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The shambles that be. Hell. Leave ’em all alone, if you don’t get your whiskers tangled up in such stuff. We was all calloused and cockeyed with envy and grace, then. But, then? That’s a real cruel kick without a start to its most bitter soil. And the crude just built and grew. We got punished plenty. And enough was its own device for making sure we kept order, or their idea of it. Stood together against the concrete foremen in the fall of The ’93 Panic’s blight and rust. Our homes was only lean-tos held together with kindling and scrap and elbow grease. No wonder we got busted for it, out here on our own like this, or that, as we was, and are. Shit. Nothing ever changes. You get steamrolled under like you’re John Henry or something, and then that little bit of what they say’s “gross negligence” creeps its way on into your life. And all’s that happens is that other folks get to go around enjoying it — life, that is — and the whole while you’re stuck in the muck of some Boiled Shirt’s idea of a good-paying job, a single change of underpants, cheap-shit overalls and an oil-crusted bandana to match. We is all of us no names here. All lousy with ticks and troubles. And that cursed Civil War got all the men sized up, at least for suits, with fits for any occasion afterwards. All the generals snuck out the easy way, of course, out the backdoor to them greener gardens when the troops was all scraping up shield nickels from the blood-stained floorboards. The drink takes easy when you’re flat on your back with mushed brains and a half-gone limb, without a mosey or a gimmick in your gimpy step. And us? Hell, we got us a good game to do some minor parlaying, by the by. So we guess a little at it, as we can, I guess. We was fine with the rigged blast of dynamite’s whipping burst. Dropped our shovels and fled the rock shrapnel like goofy Union recruits gone native. So finally you get stuck somewhere, as you got to, and then you just shield your eyes and do some kneeling in the dirt, too, clinging to filthy warped bibles before the lights go out for good. You see, we all of us is the bones and the gristle of this here operation, and the whole rig’s operating just about on stun. The grunt and wail of the derricks keeps our sleep half-crazy and short as a mite’s piss as we go moan alone in man-made caverns. Cussers of Mr. Rockefeller be damned, for his greenbacks is stacking on our backs, sure, but we’re getting deaf to it, knee-deep in the slurry, and, besides, we need the funds. Rogers says to me the other week, “Alight! Twelve left of the original ten. Cleaner too! Counting socks like they’re jewelry. These wells kill more men than rifles do.” I guess it’s like he’s always spewing, “What are we but the sense we can’t make? Get yourself a nickel’s worth.” I told him to stay fit and true, and then we got ourselves to arguing over causes and depleted resources and twisted chains that’ll never crank, then we made up over the sour-sweet smell of day-old, eggshell coffee and crumbling stale biscuits, me finally relenting with a, “I’m all off their radar now anyway.” So, we climb the backs of mechanical beasts and seek meaning in the lust for a never-close-enough future’s promising pay. Like trading a liberty head for a Spencer-Clark note, we get had more than we don’t. Broken? Hell. Bathing’s out of the question. We is all of us chancy suckers who pick apart the bones of the earth in the chokedamp for a little sip of eternity, always breaking for the way of the coolest shade. We got faraway families, wives who get to feeling like widows, kids with missing shoes and teeth. But bucking up’s part and parcel of this meal-ticket life we lead here, so, well, who’s in the business of counting? It’s on us, I guess, to marvel little and do much. Get some other righteous bastard to come on down and count us up our blessings for us. Handouts go on and rot in the moth-happy yellow light of carbide lamps. We heave ahead with the sighs of dogs, digging in for the longest haul in the land, missing things we hardly got time to remember rightly. But, as of late, as they says, you know what I gets to thinking? They all of ’em stole this wide, wild land from crooked sea to miserable sights, I heard it, from the Indians, not that long ago, really, took it with guns and disease and brute force. And you got Wounded Knee’s godawful burial ground and all them tear-choked trails they trod without purpose or reason. People put in makeshift reservations to stay like they’s in the clink or POWs or something. And so we all of us is just opportunists anyway, plodding away on Navajo land, on Cherokee land, Choctaw land, Shawnee land, Sioux land, Apache land. But them tribes truly didn’t believe even they owned the land. Didn’t have any receipts for the territory. Didn’t think it was possible to own the spaces of the earth. So how can we? Nope. We all is just a’ passing through. Well, shit right through the Shinola of it, I guess. We is all of us stuck being who we is. A bellyful of black soot and the coal-smudged face to match. So, hell, cut the end from that cigar and pass it right on over here. I’ll play the part of the sad sack, sure. And these boys ain’t coming home for supper anytime soon. Believe you me, all the handkerchiefs are hung out to dry. Everyone here’s looking a little too familiar for good company, and I keep hearing the sound of my name on lips I barely recognize anymore — mainly my own. Take the flash from the pan’s dents and tuck a couple of slugs in your boot. Tell the boss I’ve gone insane all the way to Tecumseh and Grant, and then some. Wyoming’s calling skeet shooters through the bullhorn, and it’s passenger pigeon and buffalo season again, and none of us quite know the way back home. Smell that train smoke, gents? It gets thicker by the mile as you get from one time zone to whatever destiny’s holding onto for you, all scuffed with disbelief and snake oil. Trust me like you would The Mint that prints your salaries on them greenbacks you keep shuffling around with in your watch pocket. Nobody’s all smiles about any of this. Well. Stand here, fellas, and let’s make this last while we can.

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