from The Woman With No Name
Priya Kambli

from The Woman With No Name




Amid the widow-yaps of coyotes, a vernal-browed deputy inquires how it comes to be a woman that kills. The dusty flatlands buckle into craggy hills, & beyond the ruby-hued sojourn of a sunken sun—a residue that rides in the hearts of us all. We fool ourselves to think otherwise. & this man, this sparrow of a man asks me how it comes to be that I have taken the life of another? It’s simple. I pull the trigger and men fall to their knees.
Nectar-struck and tawny-eared, a vesper lumbers in circles above us. A moon-poured fog shrouds all in silver. Deputy Sparrow gives the ropes that bind me a once-over before mustering the mettle to settle if it’s a fact—I cut down Mad Stone Flood not a fortnight ago. Truth be told, Old Stone was mighty gutless to run off with his knife still fixed in my gut. I rode days on end with that blade in me until I caught up with him in a Rockill saloon, hunkered over a bottle of whiskey. Three dead miners wreathed around his shit-caked boots & Old Stone smug in a fit of chuckles, his glass raised to his twin in the gummy bar mirror. I did him in then & there. Slid him off the bar & finished his whiskey. To this day I can’t make if he caught me in that mirror, if he was raising his glass to me. Some call it murder. Some call it something else. I was just returning what was already his.
& what of Rockill? A hellmouth, wallowed in the wide shadow of a mountain bloated with silver. How the damned come from far & wide to gut her of her metals. How atsundown them miners drag legs heavy with grime & ore down the lone road of Rockill—a way of mud & dust & horseshit & all else retched out the windows. How the men all drift past the sign painted Doctor, drift past the sign painted Hardware, drift past the sign painted Gunsmith, & drift past the dozens  & dozens of crazed & murk-brined figures in ruined doorways. How the men make their way through the swinging doors that hang below a sign stained The Silver Crow. & how the men muster a mighty commotion when they come upon a woman in faded hat & duster, downing whiskey at the bar, with four dead sons-of-bitches at her feet.
Beyond the swinging doors of The Silver Crow, in the frayed corners of shadow, you may find a humpback. A mute boy housed to clean out piss pots, scrub tobacco-lacquered floors, & usher women from under moth-chew parasols into the muggy rooms upstairs. & at times, you may see this boy called upon to hearten a drunken fog of fucks to more drink. Music. You believe a place like Rockill’s got music? You believe when that boy’s fingers started to flutter, petals fell from the gaping mouth of his guitar? You believe when the notes & petals fell, the carbuncle on his back began to tremble? You believe me when I say that this boy was no humpback, but the custodian of a cuckoo nested ‘neath his shirt? Those songs were twilight gathered in the gut, both lament & psalm that turned poker tables into church pews. Music that made the meanest of us tap our boots, while just outside those batwing doors a man lay face-down, drowning in a thoroughfare of horseshit. Those songs left us hip-deep in a silence that almost glowed. & in that haze we found ourselves knuckling our salt-stung eyes until one of us, one of us whispered, I reckon they call this bliss.
Bliss. Why must it be that me & my tribe think it a necessity to disdain that which makes our boots lighter? We bury it all under the bottlebrush of whiskey. Unhurried risers, hunched trudgers of dawn—you’d think our hearts buckets, brimful with rusted horseshoes. Bliss. We get a sniff of it and we ghost ourselves outside to piss & suck our teeth at the gray tumble-down of dusk. We cluck at the saguaros that stand under the unsettled districts of moonlight, their needled arms raised in surrender as they bloom. You’d think by now we’d have learned from our mute kin to hold our arms aloft with them, & test what petaled fists may fetch.
Muck-faced & legless with whiskey, I once sat in the shadow of a sagging eave & beheld a funeral procession for a kite. A paper girl who drowned in a tree. My eyes smarted at how them children gathered about finger-fumbling & kicking dirt, the only means they could figure to pay respects. They took turns gnawing on that kite’s cotton string, their spittle catching the amber winds until it glimmered with desert. & like a ragtag clutter of lazied hummingbirds them children went on to dip their heads into a rag of ether. What’s the use to all this remembering? I was mean with drink. I pissed myself. With a mouth soured with sick I hollered foul things at them children. Under the greasy hour of high-noon I rended my shirt & spat at them. Before all went dark & gone I witnessed men in pale dusters come & load them children onto a mule-drawn cart. & what’s endlessly shit-heaped within me ain’t that I did nothing, but that doing nothing suited me just fine. Yet in all my dreams: the mule’s hooves, the cart’s wheels, the wake of amber dust. & through that cruel fog them hummingbirds, them children, them faces doused in a god-awful quietude.
Hark. A howl most hellish come up from the lungs of a young Sierran girl. Her dusted face marbled in tears as she tore across a ransacked camp & hailed our wagon. Her rags in the wind like a flag at half-mast. Hair like sagebrush, wild with dusk-inked scrub jays. She brandishes the hipbone of a sow. A man pursues her. Carries a deep gash in his brow & says he be the girl’s father. A stovepipe hat tumbles across the dead fire pit. He spies me hogtied in the back of the wagon & gives Deputy Sparrow & his boys a wink. The girl rattles off something fierce in her Sierran tongue, points at the three sets of legs piled by a sand-blasted shack. Sparrow takes up his repeater & plants a bullet right square into his cheek. He drops a lone red tear before his long plummet into the everlasting say-no-more. But the girl ain’t done talking. She points her lips at my bound hands. The men train their sights on the girl. The deputy talks of debt, of service and what’s due.
He gives me a once-over then lists them off: skin too high a yellow to be of shadow-folk, eyes none narrow enough to be a moon worshipper, can’t speak a spit of the Sierran garble, & I sure as hell ain’t pure with forefather blood. The men muster dry snorts with the mares that tow our wagon & deliberate what lands gave forth to each measure of my flesh. They fancy themselves cartographers, as if their squinty gaze alone be an instrument of empire. My tits ain’t no dusk-capped peaks, nor my cunt an exotic grotto. & if this body be a realm, then it be a confederate of borderlands. Here be monsters, boys. They toss me a sun-bleached hipbone & tell me to chew on it: A meal fit for a no-good half-breed. I gnaw my tongue until I’m swallowing iron. We the mongrels exist, & we have no use for your maps.
How to cull the fuckery that follows a woman who does as she wants? How to quell the queries tossed her way like a stray’s lukewarm spit-backs. & the rankled men who need no hard suasion to see her making small of them. How to see to it that a visit to the saloon begets a moment’s peace, with drink that ain’t watered-down piss? To gaze into the endless troll of cigar smoke rising off the makeshift poker tables. Yet it’s never far long till one of them shit-birds wants to go word for word. Even go so far as to trace the button eyes of her duster while inquiring why she ain’t adorned with the proper guiles. & how the rest of the flock turns up spouting their own shit-birding, a thewless resolve to turn a woman into sideshow—men who don’t know quite what to make of a woman who ain’t a dancing horse or painted lady. How does a woman like me make a living all on her lonesome? Hear me now: my guns are for hire, but ain’t nothing else for sale.
Ain’t nothing romantic about it—the way light steams off the eyes of a bullet-punched, blood-lost man. I leave behind a body of work filled with bodies filled with lead. Killing made me. I took pleasure in the fact that I could cut six men down with a single draw & pluck a quivering redbird from each of their chests with a pull of the trigger. Learned to mold the gravel in my gut into a cold resolve: skill, efficiency—pride, even. They say these hands the deftest this side of the Sierras. Death-Coaxer. Gunslinger. Yet what of the keeper of these hands that let loose her pistols? What if the thing she’s best at is what plunges her headlong into perdition, if what she holds as skill ain’t nothing more than the shimmering play of dust & day?









Michael Luis Dauro was born in Long Island, N.Y. He received his MFA from Indiana University and continues to live in Bloomington where he works, writes and tutors at an after-school program. He is a Ten Club member and a CantoMundo fellow.


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