The foundation crumbles—
the red, white and blue
states of dysfunction
for another victory,
chip away at truth and honor
just to play in the District
of Columbia. Poll-driven
word games, big dollars
for coffers drive the train—
O’ Casey Jones
watch your speed!
Some say joy,
for a moment—
of dust and heat,
what passing pollinator
could resist an invitation
for the momentary splendor
we leave in the dark
to haul confused
fat calves off the hill
in the heat building to
the action melted,
long stems limp and wilted
when we return.
Same old ground this time of year,
gathering grass-fat calves and steers,
pasture by pasture, to the corrals
to weigh and exchange for cash—
to do it all over again—a collage
of seasoned stories where details blend
within the bronze and brittle stems
between canyons fenced like funnels
down to flatter ground. Cattle gentler,
better bred to routine and for the hook
on these same old hills they graze,
when and if it rains in time for grass.
Habit after half-a-hundred years,
no two the same, we circle back
in the same old tracks, just
to see what we’ll never see again.
Perhaps it is the constant news,
each day a different page,
that I close the book
to watch the Killdeer herd
their brood of errant children—
one always lost. Hatched
on the run, they learn all
the words they will need,
corralled beneath spread wings,
in a few short minutes
until one or two escape
in different directions
to go exploring the forests
of dry and brittle grasses.
It takes two to keep four together:
she to hold the bunch
while he makes circles
leading the last stray home.
Never enough roofs to shed the sun in the San Joaquin,
I’m leveling a pad for a barn with the skid steer
that’s become a hydraulic extension of my hands
between two huge Valley Oaks, four-foot across—
a roost for two Bald Eagles, long-dead witnesses
to father and son not learning to work cattle together.
In the ash pile of fallen limbs, a Killdeer sets and defends
her nest as I surround her with windrows of clay clods
to crumble and fill once the chicks are hatched.
Feathers fanned to fight for hours, her eyes bleed red
as her mate drags a wing nearby. Perhaps respect
lets four speckled eggs stop progress along the creek.
It’s not the cool coast of California
with cypress leaning leeward, but
the tomatoes and squash love
this year’s pleasant inland temperatures,
unaware of summer in the San Joaquin.
We, on the other hand, cringe
ahead of time, remembering so vividly
that it spoils our vacation. But nowadays,
we never know what’s coming, which
unwritten script awaits in ambush.
Escaping to the garden, hopefully I
bloom with our optimistic vegetables,
imagining tasty, blue ribbon fruit—
careful not to be so careless
as to step on a rattlesnake.
The canyon quiet by the fourth dawn, heads buried
beneath the waves of blond dry grasses, behind spears
of wild oats arching empty husks, first-time mothers
grazing like we expect our perfect world to be.
No plaintive calls, no searching draws, no panicked
pleading to canyon walls for their weaned calves
they have almost forgotten. We are relieved
of guilt, unburdened from their guttural mourning,
the harsh cacophony of maternity, of eighty
broken bonds rasping, wild wailing around us.
Aging skin grows thin imagining the magic
of companionship delivered from the womb,
of nursing, of mothering the first-born and losing it.
Emptiness and sorrow for a lost friend gone,
these cows giving voice to my unusual confusion.
Spring lingers into May, empty
blue clouds in a pink sea at dawn—
an ancient armada claiming sky,
this canyon that yesterday’s Navy jets
left thundering, practicing, maneuvering
for war. Here along the shrinking creek
Egrets and Killdeer wade, we measure
global tension, hear its roar, primitive
and deafening with no retreat.
Ants in the anthill, we feel the quake
of giant footfalls, cloven hooves
and rubber tread approaching, yet
stick to the business of our survival
unabashed, sorting the wild grain
packed by caravans for winter’s cold.
Our one mind is not cluttered
with news beyond our borders,
the fallen oak and swollen creek—
of all the peripheral shenanigans
delegated to orators and generals,
to pundits and playwrights busy
with dramatic scripts to entertain
themselves. We serve another purpose
dedicated to feeding ourselves.