Jesse James Bailey

Jesse James Bailey
by Billy Edd Wheeler

A desperado by name
A Gentleman by fame
A Republican by birth
A Candidate for sheriff
Vote for Jesse James Bailey

You may be deceived by his stories
Now that his hair is white
And his eyes twinkle.

But once he was the roughest of the rough,
A mountain sheriff who made war on moonshiners.
He shot his iron piece and was shot at.
The moon men sent word that they’d measured him
For a wooden overcoat. He laughed.
He was hell on wheels. The stills and worms
Piled up in a tangled copper pyramid.
King of the copper kettles.
A legend in Bloody Madison.

He moves slowly now.
He is eighty-eight.
But when he visits the Marshal
Courthouse oldtimers crowd around.
His sinking sun burns golden
Over their ghostly grey corn fields.
They are glad of color.
He is glad of ears and laughter.

     “We asked this fellow we’as about to hang
     If he had any last words. He stepped forward
     With the noose around his neck and said, ‘I
     Just want you good people to know that this
     Sure will be a lesson to me.’”

His hair is white. His tales non-stop.
But do not be deceived.
Underneath he still has an iron will.
He who bowed to no man
Is not bowing now to time, or death.
He stares them both in the face
And dares them to move.
He is a fighter.
He means to live forever.

I think he might just make it.
If he hasn’t already.

     Travis and other Poems of the Swannanoa Valley
     Wild Goose, Inc., 1977

Jesse James Bailey