Lots of young men wanted to be cowboys, ride
with legends, dance down ridges, wear spurs and hat,
loiter at the local watering hole come sundown,
like on TV to paw and fight, get a foot hung over
some young heifer on the other side of the barbed wire—
a tangled and exciting life.

Branding a little bunch of calves in even a smaller pen
tucked in the Blue Oaks up the East Fork,
Homer picked one of them to bully in abstentia, one who
needed two hours to dress himself and his horse in the morning—
rode him hard, by God, preaching to a quiet choir
bent to calves we worked one at a time when I finally
interrupted lamely, thinking kindly, feeling guilty,
‘but his heart’s in the right place.’

Knife in hand, Homer stammered, his eyes flashing up at me,
‘You know, John, in this business there ain’t much call for heart.’

He said it all: boiled life down to a phrase—
made the distinction between enthusiasm
and try, make-believe and perseverance.

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