Tumbleweed

Photo taken by Mindy Wilson, Kentucky, USA

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TUMBLING WEED

by Shelby Stephenson, North Carolina, USA

				I

So this little tumble was taken . . . 
So was I.
	Weed,
wiry hair in the scuds,
reflecting
in the sun.

A thimble roll of gather
licks and bucks the shells
and white caps
pointing out
plovers.
		
				II

I am a flower of awe, 
an awesome blossom of reflections

like a pledge to sand
the ocean’s goodness.

My father’s hands fumble
when he leaves my mother

nestled in the sea:
I am planted.

				III

I’m a rider
writing all night long
my parents’ enchanting whirl.

Daylight sports 
horizon clearly connecting to the sea

in different colors, tresses,
light blue, a sail of whitish wisps,
then the dark exhaust-tinged mirage

and more sludge now in the shallows:
still no birds in sight,
just the tumbleweeds,
disengaged from their parent-roots,

to move with the wind,
breathing in and out,
the tumbleweed,
as its umbilical is free from the old
and must take on 

a god or goddess 
drifting along.  The day is done.

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TUMBLEWEED JUSTICE

By Michael Jerry Tupa

It was the summer of ‘83,
when L’il Slow Joe, last name Dundee,
appeared on the far horizon,
with the shimmering sun just risin’
smell of pancakes and sizzling bacon
lingering in the glowing dawn.

Sheriff Green and deputy were gone,
only real law left was Doc Myron Braun
asleepin’ on his small office cot,
dreamin’ colorful dreams of naught,
while into town Dundee jockeyed,
rollin’ in like a lonely tumbleweed.

Only 5-foot-4 and red peach fuzz
no one knew, or cared, who he was,
just a boy ridin’ on a high horse,
following a lonely, uncharted course,
horse stumbling down main street,
both lookin’ for somethin’ solid to eat.

Hot breakfast cost most of a quarter,
sleepy horse was stabled by a porter,
Dundee asked about a hotel room,
crawled into the white-sheet womb
snuggling in for a daylong’s rest,
sleepin’ ‘til sun was deep in the west.

Risin’ in the sunset’s grayish gloom,
Dundee emerged from his warm tomb,
strolling to the nearby noisy saloon,
seeking dinner and a pretty tune,
a perhaps a fast game of cards,
he saw the bar; he gave his regards.

Slow Joe’s money pile mushroomed tall,
while other angry players cast a pall,
one in particular, Cheyenne Pete,
a loud gentleman, most indiscreet
fingered his trigger and questioned why,
suggesting Dundee’s time might be nigh.

It’s a bitter tale to recall, dear friend.
for Slow Joe Dundee it was the end,
Doc Braun didn’t know who to notify
no one around to bid a fond good-bye –
Pete never knew he shot his brother.
(Dundee’s sad horse went to another.)

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WE ROAMED THE SANDS

by Robert L. Penven, Vineland, New Jersey, USA

During my daily walk
by the ocean,
I encounter a curiosity.
a tumbleweed had become
mired in the sand,
close by the tide line.
I asked this strange wonder
how it got there, well knowing
it wouldn’t sacrifice
its secrets.
So, I left it behind
though not out of mind,
for others to contemplate.

Tomorrow will bring
a day of new life for me.
as for the tumbleweed,
the wind must embrace
the burden for journeys to come.
it will surely succeed
through the living world
but stop to share tribute
to those of late.
though it no longer plays
with the gulls and terns,
I will recall this curiosity
with warm thoughts.

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BLUE ON BLUE

by Miss Cathryn Evans

Rivulets chased after the ebbing tide, sighing softly against the sand, lovers parting just as they had done that distant day.
The sea rushed forward once more to clasp the shores sandy face in a sweet embrace and kiss away the briny tears, only to leave again however fleetingly.
The never ending bitter-sweet love story of the shore.
She wondered if he would return, if he would rush to hold her close once again.
The gentle breeze seasoned her lips and inspired a tumbleweed to skip along the waters edge, a knot of mermaids hair.
The softly foaming manes of white horses lapped playfully at her feet. These gentle colts would grow to fiery stallions with the spring tides, stampeding along the coast, leaping and taking flight, their breath to fall like rain.
The shore had its seasons just like the prairie. Both were ever changing yet never changing.
The sky was a beautiful blue. Blue on blue on blue above the graphite shaded sea. It reminded her of his eyes. They showed his moods just as clearly. Were they still bright and alive or were they dead and turning milky as his body lay torn in a bloody, muddy battlefield?
She shook herself. She knew he’d return just as surely as she knew she’d still love him no matter how broken this war left him. Civil war. There was nothing civil about it. A sour taste crept into her mouth.
Turning, she walked slowly toward the path that would eventually wind its way to their small house with its few acres. Her skirts felt heavy, the bottoms darkened by the water. Heavier still was the rifle she carried. It dwarfed her small frame but she clasped it against herself with her small, pale hands. She was glad of the weight. It kept her anchored in the here and now. She’d promised him she’d always carry it. He’d worried the fighting would spread this way but so far the only action it had seen was taking a rabbit or deer by the creek.
She prayed he’d be home soon.

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CATCHIN

by Leroy Trussell

See’in yearlin rump,tail a wavin’.             
    Horse in a lather.
Tryin’ my patience,this misbehavin’.
   Hand full of rope to gather.

Caught up in the slack.
   Uh’ chasen yearlin bones.
Just a comin’ off Cedar Back.
   Sure’nuf a flyin’and kickin’ up stones.

My ol’ horse,breakin’ brush.
   In a weed eatin’ style.
A airy downhill thrush,
   Over a Cedar Back rock pile.

Stickin’ low in the saddle.
   On the heels of this-here critter.
Thorn’brush,cactus,and mesquite ta’ battle.
   But ain’t no fancy greenhorn quitter,

Ol’ bronc still between my knees.
   Throws my loop.
Catchin’ them bawl’lin horns with ease.
   Then tryin’ ta’ recoup.

Now the catchin’ get’in tougher.
   An the Sun,is get’in low.
Somehow a little rougher.
   Than this old Cowpoke us’ta know.

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A TUMBLEWEED ON THE SHORE

by Smokey Culver

Did it drift in from the sea, or roll in from the plain?
	that tumbleweed knows only where it's been 
It travels on its journey where it stops along its way 
	for just awhile, then rolls away again 

It wanders down the sandy shore as salty breezes blow
	for miles  and miles not caring where it's bound
Like some old driftin' cowboy never staying in one place
	no roots to keep it anchored to the ground 

A tumbleweed's a symbol of the freedom of a time
	before the barbed wire fences came along
An image of the roving lifestyle, sleeping 'neath the stars
	a life we hear about in cowboy songs 

It rolls along to music that's created by the sound
	of waves as they come splashing in the sand
Of dry winds 'cross the desert or the thunder of a storm
	that soaks the ground in fields and pasture lands 

If that ol' tumbleweed could talk about where it has been
	the places that it's passed along its way
I'd sit and listen closely to its stories one by one
	about its travels every night and day 

That spirit of an old time cowboy in a brushy heap
	that moves along, takes little time to rest
It never settles down, and I know that it never will
	that tumbleweed, an icon  of the west...

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SALT OR SAND

by Andy Kerr-Wilson

Comes a time
when we all
are tried and tested.
Comes a time
when we all
are measured up for bigger things.

Past paths and footsteps
bring us to it.
Decisions, avoided or postponed,
made in haste or agony.
And now,
all distractions and delays exhausted,
we stand on the edge of things,
confronted.

Comes a time
when we all
are alone with our own hearts.
Comes a time
when we all
are faced down by ourselves.

A journey’s end or its first acts.
A leap of faith or a final chapter.
Fresh starts or the last loose ends.
And now,
whether the dark unknown or the too familiar,
we are asked to find the courage,
within.

Comes a time
when we all
are up against it.
Comes a time
when we all
taste salt or find sand.

Time’s currents swirl,
and we choose.

************

TUMBLEWEED

by Arthur Davenport, The Big Island, Hawaii, USA

Red sun was born this morning,
I rose to watch through the peachy haze.
As the wind blew, I heard her calling,
For today, we are one,
You and me, summer is our name.

Tumbleweed, rumbling, tumbling,
knows the wind, she’s a friend.
Wild and free, just like me, tumbleweed, tumbleweed.

Don’t mistake me for somebody,
somewhere, somehow, that you once knew.
I’m not your daddy, or your old boyfriend,
or anyone who put you through,
the lover’s grindstone, fighting dust storms,
chasing ghosts that you once knew.
Didn’t you? Tumbleweed?

Tumbleweed, rumbling, tumbling,
knows the wind, she’s a friend.
Wild and free, just like me, tumbleweed, tumbleweed.

Woke up feeling lonely this morning,
Thinking about roots and a room with a view.
A hometown boy, with the simple joy
of settling down with a girl like you,
Yea you, you tumbleweed.

Tumbleweed, rumbling, tumbling,
knows the wind, she’s a friend.
Wild and free, just like me, tumbleweed, tumbleweed.

More than I can express to you
lies sleeping, dreaming, drowned.
The well is deep, eternal spring,
drink deep this life you found, tumbleweed.

Tumbleweed, rumbling, tumbling,
knows the wind, she’s a friend.
Wild and free, just like me, tumbleweed, tumbleweed.

Do you know who started the first chuck-wagon? This site, Cowboy to Cowboy says it was Charles Goodnight.

We are not sure how true this is, but we do know it is time for a yearly print anthology!

Send us your best work of Poetry, Prose, Flash Fiction (1500 word max), Artwork, and Photography.

We are seeking a full color cover submission, and are open to both artwork and photography- all black and white would go inside only.

email: editor@reddashboard.com  (copy and paste into your URL browser)

chuckwagon500

Click picture for website and chuck-wagon recipes!

Until then we are seeking submissions for our Ekphrasis Challenge

National Day of the Cowboy

January 23, 2014

Logo Nat Day Cowboy box

Looking around for ezines and journals we found this fantastic site, go check it out!

National Day of the Cowboy

December Issue- Week 3

December 16, 2013

There will be no Week 4 this go round. It’s the holidays and frankly we need a few weeks to recover from all the reading we are doing for the launching of our Red Dashboard LLC Publishing company and its new books. If you are interested in sending us your manuscript to consider for a Summer/Fall 2014 publication, email us at editor@reddashboard.com with a query letter and 5 pieces of poetry, or 10 pages of your short story/desert dime novel material/work.

MarkTwainSelection3

Yuma Arizona foot hills, taken by our Managing Editor EAS while on a quest for water…

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Boots Crunching on Gravel

“You-all been washing gold along the creek,” I said, “but you never stopped to think where those grains of gold started from. Well, I found and staked the mother lode, staked her from Hell to breakfast, and one day’s take will be more than you’ve taken out since you started work. I figure now I’ll dig me out a goodly amount of money, then I’ll sell my claims and find me some friends that aren’t looking at me just to see what I got.” ~From “The Courting of Griselda” – Louis L’Amour

We started at daybreak with two rifles and plenty of ammunition. We rode out of there with the stars still in the sky. We rode across country with no dust in the sky. All of a sudden two men rode up. Nobody had anything to say but by the looks of it – the pans, the picks, the sacks, they were hunting gold. I looked over at my buddy his name of Jeb and I gave a slight nod. He stared straight ahead eying the men his fingers crawling slowly to his holster. If we had time for words, I’d know what he’d say: “Colt, there’s no such thing as a gunman’s crouch. Might make you less of a target but you need to hold a gun so’s it’s comfortable to you.” The men held their heads high and nodded towards the creek. I softened the grip on my rifle. The odor of stale whiskey lingered in the air. Finally the older of the two lifts his hat up off his head and nods. The younger follows suit. Then Jeb. Then me. And we pass along the trail, everything unguarded.

LB Sedlacek’s poems have been published in publications such as “The Broad River Review,” “Third Wednesday,” “Heritage Writer,” “Circle Magazine,” “Scribe and Quill,” “The Hurricane Review,” and others.

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clowning 2

Behind The Grease Paint

Another performance over and his work is done
Most of the grease paint was gone from his face
His life as a rodeo clown has just begun
It’s this new role he must now embrace
Many years ago he was in the cowboy protection
Making himself a target for fallen bull-riders
Each outin addin bumps,and bruises, to his collection
He’d shuck, and jive as if his feet were on gliders
His movements have been slowed by injury and age
He now walks at a much slower pace
It’s different as a clown takin centre stage
His new life is all about props, pranks, and fillin in space
No more will he be dodgin bulls, and makin saves
Instead he tells stories trades jabs with the announcer
He can no longer do what he craves
Dancing around the arena as if attached to a bouncer
The life of a rodeo clown in the sport that he loves
Is about making people happy with antics and a story.
He plays with audience and a barrel he shoves
It’s not the same as bullfighting you don’t get the glory
Without the grease paint he’s just like me or you
Not the one making them laugh
He’s turned the page on the life he once knew
and found new meaning in his rodeo path.
Behind the grease paint he lives as a clown
And the chance to make people laugh he’ll never turn down.

Geoff “Poppa Mac” Mackay is a storyteller, entertainer, and rodeo clown (as seen in photo above). His poetry and music has been seen and heard- June 2013 Performed Pincher Creek Gathering; June 2013 Performed Manitoba Stampede July 2013; Performed at a CD Release party Palomino Club August 2013; Chosen to Clown Heartland Rodeo Finals September 2013; Performed Souris River Bend Trail ride September 2013; Performed Maple Creek Gathering September 2013; MC’d and Performed Quinton Blair CD Release Party October 2013, and Competing Columbia River gathering, Cowboy Idol- April 2014.

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Ambling With My Companion

Trails intersect,
the criss-crossroads
made us bury
pictures of youth—

hooves of plain-spoke
language, stomped our
dead fallen tracks.

We’re ripping a
part of the land—
are no longer
frequently lost,

free-questrian,
elegant—we
always arrive
somewhere near our

forsaken home.
My ground and yours,
what we lived for—
poems in crowns,

adorned four-fold,
each season’s form
maintained between
forlorn borders.

Summer Is A Hot Kiss Of Death

I felt the crisp wind
take hold of my lips
transforming them into
the desert surface.

It also turned my face
a chronic cold of blue,
like poisoned horse lay
flat under oil-waved sky.

I only cried once.
I stared the two times
you held my grazing body
under white-washed sun.

Courtney Leigh Jameson recently graduated from Saint Mary’s College of California with an MFA in Poetry. Her work has appeared in *Similar:Peaks*<http://similarpeakspoetry.com/2013/06/05/two-poems-by-courtney-jameson/>and is forthcoming in *Clockwise Cat, FLARE, *and *Danse Macabre*. She currently resides in Arizona and is the The Bowhunter of *White Stag Journal*.

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December 2013- Week 2

December 10, 2013

MikeHudson

Michael Hudson is a poet/preacher in Arizona, and is our resident ranch hand and roper sends us these great photos from time to time! He is the rider, but not sure who is down on the ground, but they do this from sun-up to sun-down, every day.

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MY CHARISMATIC COWBOY

Observe brash
imminent intimidation
every part of.
Like pauses in the flow,
we listen.
Inclusionists

crouched over this.
Our knowledge acts withered
slow to resist.
Faint lips
subjective in the telling.
Now willing to present

the kiss.

Thank you for traveling through time.

Passive histrionics
levitating beneath a rock.
Servitude’s meandering cracks,
where did I put that’s.
Forever and ever or
a horizon of stoics.
Impractically industrious.
I witnessed a fellow spirit
materialize without a comma

within the here is.

Colin James has a chapbook of poems available from Atlantean Publishing, and has been published via other journals and on-line lit magazines.

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Stage Coaches

Cowboy songs command the throng.
One falls off his hobbyhorse.
Some miss marks.

The sheriff stage-whispers cues
from a casting couch,
Hands up. Drop your drawers.

Unstellar heroine in the dark
– cut to black,
nothing but crickets.

Gerard Sarnat is the author of two critically acclaimed poetry collections, 2010’s “HOMELESS CHRONICLES from Abraham to Burning Man” and 2012’s “Disputes.” His pieces have appeared or are forthcoming in over seventy journals and anthologies. Harvard and Stanford educated, Gerry’s been a physician who’s set up and staffed clinics for the disenfranchised, a CEO of health care organizations, and a Stanford professor. For “The Huffington Post” review of his work and more; visit GerardSarnat.com.

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Horse, pony, colt, filly waiting for a cowboy

Horse on the trail
waiting for a cow
waiting for a cowboy
traveling a trail
pony at a fair
waiting on a kid
waiting for a rider
traveling a circuit
colt born wild
colt waiting to run wild
colt waiting for a mustang wild run
colt traveling a wildness trail
filly born wild
filly in the wildness running wild
filly waiting for a drink of water
filly running in a wildness trail
cowboy tell me this
cowboy tell me that
cowboy tell me a horse tale
cowboy waiting on a cow trail
Working with a cow
working for along time on the cow trail
fencing the wild trail
gone wild are the horses
gone are the ponies
gone are the colts
gone wild are the fillies
how sad are the cowboys with fences

Clinton Seagle as a kid grew up on Cracker Box Route Fallon, Montana area. Worked a bit in Ekalaka Montana where one can see the end of the world is just a step away. Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Bolivia an other end of the world stepping stone. This is his first attempt at publishing his work.

December Issue- Week 1

November 30, 2013

WesKnappCowboy

‘Rough Rode Cowboy’

Wesley Knapp is a retired technology innovator and entrepreneur whom now spends his time cavorting with his life-long love of photography in Hanibal, MO. Knowing that it’s never too late, at age 54 Wesley is studying to earn his Masters Degree in Fine Art Photography. Wesley, along with his high school sweetheart wife Rhonda live in Hannibal, MO with 3 dogs, 4 cats and 2 chickens.

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Imagining My Father in Texas, 1960
“Well, the honky tonks of Texas were my natural second home.”–Waylon Jennings

Stetson pulled low over his twenty-something green eyes,
a cowboy-soldier who parts a saloon’s wooden, swinging doors,

his leather rancher boots, freshly shined,
conspicuous against the sawdust bathed floor–

a silver dime slotted in the fistfight-battered juke,
commanding Ernest Tubb and his Texas Troubadours’
“Walkin’ the Floors Over You”

for a green-eyed a girl he bedded in El Paso,
the cattle rancher’s daughter he broke in Corpus Christi.

Mounting a three-legged bar stool horse,
a Lone Star beer in his right hand,
the same calloused hand

in which he’d grasped Ol’ Upshot’s reins–
the bronc who catapulted him days before
on a longhorn ranch outside Brownsville.

Nicole Yurcaba hails from a long line of coal miners, Ukrainian immigrants and West Virginian mountain folk. She is an adjunct instructor of English and Developmental Reading, substitute teacher and farm hand hailing from West Virginia currently pursuing her Master of Humanities in English at Tiffin University. Her work has appeared in print and online journals such as VoxPoetica, Referential Magazine, Rolling Thunder Quarterly, Decompression, Hobo Camp Review, The Camel Saloon, Jellyfish Whispers, Napalm and Novocaine, Floyd County Moonshine and many others. In life, she enjoys taking the unbeaten path, and usually exits the scene pursued by bear.

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Brenham

Roaming in indigo blooms
that encapsulate springtime,
grazing at leisure in meadows
emergent with life-force,
Jerseys and Holsteins abound
in the blue-jeweled grasslands
blanketing hillsides awash
in a radiant sun soak.

dl mattila is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University. Her work has appeared in *Blast Furnace, Foothill: A Journal of Poetry, Lowestoft Chronicle, *and* Shot Glass Journal*, among others. Her poetry also displays on the Maier Museum of Art Ekphrastic Poetry webpage and at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

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Cowboy Boot Clocks

whenever I see one of those stupid cowboy boot clocks
the ones where the leather is so heavily shellacked
they look like they’ve been carved out of wood
or molded in cheap, shiny plastic, I think of
my grandfather, the last real cowboy in my family
and especially I think of that time he came in
from working the horses with my dad, his socks caked with cow shit
and mud, swearing because some asshole had stolen his boots
probably to make into a couple of those stupid cowboy boot clocks.

He had been warned by Earl-down-the-way that
some asshole was stealing cowboy boots right off the roadside fence posts
probably to make into those stupid cowboy boot clocks that tourists love to buy
and Earl told him that if you take a nap after working the horses
don’t put your boots on the fence post because some
asshole’ll steal them, but grandpa didn’t want
snakes crawling into his boots while he was sleeping

so he put them on the fence post anyway
and some asshole drove by and stole them
probably to make into a couple of those stupid
heavily-shellacked cowboy boot clocks
the kind tourists always have to get at least one of
whenever they pass through this state
and grandpa had to come in from the fields in his stockings
he was real mad.

Holly Day is a housewife and mother of two living in Minneapolis, Minnesota who teaches needlepoint classes for the Minneapolis school district and writing classes at The Loft Literary Center. Her poetry has recently appeared in Hawai’i Pacific Review, Slant, and The Tampa Review, and she is the 2011 recipient of the Sam Ragan Poetry Prize from Barton College. Her most recent published books are “Walking Twin Cities” and “Notenlesen für Dummies Das Pocketbuch.”

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The Heroes

A billowing cloud rose out of the West
And out of it rode two of the best
One clad in buckskin, the other in white
Blood brothers fused in friendship and fight.

With silver bullets and a mysterious mask,
A Ranger and his sidekick together in task:
Side by side to save the day
And when it was won the Ranger would say
In a hearty voice, “Heigh-ho Silver, away!”

There was Wild Bill, Cisco and Hopalong,
With Gene and Roy to sing us a song.
There was Champion, Trigger and Buttermilk:
White felt hats and scarves of silk;
Sidekicks like Gabby, Andy and Frog,
And don’t forget Bullet, the Wonder Dog.

Nobler men were not again to be seen
Upon this earth or on the screen.
And bolder deeds would never be done
With pearl handled Colts that flashed in the sun.

We knew right was right and wrong was wrong,
And that wrong would never win;
And all of the words to every song
Like “Back in the Saddle Again”.

That billowing cloud is now faded and gone,
But the lessons of the Heroes still linger on
With the voice I’ll remember to my final day,
Ringing out clearly, “Heigh-Ho Silver, Away!”

John Strickland TBA

MarkTwainSelection4copyRed

Yuma, Arizona desert 2010, photo by managing editor, EAS

MARK TWAIN IN OUTER SPACE

iii. I become the talk of the town—some further reflections upon the Rollers—the tale of “Sir Kutus, wandering through the Desert”

The Rollers are exceeding fond of storytelling, and are atrocious liars. I was instantly a celebrity. They would beg me to recite tale after tale and had a predilection for all stories of desert wanderers, from the Crusaders to the Legionnaires, from Moses to Christ to Mohamet. To please them, I made up the story of Sir Kutus, below, of which they were prodigious fond.

At first I thought it my diplomatic duty to teach the Rollers something about myself and the planet I hailed from. After a time, however, I began to notice they seemed not to care, one way or the other, whether I was relating to them the factual truth. Apparently, the Rollers had been spinning such increasingly fantastic yarns to one another to stave off boredom they had long ago lost the faculty of being able to discern the difference.

I confess I had often dreamed of finding such an audience. The Rollers would literally root at my feet for a week or more at a time, during which interval I could get away with just about any piece of rhetorical high coloring ever invented by myself or my fellow authors.

One day I attempted to design a tale specifically for my Roller friends. I lived to regret that day; this tale, which was about a knight named Sir Kutus, was so successful that, from that point forward, the Rollers would hear of no one else but their new hero.

As the reader might be curious to see this tale—and as nothing short of an operation could remove it from my memory, at this point—I present here a partial synopsis.

The Tale of Sir Kutus, Wandering through the Desert

A strong wind came one day to the place where a young Roller and his family were refueling and blew the child, whose roots were shallow, out from his resting spot. His firmly-rooted father and mother watched, fixated, as the cruel wind carried their son far away. Later, they would search for him far and wide, but they never found the child again.

The orphaning zephyr blew the young Roller to a kingdom at the other side of the world. He bounced over the moat, and bowled and tumbled right up the castle drawbridge into the heart of the childless Queen. This Queen would have adopted the child then and there had the young lad permitted her, but he held out hope that someday he would be reunited with his birth parents. He vowed to set off into the world to find them when he was mature enough.

This day finally came. The Queen shed plentiful tears, begging him to stay, but the Roller felt this pilgrimage was a thing he must do. So the Queen managed a smile then and knighted her little tumbleweed, giving him the name Sir Kutus. She equipped him for his long journey, made him promise to write whenever he could; and sobbing, wished him a good wind. Then he tumbled out of her sight.

Sir Kutus hereupon had many brave adventures . . .

Though he travelled far and wide, he could not discover any word of his lost family. Many years passed; Sir Kutus had long since come of marriageable age. One day he put down roots next to a young female roller of about the same age. She was very beautiful, but jealously protected by her guardian, a distant uncle.
This was a bitter old bramble who had lost his own son years earlier, and the memory of that loss caused him to despise all young Roller men he saw; especially those, like Sir Kutus, who threatened to rob him of his charge. So he forced her to extricate her pretty self from her refueling spot beside her gallant knight . . .

Well, in some accounts, she simply pines away for love (and lack of fuel) and dies; in others, Sir Kutus turns out to be the Old Bramble’s son, and succeeds in marrying the fair damsel, but only after wandering through the desert for months first, composing a lot of sickly love sonnets and stabbing them onto cacti. He finally attempts an elopement with the “Burr of his Heart,” but her uncle—the old bloodhound—sniffs out their little rendezvous, and lies in ambush for our hero—who is spared at the last moment when the uncle recognizes a birthmark—or spots a scrap of swaddling blanket Sir Kutus wears on his helmet as a token—thereby triggering a memory of the gummy smile of the lost infant (I frequently modified these details for my own amusement). Because, though the plot was simple enough, after a while the Rollers at my feet would hear nothing else; they thought “Sir Kutus” was the greatest thing that had ever tickled their ears; it was their Iliad, their Beowulf, their Thousand and One Nights.

Of course, I modified the ending in all sorts of ways, too, first by making the young damsel just a little more beautiful, and the uncle just a bit more lusty, so that the latter attempts to force her into marriage with himself, only to be thwarted by the honor of Sir Kutus’ right arm. That had a nice touch of chivalric romance, but I soon tired of it. So in the scuffle I caused Sir Kutus to kill the irascible old fellow, then later learn he has slain his own father—when he recognizes a scar, or sees something in the gummy leer which recalls the kindly smile of his lost pater. Now I had the stain of Greek tragedy upon my hands! That was depressing, so I changed it up again—this time it was the young female roller who turned out to be the lost son in disguise, and I amused myself with a comedy.

I had begun to believe in the arbitrariness of all story endings, when the tale is only a stanchion between someone else’s boredom and entertainment. In a final burst of inspiration, I finally made the uncle, in a mad fit, come to believe he was his own son. I wasn’t sure what I had then—but it sounded Russian, and I did not doubt it would win me great fame, and a reputation for possessing profound depth of vision.

I’ll wager I farmed out every inch of that tale that I could. I began to roll out bale after bale of new characters, planted acres of symbols and other literary embellishments—so that now I had foils to Sir Kutus, antagonists to Sir Kutus, picturesque landscape descriptions, and, for the benefit of the Rollers—or so I thought—long passages of moral instruction.

In truth, the simple tumbleweeds did not always savor the exotic sauces that I poured over the feast of “Sir Kutus.” I discovered in them an alarmingly limited vocabulary, and a kind of musical inattention which attached itself to the sounds of words rather than to their meaning.

Unfortunately, I must report that my attempts to civilize the Rollers fell somewhat short of success.

iv. I draw a vast multitude—a sermon with too much fire, and not enough brimstone.

By this time I was packing in huge crowds. The group I had originally taken up with had just finished refueling, so the members were afterwards able to tag along after me, bouncing with mad abandon like a spilled plate of peas.

My dozen followers increased by hundreds more. I did my best to entertain them with stories in the afternoons and early evenings. From a technical standpoint, this became more difficult each day—I now had to shout to be heard by the whole assembly.

So when, leading my thistle flock along one day, I came upon a steep precipice rising up from the desert floor, I believed I had found an ideal venue. Instructing the Roller brethren to wait below, I climbed slowly to the top of the exhausting monadnock.

I paused, wheezed, and panted my way to the top, where I then paused, appropriately, to take in the breathtaking spectacle. From my new vantage, the round shapes of the Rollers below resembled the heads of a vast human multitude.

The sun poured hot on the ashen sand. I felt grateful for a partial overhang. And then I spoke, my voice resonating like Roland’s horn.

“My friends, my Roller cousins,” I began. “What is your pleasure?”

With a single rasping voice, the crowd demanded its Barabbas; its Sir Kutus. Their drone projected across the desert, scaled the magnificent cliffs, overwhelming me from all sides.
I was impressed, to put it mildly.

But I had decided to first warm up the Rollers with a few anecdotes to put their credulity in the right place for a new ending I had devised to their favorite tale. In it, the old uncle marries the Queen who sponsored and knighted Sir Kutus. They adopt the young female Roller as their daughter. Sir Kutus returns to the kingdom after years of lonely crusading, and his marriage is arranged to the princess. But the knight discovers the new king is his true father, and thus it becomes impossible for him to marry the princess, his royal sister. In a fit of madness, Sir Kutus goes berserk, slaughtering everyone in the castle.

To start off, I told the crowd an anecdote I once heard from an old Yuma Indian. This ancient spoke sadly as he related how a nervous young doctor, newly arrived from the East, had once visited his tribe. The doctor glanced around the village, apparently searching for someone or something, but too embarrassed to ask for directions.

Finally, the green young fellow appeared to spot what he was looking for, walking over to a toothless old Indian mule trader who was grooming one of his animals for the market.

“Can I look at his eyes?” snapped the doctor.

“OK,” said the mule trader. So the doctor examined the mule’s eyes, but evidently saw something there he didn’t like, because as he pulled up each lid, he shook his head and mumbled something under his breath.

“Can I look at his teeth?” he asked next.

“OK,” said the mule trader again. So the doctor looked at the teeth, but again saw something he didn’t like, because as he pulled up each lip, he shook his head and mumbled again.

“Can you walk him around in a circle?” he asked then.

“OK,” the old trader said. “You buy him then?”

“Buy him! Who said anything about buying him?” the doctor retorted. “Why, this is positively the sickest horse I have ever seen!”

I asked the old Yuma what it was about this story that made him so sad to tell it. He answered me that this particular anecdote had spread like wildfire through his village and to the neighboring villages as well. It was soon on the lips of every trader from these villages, translated into dozens of different tribal languages and dialects, and recited across the entire territory. It had spread so quickly that alert cavalry scouts scented a conspiracy, believing the natives were attempting to organize. In self-defense, they ransacked a few central villages, including the old Yuma’s.

The Rollers squirmed noticeably; they were always profoundly impatient to hear the latest news of their hero Kutus. But the sound of my own voice carrying was so exhilarating, and the precipice so novel a trumpet to my vanity, that I decided to warm the Rollers further with a few Horace Greeley stories.

I told them the anecdote of Horace Greeley and Hank Monk, which, within a six-year span during which I crossed and re-crossed the Sierras between Nevada and California, I had heard four hundred and eight-two times. Even that one failed to take hold on my audience; the Rollers began to sway in restless anticipation, and to rasp among themselves.

So I decided to limit myself to just one further anecdote in order to prevent an uprising—this final tale, one of my own devising. It had occurred to me a few months back as my ship was leaving the Earth’s orbit, and several of the books I had taken along with me had begun to float in solution due to the lack of gravity.

“This made me ponder, my good Roller friends, whether a controlled test might be designed to determine the weightiness of authors in general. Particularly, for those American authors for whom no similar test had been made in the past, as had been done for authors in other countries, by such rigorous scientists as Rabelais, Cervantes, and Swift. Perhaps, I thought, it was because no such trail had as yet been conducted, that the title of ‘The Father of American Literature’ had yet to be awarded.

“So, for my next voyage, I was careful to take along some literary works of my most famous predecessors and colleagues. I had, among other tomes, one volume each of Irving’s and Hawthorne’s stories; the collected essays of Emerson; Walden by Thoreau; and miscellaneous works by Cooper, Crane, and Whitman.

“All these I placed on a long table which I had set up under the high vault in the central area of the ship. Then I sat down to a hasty breakfast of buckwheat cakes and syrup. The syrup was of my own concoction, a special blend of ingredients gathered from the Mississippi Delta and Southwestern regions of the country. It was ‘space food’—I had known it to glue pancakes together with such gravity-defying tenacity that the stack had to be carved from, like ham—and if any dripped onto the plate, the customer would be obliged to eat that, too.

“Also by my side I had placed a large notebook, in which I normally made sketches of my constellations, or jotted notes from my travels. In this book I planned to record my observations.

“Events began to transpire even before I could saw off my first bite of pancake: I heard a hearty hail of volumes against the steel vault of the ship. My surprise was great—and sorrow greater, the reader may rest assured—to find that such a venerable author as Cooper had been the first to meet his fate. His Leatherstocking tales had all bolted for the ceiling with as much team spirit as a chain gang in an escape attempt; though the one about the Mohicans, I noticed, was the last to go.

“I observed one book at the highest point of the ceiling, thumping and putting up the fiercest fight of its life to get out. It was that noblest of savages himself, Deerslayer. For fear that he might puncture a hole through the ceiling with his famed marksmanship, I decided to give him his freedom and quickly opened the hatch. When I did, he shot up quicker than Indian corn—and, if he had decided to turn tail then and fall back to Earth a meteorite, I am certain he would have carved out a new ocean.

“If Cooper’s poor showing surprised me somewhat, imagine my distress to see Irving go next, who would have been such a neat choice for the Father of our literature: a Washington to match Washington. But we must remember how familiar these first writers had to be in order to keep their European correspondents happy—they could not afford to use an ink less light than drollery.

“Crane flew away without much ceremony. Emerson fought a losing battle to keep his tenant, Thoreau; but he himself did not budge at all. An interesting phenomenon occurred with Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales: those pieces containing darker tales of our Puritan ancestors seemed to want to take root in the very table, while some of the lighter tales mutinied from the rest of the book and wrested themselves free. The resulting mass was too slight to hold out much longer.

“This phenomenon stood in direct contrast to the performance made by Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which rose as one body, in its entirety, as though making an offering of poems to the heavens. I had not brought with me any Poe, whom I was not sure qualified as an American author at all; and almost sheepishly, I realized I had forgotten to take along any Melville. Certainly I recognized his greatness, his humanity—I had just never purchased any of his books for my own library.

“I experienced such transportations of joy, as cannot easily be described, when I saw that the great Emerson himself was the last of the competitors to remain behind. The great Concord hymnist lifted his hoary head and riffled his pages as if from a casual nap. Then he rose with dignity and unmatched gravitas from the table, hovering few inches above it.

“The experiment was done; I had found my champion of letters—or so it seemed. Because just then I happened to glance over at the other end of the table, and there saw a single page that had slipped out of my memoirs. It had not budged this entire time!

“I blinked my eyes in amazement. I had thought the tone of this piece to be very congenial indeed; it contained, certainly, some of the gentlest and mildest statements of fact I had ever uttered.

“’This cannot be!’ I told myself.

“I tried blowing on the paper, coaxing it to rise like a snake charmer—still nothing.

“I begged; I blew again; I cajoled. ‘Can this mean, then’—I shouted in astonishment—‘what it appears? Am I truly more deserving of the prize than all these other worthies’—I gestured wildly in the air—‘more deserving than Irving, than Hawthorne, than the mighty Emerson himself?’

“I puffed up like a bullfrog with pride—I was in such a state of ecstasy! For the moment, I could accomplish nothing further but practice the acceptance speeches for my laureate, and hold the pose I wanted carved on all of my statues.

“While all this time, the page from my memoirs remained motionless on the table.

“My eyes filled with tears of joy—I could hardly regain my composure. But finally, I could no longer resist strutting over to read and commit to memory the single page which had destined me for greatness.

“It was then I noticed that the paper had become discolored around the edges. I examined it more closely, and discovered it had fallen into a puddle of my obstinate pancake syrup!—It could in no way be freed by my efforts to tear it away, and unless I cared to eat the table along with the rest of my breakfast, would remain stuck there forever!

“My friends, that page I wrote remains on my desk still, though it is now a memento of presumption and vanity only.”

Well—now I was prepared to joust with Sir Kutus. But it had all been too much for the Rollers. While I spoke, they began squirming uneasily, then bumping and scraping against each other to get to the exits. Sparks began to fly every which way, and before I knew it, the desert floor below me was covered over in a single sheet of fire. . .

M.V. Montgomery is a professor at Life University in Atlanta and author of several books, including two well-received Gothic collections: Antigravitas (Thumbscrews Press, 2011) and Beyond the Pale (Winter Goose Publishing, 2013). He is the author, most recently, of the short story collection which includes ‘My Fair Zombie’ and appears on the Flash Fiction page of Z-composition, and all are part of his new collection ‘Night-Crawl’ via Red Dashboard LLC, Oct 2013.

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