Nebraska Center for Writers

WRONG FOOT FORWARD
by LARRY HOLLAND

To fall off a mountain be right choosy
about boot placement, planting one carefully
on granite, the other deftly heel-first
on rain-soaked lichen. Feel the sponge
slip, know all the way to your socks
you're airborne. The instant
your butt flattens the boulder see
your hat like a doughnut on edge race
you toward treeline. Bounce like a bad hop
off a hard infield and stop cold against a pine
bole rough as the last mountainman.
In the shroud that echoes silence, lie back,
look straight up the trunk to branches gathered
harmless as a Christmas tree against a slate sky.
Eye your scraped palm, know your wrist will swell
and offer small thanks to whatever gods
guard flatlanders in hiking shoes that
the pain in your ribs isn't
poking out through your shirt. Stand,
still, 'til your quivering thighs
tell your knees it's ok to bend. Find
your hat, recrease it, put it on--
tight. Ease down the slope, hunker
by the fire. Grind your teeth, softly,
as your partner passes
the 100-proof painkiller and says
"I damnear fell on my ass up there."

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 1997
by Larry Holland


TURTLE STEW:
BEAUTY IN THE POT OF THE BEHOLDER
by LARRY HOLLAND

She said, "I had a nightmare last night,
you and your partner cooking
a snapper in our kitchen
for Friday supper.
"You must have dozed off just before
I said you are invited."

He'd got his first with a meathook--
"Not a hayhook, just this old meathook.
Don't know why it was in my car"--
hooked it under the chin out of the marsh-
slime hard by the road. One he whacked
with an ax through its alligator-back,
others he'd arrowed, speared and caught
on baited hooks. But the easiest
appeared in a five-gallon bucket
left at the office, prehistoric, reptilian,
like a wife's troubled sleep
clawing at the edge of the unconscious.

Built around hunger mistaken for cussedness,
lifespan enough to reach sea-turtle size
and a taste for live amphibians,
snappers have that perverse beauty
ugly as memory coming to take you
to the bottom with it. Behind the snap-end
are seven kinds of light to dark meat
that stew down to a feast
fit to sate dark gourmet appetites.

Cut it bite-size, coat it with pepper-
seasoned flour, stir-fry it in enough
hot oil to seal the chunks. Dump it
and six sliced garlic cloves into a crockpot
set on high. Leave it for two hours.

Peel and slice carrots and potatoes,
dice a big onion and fat bell peppers.
Add this with three bay leaves
and a cup of white wine.
Set pot on low for six more hours.
Stir every two hours.

                           With stirrings

note how aroma deepens toward
the inevitable--Friday supper.
Mix friendship with more wine,
dish up the meal
that's pushed itself up
onto your table by its own four-legged
strokes toward light, out of that
dark part of yourself
you might never have thought
you wanted to face.

                      (for Hairsn)

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 1997
by Larry Holland


SCOT MAGIC
by LARRY HOLLAND

"You've been drinking." No,
not drinking. I've had a Scotch. Or two.

Mere drinking is what colorless liquid is for.
As an instance, vodka, Mr. Ciardi says,
has no breath at all. And gin? Good God!
The evil it does may be hard to assess, but
anyone of any years who touches the stuff
should be strung up by three fingers, neat.

Scotch, my wife says, smells like gasoline,
low-test, to which I say, "You have no taste,
nor smell." Actually, she smells quite good,
sometimes of lilacs before they've gone too far,
sometimes of a fall afternoon that's gone
as good as it can go, which is however here
beside the point. The point is
Scotch is for the tongue tuned to things aged,
like vintage wine you'd bid
a bankroll that's not even yours on.
It's the comfort of a white-haired man
who's been run already hard enough and set
to savor the fire of a winter's night.

Scotch is constant. At, say, twelve years,
it's never going to be more, nor less,
drinkable. Let's not quibble over blended stuff
some wager in money's stead on sport.
I'm talking malt, laddie, with names
that sound best on a seasoned Highland tongue.
Cardhu, Glendronach, The Balvenie, Laphroaig,
Knockando, Glenmorangie, The Macallen--Aye, there're labels
you can bet your ex-wife's inheritance
will feel smooth on the tongue as new-conjured gold
distilled in the glen by a kilted alchemist.
(for Glenn Boyer, Jane Coleman, Linda Hasselstrom, Russ Stratton, Ric Gillis, and Connie Justis)

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 1997
by Larry Holland


NOT IN THE WINNING
BUT THE CHASE THE GLORY
by LARRY HOLLAND

...mark--not that you won or lost
--but how you played the game.
                                            (Grantland Rice, 1880-1954)

Some things reason well but don't make no kind
of good sense.
                                            (0l' Scout, '61)

"DO YOU PREFER the hunt or the kill?"

There is no feeling deeper than the exhilaration of the hunt, quite akin (to take a potshot at metaphor) to foreplay. Actually, it is that. The sensation of game nearby, allowing instinct to "feel" the air, perhaps catching scent, almost not seeing a movement so slight off to the side that it may have not even been there. Seeing a track laid moments before. A slight sound that you may not recognize at first.
An adrenalin rush--you begin to focus on only things that lead to what you think is there. One of the great notions in literature comes from Norman Maclean, who said he'd found he'd not see something unless he thought of it first. Maybe you become like that after several decades outdoors. Maybe if you grow up outdoors but were also taught to think you come to it early.
You're walking in the rain, head down, casting for sign--a track not yet washed out--close. You come out of the old riverbed, walk east silent as Sioux, easy for even Wasichu in this wet. You walk a few steps, stop, look over, around, under, through bush. You repeat. Several times. You come to a downed cottonwood, three-&-one-half-foot diameter. You sense something more than see it on the other side. You know your senses don't lie.
You see an antler tine above a branch ten yards away. You think your heart, lungs, gut, sphincter cannot stand the pressure. This one of life's pinnacles. One more step, maybe two, will lead to a clear shot. Movement is shrouded by downed-tree branches. A three-point, big-bodied, casually steps up onto the bank--twenty yards broadside. You touch off the -.06, the buck humps like he's been kicked in the gut by a big horse, breaks into a run. You touch off a second round. One would have been enough. You're still young enough to not know for sure.
The drop from the pinnacle begins, a slide onto a combo-platter of emptying and filling, a feeling Hemingway said is like "after you have made love to someone you love." He was talking about having finished a satisfactory morning of writing. It is a sadness. Something has happened that can never happen again. It is wonderful, bewildering, much more than merely putting meat on the table. It is something anyone not acquainted with it cannot understand, and won't. Some who've been there won't get it, either. Do I prefer the hunt or the kill? Yes.

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 1997
by Larry Holland

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