Fall 1986 • Vol. VIII No. 4 Poetry |

Tracking on Hardscrabble

I squat with a riflejammed after the only shot all day.Mesquite twigs silk-screen shadeon caliche. Riding hardscrabble,a man keeps his rifle loaded.You don't get many shots out here. Sometimes five, six weeksbefore someone rides out with orders.I go where they send me, north with pliersalong the barbed-wire borderor down through arroyossearching for strays. I slide another bullet homeand lock it, gather the reinsand climb up slowly in the saddle,old leather cracking, the fillysnorting and sidling,wary of blood. One lone cougar long in the tooth, calf-hungry,can stampede a herd worse than thunder.I've seen a hundred cows run off a cliff,broken boned and bawling,good for nothing but slaughter.I've hauled as much meat home as my horse could carry,hoping calves looped togetherin my rope wouldn't chokebehind the mustang staggeringunder their mothers' meat.Rifle high, I find the easy track, a cougar dying and careless,more mercy to the catthan to the herd,which always goes

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The Middle Years

By Walter McDonald

I squat with a riflejammed after the only shot all day.Mesquite twigs silk-screen shadeon caliche. Riding hardscrabble,a man keeps his rifle loaded.You don't get many shots out here. Sometimes five, […]

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