New Age for Old West (Postscript for a Southwest Trip) ,
a 7-25-14 poem by Mark Nielsen, Chicago, IL
There is something of God in all things, of course,
but is there also sometimes something else?
Outside some shops in Sedona, Arizona —
a Vortex-ville, a New Age mecca —
I saw two statues side by side.
One was an expensive six-foot seated Buddha
made of bright white stone.
He was in front of a gallery with many similar, skillfully-created
representations of the Buddha and
(one may presume) other figures,
like the Hindu god Ganesha,
or Egyptian sun god Ra.
Maybe Jesus even makes an appearance in there,
perhaps in a Grateful Dead t-shirt.
I will never know. I didn’t go in.
The gallery next door had Cowboy art.
Out front: an equally large bronze sculpture
of a lanky, sleepy boy,
son of a cowpoke,
with a lariat in his right hand,
and his trusty (and much-more-wide-awake)
mutt of a dog on his left.
Our cowboy, let’s call him Bobby,
was seemingly resting
after a hard day’s ropin’ and wranglin’.
I was out West for just such a rest.
But these two mythic figures
vexed me instead of relaxing me.
I wondered where my country, my world,
had got to,
in elevating these men —
Big Buddha and Butte Bobby–
to such a height as to sell their images
for thousands of dollars each
to bored tourists with money to burn
and little concern for what actually mattered
to Buddha or Bobby.
Surely Siddhartha Gautama
would have advocated compassionate charity,
not conspicuous consumption,
with the cash it takes to buy that statue.
Surely Woody Guthrie, or a Chisolm Trail rider,
(or some other real honest cowboy or Okie)
would have preferred a dusty, un-polished tribute
to a way of life mostly gone now —
not a mini-John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, or Clint Eastwood look-alike
all done up in bronze and settin’ on a bench,
a’waitin’ fer some luckless monied sucker
to buy the lie
of a squeaky clean, cutesy, romanticized Old West.
Good guys, smart guys, real guys —
they never wear white,
and never look this clean and romantic.
It never takes them long
to get dirt under their fingernails,
to rescue a dumb steer snagged in the fence,
to kiss a leper like Dusty Frank of Assisi,
or to wake up and smell
some New Age used car or snake oil salesman,
hawking marble, bronze or alabaster,
masquerading as concern
for God or Man.
(Plus the real good guys–
more often than not–
are girls, not guys at all.)
“Buddha” means “awakened one”,
or so they say.
May we all be as awake
as Bobby’s perfect little “good guy” dog —
let’s call him New Yeller–
attentively sitting next to his Master,
warning us off,
sniffing for the snakes,
just about to bark
and suggesting we hide our wallets.