February 16, 2014

J.V. Brummels


So again this strawberry roan
broke in two and scattered halves
and cowboy to the wind
that breath which like the colt
blows baby-sweet one day
and harsh as bitter age the next

Midnight at last weekend’s party
a drunk Floridian rode him
out of the corral and among cars
and music and lights
other drunks’ loud talk
down the road
without a blink of the colt’s eye
or a sidestep or a startle
or the turn of a red hair

But pushing cattle this early morning
two miles or more from home
heat already something
saddled to our backs
not once but twice he sent poor Johnny
good a young cowboy as I know
high into a windmilling sky
until gravity pulled him back
to earth face-first

Now cattle on fresh grass
the rest of the crew back at the corrals
I’m crawling this old Chevy
across a grazed-down pasture
in the rearview Johnny
on the tailgate leading the colt
stirrup leathers of the empty saddle hanging
a mournful procession
walking a ghost of hope for a good horse home

Only later we find the rawhide bosal to blame
the hole it rubbed in the colt’s jaw
that set him off

Nothing mean about him
but the hurt that made him so
I suppose we’re all more
or less sweet in our natures
but terrors in our pain and fear


The sun just down I drive the Chevy
on fumes the few miles to town
to fill the tank and with a thought of a beer
or two from an understanding bartender
on a night when the heat won’t drop off

I pass on a radio recap of war-news
favor rock and roll from the speaker
until I cross over the ridge north of town
where solid earth blocks a clear signal
I drop down toward Main in neutral
gravity pulling me to the pumps
where I swipe a card and code a computer

From where I stand
beneath the bugs and fluorescent lights
I can see all the way down this short street
past my NASCAR-loving neighbors’ big rigs
to a Western sky of colors they can’t name
The Chevy’s tank is huge
The pump pumps and pumps
gas as if on dry sand

For them it’s been a weekend of tractor-pulls
If modern pickups weren’t fuel-injected
and if I could find a rock in this dusty country
I’d smash every Republican carburetor on Main
march into the bar and tell them all to get a horse
But the party’s near enough its end
at that place where drunks get dangerous
at this point when people die

Hell let’s burn it all
before we wake to a guaranteed headache
to roll the long way home the best we can
next foot dragging ahead of the last
dust devils laughing at our backs

from Rattle #30, Winter 2008
Tribute to Cowboy and Western Poetry

[download audio]


J.V. Brummels: “‘Over the Hill Where Rock and Roll Dies’ started with the title, a simple statement of fact about where and how I live. Immodestly happy with it, I piled up the details of a single day (but a lifetime of similar days and troubles) until I had the earliest draft. Whatever larger community and national lives that the poem addresses came from my practice at the time (summer ’07) of making mention of war in each new poem.”

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