Prairie Poetry   

The Oregon Trail


At first it was like I was John Wayne on the Oregon
Trail; all arse slap and hup and yo, running up
and down hard roads shouting stop ‘em
or head them off at the river. I was still playing
cowboys even though this was for real.
Payment was promised at the end of the trail
by the man with the gamy leg.
Soon I just let them wander wherever they wanted 
up and down each gateless grassy lane.
With the sun in my eyes I drove those beasts
until I almost dropped. And when I reached the place
the animals could rest in I too lay down beneath
some apple trees and waited for the silver dollar.
Leaf shade and evening sunshine in a forest
of trees and cattle amid tail slap and yellow
waterfalls filling the air with splash-pools.

I waited, soothing my raw heels and blistering toes.
I waited as cowhand waiting in the bunkhouse
for his pay after a hard day in the saddle.
I waited lying on the green grass, staring up at
the apples overhead and the blue irregular spaces
of sky between the boughs and branches and
the light, the light like swords piercing
the backs of the beasts. I was ten years old
lying in an orchard with these dumb animals,
looking out into myself, into the blue of myself
and knowing I would never have this exact feeling
I knew this was different and didn’t care even if
it was Gabby Hayes himself had bushwhacked me.

  Pat Galvin
  Copyright © 2005 Pat Galvin
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