aunt ethel

A Woman Titian Would Love
Walt McDonald

Aunt Ethel looked fat in the saddle, two-fifty in boots
and Stetson, bossing her herd from a stallion
too stout to canter. She hugged us both on her porch,
lifting my sister and me like dolls. Her ranch was dust
and cactus, a petting zoo, spring calves that sucked our thumbs,

our pick of the ponies, big breakfasts at sunrise
and inch-thick steaks at night. Uncle Ed was dead,
all cousins grown and gone. All summer she spoiled us,
tucked us in with cookies and milk, turned out the light
and let the coyotes howl. Each dawn, she called us

to cocoa and hugged us, wide belly bulging. Eat up,
she whispered—work to be done, and it's up to us.
She ruffled our skulls with both big, tender fists,
heaped stacks of pancakes and ham as we yawned
and rubbed our eyes while cattle bawled.