet, rest. In the beginning there was dream, a house
of many rooms, a film spool unreeling brocade and river, gesture
of a hand, a few words of haunting import, a glance from someone
gone, alive again. In the beginning there was breath—here and
gone, here and gone, here…
Architecture in the Music of Desire
A house in the forest—floor of earth,
roof of sun and stars: “Be home here.”
I remember as a child how going out
was going in—under a tree I was
A nest in the forest—the curl of tousled
grass where I settled: “You may rest.”
I remember sleeping in the spread
hand of a tree.
A temple in the forest—stump become
an altar, roving spot of sunlight
plays: “Whisper your devotions.”
I remember the morning I gave up
all human accomplishment, thrashed
up a ravine, settled on the earth,
saying softly to myself: “To this place
you may return, after.”
Writing in the Grove
The residue of beautiful language lingers. —Lee Kelly
The seed remembers the tree it was
by going down, up, onward out. The root gropes
for prophecy along the wet, cold seam through stone.
The bud has a flag of no country but the multitude,
myriad small hands folded in one young prayer.
The tree’s purpose is to fold, again, a century
of sunlight, an infinite braid of rooted sipping,
the long concentric protection of one place into a seed.
Tree, on your page I place these little words—dapple
of yearning, spangle of hint and glimpse—seed words
strewn like notes the towhee rattles at morning.
In the Barn for Forging Iron
Through that door, leaves of the wild cherry pivot in sunlight.
The river, lazy in pearl and surrender, sidles between mud banks,
and somewhere out there, my first day stands up, hat in hand,
to greet the veiled apparition of my last day—but here, in the shop,
at the table of tattered steel, with nippers, tapered punch, ball peen
hammer and swivel-handled vise, I take account of my chances
in the good gamble of my days—truth or consequences, the spare
gift of birdcall against the torrent of demands, one clear breath against
the smoke of lies, a straw five miles long sucking dregs of fossil gold—
in such a world, I must forgive my resume of failures, cut light clean.
I must be content to brush a single feather dipped in the pool
to paint with water on a stone.
A Darkness, Down There, Pulls Your Heart
When you look up into the trees Lee planted
with hands that knew to heal seams in steel with
the blue spit of acetylene, nudged them into earth
and rain tears watered all these years, you see
how branches weave sunlight, knit sung here,
and when you look down, into the pool of dark
leaves, the pool in an iron box Lee dug into earth,
you see how the tops of trees in deep reflection
weave shadows, and how the sun spangle and dusky
shade are two incarnations of tree, upright truth,
that grew here from his hands’ devotion, kindling
connection of seedling and steel, kinship of grief & creation,
seeds of a tree long gone grown tall.