Handshake Histories

          Summer, 1983


They're locked together outside a gift shop outside
the Badlands: a statue Indian shaking hands
with a statue cowboy. The Indian's head feathers

hang down, subdued; the cowboy's hat tilts up at the front—
invitation, forgiveness. His six-shooter, holstered, juts out
from the wood, and I trace it, guiding two fingers

along a well-worn stream that ends at the Indian's leather
vest tassels: When I touch them they should be soft
but are not. My family floats somewhere apart from me;

I do not think of my family. The Indian
creeps into the mist of a forest, lifts his hatchet
toward a rustle in the distance. The cowboy kicks

the ribs of his horse, wrecks onward through a blizzard
of dust. And far away the speck of Rushmore's faces
scoured—by sun, by wind—one layer more lean.

More by Jeff Hoffman

Note from My Mother

Let’s talk about
your long-lost lion puppet,

the one true creature
you could not live without.

Did you know I x-actoed
the grasslands of his mane

from the Sunday funnies?
Did you know that his eyes

were not marbles at all?
Did you know I pierced

a black-eyed pea with a needle
and made it his nose?

Did you know we all live for a time
as creatures abandoned? Bring back

the ketchup bottle that you fitted
with a wig. Bring back the cocoons

noosed to the lid of a pickle jar;
the eyelashed mouth

of the venus flytrap; the newts
and tadpoles; the wood tick,

its perfume-bottle grave.
Did you know we all live

all our lives with coins on our eyes?
Did you know that your puppet

wasn’t a lion at all
until you called him a lion?

I made him no one creature
in particular; he was cloth

with a face, and his gumball eyes
were sweet when you licked them

and gone in a day.