That day Grandmother bundled the blankets,
and Grandfather harnessed Chaco to the cart
to move us up the mountain toward summer
meadows where the goats could graze and fatten.
That day older brother would leave us again
and cross the river toward the edge of everything
the clouds passed over, where the Jesus People
chanted songs older brother sang for us nights beside the fire.
That day the goats had wandered into a thicket
of chaparral and cactus. Older brother hacked with his machete
to set them free, and when they burst forth bawling
I hurried behind, herding them toward Grandfather’s cart.
That day I ran away from older brother who called out
and scolded – Come with me! Come with me!
Suddenly I was a little brown goat; the sand
beneath my hooves golden, the canyon walls glowing flame.
The Jesus People
Grandmother touched older brother’s head
each time she stood and stirred the embers to blaze,
and older brother hunched his shoulders
as if Grandmother’s hand hurt like cactus spines.
The goats huddled close, watched us, said nothing.
Older brother had crossed the river with the Jesus People,
helped them climb the canyon, brought them
into the high summer grasslands to find our camp.
The Jesus People smiled like famished dogs, ate
Grandmother’s fried bread, and talked and talked
while older brother nodded and told us the meanings
of what the Jesus People said. They said Jesus
loved his sheep. Said they raised cattle and lacked
summer grasslands to graze them. They looked at me
when they spoke, mostly, and Grandmother snugged her blanket
around me and pulled me near. Grandfather chewed each bite
slowly and stared into the fire, the creases in his jaw
like broken rocks in the canyon, telling how all things pass,
all this talk, talk, talk. Like the arroyo dries again
after rain. Like yellow blossoms return and fade on the sage.
Lowell Jaeger is founding editor of Many Voices Press; editor of New Poets of the American West; the author of seven collections of poems, and, for promoting civil civic discourse, the recipient of the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award.