“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
What might have been a fallen star,
glittering in the distance
became the dreaded sight—
A heifer in trouble, calving.
But she was dead, still warm,
her uterus prolapsed: half its length
inside out, entwined with torn
a useless vision consigned
to heartache, awe and abandon
with all thought
But the calf
must still be inside.
How was he lodged,
what went wrong?
I tried to push in and find him;
but tides of flesh kept me out.
I cut across the tissues with my knife,
opened her, loosing a wash
of blood, removed
and set aside the mass,
reached in to
He must be out, I thought, rising
to walk in circles around her
searching clumps of grass for him—
drove toward cows in the distance,
noticed in the woods
a small, dark form,
soggy and disheveled,
nursing the knob of a tree,
sucking anything to connect
with this world.
I caught and bound and carried him
home and called on the phone
for someone to take him:
Do you want a red baby brahma bull?
Cousin Rob said he’d sworn off bottle-raising calves,
but a brahma bull—too much to resist.
Save him for me, he said,
I’ll be by.
In the pen, he sucked the boards, posts, climbed
through the shed, sucking things stored there;
sucked my hands, my pants, the gate as I tricked him
Colostrum, I thought,
is out there in her.
He won’t be worth a shit without it,
The old timers say.
I couldn’t go there again—but I couldn’t not go.
so I found the blue bucket on a shelf,
washed a cup and empty milk jug and
in ten minutes,
udder by udder,
I’m stripping out a dead cow
in the full light of day,
wondering who I am.
It comes cold with every grasp, hissing into the cup.
Fingers tired, I stop— add it to the jug,
continue, hands sticky, aching, keeping on
until there’s no more.
Warmed on the stove and poured in the bucket,
a minute later I’m coaxing a nipple into his mouth,
little teeth cutting me as I hold his muzzle,
squeeze his jaw open and shut till the rhythm catches
and soon he’s enlivened, autonomous,
tail wagging, tongue working,
swallowing the elixir
by Sean Sexton
the voice said, the one
inside my head
at dawn. Oh no
the one outside my head
said in reply,
Write it so even
the most complacent of us
will feel the loss, will want
to drive that old
one-and-a-half lane road
one last time
before it’s improved
before it’s disappeared
beneath the weight of heavy equipment:
bulldozers, graders, backhoes
and things I don’t even want to know
the names of, beneath the press
of what some folks call progress,
under the heel
of the invisible boot.
Write it for all the settlers
who once tried to make that valley
home. Write it for the school children
who learned their three R’s right there
beside the windmill, just across
from the dynamite shack. Write it
for Joe Ely the barber, the last
Yokodo born on that land
who never slit a white man’s throat
despite the opportunities. Write it
for yourself, despite the agonies
of facing that land’s demise
so when it’s gone you won’t
slit your own.
Write it even for the cyclists
who fly across the landscape
too fast to see
except when pumping hard
Write it so the big men
will feel some guilt. Write it
so the cowboys and ranch hands,
the ones almost out of a job,
will feel honored. Write it so
the tragedy of too much
money power land
in ignorant hands
will be clear
But don’t just write it
a third voice said somewhere between
inside and out, within the gray zone dividing
dark and light. Sing it, she said compellingly,
a suggestive note in her voice
modulating up half a step.
Sing it sweet
for the meadowlarks
warbling on rusty barbed wire.
Sing it soft so there’s no hard line
between you and them. Sing it long
until no reservations remain whether to move
or stay put and lose. Sing it clear so there’s no
second guessing, no second opinions, no
second chances for those with dreams
of developing that valley
by destroying it.
Sing it, she said
so I will.
by Trudy Wischemann
The barn doors swing
with the wind. Crash!
Back and forth. Slap!
Again. Slam! Again. Again.
The tenants of my parents’ house
are home. The kids fed
their show calf,
walking back and forth
through those doors,
and left them open.
Slap! My father used to say,
“My shadow on this place
is worth ten bucks a day,
making his point while, as usual
seriously undervaluing himself.
Each slam loosens the bolts
a little more. Inside my house
I’m a quarter mile away
from those barn doors.
But in the sound of their destruction,
I hear my father’s voice.
Trying to ignore him, I sip tea
from a bone china cup, the last
of my grandmother’s set.
She taught me to love tea
as we celebrated the end
of a work day, happily tired
because no job was left undone.
Grandmother and father.
I grab hammer, wrench, nails
and head for the barn.
Their shadows trail behind,
muttering and nodding.
by Linda M. Hasselstrom
I thank our contributors for helping DCR make the move to a more reliable format, and subscribers and others for following what I hope continues with fresh expression as we go. As a practical matter, there are no plans to publish a printed version of Dry Crik Review, as the cost of printing, layout, marketing, subscriptions and deadlines don’t make sense at this time. However, in light of the technological advances in the past few years, anything is possible, but with this current presentation, there is no urgency to recoup costs as all that we have invested is a little time.
I will be soliciting new contributors in the months ahead, feeling that we have a pretty solid base from which to gather contemporary expression from the American West. Near term, new offerings may be sporadic as we begin to focus our attention on weaning and shipping calves.
Currently, our policy remains that we will not accept nor consider unsolicited submissions. We will, however, accept new publications for review, and consider unsolicited reviews for inclusion in this format. Thank-you. – JCD
We miss the rabbit who leapt up
beside the cattle guard each morning;
we found him dead yesterday.
The flax is blooming still,
corn is tasseling, peas are filling;
the mosquitoes vanish
as the grasshoppers multiply.
The raspberry bushes are
getting taller, but hoppers have
turned the rhubarb leaves to lace.
One dog licks a frog;
he will spit all morning
trying to get the taste out of his mouth.
The orange tractor traces
the outline of the fence
as my man mows
a month’s growth of grass.
Tuna salad for lunch, I think.
Peach ice cream tonight.
The cows are spread along
the ridgetop, dozing, grazing,
fattening their calves. Beneath
them runs the trail
the settlers’ wagons followed
from Badlands soddies to the
stagecoach road. Great piles of rock
mark the edge, removed by men
to help the oxen walk in comfort.
We will never find
the pocket knife that slipped
as one man bent to place a rock.
A rattlesnake coils among cold stones,
full of mice, waits for evening
when he will hunt again.
by Linda M. Hassselstrom
HORSE TRACKS. By Henry Real Bird. (2010 Lost Horse Press, 105 Lost Horse Lane, Sandpoint, ID 83864) 111 pp. $18. Lost Horse Press
Poet Laureate of Montana, Henry Real Bird was raised, resides and is active within his culture and community of Garryowen, not far from Hardin and the Little Big Horn River. With these eyes, he sees, speaks and thinks in Crow (Apsáalooke), leaving rhythmic and descriptive poems displaying a minimalist style upon our doorstep – and so feeds the spirit of being human. [I can’t help but be reminded of our native (Sierra Nevada foothills) Yokuts leaving food upon the doorsteps of early settlers to preclude the use of guns that scared their game.]
The natural world and Real Bird’s rich relationship with it, its wild and domestic characters, is intriguing and rare. I am drawn to his syntax, as I was drawn many years ago to BLACK ELK SPEAKS, investigating a structure that might better fit this seemingly simple, yet subtly pantheistic, life with livestock, on this or any grazing ground. He writes with respect and an ingrained understanding of how things work together in nature, with the depth of ancestral wisdom and myth, and of course with feelings – his great heart open to the world.
Lost to a memory
In a sky of dreams
Where a kiss was temporary,
This feeling beams
A scent of life
In light golden yellow frost;
The bittersweet cold
Tinkling where rivers go,
Floating through time
Where memories live
In early winter moon
The crystal dragonfly is
Alive in a moment,
Just wanted to know
That tomorrow was there,
In past future perfect feeling.
Love is a lasting moment,
A robin in winter sky.
Perhaps most consistent throughout this collection is the unending, yet accomplished, quest for the spiritual, To be connected with Mother Earth (“Night and Day”), whether ghost writings/On dead trees, under the bark (“Ramblin’”) or These horses have a soul (“Rivers of Horse”), Real Bird gives us eyes to see things differently, and plainly. I found these poems uplifting and visual, with insight into a culture I don’t know, to become alternative and viable perspectives to cherish, or listen to when riding out alone – ancestors trickling down the veins (“Bird Horse”).
Clouds lift up Ruby Valley
As the medicine man unveils
Feelings of illusion.
The poet paints with wails
Of inner heart commotion,
Life is a song of feelings.
(“Eyes Take Out”)
Writing in the moment, his treatment of the past, present and the future fuse together matter-of-factly, In cosmic universal alliance walk (“Mass In Crow”), no one tense favored in his thinking or writing. Steeped in his culture, one might think a longing for the old ways would be more evident in his poetry, within a culture dealing with tribal politics, drugs and alcohol, or ever-hopeful in the promises of more lucrative days ahead, but it’s not, because these poems live on a spiritual plane all their own. I hear his chanting voice when I read these poems, perhaps songs that are continuous moments within which he re-finds himself and his heart, and that he selflessly gives to us in HORSE TRACKS.
Then I remembered myself, as feeling in wind,
The vision of a feeling drives the heart
Slowly through a life where people hide
From themselves in thick underbrush,
In the shadows of their hearts.
I want nothing to cling to your heart
As you go riding in life.
That is what I’ve asked for you.
Red and yellow swather
stands wheel-deep in purple knapweed
waiting patiently for its hay day.
Cab and colors
reminiscent of a Route 66 motel
lacking Space Age styling
(the opposite of aerodynamic)
A backward-looking afterthought
a retrofitted concept
stalling out when it became hopelessly handy
and form was forced to follow function.
A waspy outfit,
delicate but deadly,
ready source for rural legend.
Grim Reaper to rodents and snakes
scything low through the cool, dark growth
providing field days for birds and wary ranch dogs
thrilled with the indiscriminate harvest.
Cowboys who consider this
too much farming
are still lulled by the symmetrical, rhythmic
through the tall grass
appreciating the deep seated satisfaction
to stock and store
to make hay while the sun shines
saving some of summer’s essence in a hope chest
to be opened in the attic of a cold dark winter.
by John Reedy