RED SKIES AT DAWN

Thin starts lay limp 
as green fades to gray
amid the brittle stalks 
of short-cropped dry
the cows have missed
 
as I open the gate
ahead of several storms
to search for Live Oak—
stove wood heat 
with little ash
 
prostrate since 
the 4-year drought
branded in my mind—
decomposing now
before my eyes.
 
Limbs ache with years
bent to this ground
chasing seasons of grass,
but red skies at dawn
reawakens the flesh.

RABB BRANDING TALK, 2021

Terri Blanke Photo
Before the surplus oilfield pipe
replaced the split redwood posts 
and creosoted oak railroad ties,
 
we remember the old board pens,
acorns tucked twixt crack and plank,
fiery lichen on the backside
of weather-worn 2 x 8s:
 
            distant brandings—
            deceased men—
            voices imitated—
            old saws saved 
            that we exchange, 

each triggering the next 
underhanded head loop loosed 
to hang for an instant, 
 
we snare memories 
like calves to brand—lifetimes 
stretched from hand to hand. 


 

Portraits of the Gathering

https://portraitsofthegathering.org/

Book: https://www.westernfolklife.org/shop/portraits-of-the-gathering-by-kevin-martini-fuller

Thinking About Elko

Coming Home–February 1, 2016

Branding Greasy 2021

(Click to enlarge two feet)

The high clouds had given way to sunshine by the time we finished branding a little bunch of calves in Greasy yesterday.  Well off the road, it’s a luxury to be among good friends and neighbors who are exceptional help, folks who know how to make the work fun.

Though dusty, there’s a little more green showing at this elevation (2,200’) where we have received 1.72” of rain thus far this season, much like the beginning of the 2013-14 drought year where we had less than 1.5” of rain in Greasy through the month of January.  Our 10-day forecast is dry. 

SMART SURVIVORS

Leaving the feed grounds
for the ridge tops
with their first calves,
 
native cows know
where the green comes first
after a little rain
 
softens the clay
for cloven hooves
and the climb up.
 
These are not dumb
welfare cows
that we have raised
 
and fed for months—
but smart survivors
to make us proud.

MENTORS

The old timers built traps
with limp ropes
in small branding pens
 
before the team ropers showed
to take their place,
as time overtook them
 
and their steady horses.
Almost anyone can catch 
two feet going slow and easy.
 
Homer, Earl, Dave and E.J.,
I can picture them now
roping just like me.

THE DEITIES

Maxfield Parish (“Garden of Allah” – 1918)
How could we know
the plans of goddesses and gods
with so much going on, busy
 
saving and taking lives,
sorting souls
amid this Covid,
 
while tilting the West 
out of range
of the good storms—
 
bare acres everywhere you go.
If even a shower
could bring some green,
 
cattle market’s gone to hell.
With everybody begging
for change, the pipeline may be
 
plugged with prayer overload, 
or perhaps our deities
are just teaching a lesson.

RETREAT

Even a rattlesnake 
knows when to retreat—
half-a-dozen quick
hide-a-ways 
at his mental fingertips.
 
Who wants to know
the latest detail
of the same old news,
only to recognize ourselves
in Chekhov’s mirror?
 
Soap opera or box,
all the bad actors
stage left and right
look like possums
in the headlights.
 
Weary-washed with waves
of news, a man could drown
and sink to the bottom—
but even a rattlesnake
knows how to swim.

STIMULUS CHECK

Some come quickly now,
a phrase to trigger more
coiled upon the ground
 
while others hibernate for days,
for weeks and months,
as if they might be dead
 
without the touch of rain—
that hard and brittle
mindset to survive
 
like deep-rooted filaree
with all its colors,
with all its seed
 
waiting for a kiss.
I know no other way
to pen prosody.