Mudlark No. 58 (2015)

The Burden of Being the White-hatted Man

All morning he’s been getting ready to kill again
to keep from being killed, blue sky filling the windows
of the Palace Hotel where the crone of a cook doesn’t 
mention his nubbly face except to say he looks tired.
The barber he visits next is skittish but won’t let on
there’s a man named O’’Brien in the doorway, leveling 
a six-shooter. A leather-holstered Navy Colt hangs
out of reach on a peg by the barber chair. Nonetheless,
he fires a derringer through a drape he brushes aside
in a white puff of talcum like any thought of death
or danger. So what if the light from his sheriff-star 
shines like an oil-slick fire. He doesn’t gloat, tossing
coins into the hands of an onlooker, saying, O’Brien
wasn’t a bad fella, just someone who needed money—
like part of his job is to teach the town a thing or two,
let them in on the burden of being a law unto oneself.
A woman from his past rolls into town on the stage.
Their marriage is between the two of them, a secret, 
the way things should be, given the rules of propriety
and that some men breathe frontier dust and perfume 
with equal pleasure. He doesn’t want to remind her 
of unpleasant times in Apache Wells, or the break up.
A statue of a sword-bearing woman in the hotel bar 
suggests that nothing conquers like the glowing truth 
of love. Sooner or later, he knows he’ll saunter over 
to her room; hear her apologies and reminiscences. 
He imagines saying nothing then accepting a kiss.  
If she still remembers his scent and carries it back 
to the hotel like a map, he remembers the map of
their mouths, wanting to swallow her whole. He 
walks up the street, clouds rising with every step.

Roy Bentley | Puberty
Contents | Mudlark No. 58 (2015)