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And then I jumped in the river,
but the doggone river was dry
—Hank Williams Sr.
I. High Lonesome
The cowboy began alone
herding his two, three hundred head
one day feedlots bloomed like black bruises
on the sand-colored plains
and the cowboy couldn’t unwild himself
and he couldn’t make the feedlots wilder
so he looked at his hands and he broke
his bread and struck out for sand-
colored places where the wildness grew
and he could marry himself to it.
II. When All the Villains Were Gone
He began to daydream:
two men squaring off
in a hot parking lot, offal throwing its fumes up
like applause. The asphalt glared hard
and the cowboy went to meet his match
but his daydream failed him: after the first punch
was thrown, the villain expanded into sand-
colored earth and the wind carried him away.
He barked openly at the sky: Nothing
sacred anymore. No what for, no why.
III. A Great Absence
The cowboy began to lose his bets
when his song unraveled.
There were the buffalo, the few
horses left in the hills
kicking their dust over his blue
beating heart, departing into the earth
thin and skittish as a vein of gold.
His chest like a drum full of mud,
just cold and the memory
of being surrounded entirely
by a lush,
To shake off
all that want.
To fly right into
its terrible face.
IV. A Heart Bruised a Darker Color
It was wretched desire
that took him to the desert.
The fine ignorance
light, sky-blue heat,
heart horded in
two arms across
V. The Cowboy’s Honeymoon
And when he returned from the sand-
colored lands wed to his wildness
he knew something was over.
He looked at his hands and they were
beautiful because they had felt everything.
They were wilder than he was and he loved them.
When other parts of himself began
to light out for other places
an unshakable calm crept over him
dark as an airplane coasting shallow on the ground.
In the cowboy’s dreams a white horse gallops
like a full-blown panic and she is everyone’s wildness.
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