the old man gets the call,
show her how it feels
to really watch a cow—
to hold on
when he cracks back,
hear him nicker
under his breath
when he’s done well.
No better feeling
with your clothes on.
for Allie and Fairlea Smart Pic
No social distancing, evening conversation
centers on introductions as sorrel horses
welcome first-calf heifers coming to water:
no politics, no economic woes, just
domesticated souls touching nose-to-nose
before shadows crawl across the canyon.
We are enveloped for prolonged minutes
within their quiet reverie, forgetting
all the bad news they’ll never know.
Helping Earl meant bring your best
horse to stay ahead of trouble,
especially in Sulphur, a mount
that could cross the brushy draws
and stand up in scree, I’d imagine
the night before my young dreams—
a bay gelding who could read
the minds of renegades at 200 yards,
or the boot-tough brown mare
from Rudnick’s broncs before him.
They spent their lives making me
more helpful than I was, in or out
of the corrals. It was always Western
and I’d wake to saddle in the dark,
to be on time for wild adventure, enough
for all spread across the watershed—
simultaneous, far-flung accounts
polished in the shade for future poetry.
A hundred and ten degrees
in an empty pen
where we watched him
stumble to his feet,
where we forget
twenty years of trying—
that a man was king
with all he needed
to get the job done.
Time swallows memory
like a snake
chokes a meal down
to the present tense—
before we fade
from this landscape.
We can ask too much,
plead for compassion
from invisible gods,
the heroic hearts
we have held
within our fingers,
within our family.
for Red Hot Montana
Blankets and leather
rest ready for the gather,
cowdogs in the shade.