Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pecan Summer

My grandparents lived in Burkett, Texas - a stone's throw away from Cross Plains - the town where Robert E. Howard spent most of his life.  I spent many summers there, tromping through the surrounding wilderness.  Howard lived in Burkett when he was 11, and probably tromped through the same places.  Sometimes when I am relating that to others, I tell people that I grew up playing in Conan's back yard.

The rather lengthy poem below takes place when I was 11, the same age that Howard was when he lived there decades before.  This was mere weeks before I was to return home to Houston and discovered Dungeons and Dragons, and about a year before Conan the Barbarian was to grace the silver screen and provide my introduction to the man who's footsteps I had unknowingly followed.

Pecan Summer

The smell of dusty curtains slowly gives way to bacon
As wisps of back seats and long roads recede into dream land.
The morning is covered in gauze, with no impetus to remove it,
Aside from the growing glow through flowerdy yellow curtains.

A good stretch and grunt and smile are followed by a poke;
A rude reminder of the feathers in the pillow.
Bare feet against bare floorboards to the kitchen,
Where pops and splatters mingle with morning plans.

We dip heavy biscuits into the golden centers of eggs,
Sopping up the gooey goodness and finishing the whites
Using silverware stamped with eagles perched on bent crosses;
The old man's final stab at a long dead evil.

Armored against chiggers with jeans, tube socks, and tennis shoes,
We head out past the pecan trees with hammocks strung between,
And down the white gravel lane with the caw-honking sounds;
Peacocks and peafowls at the Peaflower Ranch & Tax Write-off.

The gravel crunches loudly beneath our feet as we march.
The spaces between houses widening as it gets hotter.
To the left we see the silvery glint of corrugated tin;
The old cotton gin still stands, but is filled with gourds now.

The sides of the road burst into color with an odd mixture;
Deep purple bonnets and the red and yellow stain of paintbrushes,
Which descend on either side as the road lifts upward
To an ancient silver and rust colored truss bridge.

The crunching abates as we walk on its paved surface,
Only one car width wide, but a faded black dashed line down the middle.
Trees crowd in amongst the trusses and create a green canopy,
While the gurgling sounds tell us of the unseen creek below.

We stick our heads out beyond the metal girders and look down
At the pebbles underneath the crystal clear water.
The dangerous move from girder to rebar to branches, then dirt
Would frighten mothers, but is far more fun than the safer path.

The journey upstream is filled with woods and pastures
And the occasional cluster of cow patties by the creek,
Then the land rises as white hills made out of chert push up,
Exposing veins of flint that make us dream of old Indians.

The air gets hotter and hotter until the vibration
Seems to match the buzz saw of the cicadas' wings and both
Sound and heat seem to penetrate into bone
And leave me with the lifelong feeling of the perfect Texas afternoon.

The creek widens and slows abruptly into a swimming hole,
With desiccated gar fish hanging from fishing line
Tied to tree limbs all around the lake, in a vain attempt
By the locals to eradicate the antediluvian creature.

In the middle of the water floats the huge trunk of a tree,
Its branches bare and stunted, but still reaching skyward.
We shuck off clothes and dash into the deep water,
Headed towards the mysterious platform of untold fun.

We grab branches, trying to pull ourselves up on the tree,
Only to be met with a swarm of countless giant red ants,
That emerge from the tree and coat it in a seething layer of
Desperation and anger, hell bent on finding dry land.

Still more hordes of bright red ants spew out as we paddle away,
Hundreds and thousands of the insects launching themselves
Into the water, creating rafts with their bodies for their
Compatriots, a nightmare version of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.

With more fun to be had, we stay away from floating islands of death
And swim and splash to our hearts content, then dry out in the
Texas sun, shake our clothes out for rattlers and cotton mouths,
Then make the long trek back to what some would call civilization.

Downstream is easier, but longer, as we linger to take in
As much fun as we can, and the dog skeleton we find helps.
Crickets take over from the cicadas as the sun creeps down
Beckoning new life that sleeps during the day, out into the cool air.

We pull ourselves up on the bridge while slapping mosquitoes,
But endure the bites a bit longer as the forest comes alive
With the green glowing streaks and blinks of fireflies,
Creating patterns that stay etched in our minds for a lifetime.

- Ark


  1. ahh Texas lank of greatness

    from 10 June 2011 Wall Street Journal

    "Using straight nonfarm payroll employment, Texas accounts for 45% of net U.S. job creation. Modesty is not typically considered a Texas virtue, but the results speak for themselves.

    "Texas is also among the few states that are home to more jobs than when the
    recession began in December 2007."

  2. Texas is also the biggest recipient of federal subsidies--especially the biggest of the ballyhooed stimulus money. But whatever, love our Lone Star State right or wrong.

    Another great post Ark and I know what you mean about Conan country up there. We spent a lot of time up there in Brownwood (also near Cross Plains and where REH is buried) in college at a friend's grandparent's ranch.

    It's isolated and rugged enough still that you can almost feel the ghost of the man standing out in the hilly quiet of a field.

  3. @ chutalik

    but to hear Rupert Murdoch and WSJ . . .
    "the stimulus is a failure ;-8"

    I have no definied political idealogy

    much more interested in guns, cars, horses and
    fooling around

    NOW back to are regularly scheduled program . . .

  4. Sorry Clovis, not looking for an argument either. Come down for the Mini-Con!

  5. @ckutalik - Thanks. Yeah, I love the wild places of texas - north, south, east, west, and central. It would make Conan happy. Well, and so would some rich merchants to loot.

    @Clovis - I am still scratching my head as to what you said. lol. I can be dense. But whatever the case - party on, Wayne.

    - Ark

  6. Not enough REH poetry around. Kudos!

    Tell the Boy, Hi!