Joe Cottonwood – Four Poems


Alone, Moose Mountain

Foolishly alone he climbs into clouds.
Snapping branches, cleaving spider webs
with a walking stick, he traces an abandoned path,
first footprints to this loam in years.
A final, steep scramble up rocks and — ah!
He’s atop Moose Mountain.
Clouds lift. Brilliant view, shared:
perched on a spar, watching him,
an alert falcon.

Descending, he hasn’t seen another human all day.
Crossing a creek, he hops to a slick rock.
Falls so fast there is no time for reflex.
Jaw slams against boulder.
A moment, stunned.

He’s in the cold creek, soaked,
seeing explosions of light.
He springs up swearing, dizzy,
to scream at nobody, the gods, everything.
Stars spin across eyes.
Where’s the hat?
He stumbles down the creek
and slips again. Falls. Aargh! 

He’s too tired, too wet,
too banged up and crazy with pain.
Farewell, beloved Tilley hat.
Socks squishing, he continues along a trail
so little used the duff bounces under his boots.
Moss, fungus, throb.
Birch, pine, stab.
Squirrel, jay, pang.

Two weeks later a doctor purses her lips,
saying, “You’re crazy, hiking solo where nobody
would find you. You almost broke your jaw.
And didn’t it occur to you,” she asks
shaking her head, “you dislocated your shoulder?”
She pops it into place.

Above Moose Mountain,
alone, a falcon soars.



Climbing this hill
there comes a moment
like stepping through a hatch
into a heated attic.

An invisible parfait
this layered air,
bright changes of color
from the cool canyon
flavored by shadow of redwood,
rush of creek, nosing of trout

rising to warmth,
drapes of Spanish moss,
struggle of oaks
scolded by crows

to sudden heat,
scent of sunlight
as deer raise heads, alert.
Oat grass waves,
chiming welcome.


Fog like a river

Fog like a river
flows from the ocean
through the valley
and lingers
wrapping my home
in misty droplets

lit by porch lamp
while I strum
my guitar

if only I could dance
like the fog


and the rain begins

and the rain begins
a soft blanket of dots
a dance
over deep meadow
the only sound, this night

a gentle hissing
whisper of water
cooling nose and brow

brushes on drumheads
tiptoe of mandolin
now the standup bass
bring on the marimbas

a chorus rising
comes a symphony
soul of all life
from above


Author’s Statement on Beauty

Beauty is of lizards that scuttle over logs,
big-bellied spiders that creep in my woodpile,
fungus that forms a dark pool of slime.
Beauty is of life in every corner,
wet cells sucking nourishment, giving birth,
teeming through every grain of earth.
We drink water once swallowed by Jesus,
breathe atoms once blown by Buddha,
share the light of stars
with unknown beings
on undiscovered planets.
Of this light, this water and air,
this story without begin, without end,
of this universe of countless souls
is beauty.


Joe Cottonwood has worked as a carpenter, plumber, and electrician for most of his life. He lives in La Honda, California, where he built a house and raised a family under (and at the mercy of) giant redwood trees. His most recent book is 99 Jobs: Blood, Sweat, and Houses. More at: