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BJ Buckley

Once in August

for Doug Peacock

Chickadees calling out

their libidinal tune

hey babee hey babee chickadeedeedee

in the scorched red surrender

of the day

Gusts of pollen soft yellow smoke-sweet

swirls of insects wing storm drone song

the heads of the grasses bowed beneath

a palpable weight of merciless heat

tide-shimmer over timothy bunch grass

sainfoin bees in unbroken waves

of blossom

And the bear stood

her mouth dripping chokecherry

and I hadn't seen her

and I was too close

and her cub was too near

and I was lost

in a death-indifferent sea

of joy

Pickin' Out

Owner'd bought a buncha mustangs to keep 'em from goin'

to Canada fer dog food, strange colored and beautiful and

crazy wild, and he'd called Swede to sort 'em, to figure

which ones'd make cuttin' stock, or be good for packin'

and trailin', or only just worth lettin' loose acrost his

twenty-five thousand acres to run and stay untrammeled

and maybe breed some good'uns down the road.

We'd corraled 'em, and Darl and I was sittin' on the fence

and watchin' Swede work, though work was probly a misnomer.

Swede had a gorgeous Morgan-Quarter Horse cross, and

he ran her with his knees, and by shiftin' his weight so subtle

you hadta know him and the horse both to catch it, and he was

just ridin' her in amongst the wild bunch, makin' sweet noises

under his breath, and in half an hour he'd been next to

every one of 'em, and then he started cuttin' 'em out,

the ones he wanted, headin' 'em over to the side and

through the wide alley he'd built to the east, and Clay

was openin' and closin' it to let 'em in and keep 'em,

it was like a dance.

Darl said to me a man like Swede had a kind of poetry

in his blood, just beyond reach and one step past memory,

like he was born knowin' all the beats and rhythms,

where the line breaks, or not, the rhymes, the tune

of the language, until you have it, have the music,

and then you never need the words again,

you don't need words for anythin' at all.

And he was right. Swede was master of the nod,

the raised eyebrow, the wink, pointed with his chin

or his lips like the Navajo and Lakota, leaned one way

or another in the saddle, widened his eyes or squinted,

hummed music under his breath that was so eloquent

of both the current situation and the state of our souls

that Darl said God could learn a thing or two if He was

payin' attention. Not that Darl believed in God.

But we all damn sure believed in Swede.

Night Fishing There’s a floating borderland between light going down to darkness and the humming rise of insects into the drift currents of cool wind over water, over this lake which holds the world mirrored perfectly: dry hills, sage, drowned cottonwoods, the buoyant angler whipping the wild horses of the air with a supple rod— with the merest flick of the wrist fly poised on the surface before sinking in a soft spiral bottomward, where hunger follows, where the eye cannot. The strike, when it comes, is quick hard down, an elephantine pull, an ache— a sudden nothing. Whatever it was that leapt out of the dark water wearing fish flesh and haloed in the moon, that swallowed the mayfly’s dance then hung by threads of starlight weightless in the still air, and fell, a streak of silver comet-sure back into rippling heaven, cannot be betrayed by naming, though it named me: Cast-Away, Night-Fisher, Ghost-in-the-Shallows I am trying to learn to walk like water.

Three Horses Grazing Detail, Chinese Silk Screen, Yuan Dynasty, Thirteenth Century, by an Anonymous Painter

Seven hundred years of grass, pale yellow, straw yellow—

it must be autumn—stretch so far into the sky that the horizon is mute. There is no edge to the field, no last fence or stone post, no natural barrier cast up of hills or far mountains, no cloudy heaven mimicking landscape, only clouds of pollen veiling the horses like a mist. One is eating, the roan; and next to him, a black mare with white blazing her face like last light illuminating sheer cliffs has her head askew on her neck and her ears laid back—is the contest for one choice tuft worth nips and tussle when she has abundance at her own feet and the day is fading? Perhaps. The eyes of both horses are lanterns in fog, gold and golden. Butt into the wind and his tail whipping out a single brushstroke against the papery air, a third horse faces the invisible border of meadow and waits for the girl child to bring him hard yellow pears, first bloom of chrysanthemum from her window box, sugar! He knows she is coming and he is patient in his hunger. The bickering of his companions, the diminished light, cool wind growing sharper into evening, nothing can touch the absolute sure joy of his anticipation. His bones are dust, that man who painted this buckskin horse, this shadow on translucent silk whose skin still quivers with desire for the touch of a small white hand on his neck, bursts of sweetness on his tongue.


B.J. Buckley is a Montana poet who has worked in Arts-in-Schools & Communities programs for more than four decades. Her chapbook, In January, the Geese, won the Comstock Review's 35th Anniversary Poetry Chapbook Prize. She has recent work in the Inflectionist Review, Pine Row, and Oakwood.


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