Backdrop addresses cowboyBy Margaret Atwood
sauntering out of the almost-
silly West, on your face
a porcelain grin,
tugging a papier-mâché cactus
on wheels behind you with a string,
you are innocent as a bathtub
full of bullets.
Your righteous eyes, your laconic
people the streets with villains:
as you move, the air in front of you
blossoms with targets
and you leave behind you a heroic
trail of desolation:
slaughtered by the side
of the road, bird-
skulls bleaching in the sunset.
I ought to be watching
from behind a cliff or a cardboard storefront
when the shooting starts, hands clasped
but I am elsewhere.
Then what about me
what about the I
confronting you on that border,
you are always trying to cross?
I am the horizon
you ride towards, the thing you can never lasso
I am also what surrounds you:
scattered with your
tincans, bones, empty shells,
the litter of your invasions.
I am the space you desecrate
as you pass through.
Margaret Atwood, “Backdrop addresses cowboy” from Selected Poems 1965-1975. Copyright © 1974, 1976 by Margaret Atwood. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Source: Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976)