Friday, February 12, 2010

When a cowboy shoots his horse

The things I didn't know as a boy! The things I could never have imagined or understood had I been told. I do love ageing, over time by the day and the hour and the minute unfolding in horror and pain as I learn about this brutal and cruel life. This is not what I expected when I was aware enough to formulate an idea of my expectations, like three or four or so, when I assumed that I would be a cowboy. Being a grown man; being a cowboy: being one and the same. I didn't understand then, and can only look on in misery today as I see a generation of young men shooting their horses.

Yeah, a cowboy can weep when he has to shoot his horse. Another cowboy understands the deep grief of a cowboy who has to shoot his horse, and another would walk away while a cowboy did it. It's a private thing. It's what a man must sometimes do. Then he lives.

Ya wonder why cowboys drink?

I had to shoot my dog when I was a boy. Back then I didn't know that men hurt just as badly as boys. You'd never see it show. And who would ever look? As a boy I didn't know that a man who had to shoot his horse would crumble inside and still not shed a tear in the public world of men. It's a terrible thing to see a man having to shoot his horse. But there are things far worse.

I saw last evening a generation of young men who shot their horses, young men who didn't even blink. I had to turn away and hide my face from the crowd.

I've killed things small and middlin' and big, and things and other things. Some of that killing shames me. I sit sometimes with old men who whisper that they've shot their horses, and I see them drift away into terrible memories hardly mellowed by the decades, sometimes tears welling up in their eyes, me heading off to get coffee or to look at something over there for a minute. It's a hard thing to see a man hanging up his saddle, knowing he'll never ride again. That time will come for me too if I don't die first. I've had to shoot my horses a few times in this bitter life. But I dragged my saddle onward and continued-- till now, at least.

I see men who have never reflexively shot a low-lying snake, never inveigled a cut-throat trout from a rapid river, never felled a wary beast by stealth. I see men who've never lied to a woman because they're too busy being honest about themselves, who can't sit for a time with woman-herself. Men who wantonly shot their horses.

I have met and known myriad good men who have never been cowboys. I've known good men who never held a horse or sat in a saddle. Those are men strong, brave, proud, and true. I am blessed in this life. But now I look on those men and see that I could, at this time, hang my saddle on the wall and sit with men who've never ridden the ragged canyons, the wild plains, and the snowy peaks. These are good men, and I might sit with them and gaze melancholy at my hanging, my oiled saddle, my shiny boots, my clean pants and dry shirt, my spotless hat, my rifle buried in a closet with my spurs in a saddlebag under an old worn-out blanket, the smell of which makes me tremble. I could sit with old men awaiting my turn at boccie. Some good men. But boccie boys? They shot their horses in the corral. The stench staggers me. The sight makes me gag. The knowing of it nearly brings me to my knees. I see boys who shot their horses, pot-bellied boys who prance and lisp, who wag their butts and giggle at sullen, clownish girls. I hear the crack of revolvers in the night, the shrieks of dying horses, their high agonies of betrayal piercing the dark and empty skies.

Yea, though I ride through the labyrinthine valley under a shadow of death, I will shun no grief: for my horse art with me; my saddle and reins they comfort me. There is preparest a rocky mesa before me in the presence of mine enemies: they anointest my eyes and my face with blood; my cracked lips runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the land of hardship for ever.

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