The Stirrup Cup

by Ryland Bowman

after the Grateful Dead

The captured fume of space foams in our ears.
     —“Cape Hatteras,” The Bridge

Winterland, San Francisco, 1974

Now all this surge, this coast-carried, wound wheel,
cool kite of scene and song quickly (life as flame
in the bone barn) born through sky, careens
and stops, more than finger on the pipe tap
or tambourine skin. The tribes turn to dust.
Archived by health-food store bulletin boards,
the enthusiasts of the glide, the kick,
the curry, range: the hushed and solemn swoon
road breeds by its ramps. Under cloverleaf,
next morn, bro to heather, honeyed moon and gate,
woke from one dream to another’s wake.


Glen Helen, Devore, 1982

Up canyon, bound, searched out by hounds,
the sleeping bag and entwined body. Dusk
when she’s discovered, flashing silent lights
(the mourners paid to wail in twilight tribute)
flicker and cast like tracers on the edge
of extra sight: the omen of underneath,
the too-long grin, that hustler of the heart
of cooled-out scenes. The word by wire comes
back to Buffalo: Dad’s in his chair,
Mom stricken at the phone in the photo hall.
Brother looks through her magazines.


Cameron Indoor, Durham, 1978

The Piedmont blues again, an audience
tobacco brought—but for some laughing leaf
a Friday after auction again, moon
music: new rattle of the tempered snare
and the all-night temple girls’ tambourines,
the chamber hidden from the heat of day.
Among the scholars of the hero’s head
and the clogged heart, the twisted routes of tongues,
whether authors wrote or history happened,
to whom the means of rolling smoke belong,
the merchants of Midlands and North.


Merriweather Post, Columbia, 1984

Acorn flour cut with an oyster shell;
it’s mast and root, then home for hog and bee.
The sycamore bottomlands, the swamps
that drain out of them, skunk mud and reed grass,
spear and spine and smell. Born from the flood
muck (some crocodile). With a good fall
we’ll let out the belt and keep it loose; god’s
girth. And now fire glows on the pitch-cones,
bear strays in search of fat. Tomorrow’s trash
collection. Lean your firelock close by.
Lewis rolls his eyes at Clark.


War Memorial, Buffalo, 1977

The guest that lingers on too long.
Like all questers, unworthy of the grain.
A vigil in the night. Call again.
Out wavering on the line, the Stamper boy—
there were some breaths drawn under water, some
pay phone where we left the locker key. A trap
to catch the sun in winter, to turn the wheel
around. The sea of swans. Some fisher-folk.
I’ve been up all night, cleaning out my creel
and snares. Leave me to my simple life,
he pleaded for the sake of form.


Fox Theater, Atlanta, 1985

Fall Tour’s in town. MARTA’s full of Dead
fans. Frat boys from Athens are making shirts:
tie-dyed, mixers listed like tour dates,
“Many worlds I’ve come since I first left home.”
The Hare Krishnas are serving free food
outside, Greenpeace collecting signatures.
Stone Mountain’s campground takes another tone.
Last time it was the Whole Earth Catalog
crowd along the spangled battle walls,
bluegrass and juke-joint honeybee haulers now
in church or the woods getting clean.


Convention Hall, Tampa, 1973

It’s Ponce de Leon, the gasparilla coast,
it’s the orange blossom and old-time sourwood
honey house. The airboat captain stopped
at the fish camp, played that supper perch’s
old pinball machine. Limestone springs, sand roads,
how a raccoon’s eyes glow from the drain ditch;
strong drink of lightning in the grapefruit groves.
To the produce and shrimp shack, to the snake
and gator fry. Suckling pigs roasted whole.
A cinder-block store beside a vacant lot:
roaches, lizards, live oak leaves.


Alpine Valley, East Troy, 1981

Since California leads the world now
and movies explain the arms race to us
(how simple it is to grasp after all!),
since avocados top our hamburgers
and all know of their almonds and olives,
I sing a broken song of martial pomp,
a cold and somber scour, ice herd
over plover plain of gouge and rift and lake.
We’ll gird desert to taiga yet, our star
says. We’ll turn to space for shield.


Radio City, New York, 1980

The phone booth rooms in Times Square where they used
to bust a bag. Pastry chef whose tackle box
balloons and needles. Call it what you will,
friend: foe, faux; you’re fixed against us. But phone,
come calling as you can. You know what finds
me. Just look out over the ledge. For first
I’ll fret you. Sound me in the briar trill.
If what I have been told is true is true
the messengers come back to us broken.
One gets them in glimpses. When Hermes strung
the shell he calmed the cattle.


Red Rocks, Morrison, 1979

Their noses painted blue, their arts and crafts
pure fabric of the sky; a Stickley God
might do, had he an awl and winsome wife.
Launch what the hawk sees; it’s good medicine:
long breath under snowtide for river kin.
We’ll ascend ourselves into orbitkind
soon, come wind or engine’s stall or gear set’s
teeth gnashed nigh to ground. Pre-Raphaelite
indeed. Woman of fleece and raven tress
and Delphic inclination, river guide,
whisper me what the water says.


Paramount, Portland, 1976

The crankcase seized, the engine lamps at heat,
the lamb-lined boots in the storm-windowed room;
the shifting ice that broke down the wheel dam:
how the brush by fall crept back over lake.
So followed the flour creek lowland bound.
The tunnels lead to sea. You’ll drink with care
in this town or wander your life away:
compelled desire, loathing ocean’s call
but yoked to nothing else. We’re shanghaied.
Sent back to the trinket trade. Sawdust down
and clasp hands; next, you’re keener’s catch.


Greek Theater, Berkeley, 1983

Your daughter’s painted face at the fairgrounds,
the wind too fast for the ferrous wheel;
it looked to blow all night, so you thought
of another plan. Everyone here knows
what happened: we took the names for our own.
A cry for Henry’s cause: the plot the plot’s
presented by. Some nuclear nostalgia:
the seats empty now, the grass unbent.
Out here at the empire’s end,
we keep the rites as best we can.

RYLAND BOWMAN’s poems appeared most recently in Jelly Bucket, and he has work forthcoming in The Greensboro Review. A recipient of the 2009 NC Arts Council Grant, he lives in Greensboro, NC.