A sampling from MARKED MEN

A sampling from MARKED MEN

From “A Marked Man”:

I: A Damped-Down Fire

                              April 21, 1865
Half Past 10:00 a.m.

Boot-clatter out on the boardwalk’s
warped pine planks—boisterous
shouts and catcalls that wrench his gaze
from the brew gone flat as pond water
in its thick-sided mug. Soule turns,
squints: the saloon door stands
open onto Larimer street, its mud
a slops-and-horseshit pudding
runny with April thaw. He leans
toward it, on alert, but doesn’t rise,
merely gripping the glass mug-handle,
knuckles a sickly pinkish white.
Afraid? No man’s stuck that slur
on him, nor he on himself. Still,
when he touches the dim star
pinned to his duster’s black lapel,
its pointed reminder—Silas Soule,
Assistant Provost Marshal—his breath
stalls. Does he prod himself? Insist
that a brawl in the street’s his bailiwick,
his duty (whatever that might mean
in times like these)? In any case,
the chair holds him fast.
Boylan,
the barkeep, dragging his twisted leg
like a cottonwood branch, eases
to the flyblown window for a peek
under the gilt-lettered words Criterion
Saloon, then shrugs toward the marshal.
Soule resumes the study of his lager.
Boylan takes up the damp rag tied
to his apron string and begins to wipe
the nearest table.
Two months it’s been
since Soule testified—told the horrors
he’d seen at Sand Creek to the panel
convened by Colonel Moonlight.
A massacre, Soule called it, Chivington’s
rubbing out of Black Kettle’s village,
though some in Denver City said
we’re at war, which made it a battle,
and some called Soule a damn traitor
because he kept his men above the fray.
Boylan has seen with his own eyes
how death threats have turned up
under Soule’s plate while he stepped
out back for a piss. He eyes Soule now,
sidelong. Sure seems all the verve’s
been bled right out of him—a man
that used to laugh at his own sly jokes,
or wax philosophical over losing
at cards.
“It all evens out in the end,”
he’d say, then wink: “Dust to dust,
no matter you’re planted with a jingle
in your pocket.”
Of course, marriage
sobered him up. The very prospect
made him jump at the Colonel’s offer
of a marshal’s star and steady pay.
Then came the inquest, and fresh
strikes by the Arapaho and Cheyenne
hot to avenge Chivington’s slaughter.
And Soule, for his testimony, called
by some an “Indian lover” like Tappan,
the man Moonlight picked to head
the investigation. Small wonder
some hate him
, Boylan thinks. Still,
half the town feels damn appalled
by what was done, and looks on Soule
as a brave and honest man. Boylan
contemplates the marshal’s contemplation.
Why don’t he just go on? When Soule
sits down for a meal, the place
soon empties out—for who’d care
to risk their health by sitting near
so marked a man? Look at him. What
could he be reading in that spindly foam
scrawled across the pale gold surface
of his beer?

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