James Babbs

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I Wanted to Be an Outlaw

I never rode horses
I never carried a gun
I never killed a man
I never robbed anyone
I just stood around most of the time
kicking the dust from my shoes
I wanted to be an outlaw
but wound up a poet instead
trying to turn my words
into bullets from a gun
but I couldn’t steal her heart
no matter how I tried
spent my days in the saloon
drinking whiskey and playing cards
at night I swept the floors
trying to earn my keep
they gave me plenty to eat
and a comfortable room
at the top of the stairs
but I wanted to be an outlaw
and drive all the women crazy
I wanted to learn how to draw
and be the fastest gun in the west
I wanted to make men tremble
when I came riding into town
my name spreading like wildfire
my legend reaching out beyond me
like winds across the prairie
the sound of bells filling up the sky

From the Road

the sky looks like
a painting of the sky
the real one
hidden beneath the other
I don’t believe in
my own madness anymore
and all I see are trees
where I thought
there used to be mountains
I don’t see any houses
but I remember faces
coming out of the darkness
from when I used to dream
and there’s ice and snow
from earlier in the week
melting into slush now
beneath the warmth of the sun
and the slush grabs at my tires
trying to pull me from the road
until I have to slow down
keep my weight from shifting
miles left to go
before I make it home again


James Babbs continues to live and write from the same small Illinois town where he grew up.  He has published hundreds of poems over the past thirty years and, recently, a few short stories.  James is the author of Disturbing The Light (2013) & The Weight of Invisible Things (2013).