August 21, 2009

Paul Zarzyski

“THE CAR THAT BROUGHT YOU HERE STILL RUNS”

—Richard Hugo, from Degrees Gray in Philipsburg

It takes more than gasoline and gumption
to get you to Zortman—more
than whimsy or a wild inkling
to rekindle history. It takes a primal prairie
need, a kinship with Old Man Winter, with Napi
hunkering in sunless gulches, a longing
for short Fourth of July parades, the bestkept-
secret-café with a waitress
who commutes 50 miles from Malta—
big city with its 5 p.m. rush
minute, she quips. Pavement—purt-near
all the way to the corrugated last
half mile into work—
through herd after mule deer herd,
excites her. What can anyone say in words
that Charles M. Russell has not
narrated in paint. Little Rockies, Larb Hills,
predator versus prey versus wind
still give this Indian-cowboy
landscape its animation.
Your eggs
jiggling over-easy, hashbrowns crisp,
roughcut slabs of real ham,
one pancake seat-cushioned over its own plate
(whole wheat toast sold out last month
to hot-shot fire crews), are all grilled
just right. The coffee, vintage-grind,
is brewed with water so mineralthick,
it’s panned first,
then filtered. Same goes for the décor—
local art collaged with faded Russell prints
above faux-brick wainscoting.
Lucky—
the 11 a.m. lull all to yourselves—
you are, for once, simply where you need
to be. Do not ponder why. Do not
ask the waitress what brought her here
from Seattle. The wall clock is not
locked in neutral. Thus, you better be
willing to revel in this living limbo,
this muffling of drumroll death. Muse
over your food. Ruminate,
while chewing, on each tooth’s name—
incisor, canine, bicuspid, molar—
salute the taste buds, bitter to sweet,
as you clean your plate, pony up,
inch your way out of town
with a groan—heartstrings taut
as lariats stretched to whatever rogue
lodestar pulled you into this
still-shot of Montana past, grass
ropes strained to their organic max,
aching to hold for only so long.

For Dick

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

Paul Zarzyski: “Moving from the midwest to Missoula, MT, in 1973 to study with Richard Hugo proved my poetic catalyst for the past 35 years. Buckin’ horses and buckin’ verses pulled equally as parallel passions from the mid-’70s to the early ’90s and provided entrée to the Cowboy Poetry Renaissance or, in my case, Rodeo Poetry. Thanks to The Western Folklife Center in Elko, NV, to the diverse, enthusiastic audiences they’ve enticed for 25 consecutive annual Gatherings, I make my living, my life, as a wordsmith filled with awe and honor over this remarkable artistic Star Trek-esque journey out into The Musical Universe, The Ol’ Cowpoke Cosmos.” (

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