The Conditions of His Release

We speak softly of the dying,
forego our usual criticisms of
hard, dark laugh and perilous wit,
bad ties and tailgating.
Faces turned aside at
further news of his condition,
we mutter, “That’s not good.”
The lunch café is loud
and we aren’t sentimental.
Escaping words,
we begin to disown hope.
Jokes silenced, lamed
by stroke, by illness meds
he withers into
cowboy territory of Saturday westerns:
drifting rider of gunfights and cattle drives
into Arizona, into Kansas,
into Mexico’s reprieve.
He watches a landscape we can’t engage.
So we sit with him
and prepare.