Rafael Stoneman in his natural habitat.

Rafael Stoneman in his natural habitat.

“i figure if Ramana wants me to drop the body, he’ll
make it happen, and if not, HE will keep the tree standing.” Rafe

I was painting a big three story Queen Anne
off a forty foot ladder, up near the  roof line
when God whispered in the ear of the ladder holder
“You’re not needed here. Walk away.”

So he walked away
and when the steel toes of the ladder kicked out
I fell
hitting  the roof of an ugly family room tacked on in 1971,
the year you were born.
That saved me.

But I kept on rolling off that second roof and hit a 6×6 cedar post
planted upright in the garden for no discernible reason,
that broke my fall a second time and my collarbone too.
So I finally come down to earth.

There were other falls.

Thirty-five feet off an apartment house I was decking in 1972.
The roof over the third story porch broke loose and I went with it
fast and furious like a bird on fire
but peaceful too, like it was happening to somebody else.
Landed on my back in a pile of boards.
Three cracked vertebrae, a week in the hospital and out.
God said “It don’t hurt that much.”
Funnily enough, he was right at the time.
Just starting to now.

I fell off a concrete dam into the Blanco River when I was a kid
but didn’t drown.
Fell out of a hickory tree, twenty-five feet or so, in 1959,
grabbing at limbs that tore holes in my arms, screaming all the way

Jumped off the roof of a one car once, testing a parachute made from a cotton sheet
that had cowboys printed on it, firing six guns out of both fists.
The air was so thick with damp, I thought that I could walk upon it.
But that one doesn’t count.

Other falls I don’t remember so well anymore.
They say forgetfulness and loss of grip are gifts of age
and I agree with them.

In 1988, after that collarbone business, I went to my Guru
Shri Shri Shri Shivabalayogi Maharaj!
Beautiful, fierce and kind, all at once,  just like a little child
whose best friend is a cobra.
He gave me blessed vibhuti, a chunk of sacred ash used for initiation.
Said, “Keep this in your car. You’ll be OK.”
That’s what I did, moving it from the glove compartment of one junker work truck to another,
until that last one caught fire and burned
nearly taking the whole neighborhood with it!
By this time my Guru had passed on
becoming the breath that all of us breathe forever and forever
and forever.
Now if I fall, I will not be falling.  I will fly.

All I’m saying, Rafael, is be careful my friend.
You are needed here and you are much



photo of Sage Stoneman

Charlie Hopkins and Rafael Stoneman 2013, along with Freddie.

Charlie Hopkins and Rafael Stoneman 2013, along with Freddie.


There is a joy years in coming that waits for us in the dark.

There is a joy years in coming that waits for us in the dark.


After painting a horse barn all day, I drink tea  in late afternoon
with Carol
letting go of what I can’t hold in her hands.
Eight hours gripping the rungs of a twenty-two foot ladder.
Now the ladder falls while I remain in air!

We hear cicadas singing in shrubs along the fence line
so loud they must be inside us.
Delighted now in whirring air after years under the ground
cicadas are rising in a mass, shedding larvae shells.
They are singing for their mates, flexing the muscle along ribs
of exoskeletons.

I offer my right hand to one who has landed in leaves of the hops vine.
She steps gladly on a finger that was broken in the Fall
recognizing its curved rigidity as her own.

There is a joy years in coming that waits for us in the dark.
It fills the space we call emptiness that has always been full of stars.
Emptiness that is a well, spring fed and overflowing.

There are eyes in that dark and wings prepared to open.
Whirling in the air, there is a joy coming in waves and in shattered lights
made whole.







Late Spring 2013

On Wednesday morning, I wait for Ray Miller at the mouth of the White Salmon.
Working on a rich woman’s horse barn today.
Power wash, scrape old wood and if the water dries in time
mask windows.
Tomorrow paint the barn the color of a deep bruise,
of blood pooled under the skin.
Spray and back brush. Get paid Friday.

Over the truck hood see the moon just past full
blanched by morning sun but still visible in cloud.
Hear the call of a mourning dove across the White Salmon,
the sound decaying in fog.

News on radio of the Tongue River flood, Cavalier, North Dakota.
There is a river moving through me uncontrollable as a woman.
Cattle drowned, horns caught in exposed roots of cottonwoods
floating on their bloated sides, tongues still moving
in the current.

Words want to form in my mouth that taste of dewberries
words that follow me
as little winds turning oak leaves in a circle.
Lies about safety and salvation that flare in the mind
but disappear before they can be spoken
though the tongue keeps moving.

Ray parks next to me, gets into the truck and I come back to myself.
The moon, the morning dove, the White Salmon and the fog are bodies
I am alive in.
Train whistle, barge horn, shriek of osprey diving into the Columbia for salmon
speak for me.


 for Eli and Jeff, “Your love has given me wings.” 


At 52 with help from my sons
I place a 40 foot ladder and raise it to full extension, braced  against the stump
of a chinkapin tree.

With the ladder held and steadied by my sons, I climb
to the roof of a rich man’s house
looking over miles of  the Hood River Valley come into bloom.

She is beautiful in Spring as a Mexican girl dressed for her wedding.
Through her middle  is a flow of water continually drunk with gladness
for itself alone.

From the head of the valley to where it empties into the Columbia
there is always this laughter!

Today I climb  in fog and middle 50’s, clouds with their arms all around me.

Above a certain height the knowledge,  I can fall
is balanced  by an equal certainty,  I can fly.

Having fallen before,   I know the cost of coming suddenly to  earth:
three cracked vertebrae and the sternum bone,
right fore finger broken at the knuckle,
nose in four places crushed and re-supported with steel,
collarbone snapped so I had to sleep sitting up two months on the couch,
pissing through a vacuum cleaner hose into an empty bucket
of bone white enamel.

From where I sit now I can choose the world I  live in.
If I choose flight I will leave this world and land gracefully in

If I fall from here, the result  will be the same.

I see pear blossoms weighted down with drops of rain in the ashes of the morning,
before the heat of wheat deserts is drawn through lungs
of the river gorge.

I  see the languid body of our Lord  uncoiling from  sheets of sky.
Hear the river praising itself over rocks worn smooth with laughter.

The shallower the water, the louder is its praise.

And I  hear what the desert promises when she whispers in my hollow ear   saying,
There is no difference between falling and flying.

The wheat deserts say that everything in this world is a door.
To fall is one door.   To fly is another.
And when a pear blossom the color of the risen moon is cut by wind and carried up to me on the roof of a rich man’s house,
this  is a third kind of door.

In the marrow of my breast bone that once was cracked but now
is made whole
there is a staircase spiraling  into quiet.

There is an emptiness inside the bone I have learned to walk through.

Now I can say,  I am completely alone, or I can say I walk hand in hand with my Lord.
There is no difference between falling and flying
as long as I will pay the price this world insists upon.

The first step away from selfishness is a falling that gives us wings.

When pride is exhausted, it gives way to greater clarity
so the head may fall of its own weight to rest over the beating heart.

What was lost is found
not in the closed but in the open, empty hand.

Then our faces shine like spoons full of water.
We are gathered into someone’s arms whose only name is Silence.

From where I sit I see a silver blade of sky and the first blood of morning
but I don’t look for meaning in this light.
I sit here counting the single, unspoken and unthought syllable

of the quiet.

Over and over the same syllable of the only name I answer to,
the name that is yours alone in whom I am harvested in Fall.

                          I am flying!

I am climbing down this ladder to my sons.