And then I jumped in the river,
but the doggone river was dry

—Hank Williams Sr.

I. High Lonesome

The cowboy began alone
herding his two, three hundred head

one day feedlots bloomed like black bruises
on the sand-colored plains

and the cowboy couldn’t unwild himself
and he couldn’t make the feedlots wilder

so he looked at his hands and he broke
his bread and struck out for sand-

colored places where the wildness grew
and he could marry himself to it.

II. When All the Villains Were Gone

He began to daydream:
two men squaring off

in a hot parking lot, offal throwing its fumes up
like applause. The asphalt glared hard

and the cowboy went to meet his match
but his daydream failed him: after the first punch

was thrown, the villain expanded into sand-
colored earth and the wind carried him away.

He barked openly at the sky: Nothing
sacred anymore. No what for, no why.

III. A Great Absence

The cowboy began to lose his bets
when his song unraveled.

There were the buffalo, the few
horses left in the hills

kicking their dust over his blue
beating heart, departing into the earth

thin and skittish as a vein of gold.
His chest like a drum full of mud,

just cold and the memory
of being surrounded entirely

by a lush,
warm dark.

To shake off
all that want.

To fly right into
its terrible face.

IV. A Heart Bruised a Darker Color

It was wretched desire
that took him to the desert.

The fine ignorance

of sand.
Holy water,

hell fire,
gold disrupted

light, sky-blue heat,
heart horded in

two arms across
his chest.

V. The Cowboy’s Honeymoon

And when he returned from the sand-
colored lands wed to his wildness

he knew something was over.
He looked at his hands and they were

beautiful because they had felt everything.
They were wilder than he was and he loved them.

When other parts of himself began
to light out for other places

an unshakable calm crept over him
dark as an airplane coasting shallow on the ground.

In the cowboy’s dreams a white horse gallops
like a full-blown panic and she is everyone’s wildness.