photo by Annie Leibovitz, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1984
The Rodeo Association made the suicide Grip illegal in somethin’ like 1959 but that didn’t stop no bull rider I knew from usin’ the damn thing. First off you take the glove on your grip hand and pull the fingers loose by about three quarters of an inch and wrap them around the rigging so it’s like the glove is tied down with your hand stuck inside. Then you pound yer fist shut on the rope with yer free hand ‘til you stop the blood from runnin’. When that chute opens boy you hang on like epoxy to wood. This bull I drew was called The Twister and boy he did just that. Circles. Like he was dancin’ on a dime. Didn’t even have time to mark him once before he had me up against the fence. Never knew eight seconds could be so long. A cowboy knows when he’s got a good ride. Soon as he comes out he knows. If it’s good he don’t even listen for no bell he just rides. If it’s good everything’s in one place. You just flap with the bucks like you was an extra piece a skin on that bull’s back. If it’s bad he’s got you all crooked and prayin’ for balance. Achin’ for the bell. This time I knew I was hurtin’. He kept slammin’ my legs up against that damn fence and each time I heard a board crack I heard a bone to go along with it. I saw the whole arena ziz sagging like a roller coaster ride. The ten gallon hats and American flags. That bullhorn squawkin’ about Levis and popcorn and ferris wheels and “here comes Billie Joe Brody from Thunder Creek, South Dakota on The Twister! Look at this boy ride. Watch out there! Watch out Billie Joe!” Then he had me sideways. My whole body snapped clean across his back. All except that hand. That grip hand stuck in there for dear life. First thing I thought was, “Now they know I’m a cheater. Now they know. They can all see my glove stuck underneath that riggin’ rope. Coast to coast T.V. Mom and Pop back in Thunder Creek. Down at the bar. Only T.V. in the whole damn town. Now they know.” I felt it come loose at the shoulder. Right where the ball fits into the socket. A cowboy gets to know about anatomy after all them years. Nothin’ but flesh and muscle holdin’ me onto that bull now. He keeps whippin’ me around like a dish towel or somethin’. Slam into that fence. Slam! Somethin’ breaks loose. All bloods and strings comin’ out. All I want is to be free a them hooves. Down he comes straight on my back. Everything breaks. I can feel it. Like my whole insides is made a glass. Everything splinters and shatters. I see the face a the clown. He’s got a terror mask on. Usually calm and cool as you please. Now he’s wavin’ that bandana like an old fish wife chasin’ off the neighbors’ kids. That bull don’t move from me once. Not one inch. He’s mad. Mad at me. Mad as all hell and he ain’t lettin’ me go. Not never. He’s got me this time and he knows it. I ain’t never gonna get up again. He’s makin’ me part a the earth. Mashin’ me down. Pulverizin’ my flesh. Sendin’ me back where I come from. Then he’s gone. Straight at the crowd, all screamin’ and yellin’. Half fear, half ecstasy. They got more than a buck’s worth this time out. The gates open on the far end of the arena and I can see this Cadillac comin’. A big black car. Can’t tell if it’s a hearse or an ambulance. Don’t much give a damn. The ground tastes like earth.
written for the Open Theatre 1969