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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 10, Number 1, March 2016

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Jeff Streeby
Bangkok, Thailand


The Irma Hotel

Some cold, clear morning in spring, I want to be out west again. I want to be up early when day is coming rose and gold over the edge of the world. I want to watch the sun light up Rattlesnake Mountain. I want to notice as scraps of snow in the lees of things grow gradually bright. I want to see my breath. I want to catch the strong scent of wood smoke that rises from chimneys all over town. I want to know my lever action hangs in the rack behind me when I park the pickup. In the afternoon, I want to be standing on the porch of the Irma Hotel when the auctioneer calls the numbers on the big bay 2-year-old everybody wants. I want to be where I can watch the bidders wave. I want to be there when the spotters shout and point. I want to hear the price go higher and higher and higher and then hear the gavel fall. I want to watch an outfitter from Jackson or Dubois or Victor or Star Valley lead the wide-eyed colt away. I want to go inside the saloon then and take a place at the long cherrywood bar that was commissioned over a hundred years ago by order of the Queen. I want to admire again its bulk and heft and artistry, its beveled mirrors, its columns and arches and grillwork and finials. I want to sit under the solemn gaze of its carved bull and drink rye whiskey. I want to feel the weight of the thick-walled shot glass in my hand and I want my throat to burn the way rough liquor can make it burn. I want to see if Tom Frye’s portrait of Cody made in sheet steel with evenly spaced bullet holes still hangs in front of the dining room’s cash register. I want to walk the broad hallway under the glass-eyed stares of all those sheep mounts. I want to hear the jingle of my rowels and spur chains echo off the tin ceiling. I want to hear the floor creak under my boot heels. I don’t want to be surprised.

Up and down the Shoshone
October
beyond all imagining

Once upon a time, cowboys and Indians auditioned in a field out back for a spot in the show. Once upon a time, Bill Cody lived upstairs in a suite of bright rooms. Once upon a time, Irma sat at a favorite table with a view of the street. In the whole town, every door swings into that century. I want to be accustomed to those faint drafts from the fairytale days.

Once there was a Burlington siding just down the street. There was coal smoke, a huff of steam, a deep mechanical growl, a whistle, a bell. There was a hiss of pistons that moved heavy levers and gears. There was a distinct crash of a first lurch forward then the unyielding car couplings shuddering down the line, a glissando hard as a fall of rocks. There was a long freight starting off with shrill friction of drive wheels to rails, iron squealing against iron, and for a while everything quivered in time with that slowly opening throttle. There was all that rolling stock, carriage after carriage, battering out of rail joints flexing over their sleepers that pattern of slowly accelerating repetitions. There was light from the locomotive’s headlamp falling through a six-pane sash to make odd geometry move on the opposite wall. There was rumbling enough to excite an answering rattle from one window glass. Once, in early morning darkness, there was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders headed east for the last time.

Our summer intentions are no longer enough.
Into October.

Once upon a time we cheered in a New Year at his old hotel. There was a slow drive from Greybull, a blizzard, drifts over the fences. There were some few sentimental trinkets we exchanged. There was the $2 bill, holed by the trick shootist’s wadcutter that I misplaced years later. There was boisterous camaraderie among strangers, all those extravagant toasts, all those impractical resolutions, the Auld Lang Syne, the departing crowd, and at last, the room at the top of the stairs. In the morning there was sun on snow, the Teamster’s Breakfast, the quiet ride home, the expectation that we would live happily ever after. There was no way to judge then how much we stood to lose.

We never know what comes next, so I will go through the ordinary motions again today. I will trust in custom, in established routines. I will shower, shave, make coffee, zone out in the back seat of my carpool for the hour’s commute, keep my essential appointments, call it quits. I will smile at everyone all the way home. I will be imperturbably cheerful. I will keep the lid on my wishful thinking the whole time as if nothing is wrong. For now, I will stick to the script though I know I will find here only what there is to find—the same old story—avoidable error, this exile, the pain of hindsight, my irresistible impulse to keep looking back.

October—
in an instant of perfect clarity,
all things just so.

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