Tuesday, April 16, 2013

No Apologies

Somewhere along the way
You have noticed warnings
Caught a dead scent whiff
Of old miseries,
Old agonies
Not so long, not so gone.
It is your right,
Your obligation
To protect your piece
Of hard won freedom.

You give unmistakable
Body language signals
And this deaf man
Obliges with pocketed hands,
No more jokes, and
Two steps backward,

It was great, when it was great, 
And after that,
It was mostly OK, like
Sundown, loose rein,
Riding tired horses      home.

I know the sleepless
Analyzing nights
Serve no purpose.
Still, some linear logic,
Reptilian, guitar string,
Trip-wire sensitivity
Wonders where
I accidentally stepped,
That sent things


Point of No Return

Loading possessions
Sorting for the journey
Go and stay

My hands are steady
Heart is calm
The many miles between us
Cannot detract from who we are
          or might have been.

Would I change us
Cut rough edges to fit?
Like the perfect linoleum seam,
Flush enough to appear


Life is the reward for
Where we've been, what we did,
How much we grew.

It's past the point of
No return.
Beyond Recalling
Energy gone kinetic
Outside the bounds of human shaping.
A wild God
takes a deep breath.

Bronc Riders, Gunfighters know well
That elongated instant
Where reality stretches like a placenta.
Time curves through a prism of
Adrenaline and joy,
Fear falls earthward
Like the innocence.

He deliberately slides the sixth
Shell into the empty chamber.
Turns away from the an empty glass,
Loop off the hammer
Feels the reassuring weight on hip
Tugs hat brim for
The last time.
Blinks to keen the eyes
Pushes swing doors outward
To clear the view of silent street.

Handful of horn, it's easy up
Right boot cuts a perfect arc
Over steel hard trembling
Hip muscles,
Toe reaching to embrace off stirrup.
Spurred foot falls faster
Hips swivel to meet the leather
"Watch his ears, always watch his ears"

Just one more instant.
The wait is almost

Work for Food

Mementos of Vietnam - the metal box holds all of Rod's letters home to his folks.

Where highways
93 and 40 cross
     a 4-way stop
     an overpass
I interupt my hurry, north
To notice this solitary
He's paunchy, a pigtail grey
               and that
     Sickly, indoor kind
     of pale,
His bulbous, pockmarked
     Tells much.
He holds a cardboard sign
     (magic marked) that
Begs---Viet Vet---Work for Food.
He (and it) hold my eye, and
     I wonder hard
     About this man
The miles          and the years
     Have blurred the green
     Bent the Memories
     (and Minds)
     to suit
He can probably recite
The Names, the outfits
That climbed some hard-won
Hill--and gave it back.
Knows somebody who knows
Somebody who knows     you

It's getting hard
To tell an honest, grizzled
     Who sucks cheap wine
     and yearns for youth
     and the
We once were
     all too glad
To lose,
     from a
Common, grungy, middle-aged
Who knows which words
     Will work
I take the smooth, Corporate
I have a truck to chase,
Cows to sort for tomorrow's
     Beef auction
     In Jerome.
I have responsibilities.
So     I roll through
         the stop          and
         Save . . . the wave.

Lyle and Hawkeye

Rod and his brother Lyle feeding cattle.

After preg-testing
while the crew
puts the heifers back
Lyle speaks quietly
to Dr. Boyd,
they ride home early.

Hauling our horses home
we meet Lyle
leading Hawkeye
both with bad knees
hobbling along
The ultimate compliment
leading an old crippled
saddle horse
to the bone pile
on foot.

I took my hat off for Hawkeye.
There were no words.
Lyle didn't look up.

The next afternoon
about five o'clock
after shoeing
Lloyd and Mr. Powell,
putting away my
shoeing tools,
stable jack,
I could hear
the red loader tractor
on the hill
behind the dump.

Lyle never said a word,
that's not his way.
But it occurred to me
digging one grave
with a loader
on a smooth and rockless
took Lyle
all afternoon.

For Steve and Ted

Rod, Steve and Buster Wines, and neighbors branding in Ruby Valley

Slim comes back, reporting
After jeeping through the wood hills.
He brings home no surprises,
"Times are hard, there, for a drink."

It's hot and drouthy; by October,
Gardner Spring, and Willow
Are long dry; and Maverick
And Medicene, and Cherry
And Mountain seep a trickle.
They barely irrigate the feral horse
And the mule deer tracks that circle
Down from the brush to constant danger. 
God's creatures know
The lion and the hunters watch
      The water.

One old gelding lives alone
Up the draw from Willow Windmill.
He holds no commission, no command.
Fearlessly he limps up to the windmill
     In the daylight,
Stands by the pipe that split last winter,
Tries to slurp the gook that puddles
     In the trail.
It's not a fancy drink, but
These many vicious winters later,
He knows well he cannot walk too far.

The ranch that owns the windmill
Went broke, sold off the cattle.
Without them, there's no reason
     To repair. 
So the mule deer, and this gelding,
Innocent, thirsty victims
Of the interest rates that drove
     The lady down.

Among those of us who clamor
About respect for thirsty creatures
We hold our enviro-sensitivities
Aloft for all to see. . . .
Except to whine about wildlife problems,
Not one helpful hand was lifted.
Then two cowboys
     For the lady,
Steve and Ted, came in a pickup.
Brought a pipe and couple-wrenches,
Fixed the mainline to the stock tank,
     And then went back to work.

In this world, not one soul noticed.
No one took the time to thank them.
But the new pipe carries water
To the tank at Willow Windmill.
And one old gelding, tired and crippled,
     Gets a decent drink.

On Checking the Cows Sunday Evening, March 21, 1993

I'm not so angry now

froth melted to fatigue
i see the lump over by the twin ditches
low and insignificant
another dead cow

observed calving after lunch in some scattered willows
while we worked out some calvy heifers to take
to the barn
one heifer got on the fight
would not be cut out and driven
pingo and i turned her on the ice a dozen times
she stampeded blind down the fence
fell through the ice
broke her shoulder

back at 5:30
i see the flailing legs
rush to the rescue in time to watch
this cow's final thrash
last gasp
laid down on a dry ditchbank to calve
slipped in the ditch
with her head upstream
her swollen belly
stopped the snowmelt trickle
made a puddle that just fit her face

i'm not so angry now

it was a dumb mistake but
did the best
she could
trapped straining in the rising water
throwing her head and kicking between spasms
she spit out her new red heifer calf
cold and bewildered
on the soggy sandbar behind

i'm not so angry now

exhausted past caring of life or death
her head to heavy to lift
the water in one nostril
without help
beyond hope
while I doctor a calf
gaze at my broken-legged heifer
prolapsed and drowning
left us something

For Sorrely

It was just business between us,
            He and I,
He was wild and untrusting,
I thought training horses was to crawl on them,
            and ride.
I would rope and choke him,
Then catch one hind foot and stretch it
So he couldn't kick.
Hook my cinch ring with a wire, and
Away we'd go.
He didn't buck often, but when he did
It was hard and quick and flat
He'd bawl and spin, trying to unload
The man he never liked
             and would not trust.
I never petted Sorrely,
It was beneath us both.
The best we ever had,
For a friendship,
Was an uneasy

A couple Sorrely horse-trades and a dozen years later
Returning from some fall cow-work,
Four or five of us stopped for the
Mayhew field gate
Below the Connelly Corrals.
Buster, on a borrowed Sorrely, stepped off
To let us through.
As his right foot hit the ground,
He saw his left spur caught in his
Hobble buckle.
He tried to step right back,
But half-way on, Sorrely blew.
They scattered the rest of us like deer.
Trying to keep a bay filly from hitting the fence,
I watch it all over my shoulder.
Buster, hatless, both hands on the mecate,
Sliding, sitting half-up,
Kicking frantically at his trapped boot.
Sorrely stampeding, bent by the load
On the snaffle bit, bawling and kicking
At the old enemy.

At that moment,
I learned a lot about
Training horses.  

In Like a Lion

She showed her true colors
In the Middle Field Gate.
Trying to get past me,
Pirouetting like a dancer
Sliding, leaping for an advantage
Finding none, she shuts her eyes
For the blind run to freedom.
My horse is fresh, he bashes her
Off the feed ground, into the deep snow,
             and knocks her down.
She never takes another willing step
Toward the corral.

Two hours later,
She still will not drive toward the barn,
And I am ashamed
To ask my lathered saddle horse
To drag her any farther.

I step down to retrieve my rope
From her sweaty, sullen neck.
For her nasty disposition, and
Seven dead calves in two
Miserable, freezing days,
I can't resist a "goodbye"
Kick in her ribs.
"Get up, you weak-hearted bitch."
She does.
A tussle erupts,
A mix of anger, exhaustion,
             and coils of rope.

That's what spooked my horse.

Life and Times

When they ask of Life,
What will I say?
Can I describe time that swirls,
Flits with fickle castanets,
And disappears?
A shrinking, self-swallowing serpent?

Sometimes in spring
When ropes with eyes
Fly to heads and heels

The smokey celebration of
Surviving another winter
Buys the seven-way and Bud

Dusty faces crack from laughing
Bloody hands pass Copenhagen
Back and forth

No furtive glances hopefully
Caress snowless ridges
The future is studiously ignored
For the intensity of

Ground crew limps - unnoticed
Tomorrow's hips and rope-arm
Get no second

By God
We are a primitive
Futureless Band

At least we avoid
That flatland
Urban trap
Of measuring life