“Riding Westward”

Click here to listen to Carl Phillips read this poem. Any sunset, look at him: standing there, like between his legs there’s a horse somehow, on either side of it a saddlebag of loss, a pack of sorrow, and him Kid Compromise his very own shoot-’em-up tilt to the brim of his hat self, smirk to match, all-for-love-if-it’s-gotta-come-to-that half swagger,           half unintentional, I think, sashay. The silver spurs at his ankles where maybe the wings would be, if the gods still existed, catch the light, lose it, as he stands in place, scraping the dirt with his boots: lines, circles that stop short, shapes that mean nothing— no bull, not like that, but scraping shyly, like a man who’s forgotten that part of himself, keeps forgetting, because what the fuck?

As he takes his hat off; as he lifts his head up
like if right now he could be any animal he’d
choose coyote; as all the usual sunset colors
break over his face, 
                          he starts up singing again,
same as every night, same song: loneliness
by starlight, miles to go, lay me down by
the cool etc.—that kind of song, the kind
you’ll have heard before, sure, somewhere,
but where was that, 
                            the singer turning this
and that way, as if watching the song itself—
—the words to the song—leave him, as he
lets each go, the wind carrying most of it,
some of the words, falling, settling into
instead that larger darkness, where the smaller

darknesses that our lives were lie softly down.