Originally published in Points West magazine
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show: The Old Glory Blowout
By Charles Sabukewicz
[To me] Buffalo Bill’s history in many ways parallels that of America’s: a great nation with great early success that eventually led to the burden of too much of it… In many ways, our country has been a Wild West show.
Streetlamps wink in the vaporous light.
Long, rolling blasts of snow
howl like a furious sea.
Wind booms in the chimney.
I have been dreaming,
but for how long?
A small boy sits at the window.
a story book on his knees.
It is The Wild West
opened at a brightly painted circus.
It is only then that the lights blink out.
In an ancient amusement house,
an old, mechanical woman in black
laughs from moldy porcelain teeth;
her eyes flick green in condescension.
The awkward gears engage,
her movements stiff and jerky
behind the faded glass.
She deals the Ace of Spades.
Another: the magic figure of a King.
The game has ended, time to go home.
A man with white hair flying
rides a fierce white horse;
his polished rifle snaps silver slugs
like pebble asteroids
through a circle of stars.
The moon is a moment out of the clouds.
Its gorgeous light bends
on plumcake white chimneytops and walls.
An old dog casts his silver bark
out to the night
then settles in a dream.
It is not until you are old
that you will be born, singing
like a broken tambourine
out to the unforgiving stars,
obedient to the clear arrangement
of the stars in the Hunter’s belt,
the icicle’s exact release
of the first thimbledrop of spring,
doom burning green, bringing
the green light singing out of the earth,
like an old piano faithful
to the seamstress’ faithful song.
Buffalo Bill rides
like an angry buckleather leaddealer
ring slinging rainbow dreaming man,
out of the dignity of beauty,
long hair flying out to defy
the Indians’ scalping knives.
Sitting Bull digs his knees
into his pony’s sides,
dashing like a piston’s natural burning
into a ringbolt of stars.
Annie leans pert and steady,
her squared shoulders,
aiming love out of a rifle’s sigh,
torn like a message
from the poem of a rainbow,
of a taxi in rain, an immigrant’s aching love
endured on the strong Atlantic.
The glass spheres are flung,
and Annie shoots.
Her rifle snaps smoke;
the glass balls splatter.
Cody’s pearl-gripped pistol
mutters profane bullet whispers
and the Indian brave leans
with quick imaginative fingers
over a fading fire. Children. Tents.
The wind bends East.
Old Glory flying red, white and blue,
songs teased out of banjo and fiddle,
dirtclods flung as ponies race
sweat leather buckles lean breathe
into the land
a man a woman a child crying
out of the Garden
written in memory,
burning like fire in a dead man’s pocket,
like the catapult uplunge
of the rocket in flight.
When you are old it comes to you
squarebraced rig leaning
like a jigsaw sail
shouldered into the sea,
weather-braced and merry.
I have no other country. This is my land.
Banner of red, white and blue
under the golden, military eagle.
Ponies’ sharp hooves prancing toward us,
Dirt flying, drums beating,
blue caps and Union buckles,
antique glint of rebel bayonets,
all on a field of green;
all on a ghost gray horse
the lonely history hero
singing our error
to the skies.
Thundering into trenches,
men with square faces under
shiny helmet disks
mirror the machine guns’ fiery stitches;
the ’39 Ford bends like a shuttle
onto the burning airfield.
leans like a tower
and falls and a young man smirks
at the blind eyedoctor blooming
over the gray damp dawn
pink like violets and sharps;
the hard Atlantic men
lean into the gale,
their cargo full of slaves.
Nebraska boys. Ohio
boys. They all come marching.
The electric dynamo
spins on its steel spine;
thundering power slams into cables,
in black wires out
over the listening land,
the curved electric arc
into the electric city.
Red and white stripes bundle into soft folds,
blue, and then white stars
crumble and fold into the bluecoat’s arms,
under the tragic white clouds
puffing like summer furnaces up
into the airy cool stream
at the edge
of the littleboy’s fingertips reaching
from the highest clodrooted tree,
reaching for the dreams, reaching
as the page browns in an ancient book,
I will never be young again, ever.
Swans file out on the cream of the lake;
a pony’s sharp hooves spark on the ice;
his steambloom nostrils
flare to the goodbye sun
the bloom of the morning.
I am this America, and ever I will be.
About the author
Charles Sabukewicz should know a thing or two about poetry. After all, he taught high school English for thirty years at Middlebury, Vermont. But even with a childhood in Rhode Island and a career in Vermont, the 70-year-old has always loved the West. He sent this poem, part of a larger collection, to Dr. John Rumm, then the curator of western American history at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
“My point in this piece, spoken through the ‘I’ of the poem, is that it is time to embrace more fully our history,” Sabukewicz wrote to Rumm, “and realize that we are an aging country, and begin our future with this knowledge.”