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April 2014, vol 10, no 1

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Ray Rasmussen

To Be A Man

The summer blizzard, blowing horizontal, seems to blast the stranger right into our big cook tent.

He gathers himself in close by the wood stove. Drops run off his stained Stetson. The red hot stovepipe casts a rose color on his face, scarred from a wolf's mauling.

"Mike here," he says, reaching out a calloused hand first for a shake and then for a pull on the bottle of rye. He tells us that he's 78 and used to be a bull rider. "An I jus’ had prostit surgey, plumin’ weren't wurkin’, now it wurks one way but not t'other." A wide grin contains a big space where his front teeth used to be.

"How is it to be out of the lovin' business?" someone ventures.

"Jus like steppin’ off a buckin’ bull, peaceful like an damn sure glad to still be walkin’."

The storm rages all the next day, blows in three more hunters. We hunch in close by the stove, each in turn spewing the bull – a grizzly encounter; a horse stepping off a cliff; an angry moose that thrashed down a tree before it was shot; a pal drowned in a swollen river.

I have my stories too but don't tell them. What makes for this reluctance—this distance I feel from these men's men?

Is it because I'm usually on foot, and not a horse? That I’m not a hunter? Never rodeoed? Never worked the land with hands and back?

burn of rye whiskey
my only scar

Note: Revision of a haibun published in Simply Haiku 5:4 Winter 2007.