Thursday, October 15, 1981



I remember the adults talking politics,
the blue cigar smoke of family reunions,
The kitchen table jumped
with empty whiskey glasses and jam jars—
as their fists punctuated each statement.
This, my inheritance.

Sometimes my grandmother sits
and talks about her days on Home Ranch
about the coyote fur coat she and her Aunt May made.
Everywhere they went, the dogs followed
with raised hackles, growling and barking.
Even in San Francisco, the dogs sensed the danger.

Far from the green hills of Bantry Bay,
my family settled in this place.
The grain in this valley was worth more
than the silver grubstake claims in Austin.
She said: Men had to eat.

My half-brother is part Cherokee.
Our fathers never met.
His Indian grandmother sat on a porch
watching someone else's cattle forage
under the fierce Nevada sun.
But it was my grandmother who raised us.

While unloading an enraged bull
her uncle Paddy was killed by his horse.
His wife, Mary, stood on the porch
her mouth framing a silent white O
as the foreman lifted his rifle
to the forehead of that cowpony
who lay dying and the wind lifted
a dust funnel that whirled through
the open door like ghosts.

We sat by Paddy's tombstone,
granite & marble softened by the elements.
She said, I wanted you to see this place.
To write the stories. I'm the last one left now.

I took a photograph of my grandmother
looking away from the camera—
the moment, engraved in memory like stone.

I never told my grandmother I love her.


see In the San Geronimo Valley


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