Walt McDonald: Two Poems
Loaded for Bears and Glaciers | War in the Persian Gulf
Loaded for Bears and Glaciers
There go the trucks, bulldozers jockeyed by men
with hard hats. They've built a fence
above McDonald Falls and posted signs,
Keep Out. Hurry, dump boulders here,
pour tons of crushed, pink granite,
pound a path through cedars and hemlock.
We're back in Montana, loaded for bears
and glaciers, zoom lens and a case of Kodachrome.
Panting, we've hiked a mile to find a river
we camped near on our honeymoon.
Torrents, we need white water tumbling loud
as Montana thunder, cold as Montana snow.
We're aging far from our ranch in Texas.
A sign says Duncan McDonald's waterfall
is for all to see, but only later,
when it's safe. Hurry, get it done.
We've clung to this forest and sparkle of water
through decades of babies, then teen-aged rage
and Saigon, the endless guilt of surviving.
The sign says landslides aren't safe
for seniors, as if we all haul oxygen tanks
and walkers. Grizzlies, watch out, we're old,
afraid of nothing, two thousand miles from home,
too close to Uncle Duncan's creek to turn back.
We're stubborn and stiff, we don't heed signs,
the forest so dark we'll follow the roar,
the tumble of Montana water falling
whether we see it again next year or not.
War in the Persian Gulf
We lived like lizards, starving
for war news, crouched by the TV
for hours. Work days were drought
lashing our hunger. We fought to sleep,
twisted in blankets and tossing,
dragging the dark hours out.
Thunder boomed like tanks
rumbling over dunes toward Kuwait.
Dawn brought pots of coffee and shots
of Scud missiles falling. Dazed,
we watched the briefing rooms, the maps,
the blurred reporters on rooftops.
The tree fort we built for our son
fell years ago. Watching the news,
we stared at random shots of sheiks
and soldiers. We stirred too many spoons
in coffee bitter-sweet. In stark sun
under those helmets, only cheeks
and noses showed. That far away
they might have been anyone's sons,
but their guns were loaded.
We stared at the clock and wondered
what we could do but wait
when we heard another Scud explode.
Photo credit: Carol McDonald
Walt McDonald was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force and taught at the Air Force Academy. He is Texas Poet Laureate for 2001. His books include All Occasions (University of Notre Dame Press, 2000), Blessings the Body Gave and The Flying Dutchman (Ohio State University Press, 1998, 1987), and others from Harper & Row, Massachusetts, and Pittsburgh. His poems have been in journals including APR, The Atlantic Monthly, First Things, JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), London Review of Books, New York Review of Books, Poetry, and TriQuarterly. He has received two NEA fellowships; the Juniper Prize; four Western Heritage Awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame; and six awards from the Texas Institute of Letters, including the Lon Tinkle Memorial Award for Excellence Sustained Throughout a Career. He writes out of a paradox of needs: the enormous hope of discovery and the continual pleasures of play.