Word Count 1,755
He was all by himself a child of two worlds, not much past the age of eleven.
Down on the border, beyond law and order, where it’s closer to hell than to heaven.
He had no place to sleep, there was little to eat, he had no one to call on who cared.
His world was a hard and a bitter place and the cold, lonely nights left him scared.
His childhood was lost in the everyday fight, in his search for a bed or a meal.
He was hounded and taunted and beaten and he learned how to lie and to steal.
In his place there are some who would curl up and die, some would live but be barely alive.
But he was the sort that no matter the odds would claw his way through and survive.
It seemed there was no room for kindness; there was no time to mourn or be sad,
The weak and the soft didn’t last very long so he buried his fear and got mad.
For anger can help keep the tears at bay and anger is hot in the night.
Anger let him ignore the pain and helped keep him strong for the fight.
He looked for a way to make the world pay, he searched for his place in the sun.
He found his ticket to Paradise…Mr. Colts’ hottest seller, a gun.
He learned how to harness the lightning; he learned how a man plays the game.
He learned how to hide his emotions; he set out to make him a name.
Soon there was a stir on the borderland; a fresh name was on every lip.
A new gun-for-hire in the country, a young man with death on his hip.
In his eye was the look of an eagle and he kept himself off from the crowd.
In his hand was the speed of a falcon. He walked tall and held himself proud.
And his name quickly grew with the telling, the stuff from which legends are spun.
He was cool as the ice of December and wickedly fast with a gun.
He made a big mark on the border. Earned respect from his foes and his peers.
But he started to wake from his slumbers with dreams full of shadows and fears.
He hadn’t quite buried the boy that he’d been, the one with the kind loving heart.
And he didn’t think much of the man he’d become. The gun life had torn him apart.
He’d stood all alone in too many dark streets with the merciless sun blazing down
And he’d ridden away leaving too many graves in too many dusty towns.
He knew that gunmen seldom grow old, not the novice or even a master.
You can’t leave it behind no matter how fast ‘cause there’s always someone who’s faster.
If he died there’d be no one to grieve for him, if he lived there’d be no one to trust.
And it just didn’t seem there was too much to choose ‘tween the evil and the just.
Deep in his breast where he’d locked it away, his heart cried out for some peace.
Staring into the fire, all alone in the night he feared death was his only release.
He came to the end up against a white wall to the sound of the Devils’ own mirth.
But his fate snatched him back from the doorway to hell with a promise of heaven on earth.
A ghost from the past sang a sweet siren song of rights his by blood and by birth.
A father, a brother, a sister, a home – a place of his own on this earth.
An offer of grace in the face of his past, escape from his life on the run.
A place he could try for a peace that would last, turn his soul and his face to the sun.
The price of this dream was to stop a small war, and he paid with his blood and his gun
But when it was over he feared he would find his own war had only begun.
He had always traveled in solitude, a road filled with darkness and strife.
How could such a man, versed in violence find a refuge in everyday life?
He had called his own tune; he had made his own fate, flown on wings drawn of being alone
Now he gave up his freedom to follow the rules of a father that he’d never known.
But fathers and sons at the best of time are a tricky and volatile blend.
And it gets even worse when both sides are proud and the “Old Man” refuses to bend.
A struggle was joined; a battle of wills, this thing should have never begun
‘Tween a son who just wanted his father and a father who wanted his son.
The rules were set out, the law was laid down, there would be no excuse or exemption.
And he tried, God he tried for he yearned for the prize, the ultimate jackpot – Redemption!
Sometimes he argued and sometimes he swore and once, hid in darkness, he cried.
Sometimes he was sure that his own father wished that he’d never come home – that he’d died.
He knew all the tricks to keep himself safe from the malice and guile of a stranger
But this business of forming a family brought a different sort of danger.
When you open your heart to another, you leave yourself no place to hide
For the ones who can cut you the deepest are the ones that you’ve let inside.
Bitter words that are sharpened by anger can pierce like a forge-heated blade,
Bleeding joy and light from the spirit, leaving scars on the soul that don’t fade
And he learned that a slug from a stranger’s gun wasn’t always the cruelest part,
For the blood that’s drawn by family comes from closest to the heart.
Still peace never comes without struggle, if it’s worth all the doubts and the pain.
So he swallowed his fears, his hurt and his pride, stepped back in and tried it again.
Oh the blame wasn’t all one sided. He knew there was plenty to share.
If he’d just drop his guard with his father, could believe just a bit that he cared…
He’d been told as a child that the “Old Man” had abandoned him in his youth.
Now his head heard a different story but his heart couldn’t buy it as truth.
He could stand up alone, with hard steely eyes and face down a gun or a knife,
But risking the chance of a wounded heart was harder than facing a threat to his life.
Still hope kept bringing him back again through the good times and the bad,
Hope and a brother from Boston that he’d never known that he had.
And so it went on for far too long, an existence with no resolution
Two men who couldn’t be reconciled, a problem without a solution.
Isn’t it strange what can instigate change, the markers for life or for death?
How the moments that shape a lifetime can hang on the pause of an indrawn breath.
He rode out one soft May morning with his father and some hands
And he saw the blush of springtime resting lightly on the land.
The new sun found them moving through the dawning’s lifting haze
Down a hillside blessed with flowers, drifting cattle down to graze.
There was peace in the slow, solid rhythm of the horses at a walk,
And the lowing of the cattle and above there soared a hawk….
He thought with desperate longing that this land might make him whole.
That he might with time and family, wash the stain off of his soul.
He had turned to watch his father, riding wide out to the right
When a rapid drum of hoof beats and a shot signaled a fight.
Then the morning peace was shattered by a sudden rangeland battle
With some men who made a living selling other peoples cattle.
Someone’s shirt bloomed red; someone’s horse took a tumble.
And the grass was churned to dust by the frightened stampedes rumble.
The running fight moved forward in the wake of the panicked stock
Leaving behind a quiet that was pierced by the call of the red tail hawk.
He staggered to his feet, clutched his side with a groan and a frown
And turned to scan the field where he’d watched as his father went down.
Nothing moved but the wind in the silence and his heart stood still with dread
Then slowly another figure stood, drew a breath and raised its head.
Their eyes sought out each other across the torn up sod
And each found the other living and each whispered thanks to God.
In the shock of that first moment with the dry dust drifting down
They knew that they had almost lost what they hadn’t quite yet found.
It shook them to their souls to know how great would be the loss,
All the time that had been wasted, what their pride had almost cost.
His father was sore and shaken from the fall that stopped his ride
And the boy, white faced and bleeding where a bullet scored his side.
But they both still had tomorrow and the hope that tomorrow brought.
They knew they’d been given another chance to find the peace they sought.
He had already learned to reach his hand and his heart out brother to brother,
Now it was time for a father and son to learn to trust each other.
I won’t say it was suddenly easy, hell it never has been to this day.
But they now work on coming together, not pushing each other away.
They are two strong men and they still butt heads and sometimes progress is slow
But the ties that bind are a potent force and day-by-day they grow.
Lately it seems that he almost believes that this life that he’s building might last.
And his dreams are haunted less frequently by the ghosts out of his past.
Now and then his former life still casts shadows ‘cross the sun,
But I can’t imagine him leaving us here to go back to the life of the gun.
As I study him now on this soft summer night, I think he’s content in the end,
And I’m glad, for the man owns a piece of my heart, my partner, my brother, my friend.
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One thought on “Madrid – A Poem by Shelley”
I loved reading your poem. It is a beautiful account of Johnny’s life by the perfect person to do it. Thank you!