The Hollow Man and the Zealot is a poem that I wrote during a phase when I was writing badlands poems. During this time, I also wrote The Captain’s Company and other works about outlaws.
Its rhyme scheme is ABCABC, and it’s about an emotionless man (the hollow man) and a zealous man who go looking for a white rider, hoping to shoot him down. The poem tells what happens when they find him and what happens next.
The hollow man and the zealot lay skylighting the vast desert on their stomachs
watching for anything mobile and columnular, squinting into the waves of heat
and the low hellfire sun which dipped crepuscular like a ball of blood.
Above the crest of the world the sun hung suspended, huge and balanced,
and the men fell in to watching it as if towed by a riptide into Andromeda and Ursula seas.
It set in a neon cataclysm, banded the faroff mesas, until all else became parentheticals and mud.
When the moon came out, it came out vanilla and strong
like the sunless flowering of night blooming jasmine
while from the distance rode a backlit man not deadtired nor horseworn before the floating circle
and the hollow man whose diction was three parts doggerel, whiskey, and graveyardsong
rasped smokily I tell thee wait; I have the time, the time.
He slid from under his belly a heavy revolver and spinning its cylinder made ready to kill.
Can’t hardly wait whispered the zealot who like all unwise men was mercurial
and who braided with such characteristic the strains of violence, insecurity, and assumption
and so saying he ran his hand through his short black hair as was his habit
and tendered the necklace of bleached doe’s teeth he wore for motives superstitious and bestial.
At a canter the rider lifted off his hat in that lonesome waste and the zealot spat in derision.
Hush hush hush! rasped his companion Hold your nerves and spit!
The rider came along across the shale, through the dwarf scrog and a crowd of desert bats
looking like some classical and celestial organism astride his white horse.
He wore a bandolier braced with bullets, pistols in his belt, a rifle across his back,
rode with the drumming energy of a raw heart while wondrousstar-staring as if the Leonids were at that
moment showering. He rode as if nothing lay or had ever lain in his course.
He rode as if, if he chose, he could empower a man to paint his godless world black.
The hollow man lay his thumb on the hammer of the revolver, cocking till it clicked and held.
He sighted along the barrel; just after he pulled the trigger the man popped crazy off his horse
and the hollow man seeing such sight rose and fired again and the horse fell
and so seeing turned his back and walked from that deathquilt without looking to see its pattern.
The zealot rose fingering his toothy necklace giggling at such dreadnought wanton force
then followed the hollow man, vanishing deep into the cobalt lit mesas and scrub chaparral.
The zealot and the hollow man sat sitting round a fire surrounded by soaring mountains
and near them sagged a dilapidated church, a steepled shack, with three rotten wooden steps
and inside: bare rafters termite ridden floorboards and a baptismal font of rose porphyry
carried by the zealot’s jackass through the metamorphosed and steep passes of the mountains,
and the hollow man sung singing, All the wicked man’s foibles and vile contretemps
the wicked man’s sins, the wicked man’s deeds, I make for free. I make for free. I have for thee.
And without a warning, the hollow man pulled from his holster his revolver and, aiming it at the zealot,
fired the gun six times in lethargic lethal succession and when the zealot dropped dead
the hollow man emptied the cylinder, refilled it with bullets, and left the fire burning,
for at his core he was empty, not full of hate, nor vengeance, nor malice, nor rot,
but full of no emotion, neither melancholic nor apathetic, just a husk of humanity in dread
shape with only a penchant for the spoken word and any skeletal song he might be heard to sing.