Last Chance, Train Entering Tunnel

(About the Time John Keats Was Coughing Hard at Gravesend…)



                                    The fly-stung flats
                                    where Huerfano joins the Arkansas:
                                    the great summer horse fair, tipis going up,
                                    stock pens thrown together
                                    from logs and branches for miles along the river,
                                    four-hundred dogs barking, maybe five, the air thick
                                    with horses milling as far as you can see,
                                    neighing, calling pinto to pinto, roan
                                    to roan, miles of green and yucca bursts,
                                    men touting, parading their animals, bays
                                    bright as blood, every shade
                                    known to lepidoptera flashing in the sun.


                                   All the colors,
                                   flowers on the plains, leaves
                                   of the trees: the mouth of Horse Creek,
                                   herds swirling for miles along Moonshell River,
                                   shouts of the traders, laughter of kids,
                                   horses anxious, watching for friends
                                   from the summer before—that sorrel mare
                                   from the Sweetgrass Hills—calling
                                   buckskin to buckskin, dun to dun.
                                   You hear them from the bluffs beyond the river,
                                   smell the warm droppings, and later,
                                   with the moon up, many songs sung.


                                   The juice-sweet, cider-sweet place
                                   where Cherry Creek eases into Good River:
                                   watch from the pretty hills just south,
                                   camps flickering below, races, rebanos
                                   (a word up from the Cimarron country), the comings
                                   and the goings, people with herds ford the creek,
                                   newcomers moving up the big valley,             
                                   six hundred dogs barking, maybe more,
                                   shouts, and a deal struck, horses on edge,
                                   rearing, ears up—rose-gray piebald,
                                   brindle-daybreak, saskatoon-blue—
                                   every pitch of agates on a northern shore.

Recent works by Merrill Gilfillan include Talk across Water (Stories Selected and New), 2019, and Stars Seen Then (poems) 2020. After many years in the West he now lives in Asheville, North Carolina.