Western Poetry posted January 19, 2017

This work has reached the exceptional level
All boys need their heroes.

The Ballad of Hairless Joe

by RodG

I pushed upon the bat-wing doors
of Elko's one saloon
and peered into the lamp-lit room.
I hoped I'd spy him soon.

Jest ten, I'd not be 'vited in
by anyone I knew,
but if I had some Irish luck
I'd see a fight or two.

"You goin' in or stayin' out?"
a voice behind me asked.
"Ain't used to waitin' fer no boy,
an' don't like bein' sassed."

Oh, pshaw, it's him?  It's gotta be!
Too scared to turn around,
I trembled, choked, and shut my eyes.
I feared to make a sound.

I felt hot breath upon my neck,
a foot upon my rump.
The kick came quick, t'weren't really hard.
I landed with a thump.

Inside he yanked me to my feet
and sat me in a chair.
He stood there grinning down at me,
but I could only stare.

He weren't the man I thought he'd be:
broad-shouldered, six feet tall,
a glare beneath a broad-brimmed hat
that caused one's skin to crawl.

"Yer gawkin' like a flap-jawed crow.
That's wrong.  It ain't polite.
A boy yer age would know that, son,
if he'd been brought up right."

My eyes grew hot with angry tears,
my hands balled into fists.
"I ain't bein' rude!  I'm Bible-taught.
My folks are good Baptists.

"A gunman's come to kill someone.
He's lighnin' on the draw.
But you--you surely can't be him.
You look jest like my pa."

He turned and headed to the bar
in slow, bow-legged strides.
A horseman gaunt and saddle-worn
by dusty day-long rides.

When he came back he held two steins.
"Don't like to drink alone.
Like root beer, boy?  I'm sorry fer
that boot to yer tailbone."

We drank awhile before he smiled
and leaned a bit toward me.
"Guess I've been rude.  You got a name,
or should I call you Flea?"

"I ain't a flea!  I'm four feet tall,
and Hairless Joe I'm called.
My summer hair's so short and white,
my folks pretend I'm bald."

His gray eyes twinkled when he laughed,
and then he shook my hand.
"That moniker's a good one, son,
but have you guessed my brand?"

I pulled a flyer from my jeans,
all faded till turned o'er.
"Thought this was you afore we met.
Was posted in Pa's store."

He drew it close, and then he frowned
as he looked long at it.
"No, Joe, that fella, he ain't me.
He's who I'm here to git."

His steely gaze now fell on me.
It made my face grow numb.
"A bounty hunter's what I am.
Fer men like him I've come.

"If he appears, you disappear
and run to get the law.
But if there's shots, make yourself small.
Remember all you saw."

Jest then the bat wings opened wide.
That outlaw walked right in.
An eerie silence filled the room.
He had the Devil's grin.

A hand grabbed mine, a low voice spoke.
"Recall what I jest said?
When he is drinkin' at the bar,
you leave!  Don't want you dead."

The outlaw never glanced at us,
but moved straight fer the bar.
"Give me a shot of Red," he barked,
"and that big black cigar."

Then like a hare who's seen a fox
I scurried out of there.
I found the sheriff in his jail.
Was snoring in his chair.

"Come quick!" I screamed.  "An outlaw's here.
A bounty hunter, too!
They're gonna fight with blazin' Colts.
Won't wait fer me or you."

He came awake, strapped on his gun
and stumbled after me.
I beat him to the Silver Queen,
but little could I see.

The sheriff pushed the doors apart.
We gawked at what we saw.
The hunter held a Bowie knife
aside his bloodied jaw.

The outlaw sprawled upon the floor.
He clutched his knife-ripped arm
and bleated like that nanny goat
out there on Grampa's farm.

T'weren't hard to guess fer even me
how it went down that day.
Too drunk and slow to draw his gun,
the outlaw lost the fray.

Next thing I know he's bound with rope,
and booted out them doors.
The hunter grinned and said to me,
"You see him on all fours?

"I'm glad we met, my four-foot friend,
and glad we shared a drink.
If I come back, I'll look fer you.
Let's hope you do not shrink."

The outlaw sat a lop-eared mule,
his hands tied to the horn.
The hunter grinned and rubbed my head,
a spot where I'd been shorn.

Then climbing on a white-socked bay,
he merely waved goodbye.
They rode away.  I bit my lip
cuz big boys jest don't cry.

Write a Poem of Length contest entry


Yes, the photo is from the movie "Shane" that starred Alan Ladd. Indeed, there are some similarities in my story and "Shane," but Shane was a gunfighter and totally fictitious. The bounty hunter in this story (though never named) is based on a real person, Charlie Sirengo (1855-1928) who called himself the Cowboy Detective. He worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency for 20 years and was famous for chasing down members of the Butch Cassidy gang. He tracked down and brought back ALIVE hundreds of robbers and murderers. He was skilled with a Bowie knife and his old Colt .45.

This is indeed a "poem of length." It has 32 stanzas and 128 lines.

I do hope you enjoy reading this western yarn meant for the young & young at heart.
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