[the open plain, or mesa]

Sometimes, when you're a cowboy gunslinger,
all you're left with is your boots and hat
and lariat, your trick paint horse,

your Colt and your Winchester, your bedroll,
the open plain, or mesa, the tins of beans
and strips of cured beef, your sense of justice

for your murdered kin, scalped by marauding
godless injuns, your self-reliance and steely aim
by the riverbed, your tempered and easy masculinity,

your friend the emancipated slave. You've seen
the iron horse and the telegraph cross the maps
and random states and you've seen the sunrise

on the canyons, the noonday dead on the dusty
streets of Texas, the evening cool of the hacienda
and the saloon brawls in the night. You've known

the love of a good-hearted dancing girl, yet you'll die
alone beneath a ridge. You'll leave no estate,
no child, no forlorn wife, no brethren will weep

by your simple grave. Your bedroll is your shroud,
the open plain your chapel. And all that is left
will be your hat and boots and lariat.

Petersham, 2005

First published in Cordite,
2005

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