the horse thief

by stephen page

You left on vacation the day we threw the Rustler
off the ranch, your taillights brandishing out
the front gates, and for ten days peace settled
upon the ranch, the mockingbirds nestling inside
the casco, the cows cudding, the bulls feeding
on lot #10, even the sheep not baa-ing, and except
for two of your mongrels loosing themselves from
their tethers and breaking into the henhouse, the sun settled
red and rose yellow; even the weekend rain plithed softly
into the soil, regreening by Monday the dormant
winter grass.

You are the Accomplice, the one who the Tattler told us
helped the Rustler, the one who lives near the back gate,
the one who sleeps all day and nightly visits the neighbor
riding roan horses that no longer exist.

A thunderstorm rivered the road on the night of your
return, preventing you from driving out the main
gate at your leisure, and when we locked the back
gate, it disallowed cowardly exit. The new working
hours I set confined your family’s laughter to
the kitchen, which, by the second day was locked inside
a corner cupboard, becoming cobweb. You stood outside
my casco at predawn and belligerently questioned
my order of the day, unhorsing you. You threatened
to quit, which I granted permission, which pressed
your lips together and skulked you toward the firewood
piled next to the barn, where you picked up an ax, glanced
at me, then turned and stared beyond your unsaddled horse
at the new calves watching you from within
the Santa Ana fenceline.