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About this poet

Walt McDonald was born on July 18, 1934 in Texas. In addition to serving as an Air Force pilot and teaching at the Air Force Academy, he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1966. He is the author of twenty collections of poems, including Climbing the Divide (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003); Great Lonely Places of the Texas Plains (Texas Tech University Press, 2003, poems paired with color photos by Texas State Photographer Wyman Meinzer); All Occasions (2000); Whatever the Wind Delivers: Celebrating West Texas and the Near Southwest (1999; with archival photos selected by Janet Neugebauer from Tech's Southwest Collection), which won a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame; Blessings the Body Gave (1998); Counting Survivors (1995); Where Skies Are Not Cloudy (1993); All That Matters: The Texas Plains in Photographs and Poems (with photographs selected by Janet Neugebauer; 1992); Night Landings (1989); After the Noise of Saigon (1988); Rafting the Brazos (1988); and The Flying Dutchman (1987). He has also published a book of fiction, A Band of Brothers: Stories from Vietnam (1989).

Mr. McDonald has published more than 2,300 poems in journals including American Poetry Review, The American Scholar, The Atlantic Monthly, First Things, Journal of the American Medical Association, London Review of Books, New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, and Poetry. Among his many honors are six awards from the Texas Institute of Letters, including the Lon Tinkle Memorial Award for Excellence Sustained Throughout a Career (2000), and four Western Heritage Awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Walt served as Texas Poet Laureate in 2001. He is Paul Whitfield Horn Professor Emeritus at Texas Tech University.

Gardens of Sand and Cactus

Walt McDonald, 1934
My wife takes salt for starters, and rusted strands 
of barbed wire, the iron Grandfather left. 
Chips chunks from a salt block mired in sand, 
that tongue-rubbed marble artwork of the West, 

anywhere cows roam--not buffaloes that lick 
their salt from cactus and the bones of coyotes. 
Takes bones, a skull, when she sees one.  Takes snakeskin 
like twisted strips of film.  Looks under yucca 

for the best, six feet at least.  But fierce 
grandfather snakes don't rattle until they're sure, 
so she listens before she stoops.  Finds horseshoes to pitch, 
any flint or curved stone shaped like a tool. 

Tugging our last child's Radio Flyer in the pasture, 
brings pigments back, even the burnt sienna bolus 
of owls.  Scrapes umber from banks of the Brazos, 
however dry, gold dust where bobcats marked the stumps. 

Packs, stacks it all.  Takes time, fans with her hat, 
then hauls that wagon wobbling to our house. 
Amazed that she makes gardens of cactus and sand, 
I miter frames to hang whatever she's found 

and salvaged as art, even rocks she cuts and tumbles 
in a barrel grinding like sweet, hand-cranked ice cream, 
turning this desert we call home into babies' mobiles, 
wind chimes and swings, bird feeders in every tree. 

From Blessings the Body Gave, published by Ohio State University Press. Copyright © 1998 by Walt McDonald. All rights reserved Used by permission.

From Blessings the Body Gave, published by Ohio State University Press. Copyright © 1998 by Walt McDonald. All rights reserved Used by permission.

Walt McDonald

Walt McDonald

Walt McDonald was born in 1934 in Texas. In addition to serving

by this poet

poem
I never knew them all, just hummed
and thrummed my fingers with the radio,
driving five hundred miles to Austin.
Her arms held all the songs I needed.
Our boots kept time with fiddles
and the charming sobs of blondes,

the whine of steel guitars
sliding us down in deer-hide chairs
when jukebox music was over.
poem
When I take my dachshund jogging, boys and widows gawk 
and stop tossing balls or lopping limbs off shrubs.  They call 
and point at long, pot-bellied Oscar trotting like a rocker horse, 
tongue wagging, dragging on grass when he hops over skateboards, 

long muzzle wide as if laughing, eager, sniffing the
poem
Shiny as wax, the cracked veneer Scotch-taped 
and brittle.  I can't bring my father back. 
Legs crossed, he sits there brash 

with a private's stripe, a world away 
from the war they would ship him to 
within days.  Cannons flank his face 

and banners above him like the flag 
my mother kept on the mantel,