Horse thief or lover,
or merely innocent squatter?
What posse knotted the noose
and tossed it over?

Why shouldn’t it be this tree,
grooves in the bark like rope burns?
Imagine a cocked neck bowed,
the hanged man’s boots on tip-toe,

fists tied behind him.
Imagine a thousand thieves
swinging the same ballet.
Hear the twist of ropes under tension.

Why shouldn’t it be this posse
galloping out of a canyon,
black hats and puffs of pistol shots?
Even from here I know their mounts

are mustangs, able to run
till sundown. They’re in no hurry
but coming, five, no six of them
twirling new ropes and shouting.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 9 Number 10, on page 37
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