Bad Men of the Old West


They are mostly skinny men with big eyes and scuzzy beards
who died ragged in holey socks
with so many bullet holes in their bodies
you can hardly count them,
and yet their memento mori photographs
in which they are propped up by the grim town’s folk
or laid out in a buckboard or on an undertaker’s slab,
startle us with the banality of their quietude
after so much violence.
We have killed here the devil’s spawn
the photographs seem to say,
here are the wages of sin,
and we are neither proud nor sorry.
They passed through like any spell of bad weather
and we went back to our commonplace lives
in our kitchens and on our front porches,
and wrote ballads and dime novels about them
as if they were anything but poor angry men gone astray,
imagining them all steely-nerved and remorseless,
pretending we never killed them.