Watching Westerns

By Michael Baker

Watching Westerns

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.


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