The Yard in Alma

Is X alive? Did Y pass away? Z
still run the stable? My grandmother
asks after relatives she’s known better
than her name, in late summer as her
80th raisin harvest comes on, west
of Selma in the San Joaquin. We sit
on the swinging chairs in the yard
under the liquid ambar where two
umbrella trees with four-foot trunks
and a thousand carrots’ bushy leaves
threw shade once dark as night across
the grass. Her husband is gone, two
daughters, one brother left, but mean.
Her mother, Allie, after the Civil War
came from Arkansas to New Mexico
by wagon train that was attacked by
an Apache raiding party. Her father,
Langford, rode to the rescue. They
were married and after that the gifted
eldest boy was killed by a drunken
cowboy, the successful rancher caught
the gold bug, searching for the Adam’s
Diggings, sold land and cattle, moved
to California, went broke trying to farm
a vineyard. Georgia has happy dreams
of her mother, young again, as when
they took the train from Silver City
to L.A. in 1905 and for a nickel each
rode the trolley to the sea. Six or seven
major surgeries, burst appendix at 40,
her oldest daughter with polio at two
weeks, nursing five years a half-mad
mother-in-law dying of breast cancer,
half her own family moving in during
the Depression, three meals a day for
12. She doesn’t like the woman who
stays with her. She says in a minute
she’s going out to the road to catch
the stage. Sangre de Cristo. Pie Town.
Las Cruces. Malpai. She remembers
the places but can’t place the living
or the dead, which world they’re in.
Adult memories are leaving her, flying
like cruel Vs of swans for Canada as
she returns to Alma where Marvel is
still alive, sure to be first governor
when the territory becomes a state,
where it all started on the ranch and
with seven children watching Allie
squints, aims the Winchester, gently
pulls the trigger and shoots the circling
hawk to save the chickens in the yard.