You may find it surprising, maybe off-putting
when I tell you a favorite childhood recollection--
riding the gut sledge to the dump
a mile or so from the home ranch.
Hooked with a chain to a John Deere tractor,
the wooden sledge was piled with entrails,
stomachs, a mound of intestines,
and a six-year old child in coveralls
on the back of the sledge, dragging a stick in the dust,
my black and white rat terrier trotting behind.
It might seem odd that I remember with fondness
watching the butchering of a beef for the ranch larder,
the way the hanging carcass seemed like a cave,
the blue, white, silver cavity cleaned with cold water,
The concentration of the hired hand,
the sound of his knife on the whetstone,
Now I know what a privilege to be a participatant,
even by watching, and to remember the blessing
at my grandparents’ table: “Bless this food to our use,
that it may nourish and strengthen our bodies.”
No prison can hold me; no hand or leg irons or steel locks can shackle me. No ropes or chains can keep me from my freedom.” Harry Houdini
We were there the day Harry Houdini
bound himself in tons of chains and ropes.
He waved to us, we cheered, and, last seen, he
sank into the cold unknown with all our hopes.
We gathered with friends and naysayers, too,
murmured together, moved closer to know
more of the bind Harry put himself through,
yet feared to imagine the dangers below.
When he rose from the depths, free from dire straits,
we breathed his relief as we would a brother’s,
then we turned to go home dragging the weights
we wore to the shore and told each other
if Harry Houdini can beat the odds,
if Harry Houdini knows a few tricks,
if Harry Houdini can challenge the gods,
there’s always a way to get out of a fix.
male’s loud bob-o-link
a harsh guttural chuck
three-syllable song, coo-coo-cup
a faint and thin bee-yup or yep
a single, loud klee-yer
a short, creaky koguba-leek
a loud and high repeated seep
a series of clear, thin whistles and trills
occasionally a nasal grating sound
a weak twittering delivered from the ground
a whining mag or a mellow wurp
a rapid tremulous trill
three to eight loud and deep hoots
a plaintive, whistled pee-ee
a loud quavering, descending whistle
cheerily, cheer-up, cheerio
a high, duck-like squak
Bobolink; Bronzed Cowbird, Euyrasian Collared-Dove; Golden Eagle; Northern Flicker; Common Grackle; Blue-throated Hummingbird; Glossy Ibis; Yellow-eyed Junco; Snail Kite; Horned Lark; Black-billed Magpie; Lesser Nighthawk; Great Horned Owl; Say’s Phoebe; Montezuma Quail; American Robin; Pin-tailed Snipe; Wild Turkey
Found poem National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
Watch the restless swallows come and go
on the power line to Tuscarora.
Some avian law explains the way
birds leave space between one another.
Instinct decrees distance between hawks
hunched on poles beside the Midas Road
and tells peregrine falcons to nest
at least two miles from other raptors.
What of the ranchers who inhabit
the range below? From an eagle’s view
above the plain, distance makes sense:
what the high desert land can sustain.
A question remains. Does distance breed
those disinclined to be near their kind?
The trails of truck dust on country roads
show the miles folks go to help each other.
Not everyone is meant for this place.
Generations who stay find solace
in silence, comfort in kindred souls,
God in the sunsets and the space.
Something awful may
Some terrible thing
may be waiting for
mourning. Think on this:
The car you leave in
never arrives. The
voices you hear are
whispering lies. The
hankie you touch to
your lips fills with blood.
Think of the skull on
the mantle. Ponder
Boethius et al.
Turn Terror away.
Make today quiet,
humorous and good.
Today I rearranged the fake flowers.
I placed the fake grape hyacinths
on the fireplace mantel, put the fake spring bouquet
on a table by the couch, the fake succulents
on a shelf just above the kitchen sink.
The real daffodils in the front yard were bent low
last evening by more than six inches of spring snow.
I doubt the tulips along the driveway
will survive the vagrant deer that come down
from the mountain this time of year.
Did you see that satellite photo
of the spring equinox?
Here in the western hemisphere
we’re tilted toward the sun,
not shaded by darkness,
even though it feels like it.
Remember that the automatic door
to the department store opens before
you, polite as a doorman at the Ritz.
Remember, when you descend the escalator
at the airport, to stand up straight for god’s sake!
Don’t you dare think you’re so small you might slide
through the slit between the stair and the floor.
By the way, those pockets stuffed with grievances
weigh you down. So does your shortsighted frown.
Listen to me. Laughter sets you free.
On Contemplating the Beauty of an Animal Skull Picked CleanOr Fifteen Hundred Dermestid Beetles Available on Amazon $49.11 & Free Shipping
The Great Chain of Being
starts with God, ends with dirt.
Beetles rank below the pretty insects,
the ladybugs and the dragonflies,
and beetles rank behind the useful insects,
the spiders and the honeybees.
The lowly dermestid beetle occupies
the unpleasant insect category, which puzzles me.
If cleanliness is next to godliness,
this beetle clean-up crew should get its due.
I, for one, salute these truth tellers,
who scavange the sins of the flesh,
eating all that decay. Getting down
to the beauty of bare bones, you might say.
Driving to Elko on a winter day
storm clouds stacked
from Lone Mountain to the Rubies.
Jesus rays in all directions.
Even the lonely house on Adobe Summit
softened by snow and light.
For a moment, looking down,
you would think the whole damned town
rests upon hallowed ground.
For all I know, and this is true,
a light shines right now on me and on you.
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 .