Cold, like the world done spun off into space. Cold, like the devil's black heart. Easterly gale so fierce the snow don't ever settle, 'cept in precipitous talus drifts on the east side of the squat, shivering huts we tried to call a homestead.
Can't even hear the cries of my children, the storm's so loud. Five small bleats under a bareback shriek atop a deeper howl 'cross the gray plains, bending poplar and cottonwood like matchsticks to breaking, killing most everything caught outdoors in its path, which is wide and righteous, a godlike halitosic roar in the face of our damnation.
Braced for hunger and cold. For the wages of sin and the invoices of death. Flour ruined by vermin, our old mare brought low by a malady in her veins. Ingredients of this matchless storm were prophesied.
And we all know the answer to it.
Martha my love. Her eyes, like jettisoned moons, won't find my own.
Most Sundays she still looks for a cross where I only see wood too cold to even rot. Literally petrified. And bless her cloudless soul, she still believes in friends.
Distance between the house and the barn seems more of a hike each day. I'm a man. If I can't do the basics of a man's calling, whose wheels am I spinning and in what chill mud, what slush, do I churn? Place feels so dirgelike even the crows are gone, scattered on a high keening wind like shards of black ice.
The children so thin they could snap in such blasts. Their own eyes dim as lost meteors.
Memories of the road in summer—its battalion of mailboxes, its heart warmth and quiet fields dreaming their long afternoons, its lone vehicles following signs, some lost, some stubborn not to hurry—might as well be ancestral.
Place has two seasons: hot and cold; variations of beige and variations of gray.
But seven shotgun shells—eight or nine for insurance—are inarguable, untenable.
The coyote tonight is alone, a single ululating cry, a reminder of solitude, a clear song of frost.
Truth is, I'd consider it a happy endin' if seven new people didn't never get born.
Anyone who listens to the music of Bob Dylan will recognize the debt I owe in this short tale to his 1964 song, "Ballad of Hollis Brown." The image is an edited version of a photo I took in South Dakota in 2011.