Excerpts from From Hell to Jackson Hole: A Poetic History of the American West

Copyright © Michael L. Johnson. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

A True Patriot: An Epitaph for Edward Abbey

On one imperative he stayed intent:
To save his country from its government.

Dr. Brewster Higley, the Man Who Wrote “Home on the Range”

Whatever the sweet scenes his rhymes
rehearse, he was married five times
and often undoubtedly heard
many a discouraging word.

Southwestern Kansas, 1897

Land a hundred miles west of Haviland.

A horizontal line, barely curved, cuts
the photograph in two; the lower half
is treeless earth; the upper, cloudless sky.

No railroad tracks. No barn. No horse. No cow.
No chickens. No picnic, No quilting bee.
No school, No dance. No prairie fire, No plague
of locusts. No dust storm. No drought. No hail.
No tornado. No cholera. No debt.
No Indians. Not even loneliness.

Only this: in the center, on that edge,
a tiny spot, rectangular, at first
maybe a blemish in the positive,
then the focus of dismay — someone’s house.

Joaquin Murieta For Naida West

Robin Hood of El Dorado or not,
out in that borderland of civilized
and savage, he was, for some, just one man;
for others, many — either way, at war
with wrong or right. For some, he never did
exist; for others, he lived on, at peace
after brief banditry, till he died old.
For some, prized angel; for others, feared beast.

For some, he ended as a severed head
pickled in booze, a grisly spectacle
of finitude that toured the mining towns;
for others, he remains, his story told
and told again, the spirit, glorious
on horseback still (but still a good bit short
of Zorro), sort of defending and sort
of avenging the past and its oppressed.

From Hell to Jackson Hole: A Poetic History of the American West
by Michael L. Johnson
ISBN: 0965348776
$10.44 or FREE with purchase of 2 other BHB books
144 pages; trade paper; full-color illustrations; endnotes

Updated May 14, 2010