Seven years I’ve lived high and lonely
in the mountains to keep the Territory safe
from the rage that flies from me
like rabid bats from a cave: aimed at them
that stare at my bear-slashed face
and think it’s funny; them that insult
the better sex; or throw at me the hell
I helped bring to Lawrence in ’63,
and will regret the rest of my cursed days.

But I miss the company of others, miss
tapping my feet to a thirst parlor piano,
miss ladies’ laughter even if it turns to shrieks
when they sight my face—dragged through
the cactus patches of a bear-ripped Hell.

I miss Miz Williams’ fine cookery,
which I sample only after the long ride
down-mountain with six months of pelts
then retreat before my demons hiss and whisper;
but more, I miss us reminiscing how we met:
her a runaway slave, me horrified by what I’d done
at Lawrence, her filling me in on the goings-on
around town, demanding I recite from Mr. Shakespeare.

I confess, too, I miss liquor though it makes me
a monster even I’m afeared of, knowing what’ll
explode when I down too much rotgut kerosene,
and once I start, it’s always too much.

Maybe that old hell-scorching won’t rise up
after I’ve repented for so long, learning to rein
myself in; leastways, that’s my hope, my prayer.

Robert Cooperman’s latest collection is GO PLAY OUTSIDE (Apprentice House). Forthcoming from Kelsay Books is A NIGHTMARE ON HORSEBACK.