In the west

A halfway kind of being in a nowhere kind of town.
In all my wild imaginings I never dreamed that I
Would end up as this desk-bound, mortgaged, soft suburban guy.
And so I let my thoughts take off and float like thistledown
Across the great grey ocean, hazy plain and mountain crest
To where my dreams lie hidden
            In the west.

No mansion waits there for me: just a strong, plain house of wood
And river-stone. A saddle barn and round corrals outside
And from the porch an eagle’s view across the Great Divide;
A life I was not born to, but I’d learn it if I could
For my heart’s surely bidden
            By the west

I saw it, touched and tasted it so many years ago;
Life called me back, but something deep dug in, and stayed out there.
What happened to that younger self, who walked without a care?
A man I half recall, but if I met I’d scarcely know,
Whose path and mine diverged in ways I never could have guessed.
Were those my finest hours
            In the west?

One day I’ll pack a suitcase, buy a ticket, catch a plane
Cross sea and seven time-zones, leave this unplanned place behind,
Saddle up the buckskin pony who’s been waiting in my mind
And take the lonely trail. Down in the dust I’ll leave my pain
And from all my endless striving I will find a lasting rest
In green grass and fair flowers
            In the west.


I’ve been reading Robert Service’s Songs of a Sourdough and wanted to try writing something in similar vein. In particular, I wanted to play around with a refrain line, even though it sounds a bit quaint these days. I enjoy finding the space within strict rhyme and metrical schemes: another symptom of my need for boundaries, and even stronger urge to kick against them! N.

High plains drifter

Long days
Long gone
In unknown, airless lands
A wordless drifter,
Eyes half-closed
Against the glare.
Out there,
They said, I’d find some answers:
God knows I searched
For sign in soft creek beds,
Scuffed down dry arroyos
In a boil of dust and gravel
Stood rim-rocked on the canyon’s edge
And stared out at the plains of promise
Shimmering, unreachable
Across the great divide.
Turned around and tried retracing
All my sidewinder steps. Too late:
Hot high wind and freak flash flood
Erased my passing from the earth,
Left my mind’s big wide-open
Empty as the drunk man’s threats.
I shot at shadows,
Spoke with stones
And tried to set my loop
Around the breeze.
Lost my mount
And found myself
Afoot In all that elemental space
With only two rounds left.
This one
Loosed off in the air
To boom and echo
Unheard in the void:
The last
Saved for myself.

Fenced in

I have no endless prairie, no great plain;
No mesas rising from a sagebrush sea
Or mountains walling up my western sky.
No buckskin horse, a partner on the trail
With cutting witchcraft bred in blood and bone
And courage that comes out in mad glissades
Of canyon sides, a fall of flesh and stone.
No hide-warmed leather’s creak, no old rimfire
Or saddle-horn to take my dallies round.
No riding drag with only dust to eat;
No rock-ringed fire, no coffee brewed so strong
A horseshoe floats upon it. No corral
Red barn or pick-up truck, no gravel road
To some snug cabin hidden in the pines.
The open range I thought I had is fenced
Subdued and settled, parcelled up and sold
To strangers. There’s no room to spread a loop
Without a fencepost catching it. And so
Afoot in all these acres I once rode
I watch the clouds, and listen to the wind
That hisses, mocking, in the gleaming wire.