Renée Ruderman, and Leath Tonino
© 2022 Bristlecone
Bristlecone welcomes poems from writers of the Mountain West region. The editors are especially eager to read poems that reflect the region’s various cultures and landscapes, although we have no restrictions in mind regarding subject matter. Our main concerns are with the quality of the work and the cultivation of a regional community of poets and poetry lovers.
Submissions are accepted year-round. Please adhere to all of the following guidelines:
Submit 3 to 5 unpublished poems in a single Word attachment (no poems in the body of an email) to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions with more than 5 poems will not be considered.
Poems posted on blogs and social media are considered published. Simultaneous submissions are fine as long as you let us know right away if the work is accepted elsewhere.
Use a header on at least the first page of your submission that includes your:
Name as you wish it to appear in the journal
Website address (if you have one)
Submission should be in .doc or .docx file format (no .rtf or .pdf)
Times New Roman 12 pt. font—titles in bold and not all caps
Flush left alignment except for drop-lines, internal spaces within lines, and any other special formatting your poem requires
100-word maximum bio at the end of the submission; same guideline for translator bio(s). Feel free to provide live links to your website.
publication, all rights revert to the individual Bristlecone authors.
We consider simultaneous submissions but please let us know immediately if
something you’ve submitted to us has been accepted elsewhere.
The Editors: Joseph Hutchison, Jim Keller, Sandra S. McRae, and Murray Moulding
Lines from “Accidentals” in
Old Man Laughing, by Robert W. King
When my sister asks
me to go to San Francisco,
I hesitate. But go. In an outdoor café,
settled at a French iron table, a demitasse of espresso
held in his left hand, a sharpened pencil in his right,
Bob begins the lines of a love poem. He contemplates two
Japanese poets, both named Takahashi. Shinkichi’s world:
a Zen sparrow, a serene flower, a peach’s emotion.
Mutsuo’s an autumn darkness, a father’s longing, the hunger of a child.
Bob writes, fire engines sirening around him.
Taxi cabs blare at slow-moving cars,
a crowd of people pass in front.
Amidst this chaos, he considers Mutsuo,
whose book he accidently brought along,
and the woman he loves:
…who sleeps back in our room, beautiful
even more because it’s afternoon…
Walking uphill with my sister, I think about that first book
that made Bob the writer he wanted to be. Five years revising,
a month-long stay at McGregor’s Cabin #6, ten essays
about West Hope, his grandfather’s loss of a grocery business,
two defeated homesteading attempts, his mother’s sadness
at her mother’s sudden death, far away from the sister
she loved. But his poet self also wrote about the Big South
he saw as Chinese landscape, Dadd Gulch, a stock trail of yellowing aspen,
the abandoned town of Manhattan, a vision of ghost gold.
My sister and I walk through the green-tiled pagoda gate
into Chinatown. Red festival lanterns swing above us.
Her young grandson is still asleep in our hotel room.
Vendors sell packages of dried persimmon. Firecrackers
explode, drums pound. Ribs sizzling on outdoor grills.
People celebrate the end of Chinese New Year.
Shinkichi aside, Bob chose to write
about the woman he loved,
a woman composed primarily of sunlight.
I read both Takahashis, found next to each other
on the cabin bookshelf. His margin notes, penciled lines,
dog-eared pages trace the clues of his mind.
I think about the man I loved,
thinking about the woman he loved,
asleep in our hotel room.
The worst thing
you can imagine has already
Zipped up its coat and is heading back
Up the road to wherever it came from.
―Tracy K. Smith, from “No Fly Zone”
Waking up, asleep
since 2 a.m.,
a small pain in my left shoulder reminds me
I am alive.
A cool breeze in my room,
the moon visible through a cracked window
of the old garage.
The dream is always the same:
I am walking alone up a road,
to wherever it came from.
Houses are visible,
curtains mask the lives inside.
Old women stand quietly with children
on the side of a dusty road.
A small brown sign materializes,
the words are blurred.
Two photos from our first year of marriage,
appear on a table next to a bed.
In one, I am smiling next to a blooming
pink bougainvillea in Sevilla.
In another, I am a reflection
in a restaurant window in Segovia,
famous for serving roasted leg of pork.
I walk around a large pond. The goslings
have grown large. The rabbitbrush
is in full bloom. A red-winged blackbird
sits carefully on purple penstemon.
I do not breathe. I do not feel joy.
At the edge of the water, a child fishes
with her father.
Can’t play a right
note on my piano
Can’t play a wrong note
All the keys are drunk
And I’m in a window
Smoking a cigarette
Looking down into a wet street
Wondering if I should go out
And buy me a coffin
The Blue Moon’s open late tonight
And I’ve got a few dollars to blow
So it’s howling down 4TH Street
Singing songs that make no sense
Staggering in the rain
Getting soaking wet
Happy as a stand-up bass
In a Miles Davis quartet
Up in the air
7,250 feet above the sea
in New Mexico’s
Rio Arriba County
with East L.A.vato
on the corner of
unnamed road and
A baby doe appears
“Hello little one
you’re very beautiful
I wish I had something
to give you
but I just ate my
ice cream and
I don’t think I
should give you my
they might make you
run all night”
The doe freezes
like she understands
unravels its knots
The doe turns
“Wait a minute”
I have something else
to tell you”
The doe stops
tender music now
like a grandfather
talking to his grandchild
“My name is Richard
remember me in the
The doe twitches
Richard’s words echo
Four members of the
Native American Church gather wood on Skull Mountain’s south slope. They chop
wood with long handle axes. Tomas, an old Taos Indian, supervises the ritual
cutting of oak and elm, making sure the wood is the correct length, so
everything will be just
right for the peyote ceremony.
“The mountain should not hear machines on a day like this,” Tomas says.
The mountain’s silence broken by the sound of chainsaws about fifty yards down the mountain. Tomas could see a pickup with Texas plates and two men, cutting wood, partying with their girlfriends, drinking beer.
He walks down the mountain and asks them to move to another part of the forest. “Why don’t you guys go over there,” he says, pointing to the heavily forested eastern slope. “’I’d appreciate it if you guys would move over there because we are preparing for a special time and the mountain doesn’t like to hear machines on a day like this.”
“Go to hell, old man,” one of the women yells out.
He walks back down the mountain, picks up an axe, says, “Those people down there won’t listen. They don’t understand our ways.”
Tomas and his companions chop wood and gather wood for another hour. No chainsaw roar from below. A haunting silence. A presence. “The wind now has seven colors,” Tom says.
After loading the wood they get in the pickup and drive down the mountain towards Taos Pueblo. The drive past the white guys who are bent over their chainsaws. They pull the starter cords and curse, pull and curse but the chainsaws won’t start.
Tomas waves as they drive past. “You guys have a good day,” he says. Immediately the chainsaws start to run.
Still. Then suddenly
the herd is thundering
over plains as one whole formless cloud
that when it meets a yellow hill reticulates
to pounding hot crisscrossing trails of dust
rejoining with wild tumult at the top
where all is gone in one last smoky whorl
that spins, lifts, fades into a boundless blue.
A disappearance I’ll make someday, too.
I’ll go, go up from this dry August wash
back to the ocean sky and leave behind
this desiccating piece of earth that is
But will I ever find
myself beyond that dissolution into—?
For now, I’ll take the distance of tomorrow,
the pain of waiting for a quenching rain,
and later leave this lonely, lovely field
whose antelope have fled so recently.
Yes, then I’ll go like them, away, away.
I once sat by a sumac
in the west
insisting to exist in a remote
dry corner at the crux of four fenced fields.
It lived just past a scattered pole corral
behind an empty hay-roofed loafing shed,
its three-toothed autumn leaves had turned to red.
The memory of that ember-plant revives
in me a spirit that’s been sleeping, waking
now as daylight smolders into dusk.
Clear marble dawn will find me flying down
the windy streams of lonely backroads looking
for leaves unfurling green, refiring
the West, that masterwork enduring even
in the ramshackle middle of nowhere.
It’s not that
they don’t want to speak the
They do but they move mostly mutely
although sometimes I hear the drone of their double bass
from the longest string or the murmur of water over stone
They hide sometimes in a field of high grasses
or help me with a move lifting a heavy couch
Some dress in white caftans and drive badly
Some point at streets without signposts when I’m lost
It’s true they seem surprised at nothing
And they rarely smile or hug
but some lie in my bed bequeathing me company.
I want to sway in a hammock
for a while,
with my eyelashes.
I want to accompany
the crow chorus,
blowing notes to heaven
on my flute.
I want a pageant of air
in my throat,
on my tongue.
I want to read reclined
in the fashion of rabbis,
turning pages I have marked
up with dots, carets,
I want the release
to begin in my jaw:
unleash the hinges
unfasten the tendons
unravel this body
to the morning moon,
the interminable stars,
to embryonic galaxies;
let me fill with
a wave good-bye
to the harbor.
I would stop
the beat of blood,
the brush of breath.
the thousand pebbles
of thought crunching
softly beneath these boots,
would step from the trail
and stop my living,
this lifelong blinking,
to be here
dead a time
To be here hearing
as the gray log
hears the soil
as the pond
beneath the geese
hears the floating feathers
once the geese have flown,
as the cloud
over the peak
hears the sky’s blue
pressing from the east.
To be here watching
with the ears of leaves
that last of me
ghost on away.