Monthly Archives: March 1994

GOPHER TAILS

GOPHER TAILS

When I was seven
gopher tails were three cents

The county had a bounty to arrest the little pest
not exactly a price on their heads
but you get the picture

So we hauled buckets of water
to drown them out
learned from the bigger boys
how to tie a noose in binder twine
placed it around the hole
and waited

Curiosity, which has been known to kill cats
is not very good for gophers either

Once caught
they were run in mad races
spun to centrifugal asphyxiation
or finished off in other cruel ways
before yielding us our hard earned bounty

In the spring we watched their return
to the snow speckled pasture
running tumbling wrestling
making love

And the wonderful babies
when they first ventured out
to try sunshine grass and shaky legs

It amazes me now
that as boys

We could take such joy
on their playful
beauty

And in their deaths

THRESHING TIME

THRESHING TIME

I remember at Christmas getting a great threshing machine
a block of wood with wooden spools nailed to the side
but I loved it as I loved the threshing

All through the long summer days I would walk
the fields with my dog
At night my mother rubbed strong liniment on four year old
legs: growing pains she said, although one always hurt
more and didn’t seem to grow any faster

And the grain grew too, and passed me, and was higher
than I was. And then the harvest and the wonder of it falling
to the binder and the magic of the machine as it tied the
sheaves and ke-chunked them into the carrier

Then the stoking – little teepees covering the prairie again
and the golden warmth of everything

And the threshing machine; they wouldn’t let me too close;
it might eat me like it ate those sheaves and like the men
in the crew could eat, and they could eat
even when it rained

While I sat for hours nose to wet window
watching the great gray dinosaur
deep in the timeless mists

And hot clear windless days when everything sang and
the belt slapped and the machine came to life again
and wagons were on both sides
and the big horses were standing strong and ready
and switching flies with dignity

The sun caught the arch or the long plume of straw and
the chaff lifting and the old hands fed the machine in a
sort of easy sweat-oiled rhyme (rhythm?) and the new stood
on the sheaves they tried to lift each time

And the old hands laughed, and the new hands laughed
and they were men together

GRANDFATHER

GRANDFATHER

My grandfather came to this country from Switzerland
by way of Brazil, working first in the kitchen of a CPR
hotel in Winnipeg. One wonders if he could have
dreamt that one of his grandchildren would own one
someday: perhaps he did, the pioneers of this country
had such a store of courage and of dreams that we may be
drawing on them still

And then to the prairies of Saskatchewan to try his hand
at farming. Prospered in the 20’s replaced the packing
crate house with a large, verandaed mansion. Planted
ten thousand trees and created a special kind of oasis:
with flowers that bloomed all summer and fruit that
yielded sweet and tangy wines

Widowed early, he raised seven children through the
dirty thirties: Emil and Arnold and Walter and Werner
with daughters Rose and Ann and Earnest lost at war,
who, so the story goes, appeared to him on his death bed

“There’s Earnest now, coming to get me with the wagon”

These things I remember as old family stories

My real memories are much more of the senses. The
senses of a 4 or 5 year old which seem now to melt and
run together. I remember not the man so much as the
aura of the man. The richness of old cheese and tobacco
the feeling of peach and the sweet rhythms of the earth
that surrounded him and warmed me as we sat together
in his favourite room so long ago.

LADY

LADY

You could see her shine from miles away. he had
a movie way of standing out from other horses.
Her rich chestnut coat always looked oiled and
polished with a deep inner glow that some people
have and you can’t describe. Sort of an abundance
of life that can’t be contained in the body and
radiates from every pore

And she wasn’t easy, coming from a line of
aristocrats. no one could ever ride her mother
or grandmother and her father bucked in rodeo

My brother tried to ride her first, the place where
she broke his arm still hurts when it rains. Not a
frequent problem in Saskatchewan

She bucked me off twice, both times for arrogance

Once in front of relatives from Oregon when I
dropped a rein and leaned over her neck to get it.
I was off balance and soof off of her onto the hard
ground in front of the shed. She did step on me
some too, just to drive home the point

The other time was in a soft field where I was
teaching her to neck rein and making circles to the
left and right. A car was coming down the lane and
I turned a little in the saddle to wave

It was enough, I was loose and I was gone. She piled
me so hard and high that I came down standing up
with reins still in my hands. Pretty good I
thought and started to take a bow for the people in
the car, but the lesson wasn’t over. She came
around full force with her back end like Babe Ruth
with a bat and knocked my flat

Every morning she would buck for the first half
mile, sort of an ongoing initiation; earning the
right to be with her again and again. She would
never be taken for granted and I knew that I would have ( to?)
face that test every day, and I was scared but always
wanted to be there

And I stayed with her every time

I guess I had my fear to keep me tight
and my butterflies to keep me light

As I partook in some small way in Alexander’s feast
and took my classics lesson there

Only the brave
Only the brave
Only the brave deserves the fair

FARM DOG

FARM DOG

My dad doesn’t allow pets in the house
they weren’t allowed in on the farm
where he grew up either

Once when he was eight
the dog came up the stairs

down the hall to the room on the right
where his young mother lay dying

Laid his head for a moment on her lap
and went out again

THE LONELY MEN

THE LONELY MEN

Their little dark houses still dotted the prairie
when I was growing up

They all seemed to cling to the soil as if their
life force had all been used up in the long and
difficult transplanting, and they could hang on
but no longer grow

Or they stood alone and surrounded by sadness
and the small and smaller markers of what had
fallen to the reaper’s scythe

Their roots loosened year after year by the hot
winds and the deep frosts they became more a
and more brittle

Until one by one
they broke off like tumbleweeds
and were gone

PRAIRIE CHICKEN

PRAIRIE CHICKEN

I came up through the valley where the homesteaders
had tried to make a go of it for a few years, past the tin
cans and other evidence of their short stay trying to rust
itself back into the ground. Up over the crest of the hill
where the Indians had lived for centuries with no more
evidence than the weathered rocks of tepee rings

It was spring and I stumbled upon what they may have
seen for years, the ageless mating ceremony of about
twenty five or thirty grouse. They didn’t see or hear me
and I stopped about ten yards away and watched,
although my mother might not have thought it proper

The hens ran around, heads down and tails up in
unbashful invitation; while the cocks puffed up the
air bags in their chests and drummed their challenge

And they looked handsome and brave in their posturing
and beckoning and their readiness for reckoning. And
the fights were on, straight on and straight up, with spurs
and feathers flying

It was vicious but pure. Not a cock fight for the
amusement of the bloody minded, but a way to see that
only the strongest would sire the little broods that would
have to survive the hawks and the snakes and the
weather, and all the dangers of a land where it takes a
great deal of courage – just to be a chicken

GRANDMA BRANDER

GRANDMA BRANDER

When we moved to Mossbank I was twelve. Mother
would sometimes stop us all from playing and send us
over to see her mother, who lived in a little house on
the South side of town

We never really knew what to say to her, or she to us,
and I never really until now thought about whose
shyness set that pace.

She was a nice enough lady and gave us cookies, and
she had diabetes and a leg that wasn’t there anymore.

She may have had grand stories to tell us, about her
family and childhood in England and Ontario and her
brother lost at sea, and the tough times and the good
times in the West, and our grandfather whom we’d
never met.

What was he like
Were we like him
Would we want to be?

These things would have been a leap into total honesty:
it was a leap we never took. We spent all the afternoons in
leaps more comfortable to us all;

small colored marbles over
small colored marbles
in the inscrutability
of Chinese Checkers