Authors: Michael Ondaatje
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Literary, #Poetry
Also by Michael Ondaatje
FICTION AND MEMOIR
Coming Through Slaughter
Running in the Family
In the Skin of a Lion
The English Patient
The Dainty Monsters
The Man with Seven Toes
There’s a Trick with a Knife I’m Learning to Do
The Cinnamon Peeler
The Conversations: Walter Murch and the
Art of Editing Film
I send you a picture of Billy made with the Perry shutter as quick as it can be worked—Pyro and soda developer. I am making daily experiments now and find I am able to take passing horses at a lively trot square across the line of fire—bits of snow in the air—spokes well defined—some blur on top of wheel but sharp in the main—men walking are no trick—I will send you proofs sometime. I shall show you what can be done from the saddle without ground glass or tripod—please notice when you get the specimens that they were made with the lens wide open and many of the best exposed when my horse was in motion
These are the killed.
Morton, Baker, early friends of mine.
A blacksmith when I was twelve, with a knife.
Indians in self defence (behind a very safe rock).
One man who bit me during a robbery.
Brady, Hindman, Beckwith, Joe Clark,
Deputy Jim Carlyle, Deputy Sheriff J.W. Bell.
And Bob Ollinger. A rabid cat,
birds during practice,
These are the killed.
Charlie, Tom O’Folliard
Angela D’s split arm,
and Pat Garrett
sliced off my head.
Blood a necklace on me all my life.
Christmas at Fort Sumner,
There were five of us together then. Wilson, Dave Rudabaugh, Charlie Bowdre, Tom O’Folliard, and me. In November we celebrated my
st birthday, mixing red dirt and alcohol—a public breathing throughout the night. The next day we were told that Pat Garrett had been made sheriff and had accepted it. We were bad for progress in New Mexico and cattle politicians like Chisum wanted the bad name out. They made Garrett sheriff and he sent me a letter saying move out or I will get you Billy. The government sent a Mr. Azariah F. Wild to help him out. Between November and December I killed Jim Carlyle over some mixup, he being a friend.
Tom O’Folliard decided to go east then, said he would meet up with us in Sumner for Christmas. Goodbye goodbye. A few days before Christmas we were told that Garret was in Sumner waiting for us all. Christmas night. Garrett, Mason, Wild, with four or five others. Tom O’Folliard rides into town, leaning his rifle between the horse’s ears. He would shoot from the waist now which, with a rifle, was pretty good, and he was always accurate.
Garrett had been waiting for us, playing poker with the others, guns on the floor beside them. Told that Tom was riding in alone, he went straight to the window and shot O’Folliard’s horse dead. Tom collapsed with the horse still holding the gun and blew out Garrett’s window. Garrett already halfway downstairs. Mr. Wild shot at Tom from the other side of the street, rather unnecessarily shooting the horse again. If Tom had used stirrups and didnt swing his legs so much he would probably have been locked unde1
the animal. O’Folliard moved soon. When Garrett had got to ground level, only the horse was there in the open street, good and dead. He couldnt shout to ask Wild where O’Folliard was or he would’ve got busted. Wild started to yell to tell Garrett though and Tom killed him at once. Garrett fired at O’Folliard’s flash and took his shoulder off. Tom O’Folliard screaming out onto the quiet Fort Sumner street, Christmas night, walking over to Garrett, no shoulder left, his jaws tilting up and down like mad bladders going. Too mad to even aim at Garrett. Son of a bitch son of a bitch, as Garrett took clear aim and blew him out.
Garrett picked him up, the head broken in two, took him back upstairs into the hotel room. Mason stretched out a blanket neat in the corner. Garrett placed Tom O’Folliard down, broke open Tom’s rifle, took the remaining shells and placed them by him. They had to wait till morning now. They continued their poker game till six a.m. Then remembered they hadnt done anything about Wild. So the four of them went out, brought Wild into the room. At eight in the morning Garrett buried Tom O’Folliard. He had known him quite well. Then he went to the train station, put Azariah F. Wild on ice and sent him back to Washington.
In Boot Hill there are over
graves. It takes the space of
acres. There is an elaborate gate but the path keeps to no main route for it tangles like branches of a tree among the gravestones.
of the dead in Boot Hill died violently
by guns, over
by knives some were pushed under trains—a popular and overlooked form of murder in the west. Some from brain haemorrhages resulting from bar fights at least
killed in barbed wire.
In Boot Hill there are only
graves that belong to women and they are the only known suicides in that graveyard
The others, I know, did not see the wounds appearing in the sky, in the air. Sometimes a normal forehead in front of me leaked brain gases. Once a nose clogged right before me, a lock of skin formed over the nostrils, and the shocked face had to start breathing through mouth, but then the moustache bound itself in the lower teeth and he began to gasp loud the hah! hah! going strong—churned onto the floor, collapsed out, seeming in the end to be breathing out of his eye—tiny needle jets of air reaching into the throat. I told no one. If Angela D. had been with me then, not even her; not Sallie, John, Charlie, or Pat. In the end the only thing that never changed, never became deformed, were animals.
Mmmmmmmm mm thinking
moving across the world on horses
body split at the edge of their necks
neck sweat eating at my jeans
moving across the world on horses
so if I had a newsman’s brain I’d say
well some morals are physical
must be clear and open
like diagram of watch or star
one must eliminate much
that is one turns when the bullet leaves you
walk off see none of the thrashing
the very eyes welling up like bad drains
believing then the moral of newspapers or gun
where bodies are mindless as paper flowers you dont feed
or give to drink
that is why I can watch the stomach of clocks
shift their wheels and pins into each other
and emerge living, for hours
When I caught Charlie Bowdre dying
feet by bang bullets giggling
at me face tossed in a gaggle
he pissing into his trouser legs in pain
face changing like fast sunshine o my god o my god
billy I’m pissing watch
while the eyes grew all over his body
Jesus I never knew that did you
the nerves shot out
the liver running around there
like a headless hen jerking
brown all over the yard
seen that too at my aunt’s
never eaten hen since then
Blurred a waist high river
foam against the horse
riding naked clothes and boots
and pistol in the air
Crossed a crooked river
loving in my head
ambled dry on stubble
shot a crooked bird
Held it in my fingers
the eyes were small and far
it yelled out like a trumpet
destroyed it of its fear
After shooting Gregory
this is what happened
I’d shot him well and careful
made it explode under his heart
so it wouldnt last long and
was about to walk away
when this chicken paddles out to him
and as he was falling hops on his neck
digs the beak into his throat
straightens legs and heaves
a red and blue vein out
Meanwhile he fell
and the chicken walked away
still tugging at the vein
till it was
as if it held that body like a kite
Gregory’s last words being
get away from me yer stupid chicken
Tilts back to fall
black hair swivelling off her
shattering the pillow
Billy she says
the tall gawky body spitting electric
off the sheets to my arm leans her whole body out
so breasts are thinner
stomach is a hollow
where the bright bush jumps
this is the first time
bite into her side leave
a string of teeth marks
she hooks in two and covers me
my hand locked
her body nearly breaking off my fingers
pivoting like machines in final speed
later my hands cracked in love juice
fingers paralysed by it arthritic
these beautiful fingers I couldnt move
faster than a crippled witch now
The barn I stayed in for a week then was at the edge of a farm and had been deserted it seemed for several years, though built of stone and good wood. The cold dark grey of the place made my eyes become used to soft light and I burned out my fever there. It was twenty yards long, about ten yards wide. Above me was another similar sized room vbut the floors were unsafe for me to walk on. However I heard birds and the odd animal scrape their feet, the rotten wood magnifying the sound so they entered my dreams and nightmares.
But it was the colour and light of the place that made me stay there, not my fever. It became a calm week. It was the colour and the light. The colour a grey with remnants of brown—for instance those rust brown pipes and metal objects that before had held bridles or pails, that slid to machine uses; the thirty or so grey cans in one corner of the room, their ellipses, from where I sat, setting up patterns in the dark.