Poetry | September 01, 1997


Here on these flat fields I remember napalm,

that lavish charcoal lighter of a fat man’s barbecue.

I’m like a pitcher with eyes in the back of his head

who wore his ball cap backward, ignoring the signs

his catcher gave, the finger between his thighs.

Often, he saw the runner leading too far off and whirled

and picked him off. Amazing, how hindsight made him hard

to steal on. He scrolled mistakes in his mind


like a three-inch roll of tape, adding them up,

the total always the same, like calling for a fly ball

in the infield, my fault, mine. Saigon was lost

before I got there, fortunes stashed in Swiss banks,

French plantation rubber and raw silk. I flew off to war

and came back home alone. These are the facts.

I have a fence to mend, cattle to keep, or give up all

we’ve worked for. My wife depends on my saddle, ten miles


from any mesa, from any town, ten thousand miles

from jungles that once burned. Those villages were theirs,

and these flat pastures mine, a flat field not on fire

but shimmering in the sun, my herd of Angus burned

as black as toast in the sun that heats the wind,

that turns the windmill, that pumps cold water to the troughs

and faucet I bow to, splashing my face to cool my neck

until I’m sober. I know this patient appaloosa is my horse,


those barbed wires sagging a mile away are mine,

and only I can twist and tighten them to save these steers

needing alfalfa and water from a well, not a lake

less tangible than guilt, a shimmer, a trick my eyes ignore

while I ride there on a trotting horse. The sun will blaze

tomorrow like most days on the plains, a mirage

fat Angus wade before the slaughterhouse. But now,

dismounting at the wires, when I glance back, it’s gone.

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