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.
Lately, I’ve had the thought that I could have been a butcher. I wonder why you don’t see many women butchers. Is it a union thing? I’ll have to ask one of the guys at the grocery store in town. I need to learn their names. Any French housewife or gourmet cook gets to know her local butcher and I don’t mean in the biblical sense.
I like deboning. I deboned some chicken legs and thighs not too long ago. I like the precision, the clean feel of chicken flesh, and the technique for turning an inexpensive cut of meat into tidy bundles for stuffing. Farce, I think it’s called. I felt like Julia Child. She could talk and cut up a chicken at the same time, on television, as a matter of fact.
There is a cute food blog where the young woman in a small kitchen in Manhattan films herself cooking while drunk. That would not be a good idea if you decide to spatchcock the Thanksgiving bird.
I really enjoy spatchcocking. This technique for splaying a fowl came to my attention on several internet food sites as a speedy method for barbecuing the holiday bird. Several weeks before Thanksgiving I bought a six-pound capon just to practice. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the right tools. I needed a sharp clever and a mallet to make strong whacks through the backbone. Instead, I resorted to vigorous sawing with my serrated bread knife. It worked, but the sawn backbone was rough along the edges. Also, I needed a boning knife to cut around the edge of the breast bone, severing it from the rib cage. I got it right on one side, but the other side looked like a collapsed lung.
“Spatchcock” is an Irish term that means “dispatch the cock.” I can see some medieval Irish housewife standing in the barnyard, declaring that the mean old bastard has to go, referring to an irascible rooster who outlived his usefulness. “Dispatch the cock!” she declaimed with her arm raised. I wonder if her husband shuddered in his rubber boots.
Admitting how much I enjoyed spatchcocking a capon just for practice might make me seem like a figment of Stephen King’s imagination. The truth is that being a housewife is getting on my nerves. My family is gone. My spouse is getting cranky. I feel like time is running out. I need a new hobby. I’m getting a wee bit peevish.
A septeugenarian curmudgeon coping with covid and the 2020 election answers the question, “How are you doing?”
I am doing my best to stay away
from the neurotic, the lazy, and the
just plain crazy as they come in a cloud
(that cloud) of indignation, frustration,
paranoia, and just plain panic, wearing
angry red stripes or a self-righteous blue.
I am doing my best to fight the dread
of human touch--a squeeze, or a hug,
a pat on the shoulder. Signs of affection
send me in the opposite direction.
I closed the door, took up the welcome mat.
I’m in hibernation, waiting for vaccination.
Sobrina mia, this woman, the activity director, she’s a crazy lady. Last Christmas she gave guns to the old men and baby dolls to the old women. Si! Verdad! The guns were plastic machine guns that shoot bubbles. The dolls had heads como melones, blue eyes that followed you up and down the hallway, soft white bodies, pink hands, and feet with tiny toes. Dios mia! They were girl Chuckie dolls! Dolls from the devil. The old men with guns started shooting anyone who came into their rooms--the nurses who stick the catheters into their wrinkled pinas; the pobrecitas who empty the bedpans. Soon they were shooting their sons and daughters, cursing them for living. When one viejo put the gun into his mouth and tried to kill himself with bubbles, they pumped his stomach, took him to the ICU. They took away the bubble guns--pronto. The old women hated the baby dolls. They threw them on the floor. Except one old lady. She held it all day and all night. She sat in the hallway in her wheelchair until the day she died, holding her doll, crooning to the back of its bald head. “ See my beautiful baby, rockabye beautiful baby.” The Chuckie doll grinned at us como la cabeza de la muerte. Si! Verdad! A true story. Someday I will take you to the janitor’s closet. In the darkest corner you will see the crazy doll sitting on a wheelchair staring at you. None of us will touch it.
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.
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 .