By Michael Baker
In “Red River,” near Abilene,
Monty tells the Chicago moneyman,
“The cattle ain’t exactly housebroken,”
and everyone hoots and hollers
except me, a second banana, yelling
at other manics that despair has many names
but no primetime show, begging Monty
to suck out all of the arrow’s poison, ranting
slap me, slug me and tell me about Roy Rogers
and Mad Cow Disease. These are tough times
but nothing, not even God, makes John Wayne flinch.
He is angry and he is drunk. Monty shanghaied
his cattle. He looks like he wants to kill me.
That snapped twig I just heard
is probably the newspaper boy.
Some scenes are not for naive viewers.
I sit near the wall, mattress propped
against the window, worrying that the four men
in black hats are just joshing,
that Gary Cooper will be OK,
that Grace’s farewell train
would go that more goddamn fast.
There’s no real bliss in the West.
Sons slay fathers; Indians always
aim too high; only the landscape has logic.
A lovesick cowpoke yodels, Trigger
sends smokesignals to the Apaches,
and I quit gambling, refusing
to raise a perfect stranger
my new set of false teeth. The cattle,
all but one thousand, get to Kansas City
and are sold. Drinks and hugs
for everyone! No one, however,
can hear the Princess’s train
and on Hoboken’s west side
near my ten by ten territory
teenage girls in halters
in droves walk by, waving,
ready to serve and obey
this month’s lawman, who unfairly
avoids fame from his onrushing death.