Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings

By Paul Ruffin | Go to book overview

Workshopping a Cowboy Poem

The knock was loud and authoritative and persistent so—still fully dressed from the trip up—I slid off the bed and parted the curtain and beheld before my motel door, brethren and sistren, two massive men clad in western wear, from black pointed-toe boots to white cowboy hats, and they were wearing big star-shaped badges. One was a shade taller than the other, and both of them were glancing left and right.

Knowing little else to do, I eased the door open the space the security chain would allow and said nicely, “Howdy, how y’all? What can I do for you?” I forewent the line that we have all learned from television—“Have you got a warrant?”—because the only questionable thing I had with me was a flask of peppermint schnapps to soothe a sore throat.

Even before I finished, one of the burlies up and said, “Can we come in? We want to talk to you.”

But let me get some background in here. I had to fly out to Midland that weekend to present a program to the Permian Basin Poetry Group for their World Poetry Day Conference. They paid me well and covered all my expenses, so I was glad to go. Besides, these things can be fun—you meet lots of new people, sell and sign a few books. And when you get home, you take the family out to a restaurant and have a big, fine meal, then announce just before you rise to leave the table: “Children, poetry paid for this meal and will cover half the insurance bill due State Farm on November 1st.”

When I got to the Holiday Inn there in Midland and started to check in, the clerk couldn’t find my reservation. While he was working at it, I stood there studying all these big cowboy types around me, most of them in jeans and western shirts, cowboy boots and white hats, like they were all on the same team, and some of them had badges. Looked like they had just tied up their horses out front. Only they must have left them out back, because I came through the front and would have noticed horses tied to the shrubbery.

“Who’re these guys?” I whispered to the clerk.

-22-

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Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xii
  • Things Literary, More or Less 1
  • Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur 3
  • The Mosquito 15
  • The Lady with the Quick Simile 19
  • Workshopping a Cowboy Poem 22
  • Was Emily Mad or Merely Angry? 28
  • On the Death of Edgar Allan Poe 31
  • Making Preparations for the Tour 34
  • The Girl in the Clean, Well-Lighted Place 37
  • Explaining a Poem to a Student 40
  • Some Rare and Unusual Books 43
  • Tales from Kentucky Lawyers 45
  • The Boy Who Spoke in Hymns 48
  • Making a Dam in Segovia 51
  • Just Thinking about Shit 54
  • To San Juan and Back 60
  • On Likker and Guns 81
  • Drinking 83
  • Rats! 100
  • The Bowhunter Asks for My Bladder 117
  • The Day the Sharpshooter Killed Something He Didn’t Intend to 120
  • Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, off to the Gun Show We Go … 128
  • From "Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White but Not Quite Trash" (an as-Yet-Unpublished Memoir) 135
  • Trains 137
  • Learning about Sex 143
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