They drifted west from the North and South to taste

a common dust in the rearguard of uncommitted cows,

 

Surprised maybe that they could dig their spurs cooperatively

into the partisan enterprises of ubiquitous rustlers.

 

Pinned down in a wallow, fighting for their left-over lives,

Union boys and Johnny Rebs passed the ammunition.

 

Behind pearl-button pockets, sick hearts healed

and soiled souls bleached cleaner under a wide sky.

 

They forked their broncs, built their loops, and knew

the stench of branding from their own seared hides.

 

The horses rode clean and hard through sweet-grass.

Eroded lakebed arguments of landscape didn’t matter.

 

They circled, sang to the night, and shaped an honest pride

that helped to hold the poker peace and scab the civil wound.

 

Robin B. Carey

Emeritus prof residing in Missoula, Montana, with wife and family. National Endowment for the Arts Award and Oregon Book Award, both in creative non-fiction.

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