Buffalo Skinners

by Matthew Caley

Having left M’Lady
half-naked and panting, as her husband mounted the stairs,
I vaulted the balustrade
— preferred exit of unrepentant sinners —
dropped down to find myself in a parallel universe.

Suddenly I was a swarthy lad
exiled to New Caledonia, following the trade
of bounty hunter, each scalp a privy purse
waist-deep in hill country, fern and furze.

*

Thus my discovery of the buffalo skinners
below a little knoll, through spruce and sumac, in a clearing
hunkering down to scrape the skins
with their long-bladed knives — by the jangle of their spurs,
the latter betraying their position —
was relatively easy.
More difficult to furnish them with lives

or take them away.  Just beyond their hearing
I lay in a gulch of arch-backed ferns
each one bearing a glutinous snail with an occipital horn.
They were putting bits of buffalo into a pot —
a tongue, an ear
and boiling the foulest brew.  One hummed My Darling
     Clementine.  I shot
him through the left eye

the other through the oesophagus, a lasso of arterial blood veering across the forest floor.  One pine swayed, like a woman,
imperceptibly.

*

Like a woman, persistent as a melody
that lingers on the mind, a fear not allayed,
someone whose arm-span tests the width of the sun
yet is still not wide enough to steer the course

of stars.  I want to fall prey to some sensational malady
one that would prove material for several Appalachian ballads,
so sad they would fill the deepest hole within us
each one including set-piece pines, some buffalo skinners.