Kell Robertson in his & Betsy’s apartment in Raton — May 9, 1992 — Kell is playing my guitar — photo by Mark Weber

kell robertson
i wanted to meet you,
discuss what it does
to some men’s thoughts on theology
when the world is the kansas sky,
why we end up
writing religiously
about women,
what it means
to write with a bone deep knowledge
of tornadoes in churchyards,

but you were a silhouette on the horizon
against a backdrop of dusk,
the trail lost
somewhere among moonlight
reflecting off farm ponds.

kell robertson
i know you’re still out there,
drinking billy the kid under a table in old mexico,
teaching doc holliday how to cheat at faro,
rolling a cigarette and just waiting
for the dogs to start howling,
setting off the coyotes.

i know this
because the west remembers it’s heroes-
we always will
unless there comes a day
with no box canyons left
to carry an echo
or rumors of where jesse james
hid all his gold.

kell robertson
this is my rodeo-
asphalt and steel and ink
all moving at eighty miles an hour

while i may not be an outlaw
i’ve been told
i’m one hell of a highwayman,
but i never seem to catch you
until i’m standing still,
when my vision is reduced to horizons
the world curving away
and i need a landmark for navigation.

kell robertson
we once drove through a sandstorm,
a leveling wind pushing everything south
lifting up the back ends of semi-trailers,
pushed on
to the higher elevation of albuquerque
while others pulled over to the side of the road,
struck by those following.

looking back,
i like to think
you’d have been proud.

kell robertson
i wish you were here
so we could discuss gun control,
how well it worked
for the city of tombstone.

i wish you were here
to get drunk with
so we could compare stories
of past lovers,
the taste of our native soil
when mixed with blood
from a split lip earned
defending the honor of someone
who would later sell our poems
to used bookstores
following the breakup.

i wish you were here
to write another song,
laugh at my youth,
smile crookedly at approaching dawns
and passing beauty.

kell robertson
there are books you’ve written
i’ve never gotten to read
which i consider not just a damned travesty
but a comfort as well
because myth
should always be larger
than the things you think you know.

kell robertson
whenever i lose your trail
i move west

never fail to notice
a sign of your passing,
there in the shadows of grain elevators
in the revealed strata of cliff-face
the sudden revelation of ranches
as i reach the tops of hills

tall prairie leaning
where you’ve broken the trail.

by Jacob Johanson | a letter to the ghost of kell robertson