Issue 172, Winter 2004
The other horse traders are over there in the 7- Eleven. These horses are jittery and I don’t know how long I can hold them. That piebald one there—or is that a paint? It’s a Holstein for all I know, and that is one of the galling things about this enterprise, people saying the roan this and the buckskin and the paint and the quarter and the Indian pony and that and this and you have no idea which goddamn horse they are talking about, they are talking about one of fifty things we have here which can get us hung if we are caught, can kill you if you get near it in the wrong way, and can run off and get you beat to shit by the hombres who affect to know how not to have them run away, I have just about had it with this shit, what with most of the crew over there in the 7 -Eleven and the sheriff cruising around out here, around me and the herd and the hot-dog wrappers, and the horses are nervous in the wind and the stoplights, and all the fellows with the handlebar mustaches are inside getting coffee, and I’m out here looking like a plebe in a fraternity with fifty stolen monsters I can’t tell apart, and there’s the sheriff, and we are beyond the day when he can be shot and we go on our way. Do not ask me how I am involved in rustling horses in the twenty-first century over asphalt with the law in big Ford Crown Victorias. I do not know. They are in there in goddamn period chaps and I am out here in army-navy discount camo fatigues I got for five dollars. I look like a dope dealer. I’d feel better if I were a dope dealer. You will not believe what we are up to. No one will credit what we are up to. I do not myself. If the sheriff interrogated me right now about these fifty horses by the highway with their drovers in the 7 -Eleven getting coffee, and I told him the whole story, he would not believe what we are up to.
The silhouette of a man—rather like the Tin Man, they said, improbable large straight lines and a hollow sound from it—stood in the doorway during what must have been a big cowboy drunk, or a big cowboy-poetry drunk, because I am convinced also that some of these drovers are cowboy poets, given their proclivity to be on the phone and their attention to their costumes and their pallid postures and the way they seem to want to hear themselves talk and what can start a fistfight (one said another used too many feminine endings and the second asked just what was that supposed to mean and hit him) . . . where was I? I have a headache, it is snowing lightly, the 7 -Eleven still holds twenty poet horse rustlers, I am telling you what you cannot believe: that a Tin Man came to these men in their revelries that preceded the current larcenous overland march and told them, in a thundery but soft voice, to take horses into the Bighorn and to be ambushed by an equal or larger band of Indians and surrender them, the horses, to the Indians, and by so doing initiate a reversal of history that would at the other end of its drift restore thirty million buffalo to the Plains and integrity and livelihood and independent character to the red man. “Reverse history?” one of the cowboys is reputed to have said. “We gave them the horse in the first place. To reverse history we’d have to take the horses away, it seems to—”
“Sewerage,” the Tin Man said, or some aural approximation thereto, for the sound from the thing was soft and not trippingly tongued, which lent a force to its supernatural-seeming authority.
A foul odor, identical to sewerage, then filled the barracks, as they like to call their quarters, and some of the more excitable ones maintain that a soup of actual septic-tank flotsam then filled the room to a level of two feet before receding cleanly away, but other witnesses, the more formal of the poets, in my estimate, ascribe this vision to the overactive imaginations of their lesser-trained and less reliable brothers. Nonetheless they all obeyed the call of the vision, stole fifty horses, and now drink patriotically large quantities of gourmet-blend coffee from convenience stores en route to reversing history and righting the colossal imperialist genocide of the West, while I hold the horses. The horses are the starter culture, as I see it, if this history we are to reverse could be viewed as yogurt, and I don’t see that that is an inapt conceit. That is my exact plan if I find myself interviewed alone by the sheriff, in fact: I will tell him the horses are starter culture, and that is all I will say other than asking they appoint me a lawyer, and a psychiatrist if that comes with the deal now. Hanging out with men wearing Polo clothes and affecting to punch each other over the matter of feminine endings should alone establish a sound insanity plea. I will walk away from the horse-stealing charge.