Before the surplus oilfield pipe
replaced the split redwood posts
and creosoted oak railroad ties,
we remember the old board pens,
acorns tucked twixt crack and plank,
fiery lichen on the backside
of weather-worn 2 x 8s:
old saws saved
that we exchange,
each triggering the next
underhanded head loop loosed
to hang for an instant,
we snare memories
like calves to brand—lifetimes
stretched from hand to hand.
Dear Paul, the sycamores are undressing
long white limbs, a slow strip tease of fiery leaves
along the creek, my chorus line of dancing nymphs
all these years awaiting storms—but hills are green,
cordwood stacked and banked in thick dry rounds
beside the splitter, hay in the barn, meat in the freezer.
We will be warm with family this Christmas,
come hell or high water—grandpa free
to be a gap-toothed troll if need be.
We come of age all-of-a-sudden, spur
or spurn propriety in slow-motion rides,
get our kicks and licks in where and while we can.
The grizzled old natives never left this ground,
never quite made it past the ridgelines
we rode together busting wild cattle
off rock-piled chemise into the open places
we’ll always gather, build a fire and camp
for eternity—for as long as I remember,
become this ground that claims my flesh.
Slow-sipped days, a joyous plodding now
from moment to moment navigating rains
and grass, old neighbors branding calves
one at a time to stay to see a perfect season—
or as close as we can get, it’s how we make it.
Merry Christmas. John
P.S. Thanks for Montana Quarterly—a luxury
to fish during California’s Dust Bowl—a godsend.