Just before the rain, my neighbor calls
that he’s got my bull. ‘Had him around
Christmas, but he went back.’
Now he’s grumbling in his corral
two crow miles away, but a thirty-minute
drive through town around the mountains
after the all-day fight with his king
of them all grousing now beneath a tree.

‘They’ll be alright, just limp sore,’
he tells me on the phone. I get
the picture only time will cure. ‘Sorry
to complicate your day, John.’

Sorry too, I recall my Herefords
the last three years on him, scouting
more after two months out with my cows.
He says he doesn’t care, but I know
better and apologize.

Before I leave, I feed cows
on short grass, scratch my head
over a second set of twins,
three sucking a single cow now—
surely a daughter of old Ghost,
dark circles around her eyes
the exact size of the hollow holes
in a cow skull, yet more refined:
less ear and better bag.

The old aluminum gooseneck rattles
behind me, patched half-a-dozen times
since ’86 when I bought it new, drug
up and down hills with thousands
of weaned calves now—it rattles
as the brakes squeal empty
at the canyon’s end stop sign:
gray from the Kaweah Peaks west
to eternity, where all the storms
come from over the Coast Range
we can’t see anymore.

Woodlake’s four-way intersection
slow with a line of yellow buses
hauling restless kids home, pressing
at the windows, a wave of hands
in a cage like writhing snakes
ready to be scattered and released.
I drive slowly up Valencia, the main drag
past the hardware claiming half-a-block—
but all that hasn’t changed here
since I was a boy. I try to be invisible
and inconspicuous, dried cow dung
slung down the trailer’s sides,
I keep the rattle low without
a place to fit a license plate
since I’ve owned it.

My neighbor finally got the County
to fix the road beyond the gate
to his place—damn-good job
and smooth as thick black glass.
But the potholes getting there
are still bad, will grow more grass
when it rains, I’m guessing
he’s the one that did the fixing.

Best place to load a gooseneck
around, I swing up and back
like a pro to a rock and gravel
platform, a railroad tie high
at the end of a gated pipe lane.
My Angus bull in the pen on water
moans, backed bowed, head low
watches me without taking
that first step to see how bad
he’s hurt, waiting to see
just what the hell I want—
he’s in a bad mood, and turns
up the volume for one last grumble
goodbye to the shade tree
as he steps gingerly through
the gates and into the trailer.

His weight keeps the rattle down
back through town, and I take corners
quicker through the orange groves,
but feel the sore ton of him shift
and slow all the way to the gate
to the bull pen and a handful
of late-calving cows, plus the old
horned Hereford who’s had his onus
on them all for years. He looks
at me and then down into the pasture,
stepping out reluctantly. Standing
in the middle of the road, he can’t help
himself but bellow, grumbling as he goes.

                                                  for Tony Rabb

2 responses to “BULLS BEFORE THE STORM

  1. I really like this poem, John. It has very specific images, as most of your poetry does, but in this one I’m really “there”. Everything from the kids in the bus to the Kaweah Peaks, to the weight of the bull in the trailer on the drive home. Makes me homesick! Thanks for posting your poetry and looking forward to hearing you read in Elko.


  2. Make sure, Kim, you let me know who you are while in Elko. Pretty much a ‘stream of consciousness’ poem, trying to get to the human part of this business. I suspect I may have hooked you with the landmarks–and good for me! Thanks always for the feedback, these fresh poems are just darts in the air looking for a place to land, and Tony Rabb, what a great neighbor!


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