THESE LAWS I’M MADE TO KEEP ARE BREAKING ME
You rode into town the year a fresh colt broke my rib. I knew bad weather: that night in the holding cell you promised me
no harm, I seared the roof of my mouth with Daddy’s gun but couldn’t shoot. That was the year Daddy hung his hat and went east to live deciduous, wear ties, to tar and feather tax collectors. You hung me upside-down and bled me tender. By the time you’d sprung the lock and left I was arch-backed and asking for it,
dry-mouthed and asking for it. I went for the bottle. Used the glass to tear myself in two: into The Sheriff and me. The Sheriff in me cut
our hair and ponied up, stuck that badge of Daddy’s to our chest like we meant it. Spit-shined, hard-liquored. God, we’re sweet, sweet fools. Blood-starved and heartless. We’re a couple cowards and with our own hands we’ve roped ourselves. Methods of slow torture: you want one answer for every question,
love? Yes, a Good man can still be wrong. I
know exactly why the Sheriff made us take your promise in our hands and put it in our mouth. Why she wanted / wanted to exchange us for all that fringe, those pointed toes, bright stitches, sharp spurs. Good felt hat. Deep brim. Red lipstick, sharp diamonds cut into the flesh against our sternum. A word branded on our heart that looks like a half-mast flag ripped to shreds and means horse. Leatherette. Things that stuck to our skin and dug in hard. In the desert these nights and all to come are dark and dark and dark – but here we still are.
Yes, even Good men kill their best mounts crossing deserts, dodging bullets. Good men still carry guns and thirst for liquor when it’s water that will save their hearts and livers. The Sheriff knows our body’s something we’ve gone and given up the law on: our thighs are white enough to remember every force or pressure, every fingerprint and we have dug inside ourselves with the butt of this double barrel seeking words for words we swore we’d die for without ever having read them. Contracts. Proposals. Does it matter to you I can’t remember how to wear the face we used to wear, the ones with no buttons or teeth missing, the ones with the pretty wet lips from New England? Go on and tell us how a broke girl ponies up without a Sheriff. Go on. I swore / I swore / I swore
you’ve given both of us a goddamn sickness. I think the hanging noose a likeness of crossed ankles, burnt skin, friction, and a half-bar of that twangy old song by some rough-handed drinker: Come away from the life you’ve been livin’. You’re a Good man who wants it but won’t take it ’cause of every thing you’ve kept on keeping – this relic of a holster that still hangs at your hip, the promise you made to your parents, that girl in the blue dress you found with her hands tied to your trough when you were seven and whose rope you knotted to your own wrist. So yes, then, let it rub you raw. And yes, love, keep hoofing through those badlands with her in tow. Even Good men look for home where they know it don’t exist. Come, now, and take a look at where me and The Sheriff are aiming: one of us is Good and wrong and the other is / the other is conflicted: a criminal, a testament, a badge not to be believed in. These are the burdens of loving the scars you’ve dealt to our skin.
CODY KLIPPENSTEIN sure loved her paint pony, but was never much good with a lasso. She lives and writes on Vancouver Island, where she studied creative writing at the University of Victoria. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Zoetrope: All-Story, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, and Joyland.