by Wallace McRae
“What does Reincarnation mean?”
A cowpoke asked his friend.
His pal replied, “It happens when
Yer life has reached its end.
They comb yer hair, and warsh yer neck,
And clean yer fingernails,
And lay you in a padded box
Away from life’s travails.”
“The box and you goes in a hole,
That’s been dug into the ground.
Reincarnation starts in when
Yore planted ‘neath a mound.
Them clods melt down, just like yer box,
And you who is inside.
And then yore just beginnin’ on
Yer transformation ride.”
“In a while, the grass’ll grow
Upon yer rendered mound.
Till some day on yer moldered grave
A lonely flower is found.
And say a hoss should wander by
And graze upon this flower
That once wuz you, but now’s become
Yer vegetative bower.”
“The posy that the hoss done ate
Up, with his other feed,
Makes bone, and fat, and muscle
Essential to the steed,
But some is left that he can’t use
And so it passes through,
And finally lays upon the ground
This thing, that once wuz you.”
“Then say, by chance, I wanders by
And sees this upon the ground,
And I ponders, and I wonders at,
This object that I found.
I thinks of reincarnation,
Of life and death, and such,
And come away concludin’: ‘Slim,
You ain’t changed, all that much.'”
© Wallace McRae
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission
Wallace McRae, third-generation Montana rancher and National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow penned this modern classic. The NEA comments, in a bio here, that “Reincarnation” is, “…a poem destined to outlive him; it has already become part of oral tradition and is recited by cowboys around the country who have never met the author.”
See a fun video of Wallace McRae, along with his friend Paul Zarzyski performing “Reincarnation” at the 2009 Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry
Wallace McRae will tell you that “Reincarnation” is his least favorite of his poems. For a
wonderful look at this complex man, watch a Western Folklife Center video in which he “… tells a true story about Northern Plains ranching, with a moving tribute to a neighbor.”
For another aspect of his work, view his presentation of his stirring, masterful poem, “Things of Intrinsic Worth,” performed in 2013 and a part of WESTDOCUMENTARY, a feature-length documentary work-in-progress by H. Paul Moon.
See Wallace McRae at the Western Folklife Center’s 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, January 29-February 3, 2018.
Find more of Wallace McRae’s poetry and more about him in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com.
This 1941 photograph, “Ranch horse on grazing land near Lame Deer, Montana” is by noted photographer Marion Post Wolcott (1910-1990). A collection of her photographs at The Library of Congress (www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/womphotoj/wolcottessay.html) tells that she produced more than 9.000 photographs for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) from 1938 to 1942. Find more at a web site created by her daughter.
Find more about the photograph here.
Wallace McRae relishes being known as “The Cowboy Curmudgeon.” Do not use his poem without permission.