The Carrying Heart

It’s elk season — bow hunting,
and the burros from the ranch
across the road are grazing
next to my tent when I wake up.

No one tends them:
they come to my hand,
water boils for coffee;
they nuzzle a packet of rice and beans.

The fourteenth anniversary of my father’s death
falls in this time
of turning leaves in the high country,
of archers in camouflage.

I remember it this morning
because he also was hunted, in his way,
drinking more as the season cooled.

At the ranch, the outfitters
use the burros to bring down elk,
field-dressed, quartered,
from high up on the trail
above the aspen.

Soon the faces of these animals
will harden with work,
one step following the other

but for now they are waiting,
warm and open, watching
as I shake out the coffee cup,
tighten the straps of my pack
and start out again,
taking the dead on my back
with a kind of reverence.

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