Alaska Shorts: The Gift, by John Straley

Well-known as
a novelist, John Straley is also a poet; “The Gift,” he says, is an old poem
from his cowboy days. 
Don’t miss his craft talk, “Lessons from a Life of Crime,” Thursday
night, Feb. 6, from
7:00-8:30 pm at
the Great Harvest Bread Company in Anchorage. 
Pulling a pack string
            up the
south creek valley
the summer of nineteen seventy
rhythm of leather
and pack animals
            chuffing up
the dust
slung with coiled hose
bundles of hoedads, and saw gas
            up the fire
for three weeks,
trees becoming bonnets of flame
            mule deer
scrambling past
giving me no notice at all
            their legs
pounding the earth
as if they wanted to fly.
I fell asleep in my saddle once
            my feet
firm in the stirrups
working with the rhythm
            of my
saddle horse
a steady dreamless sleep
            with the
bell around the neck of my tail mule
tolling like a buoy in the dust.
When I woke up
            the reins
were taught
my brown gelding
            had his
neck down
teeth tearing dry grass
            the pack
scattered like cinders
            in the
lodge pole pines.
No trail.
            No flames.
Only a small patch
            of dry
right in the path
            of the fire
and a tinny bell in the back

John Straley is a poet, novelist, and private
investigator. He is the author of the Cecil Younger series of mystery novels
The Rising and
the Rain
, a book of poetry published by the University of Alaska
Press. He was Alaska’s Writer Laureate between 2006 and 2008. He lives in a
bright green house near Old Sitka Rocks with his wife, Jan.

While in Anchorage, he will also teach a 49 Writers
creative writing class: click here for
details and to register.

Do you have original writing you’d like featured as an “Alaska Short”? Check our guidelines and submit today!
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