Summer 1988 • Vol. X No. 3 Poetry |

Living on Hardscrabble

Cattle caught on open plains freeze every year. If blizzards give warning, we round up steers and herd them home until the snows blow over. They roam on winter wheat that keeps them sleek for spring. One winter, Canada roared down. Sledgehammers couldn't break ice cloudy in the troughs. For days we rode for cattle frozen where they fell, some huddled by barbed wire, stumbling in snowdrifts, sheeted with ice like armor. Sundown, herding survivors home, we passed a playa lake frozen hard, one whitefaced bull caught in the center. The bull had tried walking on water and broken through, up to his horns, his tail raised stiff like a flag, his head on a platter of ice, wide muzzle stiff, as if he had frozenbawling. That night, we fed the lucky steers and barred the corral to save them. At supper, we smoked in the bunkhouse and played poker, and argued how long a bull could have bawled when the lake gave way. We flipped our cards and drank and cursed our luck, and tried to

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