Wyoming, In Memoriam
No one is coming toward you,
and many are battering at the gate
to leave. Winter is long then one day
it is summer, choking on heat.
The ranches are lost,
the mines have closed,
the tourists have other
more appealing places to go.
Alone tonight, we sleep
within the silence of stars.
Coyote and Mountain Lion walk the ridge lines.
Pronghorn slip under the fences still standing.
But even as people leave, strange newcomers
appear in pick-ups
marked Texaco and Mobil and Exxon —
not to live here, for they do not love this land,
but to visit and take what they can.
They scrape away the sad cactus, frozen
and stunted, the twisted solitary tree,
the thin yellow grass, until the earth is bare
and they drill, 6000 feet, and more.
Those of us who watch
learn there is nothing we can do.
As we ignored the exodus,
so we try to ignore this entry,
to continue walking
from place to place,
to saddle a horse and ride.
Alone after working all day among people,
tired, I fall asleep on the couch, radio
playing softly. Voices come toward me —
“Attention!” and I sleepily turn the radio off.
But they continue, “Attention! You are directed
to leave this area. We are under nuclear attack.
Proceed south as quickly as possible. This
is not a test. We are under attack.
Please remain calm.”
Half asleep, heart beating hard
so my throat feels the lump, I get up
and open the door — dusty air and the red trails
of light percolating through it as a car
moves slowly up the road. No one in sight.
Groggy, I run to the horses,
saddle Trouble, put halters on the others,
ready to ride when I feel a fresh wind
on my face, clouds blowing away.
I look up at the stars and clear sky,
the silence and, awake, realize
someone is playing a joke.
I ride Trouble hard in the pasture,
let him run full speed toward a fence,
lean as he turns hard and gallops
the fence line. Around and around
the dark pasture until he slows on his own.
I get off and, eyes closed, without a brush,
rub him down with my hands — back and belly,
neck, mane, tail. I whisper in his ear,
press my lips to his face to taste the oils
in his hair. Dropping the saddle pad
on the ground and pulling Trouble’s blanket
over my chest, I go to sleep in a field of horses,
the smell of their skin and sweat
rushing up my nose.
There, And Here
In Africa, I lived in a village where some boys
caught a monkey and tied a rope around its neck,
pinched it, slapped it, threw stones at its face.
When the monkey cried, the boys leaned back
and laughed, both sounds as close to me as my breath.
Paraded up the street in pain and exhaustion,
the imprisoned monkey fainted but its keepers
brought it round to suffer some more.
It tried to bare its teeth, as monkeys will,
but this inspired no fear. They were only teeth,
as beautiful as eucalyptus leaves on the trees
where monkeys live above goats and pigs
and flies buzzing like tiny green jars.
In DuBois, Wyoming a rancher was pissed at his horse.
He tied it to the bumper of his pick-up
and dragged it down the county road,
asphalt a high-speed whip
flaying the horse till it died.
A woman here wanted to punish her horse.
She tied him with a rope to the ceiling
of his stall. If he moved, he’d choke.
She left him there three days.
Today is Tuesday, 50 degrees, a cool wind
from the northwest. Lovely day.
I’d meant to go riding
but this one day I won’t.
There is a world, and it is full.
Here we are measured
by what is absent, the rain
that is reluctant to fall.
The joke is there are more pronghorn
than people. It’s true, and
there are more sheep than pronghorn,
more grasshoppers than sheep.
When the cold descends it’s a lid
hammered shut. The heat flattens
the summer grass and everything burns
to gold but the animals we have to sell.
“What a place,” you say. “Who would
want to live there?” The answer
is another truth not so much
hard to explain as unused to being said.