The riders came back snow-shouldered,
grim lips chapped from needles of winter,
knees rawed and saddle-bowed,
and congregated at a fire that couldn’t
oil December wind from their limbs.
Hearthlight chipped the adults,
edges tanged with stun and lean mutter,
uncles and hired hands a stooped army,
the aunts just empty eyes.
Lawton passed the bottle
and even the women drank.
Rifle-cracked dawn flushed
gray doves from the pepper trees
and woke her sharp.
Lawton sunk in ranchyard mud
like a hickory post with a shoulder knot,
.444 hooked in a trembling hand.
Chestnut lump adrift in mud—dead horse,
one leg like a lightning-splintered tree,
water blooding beneath one ear.
He shook her shoulder.
“Nate could ride, but he was wild.
Don’t ride like that boy.”
Nate ruined Christmas.
Blame the wild, blame the horse—write “accident.”
They found him rock and cholla shredded—
beneath birds’ slow circle on thin Arizona sky.
Under mud, the wild blood that wouldn’t rub away
from Nate’s new saddle—still too big for her—
“Oil it before it’s ruined,” Lawton said
for Lawton Champie
Published in “Standing” Poetry by Idaho Women 2005
from the collection, “One Coyote Winter”