Matt Phillips


Tin can rattle in his lungs, Doc Holliday
shrugs a long black coat onto his baby
-white shoulders, shifts his killer’s hat
with piano key fingers, he straps
two widow-makers against his hips.
His costume, complete, sketches
a full-length apparition in black. Young
mister sirs will draw Doc in their diaries
after this, a stick figure
with one short leg, because he limps.
I imagine tiny bubbles bursting
across Doc’s lips, his whiskey spittle
shot to sheen by a dirty kid’s toy pistol.
I see the slim, straw-lawman amble. I see him
grin, a whiskey-dosed devil. Doc passes
shopkeepers, saloon-men, the beefy madam
in her lace and bruises. After this
they’ll whisper, Doc Holliday
is a cold-blooded killer, a surgeon
with a pistol.

I see the poker-faced scarecrow scrape
his boots through mud and horse shit,
I see him float down Fremont Street. His eyes
trace nervous thumb-twitches
and tobacco smoke on the boardwalk.
Doc fantasizes he’ll swipe his palm
across his revolver’s steel hammer, he’ll
plug lead into bone, shatter skin. I fantasize
I’m Doc. I imagine myself a killer.
I shout, mama! I’m Doc! I’m Doc! I’m…

Imagine it didn’t happen, say Doc Holliday
slept, belly-up drunk in a drab rooming-house,
tobacco fumes clouding his lungs, say
his guns lay unloaded on the bedside table?
The repercussions; a century’s
flashy gunplay vanishes behind
an invisible muzzle blast, an afternoon nap
carries Doc’s howling bullets back
into their chambers. Say we never
knew his name? Say, who is Doc Holliday?

Papers have it different, letterpress proof
Doc threw-down, maybe fired first.

He lived thirty-six years a man,
he coughed and wheezed and stammered, he
sucked blue sky like a fish, inhaled dust.
And somewhere, in Topeka, in Grass Valley
or Tombstone, in Santa Fe, in Prescott
or West Texas, Doc Holliday shrugs
a long black coat onto his baby
-white shoulders, shifts his toy pistols
and grins. He is a specter who shouts
through a young boy’s lips, mama! I’m Doc!

Matt Phillips is an MFA candidate at the University of Texas-El Paso. His murder ballad-noir novel, Redbone, was published by Number Thirteen Press in May, 2015.

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