Robert Cooperman

John Sprockett Buys a Mount for Sylvia Williams:
September, 1863

We’ve ridden one tired mount through Kansas,
Miz Williams escaping the bullwhips
of that Arkansas plantation, to make her fortune
cooking for gold rats in the Colorado fields,
me hiding from the devilment I seem to raise
like Prospero conjuring spirits, to run trap lines
in the high, desolate mountains.

We stop at a town’s livery stable, the owner,
shotgun to hand, staring at my bear-slashed face,
knowing me for one of Quantrill’s men that massacred
Lawrence, before my conscience mauled me
like the bear that clawed me into a monster.

“I know who you are,” his voice shakes. “Keep riding.”

“First, this fine lady needs a mount.” I see him
weighing if he can refuse on account of her color,
or maybe put one over on us, when she points
to a strawberry roan mare.

“Ain’t for sale,” he spits tobacco. I let him take
a good long look at the scars that talon my face,
and for him to understand we ain’t moving
without that mare and her smooth stepping lines.

I toss a coin and demand a bill of sale.
Miz Williams sits her like a Comanche
born to ride without a saddle.

“I’ll call her Miz Shakespeare,” she laughs,
“for all the poems you been teaching me.”
For the first time in as long as I can recall,
a smile warms my face like daybreak,
like that summer day the Bard wrote about.

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