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Mesquite II

          . . . Lovely as any tree in the world.                   
          —J. Frank Dobie.


A coyote, big but young enough not to run;
we eyed each other, small drama, until a sound,
then a gray blur through the mesquites.

On the one hand—
mesquites are legumes like clover
or vetch and feed the soil;
unlike cedar, they don’t kill grass.

On the other—
the roots spread and spread,
take water from all that grows above.

Knee-high mesas on red land,
each shaped by mesquite roots,
mark the level of soil gone, washed away.

Their beans feed horses, cattle, coyotes,
even humans who know how to use them.

Sixty years, this thorn tip in my knee.
Young ones are the meanest;
we learned early not to jump over them.

Cows smash through them to brush off flies,
thorns be damned; broken trunks and limbs
grow back angular, grotesque, and survive.

Their shade is thin, but on treeless land
nothing chafes at meager shade.

Fenceline:  weaving up through the strands,
mesquites and cedars entwine
and share their souls with barbed wire.

If they are beautiful, good;
we need a reason
to love the thing we can’t get rid of.


Roland Sodowsky grew up on a small ranch in western Oklahoma.  He has three degrees from Oklahoma State University and studied Old High German as a Fulbright Scholar in Germany.  He has taught linguistics, literature, and creative writing at OSU, the University of Calabar in Nigeria, the University of Texas, Sul Ross State University, and Missouri State University. He has published poetry, short stories, or novellas in Atlantic Monthly, American Literary Review, Glimmer Train, Midwest Quarterly,  and many other literary magazines.  His collection of short stories, Things We Lose (U. Missouri Pr), won the Associated Writing Programs' Award for Short Fiction.  He received the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Short Fiction Award for Interim in the Desert (TCU Pr), the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines-General Electric Award for fiction, and has been a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts award.  Now retired from Missouri State, he and his wife, the poet Laura Lee Washburn, live in Pittsburg, Kansas when he, his brother, and his son are not engaged in a continuing battle with the mesquites and cedars on their family homestead.


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