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Archive: Contents of American Haibun & Haiga Volume 1

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Michael McClintock

High Gun on the Gila

the old man
after his nap
moves into the sunlight

This was great granddad's account as I recorded it on his hundredth birthday in 1979:

I was one of the little people living at Paradise on the Gila on the morning of the big gunfight back in the fall of 1887. If it hadn't been for teacher, Miss Peril, who canceled school that day because of bad "vapors" or some such, I wouldn't have seen a thing. As it was, I was about the only one who did, except of course for the shooters themselves, and one of them didn't live to tell it. Now I can't lie, the other reason I saw it all was because I was a runty eight years old and smoked cigarettes.

When school let out all unexpected like that I just did what came natural to a boy that age in a place like that, and hunkered on into town to my favorite hideout up on the roof of Barney's Feed Store. Being fairly new in town, having arrived just that summer, I hadn't much in the way of friends just yet, and in any case didn't want to share my stash, so I went alone. Most of the other kids headed the other direction--or you could say in all directions but the one I took.

Right off I noticed the town was weird-like quiet. And sure, Paradise was no Tucson or Santa Fe or 'Berdoo, big places like that. Except for payday nights and weekends, when the cowboys from the big spreads came into Paradise for a good time and plenty to drink, the place was pretty much always quiet, maybe even especially on a Monday. But, like I said, this was weird-quiet. Even Barney's was locked up.

I lit up, sucked down a long drag, and sort of took it all in. Usually there were geezers on the benches outside the saloon, but not that day.

high noon: the Marshall
steps from the saloon
into the empty street

Now that got my attention. Marshall Bird was a big man, tough as all get out. Right about then he was looking real thoughtful, almost like he was sniffing the air. The Prince Albert I was smoking stank plenty and I thought I was a goner and the Marshall was onto me. I pinched off the smoke and didn't make another move.

a stray dog
wets a tumbleweed
and keeps on trotting

Did I ever envy that dog. But funny thing, Marshall Bird paid it no mind at all. In fact, he was squinting off at something else entirely, and I followed his gaze.

from the corner window
of the whorehouse
a nightgown is blowing

Then Marshall Bird seemed to straighten his shoulders. He drew the tail of his longcoat away and back from his right hip, and brought his eyes down dead level to the street. Well, he wasn't after me, that was for sure.

the gunslinger pauses,
lowers his hat brim,
and strides into the light

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The man in the Stetson was Jake Vanden. Every bounty poster I'd seen for practically my whole life up till then, from St. Louis to Paradise, had that face on it. It was his wispy little goatee and the murderous pale eyes you couldn't mistake. He shot people for fun and robbed gold out of churches. And here he was, come to Paradise! It was all over in a second.

that single gunshot . . .
a whippoorwill startles
and drops from the pine

That's about it. I saw it all. Right below me on that street in Paradise Jake lay in a heap and his dreams of gold bled out into the dust. And Marshall Bird had known I was up there on the roof the whole time. "Get on the hell home, kid," he said to the air. Didn't even look up.

windless day . . .
down the line of aspens
pass the years


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