Cowboy Church

I watched my left knee bouncing up and down. My toes were on the ground and my heel was jiggling. I wondered if the movement was becoming automatic and beyond my control. I had lost interest in the Sunday school lesson at my grandmother’s Methodist church. The teacher had proclaimed that animals “do not go to heaven.”  She said something else to me that I noticed but didn’t hear. When my parents came to pick me up after the service the teacher pulled them aside. I wasn’t quite out of earshot but I kept my indignation to myself.

The next time we drove to Colorado Springs to visit my grandmother she said that she had a surprise for me. She ushered my family into her small, two-bedroom apartment through the back door. Her housedress was light green with a busy floral pattern. She bent toward me, preceded by the aroma of Emeraude and Newports. “Give me a kiss!” she implored while shoving her cheek into my face. I held my breath and marveled at the softness of her skin under its fine veil of powder. “You girls sit here at the table while I talk to your mom and dad. I’ve put out a couple of carrots for you and here are the swords.” She carried a plastic container from the windowsill and placed it on the Formica table. “See how many you can get in there!” I hoped that this wasn’t my surprise.

It was kind of fun to pierce the carrots with the colorful cocktail swords. My sister and I kept it up for a few minutes but ran out of swords. We scooted off our chairs and walked into the living room. “Linda Sue, will you promise to put flowers on my grave?” My blood ran cold. I imagined myself in a frilly pastel dress, ankle socks, and church gloves. I carried a bouquet of white flowers. Shadows flitted over the casket, there to bid my grandma farewell. I couldn’t think of anything more frightening. I was eight years old and unfamiliar with the tradition of placing flowers on graves. My great grandfather’s funeral the previous year was open casket, but no one made me do anything. When we visited him at the nursing home he had spoken to me in a way that was not frightening. Seeing him dead was much less frightening than imagining grandmother dead.

I blushed and fell silent. My mother admonished me with a raised eyebrow and a hiss. I replied, “Yes. Will Margo have to do it, too?” There was some muttering about the baby sister and how she was too young. I resigned myself to the responsibility while hoping that when the time came I’d be old enough not to be afraid. My grandmother smiled and asked me if I was ready for my surprise. I nodded my head and hoped I wouldn’t have to do anything else on her grave. “Tomorrow morning we are going to get up early and go to the Cowboy Church at the drive-in movie theater. You’ll like that, won’t you? The cowboys will be riding horses and you can put the offering in the hat when they come around.” I heard the word “horses.”

*


The raspy words of Cowboy God did not impress me any more than the Sunday school teacher’s admonitions had. Granted, words had to battle to emerge from the drive-in movie speaker. The speaker clung to the rolled-down window of grandma’s new Chevy Nova. When the horses came around I strained to see. I watched the haunches of the yellow horse stop by the driver’s window. Dad placed the offering in the hat because I couldn’t reach from the backseat. The inverted Stetson obscured my view of the faces of both horse and rider.

“Oh, that was special!” I thought grandma’s exclamation was unwarranted. “We’re going to go to Furr’s now.” Furr’s was a buffet-style restaurant. I was a picky eater. There was a lot to choose from, but not much choice. In a whisper, I asked mom if Furr’s was a restaurant for old people.

Mother helped Margo and me through the buffet line. When we got to the end, the checkout lady said, “That little girl’s eyes are bigger than her stomach.” I looked at the sad beans on my tray. Mother replied, “It’s okay, she can eat what she wants.” Margo’s tray was laden with fried chicken and desserts. I then realized that the lady wasn’t talking about me. I watched the red Jell-O on my tray quiver and I wondered if it had taken on a life of its own.

Canter

By the way
strides fall in threes
marking their way,
four hooves

leave the way;
I recall hoofbeats.

I can hear: words prance

on heat spirals,
circling upwards. I hesitate to

say it. Each movement
begins anew and repeats
an earworm: horses

sing the chorus. Memory
a strangling anchor
I grasp: static
white noise, spilling over
the basin’s edge – urgency
swells, moves ribs
heels and hooves
tucks tail
Don’t force. The deafness is sounding.
What is sung: we are cruel
to be kind – we are wasted
on the horses, lost
in their thrall
sweaty backs melt into blue jeans
melded, unfixed wildness
up and through, both
unfound and flowing momentum
hearing the sound
ears forward
cupping the wind,
time and bodies are broken together
my kindness carries no song.

I’ve not been riding.

Woodshed*

I’ve not been writing.
Yesterday I blew a few barely graceful notes
on my flute.
There were lights to hang and my son could use a hand.
So I lent him mine.
This melancholy isn’t mine.
It’s ours.
We all see it.
I let it walk with me.
It keeps me out of the saddle because of a choice I made.
Our hospital beds are nearly full.
Two short months have passed at our new barn.
Though I’ve taken a ride here and there
the chance of a strong spook
from a horse
or a loss of balance
on my part
is greater now.
We are all out of practice.

Truth be told
I like the peace.

*”Woodshedding” is a term commonly used by musicians to mean rehearsing a difficult passage repeatedly until it can be performed flawlessly. The term is used metaphorically where “the woodshed” means any private place to practice without being heard by anyone else. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodshedding#:~:text=%22Woodshedding%22%20is%20a%20term%20commonly,being%20heard%20by%20anyone%20else.