This West: A Detective Story
this west: a detective story
oil town. now. but yes cattle at one time. west of town where the river cuts through the prairie the low banks keep eroding and in the summer the heat comes early and stays most of the day and night. north of here another country altogether. that in many ways. to the east the camp or what they call the camp. row after row of small trailers. most with a satellite dish outside and a pickup truck. maybe a cheap barbecue grill with a propane tank attached. all of them surrounded by one chainlink fence with a gate out front. oil town. high wages. quick wages. men coming from all over to find work and work long hours and drink in the evening and sometimes more. and the company. the company there to make money. out beyond the river there are still ground birds that come out at dawn. the river flows south. to a larger river. the derricks cast long shadows in the morning and his face was revealed only after the wind blew away the soft dry dirt. that light that cast those shadows crept across his face rising like an amber sheet. there was peace there. both in the light and on his face. but as the wind continued and the light drove down from overhead his body showed no more peace. bent like the wrecked body of a bird on the highway. his arm a wing turned wrong. is it of note that bird can be the metaphor for a man and that the destroyed body of a bird metaphor for the destroyed body of a man? or nearly a man. not quite still a boy. the body was fresh. the grave, too, and shallow. faint tire tracks blown to disappearing. leading simply away. the horizon though scanned repeatedly offered no answers or clues and its muteness was both its beauty and its enduring frustration. perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago men went mad here struggling in snow for that ever-receding horizon. white men. white men stealing or soldiering or otherwise finding themselves here where their hopes might be answered. then something. but the indigenous persisted. living as they did. knowing what they knew. persisted. persisted until. the near-boy was taken gently from his shallow grave and his face remained with that peace. like some prairie angel whose fiery retribution was yet to wake. it was difficult not to see him with wings. one must imagine that whoever kissed those lips last, whoever stole that as yet here impermissible pleasure, must have been surprised by the way the shadow of those wings fell across his desire and his eyes. that eclipse revealing something essential. something deniable. those sweet lips. now stained with dirt and oil. the derricks pumping in the distance.
Clark Chatlain has published poems and prose in several journals, most recently the anthology "Poets Across the Big Sky II" and the journals "Natural Bridge," "Minute Magazine," and "Burning House Press." He currently lives and works in Missoula, Montana. He blogs at microproseblog.wordpress.com.