by Nels Hanson
His ranch was set in a bowl six miles
wide with pines on the buttes, like a fertile
crater on the moon. A creek wove
the round valley, from underground,
even dry years a bubbling pool formed
at the mouth. The Paiutes called it Wonder
Valley but I forgot the Indian name. I crossed
the plank bridge and didn’t see stock
in the shade along the creek, and the pastures
watered by a network of ditches didn’t look
so green as last summer. Travis’ ‘50 blue
Chevy truck stood under the cottonwood
in the black lake of shadow. Then I shivered,
something wasn’t right. I’d seen Travis
working on the house, maybe fixing
a window pane or screen. I’d almost
honked, but I’d wanted to surprise him.
I stopped the Ford and stared at the tan
ten-point buck leaning its head out
the kitchen window, browsing the wild
poppies that grew along the wall. The deer
hadn’t looked up or raised an ear
when the car pulled in. It kept on chewing,
its big antlers down among the yellow
blooms. I watched it eat and then hurried
toward the house, calling, “Travis! Travis?
You here?” No answer but a clatter
of hooves and the deer came onto the porch.
The buck waited, lifting its nose. It lowered
its horns as I stepped back and it pushed open
the screen door and jumped down the steps,
crossing the yard to the barn. Inside the door
the deer dropped its head, trying to lick
the gold straw stuck flat to the hard ground.
It was mad, backing up, jabbing with angled
antlers, digging and snorting. Sun through
broken shingles made the hay stalks
look like that kid’s game Pick-Up-Sticks.
On its stand, Captain’s dusty saddle glowed
amber. A blackened shoe hung halfway
down the anvil’s point and balanced slantwise
a hammer lay on the silent pounding bed.
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