Pack Creek Ranch Song | Christopher Ketcham

Pack Creek Ranch Song
                                           -thinking of Ed Abbey


5 am, old desert, I walk out to the corrals, the stars sting the eyes, all the ranch sleepless
except Dexter wily cat, survivor, sleeps on lap of anyone who sleeps
the horses in the field cry out in the other corrals and the one-eyed horse
who I fed once has gone to New Mexico with a girl named Anna-Claire.

White cats, black cats showing up at the door like the bowsprit water of Noah
under the star-pooled sky -- I imagine myself just a little to be him (so not at all).
No winter or flood yet, but the lavender going, the bees asleep, the hummingbirds at final hum
the sunflower seas gone, at dawn in September the days growing shorter and shorter.

Gather the animals wondering of the change, the things such as the cat knows
why the slitted eyes smile in the night, why paws reach longer.
As domesticated as us, as pining as us for no winter to come:
gather the animals, that’s what we want, quick before the snows.

Such is Dexter the gray tabby mild, wild, furtive, sleeping in culverts, eating rats, rabbits, mice
voles on my doorstep, crunching at 5 am like farm clocks, swinging into doors like Tarzan
milking every tit in my fridge for dinner, kind as an insurance salesman looking for winners
walking the other way when he hears no bowls of milk or froth.

How Dexter survived the last winter I guess only by the half-an- ear he sports on his right side
sliced from frost. When I first saw him, he had blood on his lip, he couldn’t walk straight
he wore his ribs like crepe, his eyes big and starved
I fed him, nursed him, adored him, he purred like a Saturday hooker at a Sunday dinner
He was a great cat Now the new winter comes for him

Who runs the Ark around here at Pack Creek? Not I. Maybe ol’ ghost of Abbey next door,
     who wrote those last two books in the shack with the dirt floor --
Who could cram the elks’ horns, cats’ egos, horses’ worry, mens’ farting
the smell of juniper on fire, the coldness of the moon looking down, the darkness of the night
making no sense with its stars, the white stretch of the country lane, the cats the cats bursting on
every scene like creditors, and the great dogs, how forget the dogs, how they come back with
answers that are so enthusiastic, always so wrong, the canyons whetted by the master builder:
water, rain, wind, cloud, snow, freeze, thaw
Who but Noah could cram all this on one boat’s bashing
I run down with rain through the place
where once you and I hiked free and now that same canyon is gone and cannot be named

If Noah has a song in the canyons it goes like this flood:
Awake brood, food, o flesh mere, there was a canyon here
Long before mothers drew breath on two feet
Or starry-eyed stared at the thousand night pleats
All you are is a big not-at- all where the canyon makes crumbs
Where the corpses of men pile who thought they were beavers

Sumptuous bellies flop, meat-eaters, surgeons, testy virgins
Animal husbands, clone wives, breeders of the bubble-time
French ticklers, peddlers of knives, milk, happiness, Mary Poppins
Fathers on cellphones, mothers in wine, teeny boppers eating cookies like vermin

All crumble! Tossed, bossed, made simple at last!
The flood comes, hold on


So from Pack Creek Ranch in our mild places, with homes steady, the horses ready
the creek running hard and brown from the tin-pan light of the rush on the mountain
Petra and I climbed just a little, 300 feet to the ridge above the ranch
all the world was transformed, even our own souls, even the very feet we walked with
for up there it was snowing, where at the cabin was just rain, now the snow had birthed two new
man and woman, the sky and snow and light from the sun, the wild arms of juniper, arms bright
with white calls to the methodic stone below and to the bent miles of cloud in the warm valley
where no one knew it was snowing;
here are the keys to the kingdom that the prophets speak of, the joy of footfalls in the life-giving
water, joy of light

Where we come from, where we would go back to is not the matter.
That we were in the snow on the mesa above the desert
Was all that mattered, that the cold wind burrowed in us, that we lay in the snow
warm in the sun, that we thought only of the warmth of our bodies and the cold of the mountains
above and wanted to go (and not to go at all)


Here’s who runs the Ark, it’s Ken Sleight, ol’ Seldom Seen Smith himself who’s sick of being
told he’s the Seldom Seen myth of Abbey, ghost of a novel, the real man riding more horses than
Abbey did in his jerking hand --

Here’s Ken Sleight: ears big as trumpets, eyes slitted at the sun, old man’s gait – he’s 80 – young
man’s run, and on his horse walking on air, rock, steam, sheets of silk, feathers, a graceful guy
altogether, made of flesh and legend, and how he builds the ark

Is charging two bulldozers at noon on the mesa-top above Pack Creek Ranch with Knothead his