Bareback
By Adriana Barker


The scruffy cowboy bends a knee,
gestures under the Lord’s guidance,
and kisses beads and cross.
After this moment of silence it’s
rodeo, baby. He’s climbing the fence,
half a ton of pure equine hatred
roiling between the gates.
He wishes he’d prayed a little harder
once he tips his hat.
The doors to glory swing wide open,
and after four quick seconds
this cowboy learns what it’s like
to fly. This time the flight doesn’t end in dirt,
oh no, it’s stopped short by metal
and a clang so loud the crowd stops thinking
for a minute.


For a split second, nobody is moving
except the bronc, who kicks up
a shroud of dirt.
In the stands, the only other person
who’s as still as the cowboy
is a girl just his age
with his hat on her head
and one of his buckles holding her jeans up.
She’s been to enough rodeos to know
sometimes the boys don’t make it out
on their own two feet.
Her boy leaves the arena
on a stained stretcher. She looks straight into the bronc
—with its 1,000 pounds of rage—
and equally returns its fury.

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