A Father's Day Poem
I hear the scratch of the curry comb
against the horse’s hide.
When my father combs the mane and tail,
I hear a different sound.
After brushing the horse’s back,
he reaches beneath the belly,
gently says, “Easy now.”
He cautions me not to brush
the tender wedge of the withers.
The horse might kick.
I learn by watching him.
He throws on a saddle blanket,
releasing a whiff of horse sweat,
smoothes the folds,
places a fancier blanket on top.
I watch as he heaves the saddle onto the horse,
the right stirrup hooked over the saddlehorn.
When he lets loose of the stirrup and cinch,
the horse does a little jump.
He wraps the latigo strap around the cinch ring,
gives it a firm tug.
Dad unties the horse and hands me the halter rope.
I lead the horse out of the barn into the sunshine.
He takes the bridle and, with his left hand,
guides the bit into the horse's’ mouth,
places the earpiece over the horse’s ear.
I hear the bit rattle as the horse
rolls its tongue over the cricket.
Dad knots the reins, smiles, and hands them to me.
I remember sliding onto the saddle
from the top rail of the corral fence.
Suddenly I am on my own!
I know my father watched me with love
as I ride out of the yard
into a sky blue Nevada morning.
A blue parakeet on her perch,
tiny claws clasping the wood bar,
watches the cat that seems asleep
on the couch. The bird knows better.
By midday, boredom or hunger
motivates her to her feeder
for some bird seed or fresh water
or to look in the tin mirror.
It is your imagination,
thinking she is lonely or pines
for a soul mate, or remembers
the green forests of Australia.
She knows enough to fear the cat
and wait for the hand that feeds her.
What do I know! Maybe she loathes
the hand, loathes the blue bird in the mirror.
If I don’t know where I was, how can I get back there?
Overheard in a bar in Elko awhile back
I see the dip and rise of sage-covered hills
a willow bank, chokecherry, wild rose,
and aspen shaking in the morning breeze.
Could have been a lot of places, I suppose,
and I know what you’ll say--
we don’t learn who we are in a day.
And yet it is a day and place that stays,
when I knew I could hold the herd in an easy way.
When I consider how I’ve strayed and why
I’d give anything to go back and see
a younger me riding tall, riding free.
Strabismus is a condition in which eyes do not point in the same direction
When Trina watched fourteen vultures with six-foot wingspans
in a bare-branched cottonwood tree outside her door
as they flew away in one astonishing swoop, she did not say,
“The sight of red-headed vultures makes my heart sing.”
Ever the cock-eyed optimist, she did say, “Look! A sign of spring!”
I saw... my own figure... coming toward me,
Goethe, Poetry and Truth
I stand on her porch,
try the doorbell, knock,
walk down the driveway,
check the back door,
jiggle the knob,
shield my eyes,
put my face to the glass.
She pretends not to see me,
waits for me to leave.
What does she fear?
I’m here to convert her?
I’m running for office?
My house is on fire?
I really need her?
Sometimes it’s like that,
trying to get back in.
Pleading a poem down from a tree,
Coaxing a poem out of the dog house.
Sweet-talking a poem behind its mother’s skirt.
Tricking a poem into a car.
Luring a poem into the bedroom.
Kicking a poem out of the house.
Gunning down a renegade poem
trapped in a box canyon, sandstone cliffs
rising a thousand feet. A rock slide blocking the way.
The lily-livered poem whimpers, “They’re coming to get me!”
The sheriff of the poem posse hovers over the blank page.
“Put away your pistol, Billy. That one died of fright.”
Then everything would make sense,
the Bernie Bros and friends of Mike Pence.
AOC, Ivanka Trump, and Cardi B
would fit into the same hashtag mystery,
The Q-Anon boys would have a spot
in my dystopian Camelot.
The Antifa guys would have their place.
I would understand Outer Space!
The Bitcoin carnivores, ethical vegans,
the RINOs, the Soros, even Big Pharma--
the color-coded cabals--all understood
in my delusional diorama.
I much prefer to think inside the box
these days because the cardboard walls provide
a sane asylum, a sanctum sanctorum
for thoughts not fraught with desperation.
This unpaid staycation frees me for contemplation
of happy thoughts like the aesthetics of corrugation,
frees me from reckless musings on what I can't control,
like the coming recession and vaccination suspicion.
I’m tired of collective consternation and political gall.
I’ll stick to a lotus position inside my box
and think about nothing at all.
I traveled through Taylor Canyon one evening
not long ago, late-blooming rabbitbrush aglow,
willows textured in bold shades of red and gold.
And now, before heavy snow, after freezing nights,
the canyon, meadows, mountains, and sky
merge into hues of drab tans and vague blues.
I’m tired of myself, dramamine queen
of this interregnum, languid as a wasp
on the frozen windowpane.
But the dullness of the landscape consoles me,
the monotony a respite from trying too hard
to enliven my diminished life.
I think I’ll stay still for a while,
hoping I’ll remember the bright canyon
trusting I’ll be ready for the coming season.
Nancy Harris McLelland taught creative writing, composition, and literature for over twenty years and Conducted writing workshops for the Western Folklife Center, Great Basin College , and the Great Basin Writing Project . An Elko County native with a background in ranching. McLelland has presented her "Poems from Tuscarora" Both at daytime and evening events at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko. Her essay, "Border Lands: Cowboy Poetry and the Literary Canon" is in the anthology Cowboy Poetry Matters .