The Wind Struck Music
Ed Stiles and old Tom Birnam went up to their cattle on the
Above Mai Paso; they'd ridden under the stars' white death,
when they reached the ridge the huge tiger-lily
Of a certain cloud-lapped astonishing autumn sunrise opened all
its petals. Ed Stiles pulled in his horse,
That flashy palamino he rode - cream color, heavy white mane,
white tail, his pride - and said
'Look, Tom. My God. Ain't that a beautiful sunrise?' Birnam
drew down his mouth, set the hard old chin,
And whined: 'Now, Ed: listen here: I haven't an ounce of
poetry in all my body. It's cows we're after.'
Ed laughed and followed; they began to sort the heifers out of
the herd. One red little deer-legged creature
Rolled her wild eyes and ran away down the hill, the old man
hard after her. She ran through a deep-cut gully,
And Birnam's piebald would have made a clean jump but the clay lip
Crumbled under his take-off, he slipped and
Spilled in the pit, flailed with four hooves and came out scrambling.
Stiles saw them vanish,
Then the pawing horse and the flapping stirrups. He rode and
looked down and saw the old man in the gulley-bottom
Flat on his back, most grimly gazing up at the sky. He saw the
earth banks, the sparse white grass,
The strong dark sea a thousand feet down below, red with reflections
of clouds. He said 'My God,
Tom, are you hurt?' Who answered slowly, 'No, Ed.
I'm only lying here thinking o' my four sons' biting the words
Carefully between his lips 'big handsome men, at present lolling
in bed in their . . . silk . . . pyjamas . . .
And why the devil I keep on working?' He stood up slowly and
wiped the dirt from his cheek, groaned, spat,
And climbed up the clay bank. Stiles laughed: 'Tom, I can't tell
you: I guess you like to. By God I guess
You like the sunrises.' The old man growled in his throat and
'Catch me my horse.'
This old man died last winter, having
lived eighty-one years under open sky,
Concerned with cattle, horses and hunting, no thought nor emotion
that all his ancestors since the ice-age
Could not have comprehended. I call that a good life; narrow,
but vastly better than most
Men's lives, and beyond comparison more beautiful; the wind-struck
music man's bones were moulded to be the harp for.