Feasting on rodents makes a cowboy bard go bald.
Uncle Bob taught me bawdy songs he spun
like barbed wires, trotting along on his ranch
on geldings. When Bob was a boy, prairie dogs
were all he could kill some weeks during drought.
Roasted on a bed of coals or baked, he scoffed,
it's still a rat, fat popping like eyeballs
on the spit, mesquite fire hot enough
to warp a pot. Bob was my daddy's brother,
balding, without a wife after Aunt Edna died.
After the madness of Saigon, I swore
I'd never go back to cactus on the ranch
he left me, nothing but rattlers and sandstorms
beating the eyeballs raw, forty years
of riding herd enough, no staff to beat a rock
into a waterfall, at night no pillar of fire.
Then our parents died, another child left home,
the last of their old dogs died.
How could we let another cur betray us to dismay,
blinking back coughs, because who's to blame?
We moved, but mounds of prairie dogs popped up
overnight, our pastures pocked like the moon.
In winter, we saddle up at dawn and ride
the barbed-wire border, oil creaking gears
and tighten nuts to keep the windmills
turning. Huffing, we haul ripe silage
to the fields, and cattle bow to it
like manna. At dusk, we sip hot cups of soup
and rock the porch swing slowly, watching
the wide fireball, the first few thousand stars.
previously published in Plainsongs 20.3 (2000). 2004