brent mitchell, Poems from the Ranch


I was in charge of a Texas ranch for five years in the early 90’s.
Horses and dope and chocolate mescaline. Honky tonks and barbed wire. The smell of heat baking the earth like a loaf of bread. Shit on my boots at all times and in all places. Hope this is not too much of a cultural imaginative stretch for the Bonk crowd. It doubt it is. Bonk is after all, all about imaginative stretch.

Formal Apology

When I was a kid, I put out my thumb and stopped a Cadillac–
a ton and a half of high-dollar steel barreling seventy miles an hour.
Heady experience.
Later, I had a friend who could call owls down
into the campfire with a squeal through tongue and teeth.
Said it sounded like a wounded rabbit.
I took a breath; settled in and waited.
Just stars and branches, and then
the sky was all silent wings and talons in fire-light.
Wandering afterwards from the embers into dark meadows,
Pressing my tongue behind my teeth,
I called the moon to rise,
and later the morning star.
Finally, the sun obeyed as well.
Some things that we set in motion with no fore-thought
get out of hand.
I pushed against the horizon but it only burned
brighter and higher.
The whole world can see now what I have done,
and there is nothing
that I can do to stop it.
I’m sorry.

Cow shit. Coyote shit.
Prints pressed forward in all directions,
pulled deep into caliche mud.
I imagine the whites of her eyes flashed like sickles
slicing moonlight as she tottered and spun
with the half-born calf dangling from her ass.
Flesh, hide, bones–
all gone. But here,
placenta splattered on stone,
blood-smeared mullein and blue-stem broken .
Hard births make easy targets.
Tonight I’ll tether my gelding to a live oak by the creek,
drink rye in the darkening warmth,
and in sleep will follow
whine and chortle down arroyos
as one among their observant kind,
pissing fence posts, and chasing mice with olfactory sight
through the starless black.

Nudged by soft muzzle–blow and shudder,
I will hear the drip from trembling fetlocks on stone,
the insistent scrape of a metal shoe
and wake
in the heart of knob-kneed oaks,
sleek aspens,
and wandering willow tails
of a broodmare wood
grown in the night.
When I rise, in my still half-dreaming—
not knowing should I stand on two legs or four–
they will bolt.

The Gate

Returning in dream to the Justin Ranch
gazing from my saddle through the leaning gate,
wild rose and wire winds round the watershed miles,
binds the lovely russet cattle,
shrouds light and shadow,
and will not let me pass
among the bent blades of the still-life wind.

Mr. Wolf

His daddy built the house hidden
behind the gated hill before he was born.
That puts at least a hundred years to memory
of a thousand acres and a single town.
I only seen him the one time.
He turned that 52 Ford up the drive, stepped out, spit and
I dismounted, introduced, and small talked
to his glazed cataracts,
with which of course, he don’t see the road.
But I suppose he knows it second nature.
It’s of no consequence in any case,

for it occurred to me as we spoke
that I was all but certain
he was dead.
All the same, he lit a hand-rolled smoke and dropped the match.
Old gunpowder spilled last summer
sparked off through the gravel,
spookin my horse.
The old waddy didn’t pay it no mind. He’s dead.
I seen the miles beyond him contract where he stood
like a silver balloon pressed by a finger.
Them dogs yourn? he says.
Yes sir. They been killin chickens. But I don’t wanna shoot em.
Well son, next time tie the dead chickens
around their necks with balin war
till they rot off.
They won’t do it no more after that.

Mermaid Photo

Here you are, staring from my hand
out onto the darkening hills
just as you were then, and will be
until perhaps my children or grandchildren unburden
themselves of accumulated evidences
of my little life.
Here in my head, the slap and drip
of redolent, wet wool
dropped to the floor.
I drink each pearl of rain
from the pale ephemeral chalice of you,
opening and leaning into the silver moonlight
spilling through the wooden darkness
where down by my hair you pulled me
as mermaids are wont to do.

West Texas

Dusty, pirouetting breezes are infused
with the scent most pleasing
to the Lord of tabernacles:
Mesquite-smoked barbeque.
Habitually respectful of vertiginous spaces,
well-chewed consonants
and voluptuous round vowels
of the taciturn, jocular patter are
slipped between napkins and sips of sweet tea.
Just a word. And in the fullness of time another.
And each one to mirror
the single wind-bent live oak beyond the window glare
that just short of the horizon marks
the ineluctable roll of empty plains
into the starry jaws of time.


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