We can’t help but dream
of what we don’t have:
light at night, darkness
at the end of days.
What genius to know that
we’ll never escape
ourselves, what just reward
to keep coming back
to live in what’s leftover.
It doesn’t hurt to invest
time in a nest, to create
space for the soul—
offer something for the gods
to hang on their wall.
We can’t help but dream
of what we can’t control.
The trial is almost over, the attorneys have argued
philosophy instead of law, each holding to ideals
we can never quite attain in this life. A jury
would be worthless. You have no money to pay
mileage or per diem anyway. You have listened
to all of the extenuating circumstances
and must measure the clarity attained since
the beginning, whether tortoise or hare,
neither speed nor time are factors anymore.
Did the distance come easy, did you not feel
Dante’s sins set-up camp beneath your skin,
were you immune and not succumb to learning
the hard way—not learn a thing? Out here
there are few secrets left, no place to hide—no
commotion or combustion cloud to float within.
Of chance, of luck, of all the signs,
we teeter near disaster despite the odds—
and we enhance them chasing passion
like butterflies, like all good humans.
Always the ambush, I have lain in wait
for quail, for the illusive young buck,
for greenheads circling beneath gray fog
and forgot to fire or decided not
to disturb such grace, to pick and pluck.
What is it then we hunger for
more than living, or giving life
another chance to sweep us up?
There are no weekends off this time of year as we juggle days around the weather, neighbors’ brandings and our own, trying get the work done. Low snow down to about 1,000 feet with the last cold front that brought 0.62” of welcome rain, we gathered the Wagyu bulls yesterday for their return to Snake River Farms in Idaho, for their TB tests and Health Certificates before they leave California.
Roads into the foothills are impassable, corrals too muddy to brand, neighbors try to reschedule plans to mark their calves, often with cattle gathered on short grass. This time of year, one day runs into the next until we’re all done.
Though hard on our cows who have endured nearly three months of abnormally cold weather, we’ll gladly take the snow, any kind of moisture with less than eight inches of precipitation this season, well-below normal. The snow melts slowly, retreating only 500 feet yesterday, to saturate the ground beneath like a time-released prescription. We are still feeding hay in the Greasy watershed each chance we get, but it will be next week, after three more rescheduled brandings, before we can get another pickup load up the hill.
Though I know we’ve had cold winters before, I don’t remember one with such a devastating impact on our cows. One day at a time, and before we know it, we’ll have wildflowers and then be complaining about the summer heat.
Robbin and Bart
Humbled by time upon this ground
beneath these skies—these stars aligned
with eternity and the moon’s rise,
by whatever sets events of chance
in motion, that chain reaction
lucky stumblebums know is beyond
their doing or direction—we have been
chosen to survive, to learn our lessons
before we decompose and start over again
as something less complex, yearning only
for the sun and rain. A man can
start early, revel in the weather, dance
among goddesses and hobgoblins alike,
knowing nothing will stay the same
beneath this ball of firelight.
They propose life on other planets,
in other galaxies, that learn in the same
way—some confined to immortal lives.
We’ve seen these years, here:
frosty, slow dances on the horizon
as cows grow thinner. She shows
a little leg and throws a lusty look
long distance, then comes close
to exposing a great billow of clouds
as she bends to whisper something
that rhymes with rain.
We are too old for this charade
of goddesses-in-training, neophytes
stretching like willow limbs
upon the ridgeline, like rock
wrens bumping the earth
to flit away. We need
the real thing: a prolonged
storm to run the canyons.
They’ve had their practice,
entertained the cowboys slumped
at their tables, long-drunk
with anticipation. Rumor is she’s
resting in her dressing room,
has a migraine and may not make
the show tonight. At this late date,
all we know to do is wait.
When she sleeps
On all the wheel barrows
Except the red one.
– James Galvin (“As Is”)
A hard life of war and pestilence, I imagine
urchins and ragamuffins á la Dickens or Swift,
poverty and hunger, rancid blues on every breath
across the tracks in the old part of town—
I don’t know. I don’t go there anymore.
And I don’t see the boys I went to school with
either, each with the accouterments of their success.
Perhaps it is the railroads that divide us,
East and West, fulfilling promises to anonymous
stockholders and high-paid athletes.
But in between, she sleeps this side of the moon
rising, quivering in the perforated blackness.
Her silhouette, a supine range I see breathe
some evenings and I imagine generations
of women who have watched here before me—
and believed. That is the crux of it, of course,
believing in more than rich or poor, seeing
the pieces in limbo lean together and hold
until she awakes, stretching into dawn
with each turn she makes around the planet.
And first light, the crow and hawk sweep
the yard for casualties and the tardy.
A coyote studies a calf left alone.
But not all of our totems report for duty—
there are some that wait to surprise us.
There is a place in the calendar
when a season rides on a whim—
it could be a white, winged-Pegasus
on the muscle without a bridle,
or a tiny low off the coast
drawing moisture into
a growing vortex spinning sheets
of rain to start the canyons,
to keep the grass alive—when the future
teeters for a week or so about the time
the Turkey Vultures show in pairs.
Two or three more and spring is over
before it began and the cows
bring their calves down early
off the mountains for adoption,
when we all look to the sky
for a sign. The ground squirrels
quit playing grab-ass for a moment
to study the near horizon, listen
as rattlesnakes wait on the edge
of their dens for the weather
to make up its mind, as if it had one.
But we’re not riding blind—
any kind of pagan sign will do.
We might as well be rare birds
occupied off the road, a dwindling species
keeping to itself as the world speeds by.
Behind the wheel, that great invention,
it has all it needs now to save time
on the other end of its destination.
Pickup loads of toys stream upcanyon,
primal music thumping all the way
to places we don’t want to go after
watching the troops retreat at dusk,
limping home. It must be like a war
up there in the mud and snow.
We work around the fire, a fine discovery,
pulling irons and calves together,
stirring coals, retelling stories after
while the meat cooks, before we forget
our place in these mountains that
have shaped characters and rare birds.