A Narrow Trail and Two Other Poems – RT Castleberry

I work in diagonals,
 in tangents of mud track and Ursa Minor.
 Trained as a scout,
 I turn out bitter as cowboy coffee,
 huddle with rifle and knife,
 the taste of campfire steak
 and a corn silk smoke on my tongue.
 From a tree line advantage,
 I watch the posse’s stalking cadence
 as it seeps across the trail,
 watch them try to match
 hoof marks on stone through snow.
 Not calm but resigned,
 I uncock the hammer,
 take the Vernier iron sight
 from a tracker’s chest.
 We’ll play a fair game here.
 I took the bank with three other men.
 Two are caught.
 The other is ridge-riding with his split.
 There’s escape over the mountains, an easy slide
 to a side wheel steamer or the riverside train.
 With a thousand yard Sharps,
 I’ll wait out the night, the steeple of a hunter’s moon,
 wait for the Pinkertons to circle closer or circle away.
As I make my slow way home,
cooled by the sentinel breezes
of creek and cedar canyon,
sunlight is a study
of hammered gold on terraced hills.
The Palo Duro moves over oak roots,
over shale and yellowed sandstone.
Upstream, beyond the bend
chinaberry trees diffuse morning’s haze,
morning’s battle smoke.
Sword broken in its scabbard,
empty pistol heavy in its holster,
I water my horse,
soak bruised hands in the chilling flow.
As we ended the Kiowa track
I cracked my saber on a collarbone,
a defender’s arm.
I’ve lived a life of two books—
Morphy on chess and Caesar’s commentaries:
all out war, taken up from the page.
regimental colors fly above the field commander’s tent,
West Point rings lie on a table,
gathered like agates in a marbles bag.
The best of their kind is dead, our general says.
We killed them all.



Warm with rain, morning arrives,
cloaking red earth, yellow grass,
turning a hunter’s ravine copper in the dawning light.
Elk, mule deer, antelope water at the lake,
magpie and mockingbird call across a juniper grove.
Sans Arc Sioux sleep on the far side.
At Fort Lincoln, a Forsyth scout
pays fifty dollars for a Spencer repeater,
nine bucks for good Remington revolver.
With a buckskin horse made for the long country
I range the Powder River, the Bighorn Mountains,
marking trail for Three Stars Crook.
I look for settling sign of Cheyenne and Oglala,
for sign of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.
Custer paid the 7th on the march.
Army paper still floats and flutters along the Rosebud.
Wolves scatter what Gibbon’s detail left half-done:
death stakes marked on a map,
officers buried inches deep,
troopers covered by hasty heaps of dust or pine bough.
I sweep through the late summer hills,
scraps of money secured in my saddle bags.
Not friendly—but not who I search for,
I’ll leave this tribe for another rider, another regiment.
Working wide and northwest
I’ll try the creek-run meadows beyond Harney Peak.
Cook fires blaze up. A dog’s bark carries, high and thin.
I’ll leave them busy with their muffled, waking day.

RT Castleberry has appeared in ‘Merica Magazine, Comstock Review, Green Mountains Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, The Alembic, Pacific Review, RiverSedge and Caveat Lector, among other journals. I am a co-founder of the Flying Dutchman Writers Troupe, co-editor/publisher of the poetry magazine Curbside Review, an assistant editor for Lily Poetry Review and Ardent My work has been featured in the anthologies Travois-An Anthology of Texas Poetry, TimeSlice and The Weight of Addition. My chapbook, Arriving At The Riverside, was published by Finishing Line Press in January, 2010. An e-book, Dialogue and Appetite, was published by Right Hand Pointing in May, 2011


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