Poetry | September 01, 1997

 

Out here, cactus is the skyline, a hundred miles of flat.

Turn in a circle and never know you’re back,

except for the neighbor’s ranch, barns like specks of mica

in the dust, his windmill a semaphore of warning, Go away.

 

East Texas is a myth, black loam and heritage and trees.

The one road into town has highway signs boys use

as targets. The asphalt’s cracked, dandelions thriving

as if crews planted them. Rattlesnakes nap

 

on the shoulders, no trucks along for months.

Jackrabbits limp along like dogs, nibbling grass

and careless weeds, no need to hurry from nothing

that can hide. Slumped on an aging appaloosa,

 

I roll a smoke that may take half a day to lick,

to get it right. I dig in deep shirt pockets for a match,

and bite it like a toothpick. I stick the unlit

cigarette like a feather in my hat. I kicked the habit

 

four years ago after the last grass fire

some trucker started. The butt’s for practice,

in case I’m ever bored. My wife saves rattles

for the grandkids, flint arrowheads she finds,

 

digging strawberry gardens, prying out rocks

for the fish pond, scooping iron and umber

for sand paintings on the patio. Rocking at dusk

that starts at dinnertime and lasts past Halloween,

 

we talk softly about a coyote a mile away,

one drop of water bulging at sundown from the pipe

over the brimming-full horse trough, the stretch

and shimmer of the drop before it falls.

If you are a student, faculty member, or staff member at an institution whose library subscribes to Project Muse, you can read this piece and the full archives of the Missouri Review for free. Check this list to see if your library is a Project Muse subscriber.

SEE THE ISSUE

SUGGESTED CONTENT