Why’d the stages keep rumbling along the canyon floors? Hadn’t they viewed the instructional films? What did anyone have worth bleeding over? Gladly
I’d have surrendered my bankrupt skivvies, my mail-order hat and bride. Yet I wake with a head zeroed in on ore-rich plats to be got
for a pittance, fortunes to be won on faro hands. Always I’ve been nudged toward the cactusy boomtown I would’ve died in. The blacksmith/dentist would
have tried to excise my molar without a starter course of laudanum, the gun would’ve yapped in my hand like an alligator jaw,
the streams I panned would’ve silted shut. You spend some dread mornings nursing anachronistic wounds, thick with reconstituted bones, a piffling godhead
of what can’t be brought back. Somewhere out west were famous cowhands with lead in their spines, and I longed to be among them, famous or maybe
just dead. These days all anyone dreams of is wayward sex. I’m guilty too, but those visions are dwarfed by these others, of preterit times where I would
have been devoured by a psychopathic drunk or at least one of the upstairs girls. Now that our country’s vast machinery of commerce
is rusting in its cogs, let’s place bets on the next big sacrifice. Big cars? Big coffees? Just look at what’s already extinct. Big promise. Big danger.
In the old days you moseyed out to your backyard to perceive there was no such thing as backyards or even garden gnomes, just a third-world
country adrift in the borders of your own, Russian doll-like, war-torn, diseased, but finally a stagecoach set ablaze with arrows of wonderment.
THANATOS IN XANADU
Chekhov is said to have written a tale so good it caused him to soil his jockstrap. This may or may not be apocryphal. I am just now putting the finishing touches on my missile defense system. Sometimes around sunset I polish it
while the police drive by with erections. I keep meaning to write some more hate mail to the chair of the local pacifist club, Wimps Against War or something like that,
but recently I’ve been preoccupied by the missile defense thing. Lately Jill has been taking the kids to the town pool each night after dinner. I used to love the pool in the evenings, the glassy water, the calm light, a polyhedron
of muffled squeals and disembodied limbs. Then the school dimwit appeared, disturbing the placid waterscape with his hijinks, jostling and holding me underwater.
This may or may not be apocryphal. If only I could get the wiring right on the missile defense deal, it might cause me to soil my jockstrap. Anymore, beauty can be quantified by its fang- length and the macho girth of its warheads.
Dan Pinkerton's poetry and fiction have appeared in Boston Review, Pleiades, and the 2008 edition of Best New American voices, among many other places. He is the recipient of two Academy of American Poets prizes and an AWP Intro Journals award.