Selling the Ranch
It's just a name scrawled on paper—
wild cursive, as when he practiced in junior high
to sign his name with distinction, some flair
defying the uniform ovals of the Palmer method—
his signature on the line their lawyer marked with a red X.
With the first capital of his given name, three mares go lame
and more paint flakes off the old red barn.
With the vowel that follows, a sharp wind blows off the buttes,
batters a loose porch door on the ranch house.
His hand hesitates mid-letter. A coyote howls
from the red-wall cliff, catching the scent of a ewe and her newborn.
As he completes the studied penmanship of his given name
Nowood Creek swells with spring run-off,
floods its bank and cuts into the grassy overhang
where he used to catch brookies with his Dad.
He shifts the pen to begin the new word
and a herd of elk crashes through timber and brush
into a high park on the Big Horns as if dogged by hunters in October.
Now he starts to write his last name.
The pen skips, ink clotting in the tip as to stop time.
This is an ancestral name traced back ten generations,
a name from a country where other mountains sheltered the souls of sheepmen,
the name of those who came west
where their offspring might know the hold of trees and black dirt,
the name of homesteaders who amassed and worked,
lost and earned back, held the land in all its wild caprice.
When he crosses his T a funnel cloud touches down on Onion Gulch,
twists through a swatch of timber snapping off lodge pole pines
as if cracking pencils that had written obscenities.
He slowly writes the O in the shape of an old corral for working sheep,
herds them into the chute that forms an L.
The alfalfa field he irrigated, rising before dawn to turn the water in,
suddenly teems with grasshoppers like a plague
consuming the shoots, leaving barren ground
with sickly cattle to forage for scant remaining feed.
The final syllable of his last name is m-a-n.
He pens it without hesitation—all his desperate resolve
thrust into his fingers' final stripping away.
And it is done.
His signature on the deed
the check in his hand
but nowhere to go home