Mary Walker, "Facing", monoprint/woodcut, 8 x 11 inches, 2003.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sarah Messer

Starting with that time

for calling him pretty, hey pretty, your hair's 

like spun sunshine, and then
the man fell down dead. Son of a
tin smith, he had inherited
those quick but delicate hands, and
always went for his revolver
as quick and absentmindedly as
an itch the same way he went
for those squirrel-boned
women even smaller than himself
with breasts like shallow tea-cups.

As an outlaw, he fell in love
with the wrong women—a seamstress 

who sniffed glue, who sewed
her own sleeves to her arms
and flew off a bridge; a sad-faced
war nurse; a rich Northerner
who carried her father's
jawbone in her purse—
each one disappearing more
from herself, until he found
that he was mostly in love
with the shadow of a dress,
a wrist, or the outline of a mouth

pressed to the glass on the window
of the next train leaving town.

In the meantime, he killed:
any man who could ever be called
his friend. Ambushed the town
of Independence, killed 12
at Olathe, 20 at Shawnee, tied the scalps 

of those he suspected most
to his horse's bridle, and rode
west. The mayor of Lawrence,
Kansas suffocated in a well beneath
his own house as the whole
town burned, the contents of every
train and wagon turned over.

In the end he came to me
because I was the timberline, way out 

west, the last stand of trees.

Each night I told him about
the guns hidden in my house:
a .44 caliber in the chamber pot, a rifle 

beneath the stairs, bird guns between 
folded linen, revolvers hidden
in drawers, on shelves, the four boudoir 

pistols plastered in walls, wrapped
in the hair of dolls.

He hid himself inside the sheen
of Smith and Wesson, the one breech 

double-barreled Winchester,
my only Navy Colt. He hid because
I was the hideout, the inert
and sturdy home where he polished 

his thoughts, the timber
of each trigger, the powder
in the coffee tin, the bullets
in the freezer.

In the end, I was
the safest place for him

to put his mouth.

Third Coast, Spring/Summer 2001

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