Ryan Cheng


A Guide to Mutton Busting

Today is Cuyaghoga’s Cattle Rodeo Extravaganza—
a small boy careens off the sheep as if clambering
onto a wooden barrel in the water.

Small tributaries form in the dirt,
his lips quivering in the dust. His dad yells,
Get off the damn ground, boy!

There is a muffled cry for a mommy
among the revving engines from the Demolition
Derby across the fairgrounds.

Parents eye one another while their chattering teeth
develop into a gnashing.

The boy’s hand reaches through a wooden post
toward a gnawing sheep. His hand blossoms
into a plume of mixed grains and kernels
from a firm slap from above.

Bright and yellow, a bike helmet scuffed
in all the right places
is placed on daddy’s little girl.

The frantic sheep bleats. She mounts
and out busts the mutton. Her blonde
hair, a wake. Hands cling, she leans,

the hoopla of the crowd ringing in her ears.
With a somersault and smack into the ground, she rises.
Balled up fists raise and she smiles with one fewer tooth.

Daddy’s little girl, face streaked with dirt
mouth full of grit, knuckles still
white, she saunters

in her pink cowboy boots to the trough where water turns
even more brown as it spits through her new gap.


Ryan ChengRyan Cheng’s poetry and creative nonfiction has appeared in Sweet: A Literary Confection, The Ignatian Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. He has been awarded the 2013 Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ Intro Journal Entry Award for poetry, the Bettye Newman Poetry Award from University of South Florida’s (USF) English Department, first place in USF’s Humanities Institute Annual Poetry Contest, and most recently participated in the 2014 inaugural Ashbery Homeschool Writing Conference. He currently lives in Tampa, Florida where he serves as a poetry editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection and as a board member of YellowJacket Press, an independent small poetry press and the only publisher of poetry chapbook manuscripts in Florida.