Western Pastoral ​

Emily Strauss




There are sheep, hidden in folds

of the mountains, up the washes

where green shows a little

and shepherds, grizzled old

Basque descendants living

in a run-down trailer parked

in a bare field with a dog,

a low mangy animal watching

for coyotes and cars

no women live up there

with water scarce, dirt roads

always dusty, sun baking

and winter freezes.


There are tin buckets to collect

water, milk, firewood, dung chips —

urns would never have survived

the long journey West — instead

wives packed looms, rugs, brooms,

butter churns and bread pans,

raised their kids in filthy dresses

and stiff pants, tried to comb

snags out, baked soda bread

and beans, the men out herding,

red sun setting through the dust.


Days were more than lonely

with a thin deer trail connecting

neighbors, with a rail stop two

days distant, a ride across hills

and draws, bitter waters, a town

of three buildings, more filthy

men and horses. Now the roads

run straight, still empty, hot,

the towns left with crumbling

storefronts and barns, broken

gasoline pump from the 1920's

when hope reigned for a while and

hard-rock mines overtook sheep.


Now the land is burnt-dry eroded,

fenced but neglected, with shacks

falling down in the canyons

or up the rocky slopes with the open

pits of failed gold diggings, tailings

the windows left open and rags

of curtains flutter in the wind

cows wander the yard, sheep

graze the sagebrush to the ground,

the shepherd must ride for days

to round up a herd in fall

before the snows push them

down to holding pens

so wool can be shorn, yearlings

branded, inoculated, men

relieved of their work, dogs

resting up in a warm room

Western Pastoral

Emily Strauss has an M.A. in English, but is self-taught in poetry, which she has written since college. Over 400 of her poems appear in a wide variety of online venues and in anthologies, in the U.S. and abroad. She is a Best of the Net and twice a Pushcart nominee. The natural world of the American West is generally her framework. She is a retired teacher living in Oregon.