Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Frank James at Age Seventy, 1913

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).

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