From the Archive: Michael e. Casteels (CAROUSEL 38)
MICHAEL E. CASTEELS
The Cattle Business
I was rousting some steers that had taken up residence in the house. I gathered a coil of rope and slung it over the pommel of my saddle. Some of these old mossyhorns had grown up here and had no wish to leave. A brindle steer lurched through the breezeway, scraping the walls with his horns. A twisty creek trickled down the front steps and pooled among the mesquite. A few cantankerous old-timers glutted themselves on cornmeal and beans. The rafters shuddered when the calves stampeded the living room. “Character is the thing,” my father once said, “whether it’s horses, dogs, or men. Or cattle for that matter.” I built a loop and twirled it above my head, slowly letting it grow with each passing arc. I dropped it over the roof of the house, let it slip down the weathered clapboard and then pulled it taut, slamming all the doors and windows. My bronco sat back on his haunches and the whole house trembled. A single moo slowly filled the range. We dragged the house behind us, westward, where the land was empty.
In Spite of Some Other Reason
Wearing my two pistols I walked out into daybreak. I saw the desert. The distant mountain was a question and a purple quail was the answer. Twice I paused and rigged several rabbit traps. Toward dusk I shot a quail but had only the quail to show. The range grew ever older. That night I camped in a small grove, the mountain looming. It was very still. The sky was very blue. Nine days later I came to a small town lying on its side. When I walked through the door I had not shaved. My hat was an item with a bullet hole. My boots were Spanish style.
Northwest but Uncertain
Pushing on alone, I found only shallow basins of dust. It was the same on either side of river: the loneliness of the far plains and the wide sky around. Twice I came upon a thick soup and drank from it. I urged before me the long dark thread of my horse, stitching a trail into the prairie’s fabric. Along the range cattle faded into a haze of rose and gold. Arrows shot through the sky, piercing the clouds that dripped pinkish blood on the clouds below. The vast gray emptiness of the clouds.
A Short While Later
The stars banged against the darkness. A cloud of flies as tight as a fist socked me in the gut. I lost my breath and spent the better part of an hour crawling in the dark, trying to find it. Once I did I placed it behind my lips, closed my eyes and sighed. The clouds squinted. The wind coughed. My socks slithered off, filling the dark with static and sparks, frightening the deer who disappeared into the swamp.