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6. CHILDREN

Kevin Holdsworth University Press of Colorado ePub

I study the nurses’ faces. They’re pure poker but worried. The ob-gyn, Dr. Peters, on his third delivery of the night, looks beat and concerned. He’s called in the pediatrician, Dr. Wengen, just in case. The baby’s lodged. For three months Jennifer has been complaining of intense pain down there and his kicking. (We learned that it was a he from the ultrasound.) He’s already two weeks overdue. He’s posterior, breech—they can tell that—and stuck. The suction device they attach to his head isn’t working. Little bone-colored forceps—jaws—are next, or a C-section.

Jennifer has been in induced labor for thirty hours now and is completely worn out. She’s deep inside herself—I can tell. I can tell none of this is really happening to her. It’s not that she’s watching, she’s just deep inside, far away. We withdraw in such times of great stress.

The two nurses tell her to try one more time, Honey, just one more time. We’re all in this together. Dr. Peter’s eyes look pale gray and reflect the overhead fluorescent light. He’s wearing a clear mask that looks like something a welder would use. The pediatrician, Dr. Wengen, one of just two in the county with hospital privileges, stands in the corner by the incubator tray, ready, watching, not in the way. He looks kindly, probably sixty-five. He’s been here before. It’s hard to keep good doctors in our community.

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2. ROOTS

Kevin Holdsworth University Press of Colorado ePub

In the river just below

two ghost cabins near Fontenelle,

whose roofs now open to the sky,

we cast cold-handed for the native trout

that rise in corrugated water,

running aqua and violet

in the raw and ruddy afternoon.

We swat at ever-hope of anglers:

for quarry big enough and hard to catch,

but in sharp wind we hear fish snickering

at our folly, for surely they have seen

such exceedingly false lures

and fatuous flies before.

To hear more inviting voices on the breeze,

we scabbard graphite foils

and revive the homestead hopes

that must have built this long-shot place:

these hovels, coops, sheds, corrals—

a jetty against the greater stream.

Let us pray

that the cordwood stacked

will be enough

and more will grow,

that the kids don’t drown,

cattle won’t wander,

the river don’t flood,

horses won’t founder, and

we can still stand

each other come spring.

In sheltered bottom these barren branches

could form a fretwork, trunks make columns

to edifice at arms’ length

a carp-white sheening sky.

And if the soil is poor,

and clay, there’s plenty of it.

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5. MOUNTAINS

Kevin Holdsworth University Press of Colorado ePub

Here at the inlet cove of a high mountain lake,

the water is lined with boulders perfectly placed,

lily pads smiling and three clear hues shining in

morning light:

an ebony ess along this leftward shore,

deep, flagrant blue toward the center,

white sun-catching ripples at the eastern edge—

a fetching body of water pocketed by slopes

of golden meadow grasses gone to seed,

spiked with bright lemony clumps of

arctic willow

and crimson studs of Salix planifolia,

and backed by dark forests of spruce and fir

that sweep to timberline, with sheep slopes

above,

sharp ridges, steps, buttresses, cliffs, and

gendarmes

leading up to turrety peaks that scratch

against the almost flawless sky—marred only by

three thin mare’s tails of high-stretched cirrus,

and that’s not all of it.

Call it perfect if you will.

I do and nearly gasp,

reach for a camera, think better of it,

knowing how a shutter’s snap diminishes

and sensing, too, in cirrus

that this whole September scene

is just about to change

Tomorrow the wind will shift

from warm south to raw northwest,

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1. HOWDY

Kevin Holdsworth University Press of Colorado ePub

The first movie western, The Great Train Robbery, was filmed in New Jersey, or upstate New York, depending on whom you believe. The Homer of western writers, Owen Wister, was a Philadelphia lawyer. Zane Grey, the king of the formula western, was a dentist from Ohio. Louis L’Amour, inheritor of the Grey legacy, wrote about the wild wild west from the City of Angels and had such powerful concentration that he boasted he could compose on a median in the middle of the Santa Monica Freeway. Mary Austin, who wrote so beguilingly of the great dry lands experience, spent much of her creative life in New York City, as did other “western” writers, Willa Cather and May Swenson. Jackson Pollock, the celebrated urbanite drip, fling, splash, and swirl painter, was born in Cody, Wyoming.

These facts might seem discordant if not downright contradictory. They may be, but the ability to keep two opposites in mind helps us to negotiate this arid vale of tears. It’s not enough to circle it as yin and yang or simply pin it on a star sign. It is instead what keeps us wrangling—to acknowledge both sides of Prudence. It may also have something to do with the way past and present coexist in our minds. It may be the way sound shifts in passing. Where we are is also where we have been. We have to escape in order to return.

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7. CHARISMATIC MEGAFAUNA

Kevin Holdsworth University Press of Colorado ePub

MORNING: Fresh tracks in old snow. Turds on the lawn.

AFTERNOON: Four deer in the front yard, practically on the front porch. Three does and a yearling buck. Pardon me, would you deer care for something to eat? Perhaps also a little something to wash it down?

TWILIGHT: Shifting shadows darker than the grass, clipping the wild currants, nibbling the fall-killed flowers, pulling up anything else they fancy.

NIGHT: Dark shapes, town lights.

HUNTING: It would be possible to brain one of the beasts with a baseball bat.

RODEO: Or hop on top a bony back and ride down Center Street using the whopping ears as reins. On Donner, on Blitzen.

PROBLEM: It’s hard enough to get anything to grow here, in thin poor soil, with ever-wind and sun-blast, but now also to contend with famished town deer in this fifth year of drought … it’s too much.

PROPOSED SOLUTION: Give in to endless winter. Relocate to someplace more temperate, more civilized. Suggest Portland, Houston, or Tampa–St. Petersburg. Plant a few fake deer on the lawn. Watch the paint flake off in the rain.

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