Excerpt from “Cowboy Pile”

From The Women Were Leaving the Men
Wayne State University Press
$18.95, 230 pp.

0ut on the ranges, out West, you get cowboy piles. Mounds of human cowboys. A cowboy lies on the ground (for no reason, it seems), and then somebody lies across him, and then a third guy piles on. Then one after another. Sometimes you'll see a pile from the Interstate. If the winds right and your window is down and your engine's running gently, you might hear six guns fired into the air or the barely audible hooting and yowling of a convocation of cowboys. If you're lucky, ahead of you on the highway you'll see a pickup with a pair of men wearing ten-gallon hats. Follow those gents. Exit.

With about twenty or thirty guys, the cowboy pile is at a turning point. By now the cowboys on the bottom are suffocating, dying. They may wonder why they're in a pile and not rounding up wild horses, or punching dogies, or branding calves. Many pilers, no doubt, are thinking immortality or at least a flash of glory: more than most people, cowboys are subject to the lure of legend. After a memorable cowboy pile, it's the guys who started it that get sung around the fire, and if sustaining a collapsed rib cage or even dying is a way of proving you were on the bottom-well, so be it. A few have grown up in cities; they've done phone booths, Volkswagens: they're known as "seeds." They're a little older. Tend to be suffering under various intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The rest are young guys usually. Guys with maybe some spurs to earn. Guys with maybe no spurs to lose.

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