Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Nester's Cabin

The Nesters’ Cabin

© Jeff Boyer, 2007

Billy’s breath, from his nose and mouth,
       hangs like stove smoke in the air.
In his sheepskin coat, he looks like his horse,
       both wearin’ their winter hair.

Heads tucked down, shoulders bowed to their chests,
       they trudge on through the cold,
gatherin’ the last of the scattered heifers
       before those clouds blow in the snow.

Roundin’ a bend in a wide, grassy draw,
       Billy sees somethin’ he ain’t seen before –
an old half-dugout with a saggin’ dirt roof
       and a make-shift, leather-hinged door.

No smoke from the stove pipe – nobody’s home.
       No stock, no chickens in the yard.
‘Nesters,’ thought Billy, ‘they tried and moved on.
       This country’s just too hard.

It’s acres per cow, not cows per acre,
       no life for folks who break ground.
Long winters, too cold, short summers, too hot,
       and too dry all year `round.’

Still, Billy knows better than to ride up quiet.
       “Ho, the house, rider comin’,” he calls.
The only response is a snort from his horse,
       no noise from the homestead at all.

Billy steps down, loops the rein `round a post,
       looks up at the cabin door,
sees a large, round halo made of grasses and twigs
       that he hadn’t noticed before.

A strip of faded, red, flannel cloth
       is tied to the top in a bow,
and dried juniper berries that had hung from the twigs
       are scattered on the ground below.

“If I didn’t know better,” Billy says to his horse,
       “that would look like a Christmas wreath.”
His horse snorts again, puffs up his lips,
       let the air out through his teeth.

With one gloved hand, Billy reaches out,
       gives a push to the wooden door,
the dried leather hinges squeak and crack as they bend,
       the wood rubs across the dirt floor.

Billy peeks through the door, steps in from the light,
       in the dark there’s nothin’ to see;
then his eyes make out a small broken bench and,
       in the corner – is that a tree?

Swingin’ the door wide open lets in the light,
       he stares to the back of the room
at an old rusted bucket filled with rocks and dirt,
       holding up a short, brown piƱon.

On the floor by the bucket is a small pile of glass,
       all that’s left of a red Christmas ball.
“Bet it broke her heart,” thinks Billy out loud,
       “when she saw the little thing fall.”

On top of the tree, tied on with a string,
       is an angel of yellowed paper lace.
Leanin’ over a little as the tree top has bowed,
       she still keeps watch on the place

like the angels that announced the Bethlehem Baby
       whose birth was remembered here
in a half-dugout cabin no better’n that stable
       back nearly two thousand years.

“Musta been tough,” Billy says to the angel,
       “leavin’ their home at Christmas and all.”
That’s when he sees them, next to the tree,
       pieces of paper tacked to the wall.

Dried and yellowed, they crack on the folds
       as Billy opens to see what he finds –
two pages from a Bible, and on each page
       a passage had been underlined.

On the first,

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

And on the second,

Fear not, for behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy which shall be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.