photo by Kevin Martini-Fuller
REASONS FOR STAYIN’
by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)
“What’s the myst’ry of the wagon?” asked a townie, green as grass,
As he visited on a dreary autumn day.
Fer there weren’t a sign of romance nor no waddies’round with class,
And he couldn’t see why one would want to stay.
“Well, don’t be askin’ me,” says Jake, when asked that very thing,
“I’ve only been around here thirty years;
If I’d learnt some floocy answers to the questions you-all bring
I’d not be tough as brushy outlawed steers!
“It’s a dang sight more romantic in the bunkhouse, snug and warm,
When that winter wind is blowin’ from the Pole
Than the livin’ at the wagon through the same ol’ freezin’ storm
And the call of nature sends you for a stroll!
“The smell of beans and beefsteak born in bilin’ coffee’s breath
Pulls a feller from them soogans, clean and dry,
‘Stead of half-cooked food that drownded so you’ll not git choked to death
As you look around and git to wonderin’ why.
“But I reckon, since you asked me, it’s the challenge that you git
Testin’ what you got for gizzard through the squalls,
And not just nature’s doin’s but the kind that’s stirred a bit
When a cowboy, bronc, or critter starts the brawls.
“Take them fellers that’s a-squattin’ ’round that soggy campfire there,
That big-uns done some time for murder one,
But I’ll guarante you, feller, when you think your flank is bare
You’ll hear his boomin’ laughter through the run.
“The scroungy-lookin’ half-breed kid can ride a bear or lion,
Thought he mostly rides the rough-uns for the boys.
Black Pete would rope the Devil through a stand of burnt-out pine,
And Ol’ Dobb would mark his ears to hear the noise!
“What I’m gettin’ ’round to sayin’ is them boys will back yore play
Though their outside shore ain’t groomed or show-ring slick;
It’s their innards that you count on when you work for puncher’s pay,
And the reason why the wagon makes you stick.”
© 1997, J.B. Allen, used with permission
Texan J.B. Allen was a working cowboy for over three decades. He was known for writing poems “in his head” before committing them to paper. In a 1993 article in Tulsa World, “Cowboy Poets Weave Western Yarns,” by Bryan Woolley, J.B. Allen is quoted, “”How do I go about writin’ it? I don’t go about writin’ it. The way I do it, a line will come to me in my head, and I’ll write that down. And then another’n. And another’n. A lot of times the thing’ll take off in a different direction than what I thought it was goin’ to. Halfway through the poem, I still don’t know how it’s gonna end. But I git there.” Read the article here.
You can hear J.B. Allen’s recitation of this poem on this week’s Clear Out West radio from Jim and Andy Nelson, available online (and archived for later listening).
He was a frequent performer at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and also at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Nara Visa, the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, and other events. His poetry is included in many anthologies and in his own books and recordings. His book, The Medicine Keepers, received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1998.
This poem and others by J.B. Allen are featured in a new CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS, along with the work of Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens. The compilation includes recorded poems, “live” performances, and their recitations of other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs) with an introduction by Jay Snider.
Find more about J.B. Allen at CowboyPoetry.com.
This photo of J.B. Allen is by top photographer Kevin Martini-Fuller, who has photographed participants of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades. Find some of those photos at his site.