A professional harpsichordist for many years, Susan Harvey now lives and works on a ranch in Northern California. Her poetry has appeared in the Comstock Review, Naugatuk River Review, and Plainsongs. Her first chapbook is forthcoming from the Red Bird Press. She was nominated for the Pushcart XLV Prize.
The sight of cattle spreading out over a field
becalmed my father’s swagger and bluster
like nothing else ever could. When I was little
sometimes he’d stop the car
and we’d get out and stand at a fence
watching someone’s herd graze.
He spoke sometimes of the section of land
a square mile in Colorado
where he was a boy
where he was happy
before life roughed him up
before the Depression
and the goddam federal agents marking
sacks of sugar beets with X for destroy
before Pop lost the ranch
before the navy
and the ships blown out from under him
and what he saw
before the bad marriages
before the tumblers of bourbon
and the layers and layers of lies
that he wound around and around
his shame and his rage.
His remembered happiness
remained quick under those wrappings
seeping up and showing at times
like blood through bandages.
He hungered for a few acres
a little place to run a couple head of beef
and an old hay-burner. He kept almost
getting it but then the booze and the bills.
Even when they took out the tubes
he thought he had one more shot at it.
As the deft nurse calibrated the morphine levels
and his wrecked organs closed down
he grinned with the defiant hunger
that is my inheritance from him.