“The Tall Tale of the Cowboy Mattress”

The single mattress decorated with laconic cowboys twirling graceful lassos, and puffy clouds, gallant horses, lasted through a lot of stains. The grizzled cowboys with their hands atremble spilled their cowboy coffee. The gray prairies dusted with early grief and random explosions. Sometimes sheets glowed or someone saw stars in big sky country. One spring stuck through, gave somebody a rude poke during sexual wandering. I was twenty-five when the cowboys went out on a cattle drive and never returned. Today I lie on my son’s mattress—he’s 14, at school. My wife wants to know if it’s still big enough, to give my small opinion as he passes me in height. Too soft, too saggy? It smells like teenager, his room uneasy in random accumulation. I stare at his ceiling. He’s a sullen cowboy these days, a loner out on the prairie. We keep calling him back to the campfire like the old days, but he prefers his personal darkness. When my parents sent me on my way with the cowboy mattress, it meant I wasn’t coming home. The women I slept with rarely complained, though sometimes did. Sometimes we rolled onto a thin carpet and camped there instead, drunk, sprawled in the dust of a night already galloping off into the recesses of memory. You had to press hard on that one spot to hurt yourself, but pressing hard was part of it. The spring rudely announced itself, and there was nothing to be done. I press my ear to my son’s mattress. What he hears, I once heard. My parents’ voices rumbled in the distance like a posse, thinking they could rescue me. Perhaps that spring was a lost badge poking through. Deputized, I drape my arms over the sides of his narrow mattress. Cowboy coffee, the strong stuff. Put hair on your chest. Above your lip.  Under your arms and around your balls. Cowboy coffee. My hands dangle in the air. Slight tremble.

Jim Ray Daniels

About Jim Ray Daniels

Jim Daniels’ fourteenth book of poems, Birth Marks, was published by BOA Editions in 2013 and was selected as a Michigan Notable Book, winner of the Milton Kessler Poetry Book Award, and received the Gold Medal in Poetry in the Independent Publishers Book Awards. His fifth book of short fiction, Eight Mile High, was published by Michigan State University Press in 2014. A native of Detroit, Daniels is the Thomas Stockham University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University.