At last, Miss May closed her book
and opened the schoolhouse door on that fine
spring afternoon. Grace filed out with the others.
So much to do after school. Chores at home.
But there were the young men—ranch hands—
waiting for Miss May to step out. Mother said,
the only eligible woman in this tiny town. Where
was Van? Hooves pounded fast up the road,
spurred. He reined up quick, stopped his horse
on its haunches. Big, beautiful, spirited Paiute,
red and white pinto. Van jumped off—flashy
Van-swagger toward Miss May. Will stood off
to the side, letting his sweet bay mare, Nellie,
nuzzle his hand. Everyone said Will wasn’t near
as handsome as Van. But gentle. When Miss
May caught his eye he smiled so silly then
looked away, fiddling with Nellie’s forelock,
whispering in a horse’s ear. Grace thought
Miss May might not stay eligible much longer.
Grace thought a girl could learn something
from the way a man speaks to his horse.
TO CROSS THE RIVER
Of three, one was the keenest fletcher,
one sharpened rocks to the best arrow-point,
one was prince of quiet. Their thoughts flew
true, hitting the same mark without words.
They could spot tracks of danger. But river
is danger without tracks, high, fast with snow-
melt. Three boys must get to the other side,
long poles to keep their balance. They wait
till dawn, when the water is lowest.
So cold! current up to their armpits—river
slapping their shoulders. One loses his footing,
goes under! His friends lunge for the end
of his pole as he’s swept away.
How can they hold on, not lose their
footing? He’s the thrashing fish at the end
of the pole—fish fighting, hand over
hand up the pole, to be caught by friends,
to reach the other side of river.
How many stops for iced tea on the drive
home? Mid-summer expedition. Our assignment:
climb that steep south-facing slope above
canyon reservoir, searching for the man
who disappeared off a boat in the dark—jumped
in to cool off? pushed overboard? hitched
a ride home without telling anybody? Witness
stories coiled like the big golden rattlesnake
on that tall, dried up hillside. Our dogs
found not a whiff of the missing man.
No footprints, no sign. He never climbed so
high. The mercury silvered at 105 in the shade.
What shade? Now our dogs were sleeping
in the back of the truck, headed home. You still
wore your hardhat—to keep cool, you said.
Iced tea against my forehead. We still had miles
to go, and no last chapter to the story.
A FAMILIAR LANDSCAPE
keeps its secrets under lacework
of spring grasses turning golden, brittle
as old letters. I can barely find hints—
what once was wagon road up the swale, now
just a depression suggesting the best route
north and east. Wide enough for a single
wagon. Battered by wind, rain, deer
passing in twilight, this year’s grasses lean
across the traces. Wind too full of
forgetting. But road exists in the history
of deer who furtive up the swale
to bed down under a great buckeye,
its cool, green, unspeaking shadows even
at noon. I’m trying to clear the road
for easier walking to our upper fence.
The road stops there, at the fence.
Or maybe it continues up the neighbor’s
land. I wonder if the neighbor knows
it’s there. I’m trying to remember.
Early start. Sun just cresting the high ridge,
might hit 99 today. Boots, no gaiters;
traveling light. Hat, sunscreen; screwdriver
in hip pocket—the head so easily tangles.
Armed with a quick-start Stihl. What might I
uncover today? roadkill remains of a hunter-cat?
snake lily twining stock-wire fence? Start
blazing trail through head-high thistle, wild oats,
it’s a jungle. Pink tank-top? Feather of owl,
or hawk—hope the raptor got away.
Keep moving, a good swinging stride, a wide
swath. Stop every few steps, unwind
wreaths of grass that choke the mowing head.
Cars and trucks gust by on Green Valley,
commuters don’t see me weed-eating my strip
of right-of-way, pasture fence to cutbank
over two-lane chipseal without a shoulder.
My narrow wasteland, wilderness, defensible
Our dogs are digging in the field. For bones?
for the undersurface skitter and crawl of hunger.
Ground squirrels undermine the land, their
periscope has broken soil beside a new zucchini
in the garden. Our garden, house of compost,
roots and rot, bones. I’d fill the hole back up. But
your trowel has disappeared, the pitchfork’s
rusting by the fence—for all I’d bring it under
cover against weather. Ground squirrels
don’t rust, they just turn to bones.
LEARNING TO BREATHE
I’d rather not think about it. Run as long
as legs are pistons beating the road, across
distances; carrying me to a second wind,
west wind over the ridgetop, white moths
fluttering above waving grasses. Who
teaches the moths what to do about air?
—Medusa, with thanks to Taylor Graham for today’s doorway into June with her fine poems and pix!
Photos in this column can be enlarged by clicking on them once,
then click on the X in the top right corner to come back