by Ken Hada


 For Uncle Max

Greed, I guess—my father answered
me uncharacteristically critical
of our ancestors, their impulsive
move to New Mexico Territory

stopping somewhere around Clayton
where nothing worked out. When
the horses died from grazing locoweed
they loaded their sparse selves in a wagon

and bleakly headed back to northwest
Oklahoma—the grass in those Gypsum
Hills green enough. They returned
to what they feared, reclaimed what they

knew, relinquished a short-lived dream
busted now like clods of red clay
crumbling to dust beneath a cattle herd.
It’s not easy to feed seven growing boys

so the toughest, Uncle Arnold, walked
back—herding the cattle as he made way
all those miles along unmarked paths
primal as a Kalahari Bushman—big boy,

keeper of the family’s future swaying,
stumbling, shitting slowly toward home
through cactus and redrock steadfast
under sun and stars close enough to touch

Originally published in This Land, Vol. 5, Issue 19, October 1, 2014.