He rode Westward with an overlarge knife
which Jim Bowie would have thought a bit much,
but would not have said so, if he had valued his life,
for Patches had upon him Death’s constant touch.
They called him Patches because he rode so Devil-May-Care
throughout the Wild West in the same suit of tattered leather,
unraveling as he traveled, having to stitch himself when threadbare
again and again, making a patchwork of parts haphazardly sewn together.
Alongside his knife, he kept a sharp needle and a spool of red thread
with which he sewed endlessly along his tumultuous route
as if he was suturing a wound just as soon as it bled,
before decay could set in, or the limb could bleed out.
And he had golden teeth, which gleamed when he grinned
through the tornadoes and the Apache raids, all the last stands
and the dysentery and the Pox plagues, the wild desert wind;
his grin never faltered as he searched the untamed wastelands.
Like himself, his horse, too, was a motley-blotched beast
of variegated colors, an inchoate piebald mare
with a white face, and black eyes, which never in the least
tired as it traveled from town to town, here to there.
And his saddle was unique among the American West
for it was made of tanned leather and beaten hide
scalped from Natives and Whites and Blacks and the rest
which he took from the corpses strewn along the endless ride.
Where Patches rode, the sun sank into a pool so red
that it seemed the mesas bled, as did the arid canyons,
and the flatlands that were once a hellish ocean’s bed
now a scorched expanse, as if leveled by the firing of canons.
Patches was a rumor, a hope, a promise, a ghoul,
a bedtime nightmare for kids, and adults, too,
and a savior for some, though mostly just a necessary tool
who could broaden horizons, if he did not happen to kill you.
Like his saddle and suit, America was sewn together as he went
from one mile to a thousand, tirelessly and inexorably, lest any
parts come apart at the seams and fall away, forever rent
from the whole, the union, unraveling this Manifest Destiny.
Even today he rides, retracing his old paths as they fray and tear,
stitching it with new scalps he takes beneath that bloody sun
and holding that bleeding horizon together for another year
until there comes a day when his own patchwork will come undone.