1135: At the Rainbow Cattle Company by Bruce Snider

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1135: At the Rainbow Cattle Company by Bruce Snider


I’m Major Jackson, and this is The Slowdown.

I never took lessons, but consider myself a pretty good mover on the parquet. Sadly, though, I don’t dance as much as I used to. A friend of mine shamed me for having a wedding with no dancefloor celebration. Truth is, I forgot to hire a DJ. “Who forgets to bring music to a party?” he said. Still, the food was exceptional.

Once a co-worker invited me to Rock’n’Bowl in New Orleans. It was Zydeco night. I told her that I preferred to watch. But as soon as the music started up, its feel-good rhythms made me want to do more than bounce on the side. The crowd’s elegant stepping and twirling looked like something miraculous to be a part of.

I tried to join in but could not keep pace. I tripped over myself. I listened too intently to the accordion, washboard, and Creole French lyrics. A woman asked my friend to switch partners; she walked me through the steps. Next thing, I was two-stepping with the best of them.

Today’s poem names the silent syncopated talk of the body that occurs when two people are in sync, in graceful movements, when they let each other lead.

At the Rainbow Cattle Company
by Bruce Snider

No matter who leads tonight, who follows, 
I feel his stare as we work the floor.

He swaggers from heel to toe.
Is it his smile?
                                Or his eyes I can’t ignore?

Even the lights wink, catching the pearled
buttons on his black paisley shirt.

The whole room tonight turns 
on his crocodile boots, his porn mustache—

Mr. Crew Cut, Mr. High Firm Ass.
The mirrors on the wall show us

what we are and where we’ve been,
Shania singing: the woman in me needs the man 

in you. What I give
                                          is what he takes—
I move us hard until the music breaks.


He moves us hard until the music breaks.
I turn and almost trip. I fall behind.

He grips my hand,
                                         taking me slow
through the Oak Ridge Boys, Patsy Cline.

The tempo shifts from sleep to wake.
I pull away. He stops. He never speaks

but stares me down. Hand on my hip,
he turns left, then right.
                                                        I’m the whip

he snaps. I’m the horse he rides.
He’s what I want and what I fear—

in his arms, then not. My shadow glides
around me like a skirt.
                                                  In the mirrors

we turn, step, spin. He won’t let go.
How do you flirt—quick-quick, slow-slow?


I’m learning to flirt—quick-quick, slow-slow—
my blood a mix of cheap flat beer.

He smells of wilderness, hot road tar,
Crew pomade. Half horse plough,

half attitude, is he a tease?
                                                                I don’t know
his name, where he’s from, can’t hear what

he whispers in my ear. 
                                                   I’ve no excuse.
His horseshoe buckle shines beyond a doubt.

What’s faith if not what I refuse
to know? Will he be a priest tomorrow,

a florist, a judge? He’s a man now 
on a mission with a gun. In the mirrors

we’re here again
                                        with everywhere to go
no matter who leads tonight, who follows. 

"At the Rainbow Cattle Company" by Bruce Snider. Used by permission of the poet.