At first the thought is accidental,
but it comes back three days in a row,
like a re occurring musical theme
which is so unexpected that it strikes
the ears as strange and out of place.
Taking the first curve up Torrey Pines,
it laces back through my mind,
like a small child pleading for a cookie
I just want to run away with a cowboy.
Slipping mail from the box
there it is again,
the feel of dust in my throat,
the whole sky turning a Stetson beige.
My ex husband points out that
you can run off with a cowboy
but you can’t talk to one.
We have always had such
a different point of view,
the only reason I am polishing my boots
is ’cause they tell such great stories,
sing such fine songs.
I step into my neighbor’s truck
and fall in love,
saying I want a little truck
and a little ranch,
maybe a couple of acres.
She points out, “and a little cowboy.”
My therapist tells me I’m from Texas,
I answer with a very civilized NO.
I keep this cowboy stuff to myself
’cause I don’t know yet where it’s goin’,
only that it keeps comin’ back
in the most unexpected places,
in the back yards of La Jolla homes,
on my way to the laundromat,
at the supermarket standin’
over the chocolate chips
I just want to run off with a cowboy.
I remember my favorite lady in town,
who drives a white, air conditioned Cadillac
and always dresses like a cowboy,
in beige jeans, beige high heeled,
pointed toe shoes,
her face all painted up
and topped with a cowboy hat.
I have been asking for a cowboy hat all year
on Mother’s Day, Valentine’s and Christmas
every occasion, I ask for a cowboy hat
and The Complete Emily Dickinson,
but no one ever takes me seriously.
I am sitting across from a couple on the train.
He has a deep voice and is wearing
an honest to god Western suit,
dark brown, the kind Hank Williams
or one of those guys would have worn,
with a deep yoked shirt, cowboy tie
and my god, a Stetson
you know what kind hat.
His wife, I assume, they are not
the sort of people who would
take long train rides unmarried,
is wearing a long floral dress,
brown with lace trim.
It is open just a tasteful amount
down to the breast.
She has a red carnation in her hair,
her cheeks are pink,
I imagine she is pregnant.
My uncle could tell by looking in the eyes,
but she is sleeping on his shoulder.
They are the most beautiful couple
I have ever seen.
I spend three days watching them,
wondering if he is a real cowboy
or just borrowed the hat,
knowing if she isn’t,
it’s not from lack of interest
or effort in that direction.
The theoretical physicist,
who keeps interrupting me with his tales
of the Trans Siberian railway,
is in a monologue about the difference
between West Texas and East.
This guy knows everything,
and has told me most of it
between Del Mar and Oakland.
Somehow he has gotten from
Siberia to West Texas,
and that is a lot of trains.
I watch the sleeping couple,
she is gentle,
he is appropriately protective,
even in his sleep.
I do not point out to the theoretical physicist
that the primary cultural distinction
between West Texas and East
is the way they say
I loved living in Arizona,
wearing Western clothes,
shirts that fit skin tight,
low cut, bell bottom riders,
those pants just barely above
well, just barely above
with yokes in sharp v’s
that pointed there,
in case you missed the obvious,
the more ornate the yoke and stitching
the more prized,
the more permissive the mother,
the more risque the yoke,
I could never get mine
quite tight enough
to really do the job.
My friend calls to ask if I am
related to the Texas bank robber
Mean Jeans Austin.
I deny Texas relatives,
but I am listenin’ to Buddy Holly
thinkin’ all the good shit in life
is sort of like Lubbock, Texas,
I mean I can’t remember
but I think I might have been there,
probably in ’57,
in the days of water bags
and side window coolers
that spit at `ya across the desert,
white farm houses and windmills
store keepers in town who tell you,
“This is Texas, we don’t have tax.”
I fell in love with Texas
’cause it spread out for days,
you were always in Texas.
I loved Texas for big land,
I loved Montana for big sky.
I loved them both for having ranches.
I think of a woman I knew once who branded cows,
realizing then the difference in us as women,
contemplating women who could brand cows,
men who could brand cows,
the smell of burned flesh implying ownership.
I could never watch that part of a cowboy movie,
so I decide I should have a peach ranch,
because this is my favorite image
blooming and fruition.
And I have said for years
that art could never top the peach.
I walk around for days feeling weird
toward Californians in Levis,
who don’t know the life
they were intended for,
thinking of peach ranches
and little trucks
and cowboy hats.
I just want to run off with a cowboy,
but I have been through this
with painters and poets and publishers,
and I know now what it means.
I know this is exactly
what they want me to think.
All women are told this,
that they cannot be it,
that they have to marry it,
waiting for some cowboy to fall asleep
so I can borrow his hat not me
I want a hat of my own.
I spend the week reclaiming my Levis
from old boyfriends and ex husbands,
reclaiming my native strength,
my masculine side,
needed to live hard lives on the land,
realizing my fear of living on the land
is the fear of the life of the woman
on the plains,
whose life is a prison,
who lives as the passive victim
of tornadoes and men,
the life lived in total stillness,
waiting for the times to change
and not making the times change.
I have been through this
with poets and painters
and know now what it means,
that what you want in a man
is what you want to be,
and what you want to be
you already are.
I notice four of my six shirts
are cowboy shirts.
I buy a little boy’s cowboy belt,
too small as incentive,
get into myself as a little cowboy,
saying I can be a little cowboy,
who wears French hair combs
and Chantilly perfume,
with a little spread outside San Antone
that produces peaches.
I don’t really want to run off
with a cowboy,
I just want to be one,
runnin’ off to where
the land and sky are big,
white farm houses,
windmills whizzin’ by,
dust in my throat,
the whole sky
the color of Stetson hats,