Somewhere there are dead cats with maggots,
whole cities rubbled, and unrepentant youths
gunning one other. Blood. Guts. Excrement.
Ahem! Assuming your attention,
I would like to mention March twenty-five,
the Anunciation, Good News to quite a few.
And, in case you missed it–
yes, I’m talking about your preoccupation
with death and damnation–
while you were looking for trouble
the James Webb telescope, more powerful
than the Hubble, launched into space
on December twenty-five.
And the scientists, our better angels
more often than not, imagined a voyage
back to the birth of the universe.
I went to a “Drop In’s Welcome” salon in Reno
and the gal doing hair had some kind of figure.
She was built like a goddess, the Venus of Willendorf.
Go to Wiki. You’ll get the picture.
This Silver State earth mother had some kind of attitude,
told all of us sitting there getting our hair done
about going to the Bank of America the other day
with a handgun in the pocket of her jacket.
“I f’n’ forgot!” she yelled over the blow dryer.
She named the caliber, cocked her finger at the mirror,
and said, “Smaller than a squirt gun!”
When I went to pay, I said, “Pardon me for asking
but why a conceal ‘n carry?” She squinted at me,
“There's a lotta crazies out there and I know who they are.”
I squinted back and said, “So do I.” And she said,
“Maybe you should be packin’.”
If I had a match
I’d set my hair on fire.
That’s how bored I am,
preachin’ to the choir.
If I had a B-B gun
I’d shoot a crow or two.
That’s how bored I am
waitin’ for the flu.
If I had a git-tar
tell you what I’d do
find me a boxcar
ride the rails ‘til 2022.
If you’ve got the Delta blues
feel free to add a verse.
According to the local news
it’s gonna get some better
or it’s gonna get some worse.
Half-formed apples drop in midsummer heat.
The jackrabbits on the lawn seem creepy.
A whiff of death comes from fires in every direction.
“Apocalyptic!” repeat the talking heads.
As I stare at clouds of smoke, do I see
the Apostle Peter waving his fist?
He did promise fire this time.
He said it was our collective fault.
Maybe the short-sightedness of pride blurs our vision,
thinking we can control nature or ourselves.
What if nothing is revealed in the whirl of wind and fire
except the indifference of the elements.
You feel the heft of the glass door
when you push it open, relieved
to be safe from a blast of dust
blowing across the parking lot.
You hesitate. Your eyes adjust
to the darkened room, just past noon.
You turn toward the laughter. Three folks
at the far end of the bar are turned
away. You think it might be nice--
at your age, anyway--to be
a day drinker-- convivial.
You would swap stories. You think,
They would listen.
Of course, you are an old woman
in a wrinkled shirt, carrying
a large handbag. No one sees you.
You find the ladies room, and then
you hesitate, thinking you might
sit in front of a slot machine,
at least for a little while.
Instead, you head for your car.
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.
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 .