Selected Passages from Cormac McCarthy, Cities of the Plain (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998)

p. 19. In the mountains they saw deer in the headlights and in the headlights the deer were pale as ghosts and as soundless. They turned their red eyes toward this unreckoned sun and sidled and grouped and leapt the bar ditch by ones and twos. A small doe lost her footing on the macadam and scrabbled wildly and sank onto her hindquarters and rose again and vanished wildly with the others into the chaparral beyond the roadside.

p. 71. A landscape of low shacks of tin and cratewood here on the outskirts of the city. Barren dirt and gravel lots and beyond them the plains of sage and creosote. Roosters were calling and the air smelled of burning charcoal. He took his bearings by the gray light to the east and set out toward the city. In the cold dawn the lights were still burning out there under the dark cape of the mountains with that precious insularity common to cities of the desert. A man was coming down the road driving a donkey piled high with firewood. In the distance the churchbells had begun. The man smiled at him a sly smile. As if they knew a secret between them, these two. Something of age and youth and their claims and the justice of those claims. And of the claims upon them. The world past, the world to come. Their common transiencies. Above all a knowing deep in the bone that beauty and loss are one.

pp. 87-88. They sat against a rock bluff high in the Franklins with a fire before them that heeled in the wind and their figures cast up upon the rocks behind them enshadowed the petroglyphs carved there by other hunters a thousand years before. They could hear the dogs running far below them. Their cries trailed off down the side of the mountain and sounded again more faintly and then faded away where they coursed out along some rocky draw in the dark. To the south the distant lights of the city lay strewn across the desert floor like a tiara laid out upon a jeweler's blackcloth. Archer had stood and turned toward the running dogs the better to list and after a while he squatted again and spat into the fire.

   She aint goin to tree, he said.

pp. 115-116. She shut the door. He could hear her winding her old tin clock. A little later he heard the faint ratcheting sound of his father-in-law winding the tallcase clock in the hallway. The glass doorcase closed softly. Then it was quiet. It was quiet in the house and it was quiet in the country about. He sat smoking. The cooling stove ticked. Far away in the hills behind the house a coyote called. When they had used to spend winters at the old house on the southeasternmost section of the ranch the last thing he would hear before he fell asleep at night was the bawl of the train eastbound out of El Paso. Sierra Blanca, Van Horn, Marfa, Alpine, Marathon. Rolling across the blue prairie through the night and on toward Langtry and Del Rio. The white bore of the headlamp lighting up the desert scrub and the eyes of trackside cattle floating in the dark like coals. The herders in the hills standing with their serapes about their shoulders watching the train pass below and the little desert foxes stepping into the darkened roadbed to sniff after it where the warm steel rails lay humming in the night.

   That part of the ranch was long gone and the rest would soon follow. He drank the last of his coffee cold in the cup and lit his last cigarette before bed and then he rose from his chair and turned off the light and came back and sat smoking in the dark. A storm front had moved down from the north in the afternoon and it had turned off cold. No rain. Maybe in the eastern sections. Up in the Sacramentos. People imagined that if you got through a drought you could expect a few good years to try and get caught up but it was just the seven on a pair of dice. The drought didnt know when the last one was and nobody knew when the next one was coming. He was about out of the cattle business anyway. He drew slowly on the cigarette. It flared and faded. His wife would be dead three years in February. Socorro's Candlemas Day. Candelaria. Something to do with the Virgin. As what didnt. In Mexico there is no God. Just her. He stubbed out the cigarette and rose and stood looking out at the softly lit barnlot. Oh Margaret, he said.

pp. 124-125. We was up on the Platte River out of Ogallala one night and I was bedded down in my soogan out away from the camp. It was a moonlit night just about like tonight. Cold. Spring of the year. I woke up and I guess I'd heard em in my sleep and it was just this big whisperin sound all over and it was geese just by the thousands headed up the river. They passed for the better part of a hour. They blacked out the moon. I thought the herd would get up off the grounds but they didnt. I got up and walked out and stood watchin em and some of the other young waddies in the outfit they had got up too and we was all standin out there in our longjohns watchin. It was just this whisperin sound. They was up high and it wasnt loud or nothin and I wouldnt of thought about somethin like that a wakin us wore out as we was. I had a nighthorse in my string named Boozer and old Boozer he come to me. I reckon he thought the herd'd get up too but they didnt. And they was a snuffy bunch, too.

   Did you ever have a stampede?

   Yes. We was drivin to Abilene in eighteen and eighty-five. I wasnt much more than a button. And we had got into it with a rep from one of the outfits and he followed us to where we crossed the Red River at Doane's store into Indian Territory. He knew we'd have a harder time gettin our stock back there and we did but we caught the old boy and it was him for you could still smell the coaloil on him. He come by in the night and set a cat on fire and throwed it onto the herd. I mean slung it. Walter Devereaux was comin in off the middle watch and he heard it and looked back. Said it looked like a comet goin out through there and just a squallin. Lord didnt they come up from there. It took us three days to shape that herd back and whenever we left out of there we was still missin forty some odd head lost or crippled or stole and two horses.

   What happened to the boy?

   The boy?

   That threw the cat.

   Oh. Best I remember he didnt make out too well.

p. 201. Two owls crouching in the dust of the road turned their pale and heartshaped faces in the trucklights and blinked and rose on their white wings as silent as two souls ascending and vanished in the darkness overhead.

pp. 203-204. He smiled. He let go the chain and sat on his bunk in the darkness rubbing the pup's belly. He could smell the horses. The wind was gusting up and a piece of loose roofingtin at the far end of the barn rattled and the wind passed on. It was cold in the room and he thought to light the little kerosene heater but after a while he just pulled off his boots and trousers and put the pup in his box and crawled under the blankets. The wind outside and the cold in the room were like those winter nights on the north Texas plains when he was a child in his grandfather's house. When the storms blew down from the north and prairie land about the house stood white in the sudden lightning and the house shook in the thunderclaps. On just such nights and just such mornings in the year he'd gotten his first colt he'd wrap himself in his blanket and go out and cross to the barn, leaning into the wind, the first drops of rain slapping at him hard as pebbles, moving down the long barn bay like some shrouded refugee among the sudden slats of light that stood staccato out of the parted board walls, moving through those serried and electric prosceniums where they flared white and fugitive across the barn row on row until he reached the stall where the little horse stood waiting and unlatched the door and sat in the straw with his arms around its neck till it stopped trembling. He would be there all night and he would be there in the morning when Arturo came to the barn to feed.

pp. 216-217. From the pass in the upper range of the Jarillas they could see the green of the benchland below the springs and they could see the thin standing spire of smoke from the fire in the stove rising vertically in the still blue morning air. They sat their horses. Billy nodded at the scene.

   When I was a kid growin up in the bootheel me and my brother used to stop where we topped out on this bench south of the ranch goin up into the mountains and we'd look back down at the house. It would be snowin sometimes or snow on the ground in the winter and there was always a fire in the stove and you could see the smoke from the chimney and it was a long ways away and it looked different from up there. Always looked different. It was different. We'd be gone up in the mountains sometimes all day throwin them spooky cattle out of the draws and bringin em down to the feedstation where we'd put out cake. I dont think there was ever a time we didnt stop and look back thataway before we rode up into that country. From where we'd stop we were not a hour away and the coffee was still hot on the stove down there but it was worlds away. Worlds away.

   In the distance they could see the thin straight line of the highway and a toysized truck running silently upon it. Beyond that the green line of the river breaks and range on range the distant mountains of Mexico.

p. 233. When he rode out again it was dark and windy and starless and cold and the sacaton grass along the creek thrashed in the wind and the small bare trees he passed hummed like wires. The horse quivered and stepped and raised the flues of its nose to the wind. As if to sort what there might be in the coming storm that was not storm alone. They crossed the creek and set out down the old road. He thought he heard a fox bark and he looked for it along the rimrock skylined above the road to the left. Evenings in Mexico he used to see them come out and walk the traprock dikes above the plains for the vantage of the view there. To spy out what smaller life might venture forth in the dusk. Or they would simply sit upon those godlaid walls in silhouette like icons out of Egypt, silent and still against the deepening sky, sufficient to all that might be asked of them.