ONE DAY IN THE SUMMER
BY TONY GENTRY
Huckleberry Hound was a lazy pup
but rounded the corner with raving eyes
lathered and frantic, like he was pursued.
Said, “Mama, he went up under the house.”
“Go get him,” she said. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied.
Dog-sized chink in the brick foundation
but if I reached one arm in tucked my head
could squirm up follow him into the dark.
She handed me a flashlight, said, “Go on.”
This was something I’d never considered
the guts of the house its underbelly
squared onto a powdery dirt that for
all the age of the structure had not seen
the light of day. Dank dry dust and cobwebs
creepy and cool is why he’d gone in there.
It took a while but that had to be Huck
against the blank concrete wall of the porch.
Paired red dots way back there his trembling eyes
or was that just what my eyes were doing?
“Go on now,” she said. “Dang, mama, alright.
On my belly toes dug in had to keep
from bumping my head on the kitchen pipes
then past them like diving under water.
Heard him whimper or again it was me
but closer now squeezing midway under
the dining room far up in there was a
private place like nowhere I’d ever been.
Hi ol’ Huck.
Eye to eye it was bad how he panted
neck strained teeth bared in a grin that scared me.
Far back in the day Mama said, “Get him.”
But this was my call. I said, “Hush Mama.”
She didn’t like that. “Don’t you hush me boy.”
Who knows how long it took? Flicked off the light
dropped my head on my arms. I knew one tune
and sang it. Maybe you know the song, too?
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow black and white
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children
Of the world.
I did that a while like a lullaby.
Then this moan shut me up a whole ‘nother
song that right now scribbling can hear it plain.
A lot of time in there to contemplate
the dirt to consider the ticking dark
nose pressed in things I hadn’t thought about.
When I dared to switch on the light again
Huck was different, ribs still, legs stretched out
like he was running someplace, eyes bugged tongue
lolled long and dry. So then what’s the hurry?
In that weird space I sang to him some more.
A slow drag then feet first for both of us
snot slimed to mud on my cheeks shirt rode up
and the rub of the dirt at my belly
press of the house like the flat of a hand
freaked out beneath the dangling kitchen pipes
desperate old drowning man flailing for air
little kid squirming to drag a dead dog.
At the hole, worked my legs out first but then
got stuck halfway and yelled. Mama had gone
back inside. She had work to do no time
for my triflin’. That was a lesson too.
Sharp brick drew a long red scratch up my back
but wiggled out one fist tight on a paw
to finally drag him into the light
Huck was heavy and stiff like all dead things
and dirt had kicked up in his startled eyes.
I said “I’m sorry” and tried to wipe them
my thumb on an eyeball hard as a marble.
Oh man how I hated that scary hole.
Mama came out laid a rag on his back
and spread it to almost cover his legs.
Said, “Huckleberry was a good old pup.”
Said, “Prob’ly old man Hollis and all his
durn chickens,” whatever she meant by that.
When Daddy got home my dog disappeared.
He mortared up the crawl space too but missed
the new one as fathers do opened up
in me where Huck and I to this day lie
flat in the dark far in and away right
up against the hard fact and singing
as best we can.
JAMBO NEELEY, COWBOY PHILOSOPHER
BY JAY CALHOUN
He started out as James. Was called so from birth. It was us turned him into Jambo once he started working the livestock on our crew. He was bout sixteen. Funny kid. Smart— always askin why we do this way, or why’nt we do it that.
His mother, who said James was too ‘intelligent’ for rodeo, was kind of a sarcastic woman. Called us a bunch of ‘wild-ass barn-apes’.
But Jambo he was, to everybody around. I guess he did get a little wilder than he would-of if he’da stayed home and read books, but he fit in real good with us. And he sure brought the sauce to the rodeo circuit.
No matter how bad things got for a rider, count on Jambo to bring a joke or a crazy look. Or just a hand-up out of the dirt. Never was much a one for drawn-out argumentations when he was pushed, had fast hands and a wicked left-hook. But always brought plenty of sunshine around….and Lord have mercy, the gals. Always seemed to have the prettiest one…or two.
Handsome, funny, he grew up quick. Started winning buckles and prize money…seemed like he was fearless. He drew the roughest beasts and held-on real good. He seemed wilder than they was. Jambo moved up the professional ratings at a real good pace.
Til that day the big hoppin Charolais bull hooked him through the hip and tossed him into a corner of the feedlot.
The horn went in the side of his right butt-cheek and tore up his lower pipes and organs. The surgeons sewed all that back up….it was the ruination to his pelvis bone that did him the permanent change. Least that’s what he claimed. He always walked funny after that.
And he took a more measured view of life. He was bout thirty, but he become like one of those old Greek philosophers, in the marketplace. Would give out advice like it was some cosmic truth.
He couldn’t ride or bulldog no more, so he organized a rodeo events company and hired all us ‘veteran’ hands to work for him. Started to get grey-haired, opinionated and more given to conversation. Never did lose his tendency for fun, though.
He’d bring some new hire in front of all of us and say, “Now Red,” or whatever the new guy’s name was, “Now Red, I’m countin on you to do a good job out there, just don’t get above your raisin’s.” Man, how we’d laugh at that man’s face…Or Jambo’d get mad cause one of us had mucked something up and he’d turn to who-all was standing around and say, “Next time I’m tempted to send a dumb SOB, I’ll go myself!”
You just wanted to hear his philosophy on things. We probly coulda learnt more from him but he acted like it hurt him to sit still. Anyway, he kept us too busy to loaf around talking.
It’d been two years since his last operation. We never dared to ask him why he keeps going up to Austin to see Dr. Jackson. That was the surgeon who repaired him after the bull tore him up.
Suspected some of his tubes didn’t get fixed good as new like he claimed. He sure didn’t go sniffin around the ladies like he once did do.
It was when we hauled up north to put-on one of those little county-fair rodeo’s that we got our surprise. We’re looking out for where-all Jambo got away to and somebody calls he’s out in the parking lot talking to some beautiful gal just stepped out of a BMW.
Jambo brings her around behind the chutes and introduces her with that crazy smile he used to always have around the girls.
“Want y’all to meet Sonya, promised to show her all the sights and ‘smells’ of the Rodeo. Give her plenty respect, now….she’s gonna be my bride.”
Then he locks onto her with a big old kiss. And she was into it!
We were shocked. He hadn’t said one thing about a woman since that bull gored him. We just figured he was maybe more damaged down there than he’s letting on. Here he is ‘scorting the prettiest green-eyed black woman we ever seen.
Wasn’t more than bout an hour later one of the cowboys went off his bronc sideways, spinnin like a rag-doll and went all blinky when he hit the fence. I was riding pick-up in the roughstock competition so I got to him first. I was yelling, “911!…Get the EMT’s in here,” when
I seen Jambo’s gal climb over the fence and come pelting across the arena. You could hear the klaxons blowing, ambulance tryin to nudge through the crowd.
She just slid-in there next to me in the dirt and I says, “Give him some room Miz Sonya, he’s knocked out.” Then she says, “Well I guess I can see that,” she says, “you give him some room…go tell those EMT’s to bring their spine-board and a collar….and an airway…STAT!”
She started-in pumping on his chest while I was trying to get my creaky knees unbent so’s I could get up. I was taking too long. Anyway, Jambo come limping in by then, she yells at him, “James Neeley, you get that crash-wagon in here right now! This is your damn show.”
I heard him say, “Yes Ma’am, Doctor Jackson.”
“Cowboys!” She says, lookin up at me with those big eyes-flashing fire, “Why would a sane person want to climb up on a wild animal is what I want to know.”
PROLOGUE: HER WORDS NOT MINE
BY JOHNNY CUELLAR
“if we find ourselves
on a dead island
still flying around the sun
yet no longer moving,
it’s that men
and women both
all wrapped up in
one package held together—
a bottle full of flames
with a loose cork
and some wire.
and our beautiful blue marble
will fade away
in slow motion.