Night of Mexican Free-tails with Burlingame’s Poems

written by me, student, friend, follower of Bob of El Capitan

[first published, House Organ, Number 82, Spring 2013; Kenneth Warren, editor, Youngstown, NY]


Night of Mexican Free-tails with Burlingame’s Poems

 but what you remembered most
was the fierce wind
out of the pass
and the stars over the mountain’s slopes
that, too, is a poem, you said.


he’d pinch the ponderosa pine cone

tossed nuts into the vortex

spores flagging in the hot evening air

uplifting as the sky flooded corals

his face scarred by liver specks, El Paso sun:


 I think sure, I think
of the busy ants outside my door as they signal
one another to carry in more food,
the soft sibilance of antly scraping telling
us the wisdom of saving.


“gratefully Bob” he signed off, always freshly

dredged juniper memories, poems,

hatched from the spiny swift eggs

half-buried outside where manual typewriter

punctuated notes to friends, penetrating commas

“i” dots pushing through lines about vultures:


                    naked red head

                    for the clean dive into rot

                          purifier in the end

                   beautiful against the sky


these amazing letters trucked from El Capitan

reef, along 250 million year exposed sea

bryozoans etched into limestone,

sponges shaped like sturgeons

Permian water evaporated, Bob in his slow siesta

veronica with shadow, tectonic power of stanzas

embedding into salt flat humming under Conquistador moons

Guadalupe desert creosote mixed with fire plumes:


we had gathered my poems
hundreds on white sheets, poems
reaching back
half a century

but what you remembered most
                                             was the fierce wind
                                                   out of the pass
                                     and the stars over the mountain’s slopes
                                     that, too, is a poem, you said.


he harvested devil’s claws to think of words,

a Texas madrone grove he climbed into

like marsupial, with the yaw of sun behind

near Nickel Creek, signals from so many centuries ago

turned to agave pod songs, mad dancing curandero, his hacienda

two thousand miles north from my ejido,

triangular shadow of El Castillo, Chichen Iza –

desert haiku sent from Mescalero inland sea

to the purity of Maya cenotes,


With nothing to do
wakeup coffee warming his guts
he remembers the finch
red at the throat
he’d found in the yard dead
beneath the immense gaze of El Capitán


he commented on my bat piece . . .

his own scribing biology folded into memory:

females sexually mature at nine months;

males taking two years to ready themselves for

pup making;  one born to a mother

whose roost is smartly away from pup crèches;

separation sealed with scent and vocalization

imprinting; bats suckling for one month; weaned

into Mexican free-tail rush;

flights toward acid seep roost, now Carlsbad caverns


he wrote of hard scrabble incidents, desert panorama

something Plato could comprehend

the sycamore, shade like wisdom bearer

Bob pronounced life and death of finch

into philosophy, denuded of leaf

each word the stickle of ocotillo

the “changeless unseen” revealed:


                          cougar close to six feet from tail to head, claws an

                          earthy yellow, stained enormous teeth, nipples pinking

                          her white underfur, cat neither young nor old, but

                          strongly made, brown as the mountain


                         someone, a gangling boy he’d heard, had shot her

                        messily in the guts with a 30-30 she sprawled on her

                        side her heroic tail still curved like some miraculous


he traveled far and wide in that place

upturned reef of dinosaurs, his poems

pelagic, cunning simplicity, the waxy leaves of alligator

juniper pressed into his flesh, no dervish of words

inside dust devils, yet each night the underbelly

of death on plateaus and mesas named

by Apache and poet, Burlingame redolent

of Creeley, Blake, Whitman,

Bob in Keds climbing, mountain

goat at 70, launching into Dog Canyon, crawling back

10,000 years, Bob holding poems for shaman

life bearer of water during song droughts


                                     Stalking the poem,

                                     the half-wing fear of failure

                                    plunging like a beak bright

                                    through innocent sky



first published, House Organ,  Kenneth Warren, editor/ Youngstown, NY  Number 82/Spring 2013

Notes on Robert Burlingame’s stanzas in “A Night with Mexican Free-tails  with Burlingame Poems”

from Robert Burlingame’s Some Recognition of the Joshua Lizard: New and Selected Poems by Mutabilis Press/ Carolyn Tourney Florek/ Managing Editor/Publisher

1st and 4th inserted passage – “At Nickel Creek”

2nd inserted passage – “Connecting”

3rd – “Closing in on Turkey Vultures”

5th – “Dead Finch in the Guadalupes”

6th “A Death in West Texas”

7th  — “Stalking the Poem”

I studied under some great poets and fiction writers with western roots — Leslie Silko, Richard Shelton, James Crumley, Rick Demarinis, Judith Root, Leslie Ulman and Robert Burlingame, to name just a few.

From 1983 to 86, I worked as a journalist and novelist and pursued a graduate writing degree at the University of Texas—El Paso. Bob Burlingame taught me the rarity of words and the flavor of the West.  More than what Wallace Stegner could have given me as a reader, Bob gave me as a friend and teacher. He was intrigued with my journalism, my biting essays on drug dealing in Mexico, corruption of capitalism displayed in Central America, and my own obsession with all things marine.

The shape of desert is an agave pod cracked, the scattered bones of a horned toad, the mountain gulley flashflood and the rough-legged hawk’s presence on thermals. Bob taught me humility, the grace in working with few words, mountains of ideas about simplicity in living, and the idealism of land etched by nature and the unnatural collective flailing of humankind.

For years, Bob kept up with me, writing me letters, thanking me for some non-fiction piece published in a literary journal he took or he himself had been published in. He was always the sculptor of minimal poems that inhaled the shape of a man’s distilled emotions.

I was impregnated with words through some of his work and his teaching, and my pugnacity and flamboyance and hard-hitting prose he could find rhapsodies. He was always generous with compliments, literary allusions, and political commentary. There was always a new poem or two included in his brief but fecund notes to me, whether I was in Guatemala, Yucatan, Costa Rica, Vietnam or Spokane.

I’ve written pieces with Bob in them, as well as with Frank Waters mentioned, and others I was lucky to meet between book covers, or personally as I learned the art of words from many and shared mescal or bourbon with all.

I reserved that 18 year scotch for Bob – token to his gift to me. Somewhere I’ve yelled at the moon – at mega-flood edge, Palouse Falls, or the middle of Mogollon Rim country . . . somewhere . . . with a bonfire . . . scattered yaps of a coyote pack in the dark . . . a toast to Bob, his essence alive on the page.

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.