I sought to ranch. that’s all. that simple. you can see the line of cottonwood’s as you round Baker’s bend; they keep the wind off the top soil. This was my grandfather’s ranch, then my father’s, and now
mine. Grandmother died giving birth to my father and my mother the same. they were women from the East country. hard women, true, knew how to ranch. but they’re gone and with them my fathers lying quiet in a plot off the orchard where shadows reach but never touch. sometimes in summer I visit the plot and imagine grabbing the shadows, dragging them over like wrinkled tarpaulin. these bodies seen enough sun.
appeared in the morning from tree line, a prairie dress, blue, with apron white. black hair untied framed face fair. never seen a woman whose hair wasn’t high and bound. I asked what the salty aroma was she
hadn’t been but ten feet from the porch. It’s the
ocean, the Pacific. We wash what we own there and we take the ocean wherever we travel. I’m young like you.
can you ranch?
it felt like miles between us; my time of loneliness glued my tongue to the roof of my mouth. That’s a beautiful orchard, she stared off — that’s where I’d be buried should I die.
not the ocean?
No sir, the ocean’d turn you up. the body wants roots to entangle and trap to return to earth and keep. From one womb to another. May I move closer? she asked.
not should you die, when you die, please stay as you are.
Death has no when. to presume it does gives it worship like Pharaoh. Does the sir worship death?
speak plainly. she smiled wide teeth perfect, eyes creased like silk.
If you’ve only room for death, then you’ve no room for life sir. Women from the West will tell you the same. The ocean teaches us. Out and in, one knows to accept both as they are. the tide is never when, the tide is always should.
speak plainer still.
The tides are high, the tides are small. The fish are plenty, the fish are few. Cool mornings, scorching afternoons. Both must be accepted as should — or as I’ve heard the Eastern people call it, Maybe.
this is further East, I’ve heard no such word and my head begins to hurt.
Maybe the sir is in flux over our current exchange.
very much in flux. please find your sum.
The sir believes in curses?
to be cursed is to be man. those who’re to love me couldn’t. now they’re in the earth and I’m alone on the earth. death stalks and doesn’t deal. death is the only god. it takes our youth so it can live longer. like my fathers before me I’ll live another year, then death will rake me in. you’re too late.
I suspect that the creatures of our ocean would’ve died off years prior had they too lived by time. if they toiled over being late, then that means they would’ve thought to be early somewhere. Sir, we find the world to be more than all heavens and all earth; more than touch and no touch; more than noise and silence. we western woman feel each ray of the golden sun, each kiss of our lover, every nudge of the child in our belly. maybe the child would be still, but we don’t wait on maybe. “if you wait on the tide, the tide will never come.”
I could be dead already. she spoke as no one before and likely no one after. how did you find me?
I’ve been here before. twice sir. I visited two men who looked like you. but they sent me off. please, as I asked them, come with me to the ocean.
from the tree line another figure appeared. a similar figure to her, with dress red, like the women from the east country.