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John M. Broadhead 1989 (California)
The dust that lined the desert floor was cracking from the heat,
Where rats and toads were scared to go and lizards burnt their feet,
A thousand leagues from blade of grass or cloud to block the sun,
The outlaw walked relentless with a hand upon his gun.
He’d been accused unjustly for the slaying of his girl,
And fled the law while hunting down her killer Robert Earl.
But long ago he’d lost his prey and left the law behind,
So on he trekked to nowhere, thirsty death upon his mind.
He feared to die, since dead men can’t seek justice for their strife,
So muttered he reluctant prayers that God preserve his life.
But he recalled his whoring ways, the blood upon his hands,
And knew he’d hear no answer from the sky that baked the sands.
His legs gave way beneath him and his face met with the ground.
His raspy breaths drew in the dust; there was no other sound.
The rage enkindled in his soul a desperate, hopeful seed,
And downward to the earth he screamed “oh Hades, hear my need!”
And Hades came a’walking as by stairs beneath the dirt;
His face was ghastly white but all in darkness was he girt.
He cast a cooling shadow and he smiled with demon glee,
Then deeply hissed: “I’ll hear your plea but nothing comes for free.”
The outlaw raised himself - he’d never been the type to bow -
And said “A jug of water would be precious to me now.”
No sooner had he spoken than did Hades reach below,
And ladled up a portion of clear liquid, cool as snow.
“This is the water of the Styx, the river of the dead.
It will sustain your journey to a place with food and bed.
But one day you will die and on that day you’ll come to me;
You may bring one possession but your soul will not be free.”
The outlaw took the offered cup and drank without a thought.
“I’ll come to you most gladly, my revenge no longer sought.
And as for my possession I will surely choose my gun;
A violent soul I’ve been in life and shall be when life’s done.”
The water gave him strength to walk a dozen years and more,
And one by one he found those men on whom revenge he swore.
His gun put each one in the ground, repayment for his girl,
But always just beyond his grasp was coward Robert Earl.
As in his hunt for justice long he traveled far and wide,
The outlaw’s beard turned silver white and pain grew in his side,
And as his thoughts grew thicker with his own impending death,
He pondered how he might escape the hell at his last breath.
He’d swim the Styx and shoot the boatman Charon with his gun;
The demons on the wing and even Hades he’d outrun.
But always in his plan he faltered ere he reached the gate,
For Cerberus the Hound with iron teeth would be his fate.
Surrendered to the doom he’d bought for water and some time,
He swore he would not die until avenging Robert’s crime.
So filled with hate, his gun prepared a deadly round to hurl,
The outlaw in a forest lastly tracked old Robert Earl.
Now Robert Earl was trapped amid the trees and tangled shrub;
Behind him justice stood, in front a tiger and her cub.
“You’ve one last bullet,” cried the outlaw thirsting for the kill;
“Now turn around and face me down; one final test of skill.”
The coward Robert’s eyes went wide and, shrieking, off he fled.
To clear his path he aimed and shot the mother tiger dead.
The outlaw frowned to see the cub a victim of his strife;
For once in long and deadly years, he turned his thoughts to life.
The tiny cat he gently coddled as it softly cried,
And watching Robert swiftly vanish in the trees he sighed:
“You made me hateful once but now our damage I’ll repair;
Besides I’ll see you soon in hell; no need to send you there.”
Into a nearby river tossed the outlaw his old gun.
He named the tiger Eleos, for it was like a son,
And when the cat was old enough to thrive without his care,
The outlaw lay his head down in the cave that was its lair.
“This life is not a kindly thing, and hell waits at the end,
But hatred makes it worse; the journey’s better with a friend.
I’m off to burn in Hades but I’ve got no need to hide.”
With Eleos beside him in the cave the outlaw died.
The night was dark in Hades as the boatman pushed away,
But night itself was meaningless, for it was never day.
The multi-headed dog of death was growling from the shore,
And Hades hissed “hail outlaw, you are mine forevermore.”
In fire and in darkness toiled the outlaw for his sin,
But through the sweat and sulphur on his face he kept a grin.
When Hades saw that joyful visage in his world of tears,
He said “Your hateful heart has softened in your latter years.”
“But have you brought your gun, the one possession that you named,
That you may try to flee and be eternally ashamed?”
The outlaw laughed and said “my gun I lost somewhere above;
Instead bring me the outcome if my life inspired love.”
The whole of Hades thundered and wide open flew the door,
And through it Eleos leapt with a terrifying roar.
The cat had grown enormous while its friend in hell was bound;
Across the Styx it hurdled and attacked the monstrous hound.
The dog’s two heads bit fiercely as the tiger clawed the third;
They rolled and struck as piercing roars of anguish could be heard.
No eye in hell could look away from that momentous sight,
Until at last the hound lay still; the tiger won the fight.
The outlaw ran to Eleos, its fur all soaked in blood;
So full of joy to see his friend, his tears came like a flood.
“Let’s leave this awful place” he said, and climbed the tiger’s back,
But in the tiger’s path appeared the figure dressed in black.
“There’s none to stop you leaving,” said old Hades as he sighed,
“But now it seems you saved yourself from hell before you died.
I won’t begrudge a single soul I’ve lost to fate’s mad whirl,
For soon I’ll have another by the name of Robert Earl.”
The outlaw and his tiger soon returned to living men,
And since they both passed on through death, they’ll never die again.
They roam together, bringing justice to the wrong accused,
A mix of mercy and of vengeance nevermore misused.
Written on May 27, 2018
Submitted by JohnsMusings on June 11, 2022
Modified by JohnsMusings
- 6:20 min read
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|Scheme||AABB CCDD EEFF GGHH IIJJ KKLL MMJJ NNBB OOCC PPQQ BBRR SSCC TTUU MMEE PPVV BBVV WWPP XXOO YYXX ZZ1 1 OOGG 2 2 3 3 4 4 5 5 PPCC 6 6 7 7|
|Closest metre||Iambic heptameter|
|Stanza Lengths||4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4|
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Use the citation below to add this poem to your bibliography:
"The Outlaw" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2023. Web. 23 Mar. 2023. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/129786/the-outlaw>.
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