Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Tuesday poem #122 : Mary Austin Speaker : two cowboy poems


mountains steady
in the distanced blue

desert gold
with loden shrub

and snowdrift
filling out the sage

why is it heart
breaking to know

the places where
few humans go

are those
of little change

little rain
inured from wreck

or residence
by hosting only

what persists
despite everything

to grow, or go,
snowgeese, antelope,

the common vole,
spike pointed wild

chive furrowing
an acidic root

into sandstone
and the hook-

beaked crow,
but not the cow

trucked in from
a pastoral scene

to fatten
in feedlots, no,

not these, who turn
run lowing

from the approaching storm
so the cold stops them dead

in their tracks,
not these animals

whose fear rolls
and pitches so any

human who approaches
sends their heavy bodies

staggering back
not these massive bulls

whose balls
the cowboy ties

together and together
full of fright

and flight
they ride.


The cowboy wrote me,
The west is vanishing,

and I am, too. He wrote,
the sea was born of earth

from the Great Salt Lake.
He wrote, come and find me

under the sow-soft sky
where the sweet scented corn

ferments in the bellies
of cattle. You see them

plodding after dark,
black cows asleep

on asphalt big enough
to stop a dooly truck.

The cowboy tried sailing.
Tried exploration, war,

tried and tried.
Each one slipped

he said over the edge
of evening and was lost.

Except this doomed existence,
he wrote, filling orders

for American appetites.
Whitened figure

on the sun-warm crust.
The gods and men

would love it here,
the cowboy wrote me.

Men awake
in the midnight squall,

men eating fried lotus
in the clicking heat,

men running headlong
into the funnel’s swirling heart,

he told me, to see the gods
at war. They take their dogs

with them everywhere they go,
so when you see one chained

outside a shop, you know
this, too, is a house of worship.

Mary Austin Speaker is a poet and book designer. She is the author of Ceremony (Slope 2013) and The Bridge (forthcoming from Shearsman in 2016) as well as four chapbooks and a play, I Am You This Morning You Are Me Tonight (Bridge 2012) written with her husband, the poet Chris Martin. She has taught at the Iowa Young Writers program, Indiana University, Kirkwood Community College, and the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. She was recently a Bartos Fellow at the United World College and a writer in residence at the South Minneapolis Society Library. This summer she will be writer in residence at the Floating Library in Minneapolis, where she lives with her husband and son.

the Tuesday poem is curated by rob mclennan

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