Little Cowboy

Little Cowboy

there's an old photograph
of my little brother
dressed confidently
as a little cowboy

i remember mom and dad
letting him be
a little cowboy
them and me
playing along too
cause that's what parents
and brothers do

my brother always seemed happy
as a little cowboy
but he couldn't be that
forever
so he grew up
to be other things
and believe a lot of things
not that much different
than his time
as a child
making believe
he was a cowboy

nowadays he believes a lot of other things
that we both know
he doesn't believe
much more now
than he did back then
believing as a kid
he was a real cowboy

things about purpose and meaning
politics and religion
life and love
he doesn't believe much of it
which is why he doesn't wanna go too deep
in talking much about it
not deep but all day
talking about it from the shore
if you like
which is not only
what he likes
but loves
convinced somehow that volume
equates to depth
so he'll spend all day
banging around on the banks
with his pots and pans
and kettle of coffee
noting how wet equals wet
whether shallow or deep
arguing from the ripples
ankles deep
cause out in the channel
of red river 
is where it gets scary
and if you push him too far out
he'll tell ya to stop
he'll panic
cause it's hard to swim 
in chaps and cowboy boots
he'll scream for ya to stop
cause he already has a stubborn idea
of what he is
he'll panick
because
without being a cowboy
he can't picture himself
as anything else
he'll scream for ya to stop pushing
stop and tether your horse somewhere
to something
just like he has
otherwise stardust gets lost
to wander off a cliff
or get attacked and eaten by wolves
your horse gets lost out in the deep
without tethering
just like you're lost
out there in the deep
untethered
besides
its foolish
taking the risk
of crossing the river
for no good reason
cause, shit
over there
there's savages and bandits
bears and wolves
and who knows what all else
just waiting to fuck you up
so why risk it?
without even a map
you goddamned fool

my little cowboy 
like everyone
has his beliefs
too many
too silly
to not contest
me
too weary to contest
otherwise
to merely patronize
like when he was little
all of us
playing along
as if he was a real cowboy
convincing himself
through me
of what he is
but he's no longer a child
and neither am i
without the the patience
for patronizing big children
not so much out of principle
as for the sleazy feeling it gives
the anxiousness 
and nervousness
of being dragged 
into the little cowboy's
wild west of nonsense
pastures and prairies
where things greater than zero
are equivalent
by virtue of being non-zero
canyons where the fantastical
and supernatural
make sense
where
when the laws of natural order break down
there are only his ways
of it being restructured
into the fantastic
and supernatural order
of his paradise
the open range of his politics
guided by television and magazines and radio
his worn out map of the west's trails and rivers
founded on a basic understanding of motivations
that he knows
he barely understands
a one-dimensional understanding
of psychology
a science
at least
but not political science
or sociology
or economics
or philosophy
none of that taken into account
there on the banks
stirring his beans
and boiling his coffee
in order to ignore the rest

not that i know
it's that i know i don't
so i try not to pretend
to be a little cowboy
or even an indian
let alone a chief
or anything else
wasting my days
boiling coffee
and pinto beans with sourbelly bacon
seeking confirmation
wherever i can find it
another little cowboy
pony tethered to the post
of his politics
religion
or mysticism
tethered to the same posts
as the other little cowboys
who wanna play along
as adam cartwright
hopalong cassidy
cisco kid
bat masterson
or red ryder
pretending they are
what they know they aren't
pretending the world
is still cowboys and indians
and good and bad guys
dressed in blacks or whites
all the while knowing 
the world is not that
but it makes more sense
or it's far more lurid
believing their stories of wild west adventure
than anything else

if we aren't all little cowboys
then what are we?
that
painfully
i don't know
but i can't accept
that we're little cowboys
can't accept cap guns
as true revolvers
won't accept
plastic spurs
as silver
and because of this
i suppose
i patronize
humor with smiles
that may seem like genuine
easy smiles
painfully appeasing
all the little cowboys
in all their ways
of being little cowboys
not over the little stuff
like how to change your oil
or which brand of television is good or not
but the big stuff
that makes it hurt inside 
to patronize my little cowboy

it hurts
like a toothache deep inside
it hurts to patronize and humor
and it hurts
to walk away
but there's nothing else to do
so i'll do one or the other
either way
letting you play little cowboy
while i think
of something else
or do something else
like reading stories of gunslingers
or writing one
both ways
my ways
hopefully
better ways
of trying to understand
the little cowboy
than being one 

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