Watercourses

27 Aug

by Finley J. MacDonald

This piece was originally published in issue six of Embodied Effigies https://effigiesmag.com/archives/issue-six/

Crook County’s a chest of gray light and cowpokes and roustabouts and busted, gnarled fence posts casting long shadows, an achromatic steppe upon which my mother, a mountain girl, gradually suffocates. One January morning, she will bundle my brother and me in army blankets, and our homestead will slip away in the Power Wagon’s side window.  Today, she is arranging bum-lamb bottles in a canister of water on the stove.  Her hair’s the color of penny, and the sleeves of her jacket are taped.  On the wall beside the stove roosts the black, thirties-style phone box.  She zeroes in on my shoes.

“Take those off.  Where were you?”

I have been in the barn.  Spilling rolled grain from a Dixie cup to grunting, gobbling snouts.  Feeding the pigs is forbidden.  I deflect. 

“Saw some antelope.”

“Antelope?  Are you telling a story? Where?”

In the next room, the rattling of the coal-burning stove ceases.

“What’s that?”

Antelope, he says.”

We live on antelope.  For more than a year, the landlord has failed to pay my father for looking after the cattle.  Just tell him directly, tell him to pay you, says my mother.  Lately, we have gotten by on jackrabbit.  Evenings, I get to sit beside Oshoto, our heeler, while the GMC pokes along and the oval of light glides over brush and barbed wire.  When they are shot, the rabbits do summersaults and flounder or their white legs stretch and tremble.  Some carry tularemia, and my father feeds those to Oshoto.

My father strides past the kitchen entryway, pulling on his Mackinaw.  He stomps across the kitchen floor in his socks and leans the rifle.  It is from the Spanish American war, a bolt-action 30-40 Krag.  He stands on one foot, jerking a boot.     

“They still there?”

“Yeah, Dad”

He lays in cartridges and snaps the magazine.  The bolt clacks like it means business.

“Can you point them out?”

“You going to shoot them?”

“You bet I am.”

There’s an image of my father crabscooting from Ford on blocks to line of heaving cottonwoods.  For a very long time, he kneels behind a tree.  I creep up.  Keep down, he whispers.  The breeze blows his hair and hisses in dry thistles.  On the hilltop, the windmill is groaning homage to the gaunt and gray Wyoming spring.  I tremble.  I’d like to see the antelope.  Horns of jacks.  Jennies snatching buffalo grass.  

“They still there?”

“Hush.”     

            The Krag cracks and echoes. 

In a river valley nearer mountains, I chop mortar with a sawed-off hoe, and my father, whose legs have failed, scoots on his rump, fitting river-smooth stones into the wall of a deep flower bed to wrap around our double-wide trailer and additions he has constructed with studs at random intervals.  He fashions knives with resin-sticky handles, artless gifts contradicting a saga of loss and broken faith: futile—and inessential.  We, these watercourses which for a season make their way to the broad rivers cannot be convicted by arroyos we carve—those stories that carry us—and so we wind in due time as blessing.

My father, having laid out a dialectic of life and death by his own hand and Jesus on the plywood wall with his heart on fire, slumps in his wheel chair, hanging onto the barrel of the Remington.  I had been called as a witness to night rides and jackrabbits and brook trout and yarns about “Big Ponkey”, the slow, colossal, bandoliered cowpoke who, one blistering day, drank the Powder River dry.  Averse to pleading that it all meant something, I elect to stand aside, to leave the matter between my father and Jesus, insensible of the breathless consequence if my father were to murder himself with the 30 Remington I gave him Christmas morning.

Thank you for leaving that as a passing temptation. 

Years later, his second daughter, who suffered his disesteem, lay beside him on his deathbed and wrapped her arms around his thin body and told him that he was a good father and that she loved him. 

My father works the bolt and fires again.

“You missed,” I say. “Didn’t you, Dad?”

My father plants the iron-plated butt among thistles. 

“Seems so.”   

 But that day, he did not miss.  With a cottonwood gnarl as a stand, on a windy, Wyoming morning, he shot two antelope at a glorious distance—so far away he never saw them drop in sagebrush.                    

 

Facing Sea & Blossoms in Spring Radiance

27 May

Facing Sea & Blossoms in Spring Radiance

Haizi,

Translated by Finely J. MacDonald

Beginning tomorrow, I’ll be a contented person:

Feed horses, split wood, travel the wide world.

Beginning tomorrow, I’ll care about foodstuffs.  Vegetables.

I’ll maintain a house

Facing sea & blossoms in radiant spring.

Beginning tomorrow, I’ll write letters to my family;

To them I’ll confide my joy,

This joy—

Which was told by lightning.

I shall share it with everyone.

Each river, each mountain, I will name fondly.

Strangers—neither shall you escape my salutations:

I’ll wish you brilliant futures—

Engagements become weddings—

Earthly happiness;

My own aspirations shall be limited to

Facing sea and blossoms in spring radiance.

面朝大海,出暖花开

从明天,做一个幸福的人

喂马,劈柴,周游世界

从明天起,关心粮食和蔬菜

我有一所房子,面朝大海,春暖花开

从明天起,和每一个亲人通信

告诉他们我的幸福

那幸福的闪电告诉我的

我将告诉每一个人

给每一条河每一座山取一个温暖的名字

陌生人,我也为你祝福

愿你有一个灿烂的前程

愿你有情人终成眷属

愿你在尘世获得幸福

我只愿面朝大海,春暖花开