Cowboy Art in the University Library Paintings with pale sky, wind-buffeted pines and loaded pack horses with wide rumps and blonde manes – ones just like these decorate ten thousand tavern walls. Or curl as calendars in filling stations in blow-away towns. Men in chaps slump over dollar-size belt buckles; their hats fold into conventions of cowboy. This artist painted a Navajo-red thunderbolt on one saddle blanket, an accent to trail-dust hues of boredom. What the armed horseback renegades who occupied the Malheur Refuge had in mind when riding out with an American flag for TV cameras. the kettling hawk a dive below the barb wire black-tailed jack rabbit I smell horse dung. Hear bawls of cattle who stumble-walk so dozey their heads bob. Jingle of spurs, creaks of old leather. Horseshoe clicks on rock. This picture frame is too narrow for an aging cowgirl. This birder finding Malheur’s cranes through a spotting scope. This poet who cannot rhyme refuge with subterfuge. garden dirt under my fingernails burying bygones Displayed in the children’s library, the cowboys in black-and-white prints twist snakes into lariats and ride bounding waves on the backs of seals. woven baskets collect beautiful stones the spring water
This poem remembers the January 2016 armed far-right extremists occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and other images of people on horseback. It’s one of the poems in Let’s Hear It for the Horses coming out from The Poetry Box in February, 2022 and available at a discounted pre-sale price through December 31.
[image: Duane Ehmer riding his horse, Hellboy, at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge]