Barely twenty-three—leastways
by my reckoning, in these lonesome mountains—
and it feels like I should be dead a hundred times,
what with the savagery I’ve done, the savagery done me.

In this log and daub hut, I’m thankful
I can’t kill anyone when rage roars like that grizzly
that done me over almost as bad as poor Gloucester,
in Mr. Shakespeare’s King Lear.

That rage born, too, out of the deaths of my brother Ned
from that hell-hound posse, my darlin’ Sarah
in childbirth, my poem-loving Ma at the fists
of my holier-than-Jesus-preacher-step-pa,
and poor Miz Wilton: murdered for her kindness
to Neddie and me when we were on the run.

But also, remembering what I done in Lawrence
with Quantrill’s butchers, and before that,
the posse that wanted to stretch me for no reason
but watching, helpless, the girl I loved die in childbirth,
her daddy too rich, and too stingy of heart
to admit Sarah and me loved each other
better than a thousand temperate summer days.

When I trade pelts down in Quarry, I keep
my sojourns to just a howdy-stop with Miz Williams,
and never a saloon: whiskey sparking my killing ways,
though I fear they’re just biding their time.

When they do blast out of me again, not, I pray
like Lawrence in ’63; but to help good folks
set upon by men worse than wolves.