MacDiff, Montana 1868-1889

Tied modestly beneath a protruding chin,
an impeccably pressed feed sack poke bonnet,
meticulously stitched and starched stiff,
shut out the distractions around her; within,
tumult raged. She focused her mind on it,
twisting, dissecting, churning it as if
from a constant motion, emulsion's kin
could solidify into an inspired sonnet,
musing's restoration for Angus MacDiff.
A never-say-die warrior without armor,
one wife, quieted her heart at its clamor.

The neighbor's buckboard bounced her to attention
as he gently hastened the return to camp
or what remained after the pre-storm stampede
had left behind a mangled intervention
in the routine of the roundup, whose revamp
would be ruinous. Impossible to impede
without risking the others by prevention
of the drive's leaving before snow should clamp
the pass closed till Spring. She knew the urgent need
for every available hour from all hands,
no time for the dead, or the dying's demands.

One of twelve, eight kids under ten and three wives,
depended on him, the ranch and a fall drive
to sustain their existence. "What if he dies?
Or if he lives, how can a man who derives
his livelihood from punching cattle, still thrive
if crippled, despite how valiantly he tries?
Alone, can those left behind sustain their lives?"
Though harnessed to hard work, it's luck to survive
as one of the diligent, fate purifies.
When the horses stopped, she could tell he was gone,
they were restless to bury him and move on.

As the first wife, they expected her to lead,
to hire and fire the hands, to accept the role
of the man, protector, provider and head
of the clan. With all the hungry mouths to feed,
longer days, anxious nights demanding their toll,
perfection's young face grew worry lines in dread.
The months flew and when the conjoined years decreed
the tads become young men eager to cajole
destiny that on life's mysteries they be fed,
first mother addressed the axiomatic,
"Survival bonds", the rest, anticlimactic.

Had that first winter been like many others,
despite frantic hours of endless exertion,
they would not have survived. The four oldest boys,
a cook, one broken-down drifter, three mothers
had made it despite a blizzard's assertion
to the contrary. Incessant work, few joys,
yet they persisted. If she'd had her druthers
she'd have quit, many times died, but desertion
of duty was more alien to her than the noise
of conscience. A bounteous year for calving
had made life infinitely more worth having.

Years flew, the first far the worst, and yet some were
harsher in climate. Experience had taught
them how to endure together, and that tie
sustained with velvet chains, never to demur.
The clan, a matriarchate providing Ought
its power and taboos, etched until they die,
announced their being's reason. Who'd not prefer
the paps proffering peace and plan? MacDiff bought
the land extending farther than meets the eye,
married three for family, yet left with fate
and mother love his future to perpetuate.

--jawjajack goobersack



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