From the recording Bones

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–This is the first poem I ever recited in concert. It began to emerge in the summer of 1993 while I was at my first Kerrville Folk Festival. Because there was no hot water at the campground I didn’t shave for a few days, and when I did shave for some reason I decided to leave a goatee.

Walking back to camp I ran into my pal Dana Cooper, and he said, "What’s with the goatee?" Without thinking, I replied, "Well if anybody gives me any grief about it I’m going to tell them I’m trying to look more like the devil than Dana Cooper."

Now Dana has a devilish look to him at times, no question–I once told him that he looks like a cross between a criminal and a circuit riding preacher! But where this story came from, Lord knows


First I left for a year, then a year became two
Three and four became five became six, like they do
And Ruelene must have thought I had left there for good
But I knew I’d return to that place when I could

In the fullness of time I set off down that track
To find out for myself: you can never go back
Down the rail and the highway, in the snow and the rain
Till I stood at her door in my hunger and pain
Her eyes glazed over, she fell into a stupor
I looked more like the devil than Dana Cooper

Well Dana Cooper was a man with a blank for a past
Which we filled with suspicion and rumor
There was talk of a wife and a bone-handled knife
But no one in this town ever knew her

Seldom seen in the light, he did business by shadow of night
Like a chill that passed through here
But when I came to town that obsession with him turned to me
And I found it peculiar
When the talk filtered down of this drifter, this loser
Who looked more like the devil than Dana Cooper

Now he was not a big man, and he stood on a box
When his picture was taken; he wore mismatching socks
But he looked quite imposing that night on the train
In the smoke-filled half-light of the late poker game

He was cheating, but no one was calling his bluff
One by one they all folded till finally it was just us
At the table, his shadow and me
A Colt in his pocket, a card up his sleeve

Then he dealt off the bottom and slipped in his Ace
I called him a liar and a thief to his face
He looked shocked, even shaken… and he stood in his place

He went for his piece, and I went for his throat
We went down to the table, then crashed to the floor
As the crowd circled ‘round us to wait for the kill
And they danced and they shouted and carried on till
The report of the gun…. I could picture the rest
Then I realized it was his blood on my chest

First he called out to Jesus for help from above
Then he called out for her, said he’d wasted her love
Said he needed her now like a cold hand a glove
Like a lamb needs the shepherd to gather him up
Like a bird needs the sky, like a wound needs a suture
Then I knew the devil had plans for his future

I walked back to the Pullman, his body still warm
Tossed out my shirt to the first hint of dawn
Left the window wide open and washed myself clean
Stared into the mirror at no one I’d seen
For the eyes of the witness met the eyes of the doer
I looked more like the devil than Dana Cooper

words & music: Tom Kimmel
©1993 Marada Music/Drala Music (admin. by Criterion Music Corp.)/Global Music (admin. by Chrysalis Music) (ASCAP)