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The Old West


ISSUE:  Spring 1997
In the Sonoran Desert Museum
on the edge of the Saguaro National Monument,
that stretch of low hill and arroyo
that every Western movie hero
has ridden his rental horse through,
an elderly woman is crying in the heat.
Her husband is shouting at her
as if she were deaf, Does she want
a yogurt, or some nice ice water?
What in God’s name is the matter with her
now? But she is lost in the desert
of herself—where every silent saguaro,
every blazing ocotillo, every blossoming
acacia bright as the sun, every thorned
palo verde, every mesquite, every
croesote bush, every small daisy fleabane
looks the same, and every bare patch
of sand and panicky gravel
could be a trail. Help me, she shouts
back, uncertain, out of her lost
canyon with its unsurmountable boulders
and its dry riverbed. But he’s gone
to the hummingbird enclosure, or to see
the 17 lands of rattlesnake,
the pack rats and prairie dogs,
the hawks and havalinas. Later, I’ll be
in a topless bar in Tucson, drunk
and rowdy as any outlaw, the whole
shabby room abloom with nude girls.
But for now I am the hero, the kindly
town marshal mounting up a posse
to ride out and bring the varmint in
and toss him in the hoosegow,
for cruelty to women. Howdy, ma’am,
I offer. It there something I can do?

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