The Long Riders
Frank James at Age Seventy, 1913
I love my brother, but for years
I've been selling pebbles off Jesse's grave.
Ty Cobb came around one winter with a bottle
to warm us. He gave me a baseball, a new Colt,
and leatherbound volumes of Shakespeare.
I gave him a true stone, the others having
come from my nephew's farm. Teddy Roosevelt
came, too, but I charged him the regular
half-dollar admission and handed him
a gallstone an undertaker removed
from a vagrant, and I charged Teddy
twenty dollars. He really thought he
was special because of some Cuban hill
a horse managed to get him up. There he was
with the gallstone, the Yankee kneeling
over Jesse's pebbled grave, half-listening
to how we'd near lost it all in Northfield.
One of his footmen dropped the gallstone
in an envelope: it's in the White House now.
My son finds my small business as irritating
as a chigger bite, thinks there's no dignity in it.
I say it's the spirit of the nation.
This poem first appeared in the last good issue of Prairie Schooner (Summer 1986).
This poem was included in Red Shuttleworth's Spur Award-winning collection of poems, Western Settings (University of Nevada Press, 2000).