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The Cowboy's Will


John Chinnici


“Don’t mind me when I’m gone,” the lawyer read.  The townspeople had gathered in his living room to hear the cowboy’s will.  “I do not ask to live in memories.  I am dead and so do not waste your time.”

The cowboy was everyone’s favorite grandfather; he was the grandfather of the county.  He had fertilized the soil and made the children that played in it.  He had kept the women warm and the cattle fed.

“If you have already buried me, dig me up and do it right.  Strip me and toss me in a feedsack.  Dig a hole near the bend in the river and put me in.”  The lawyer paused to measure the crowd’s understanding.  “Do not raise a stone.  Lace the soil with the seeds of the habañero; let the gods water it, and let its roots take hold of me and devour me.  I am only fit for the stomach of the earth.

"Burn my house.  It is mine, and it cannot shelter you.  It is a pile of wood and nails and it must be destroyed.”

The crowd uncrossed their legs and slacked their jaws.  The cowboy’s words through the lawyer’s mouth swam through the taps of boots on sawdust.  Someone opened a window for air.

“Slaughter my cattle and take my horses.  Do what you will with the chickens.  I always hated those goddamned chickens.  Raze the barn, bury the tools, and pull up my fenceposts.  You can melt any steel and carve any wood you find.  Just know that my things were made for my hands, and you will find them broken if you pick them up."

The cowboy had died on the hottest day of the summer.  Each day had been even hotter since.  The people had taken the day off to drink lemonade until the lawyer called the meeting.

“Do not say my name.  I cannot be kept alive in memory, but harmed.  To keep me around is to invite death into your homes.  Do not nod to my grave when you raft down the river.  Do not eat the habañero.  Go live, my children.”

The ceiling fan squeaked around elliptically and a cloud unveiled an angry sun falling in the west window.

“I don’t understand,” said an old lover.  “He really meant for us to do all that?”

“It’s what he wished,” the lawyer said.  “The Cowboy left no other plans to distribute his belongings.”

“But the burial,” said a nephew.  “We don’t have the body.”

“I’m not so sure he isn’t coming back,” said another lover.

The crowd thought about this, and about supper.  A small boy in boots and dress shorts stepped on a junebug in a back corner.

“I say we make the ranch a public park,” said the nephew.  “That way no one owns his things, but all of us do.”

“And we can rename the street Cowboy Boulevard, or somesuch,” said the county judge.  The crowd began breathing comfortably, and wiggling in their seats.

“Well, under the circumstances,” said the lawyer, “it appears it’s up to y’all to do what you think is right.  You can always just plant those peppers as a memorial I suppose.”

“I’ll take it up with the commissioners,” said the judge.  "We can plant the habañeros in the courthouse lawn.  Maybe put a bronze plaque in the ground.”

“That sounds beautiful,” said an old lover.  “Something that people will pass by on Commerce Street.”

The crowd slowly stood, some scattering outside, some standing around, none feeling quite right in their stomachs.  The lawyer went to his office to draw up new papers.



Motivation:  There's a certain idea of masculinity in the American West that people can't let go of, and maybe never existed in the first place.

Bio:  Johnny Chinnici will soon begin working on an MFA in poetry at the New School.  His writing has appeared in Fogged Clarity, Dark Sky Magazine, Gigantic Sequins, and the North Texas Review. He has a blog of baseball poetry and essays at

Email TSJ: Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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