Robert Cooperman

That bear-scarred demon thinks he can kindness
his way out of Hell by handing me coins,
laying a ratty blanket over me, trying to get me
to eat decent—to atone for his killing sprees
like he’s a snot-rag brat given to picking his nose.

Liquor’s all I need, though every once in a while
Sylvie’s biscuits and gravy go down smoother
than the ice cream Pa churned for the Fourth.

Cold don’t bother me, ‘cause I’ll be burning
in Hell soon, for the swaddled baby I left in a ditch
when I had my youth and looks, and thought
I’d found true love with Cliff Loomis,
that no-good rat, who’d told me to get rid of it.

Afterwards both that bairn and Cliff was gone,
the wee girl most likely into a bear’s belly,
but I hope not; and him, not even the dust
from his galloping away was still swirling. 
Rather than face the shame of returning
to that brothel, I slunk into this alley.

To dull the pain I drink, though the bad taste
of what I done liquor can’t varnish over;
that, and knowing Cliff still festers on this earth,
and ain’t paid, like I have in guilt, for my daughter.

If Sprockett’d find and kill him for me,
I’d gladly see Old One-Eye hauled out
of the Hell that’s waiting on us both.


Don’t ask me what gets into men
that they need to shoot each other
over some slight they can’t recall. 
Now, three more corpses for Boot Hill,
strangers: except to Mr. Sprockett,
who put them in the ground. 
One had a son, who claims
he’s no stomach for vengeance,
but I’ve no doubt we’ll hear more gunfire,
citizens scrambling, again, for refuge,
thinking Quarry isn’t a fit family town.

I thank the Lord I’ve no bairns
to wander between warring parties;
haven’t let a man drag me to the altar
like a sacrificial heifer:  free to stitch
dresses for ladies who crave to look,
as they say in New York City, “With it.”

Then, there’s Mr. Sprockett:
our Angel of Death, when he’s not reciting
poetry by the mile, tipping his hat
to all of us ladies, including soiled doves,
even the crazed hag who squats in an alley.

He’ll tuck a blanket around her,
hand her some coins for a meal she’ll drink,
while she mutters curses at his bear-savaged face,
her clothes worse than rags, but too proud
to let me fashion her a new sturdy dress
and overcoat, out of Christian kindness.

I rode with his Pa to bring slaughter
to Lawrence, Kansas; he never forgave me
for riding away afore we’d killed every soul
in that Abolitionist paradise.  Still, that massacre
was the worst thing I ever did,
and I did plenty Jesus’ll send me to Hell for.

I’d tell his son Micah, when his Pa
and two others came gunning for me
years later, I’d no choice but to backshoot them,
waiting to gun me, sure as Pharisees
of their righteousness.  I didn’t give them
the chance, crept in through the back
silent as a puma, and let them have it.

Now his son hangs about town,
when anyone with a lick of sense
would’ve rode off or blown out my lamp
first chance he got.  But he fell hard
as a landslide for Spanish Sally,
her hair black as an anthracite seam,
her face to melt the heart of Satan. 
Out of kindness she tried to get him to leave,
but between his wanting to kill me
and pestering her, he’s stuck here.

Only way I can get him out of town and safe
from the roaring murder that comes over me
with the power of seven prairie twisters
is to pay off Sally’s debt to her madam,
but knowing Sally, she’ll gut him like a trout
right after she’s let him do the dirty
on the night he thinks will be the first
of their long, happy life together.

Maybe kinder just to shoot him
and put him out of his misery quick.

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