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Ranch Hand Blasting Pantera in the Cow Pasture

To their bones it must seem like strange wind.

He’s listened with them for three years now.

The only effect it’s had is that when the songs cut off

he hears a ringing rather than their murmur.

It’s that much less rebuke. He thought it would

move through the herd more like when he drives

among them a few bars faster than he should,

headlights like wet blotter shining on their hides.

Only in the low and whirl of such privacy

does he watch his hands become two thick pistols

giving back to heaven its little bolts of thanks.

Walking through the pasture, the fact that

he knows people who claim to see loved ones’

eyes stare back continues to confuse him.

He stares and sees the colors of the uniforms

it was, in a past he did not disclose on his application,

too often his duty to make clean. He stares and sees

the shale of rainclouds, or smoke rising from some

far grass patch whose location is vague but no less

difficult for him to believe in beyond the rudiments

of its burning. He stares and sees the illiterate

that for three years now he has dreamed of,

sees the color of his tongue as he receives his death

papers, papers he understands immediately

even though he cannot read, because they are a king’s

words, meaning they have been delivered

sealed in a gaudy, wine-dark wax, meaning they are

already everywhere, meaning you can burn them,

you can burn the paper or the vellum or whatever

they arrived on, you can burn that iota of

the kingdom and still its words will go on ringing.

Each night for three years now he has dreamed

of the illiterate doomed by the king’s pleasure.

Each morning for three years now he has woken

to flanks of stale cornbread, these farting cows,

and this music that he loves. This love, he caws,

slapping the closest one, seeing how well

this, the latest, most-benign form of hardness

he has tried on works. After three years

of appraising it, he knows it never will. Three years.

Bleak to bleak to bleak. Bone to bone to bone.

He believes his kingdom will never deliver

him from these cows. Their days together

comprise layers of gray, wet grass and his high

mockeries. As loudly as he can make it

go, syllable after syllable, the word re-

spect tattoos the air as though the air were an eager

wall of flesh. Call it pleasure. In the flesh of the ear

this breath that lingers even as it vanishes.

from The Newest Employee of the Museum of Ruin
Find more by Charlie Clark at the library

Copyright © 2020 Charlie Clark
Used with the permission of Four Way Books.

Published in Charlie Clark Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.