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.
Walt McDonald - 1934-
My Father on His Shield
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, folded tight, white stars sharp-pointed on a field of blue. I remember his fists, the iron he pounded, five-pound hammer ringing steel, the frame he made for a sled that winter before the war. I remember the rope in his fist around my chest, his other fist shoving the snow, and downhill we dived, his boots by my boots on the tongue, pines whishing by, ice in my eyes, blinking and squealing. I remember the troop train, steam billowing like a smoke screen. I remember wrecking the sled weeks later and pounding to beat the iron flat, but it stayed there bent and stacked in the barn by the anvil, and I can't bring him back.