This family just might have more cattle photographs
than folks. Whole sleeves of them by year, clear back
to Kastor of Valley Mound, the oldest registered Angus bull
anyone ranching who now remembers can remember.
Folders full of names like Windy Star, Ingalls Special 5, Big
Fortune. And there were the almost-pets: the docile bull
that followed Dale for scratches behind the ears. The steer
Duane dressed up. I had cattle, too: the cow with ear tag 342
laid on her calf till it was dead. At auctions later their issue
turned tuition dollars. The calves in head gates I have sprayed
with flea dip watching testicles yanked out and slashed,
trailing long red cords. Good eye appeal ’s what Grampa says.
Like licorices sucked and socketed. If you select for just one trait
too hard, you sacrifice another. The breed’s in a good place.
We were what anyone would call obsessed, reenacting
that colonial crossing the family always deemed
heroic. Yes, Ingalls is my mother’s maiden name.
A Radio Flyer our covered wagon—if we were nice
we might convince my brother to pull us in it westward
through the yard. As Pa, he had a wooden gun for shooting game.
I, always Laura—she was wildest. My sister, Baby Carrie—
I could boss her. I hated beef jerky, but it seemed authentic.
So too our fringed vests. We stole carrots from the garden
and ate them with the dirt still crunching in our teeth.
A blue tarp for the rivers we forded—all this caught
on film. As a teen, I exchanged my gingham bonnet
for dying of dysentery in a game I played white-
knuckled. Just like those books, this tells you what I did.