WHAT IT IS
by Trey Allen (1971-2016)
“What is this cowboy poetry?”
the lady asked of me.
“It must be more than stories
Whether rhymed or free.”
“What makes it so intriguing,
reels you in and gets you hooked,
it must be something simple.”
I jist give a sideways look.
“You’re right, ma’am, it’s kinda simple
but it’s complicated too,
but if you’ve got time to lend an ear
I’ll share some thoughts with you.”
You see the written word is simple
But the complicated thing
Is understanding the life behind the words
So I’ll tell you what I mean.
It’s the greenin’ of the grass in spring,
The first frost in the fall,
The dreary doldrums winter morns,
The summer shadows tall.
It’s the smell of mornin’ coffee
‘fore ol’ Sol has blinked an eye
and the million twinklin’ star aglow
in the pitch black predawn sky.
It’s the jingle of a much-worn spur
Upon a rundown handmade boot,
The snort of a cold-backed cayuse
And the silent prayer he don’t leave you afoot.
It’s the catch rope hangin’ inside the door
Of a rickety ol’ saddle shed
And the wariness of the pony
Who knows jist when to drop his head.
It’s the colt you traded for last fall
And started late this spring
That’s proved to you he’s worth his salt
And you wouldn’t trade him for anything.
It’s that motley face calf there on the scale,
He don’t look half as big as when
You had to flank him solo
Last spring in the brandin’ pen.
It’s the tangy scent of wood smoke,
The washtub by the wagon wheel,
The patched and worn out cookfly
And all the stories it could tell.
It’s a herd of unbroken saddle mounts
Strung out steppin’ single file
Through a sage covered Utah mountain pass
For near three quarters and a mile.
It’s the old man outside the brandin’ pen
Watchin’ the goings on
And the look in his eye that says loud and clear
“I’d like to see one more ‘fore I’m gone.”
It’s an old cow sucklin’ a newborn calf,
A foal on wobbly legs.
It’s a seventeen hour day with nothin’ on your stomach
But bitter coffee dregs.
It’s the old kack you use to start a young colt,
Holds in for the bad storms you weather.
It’s the pride displayed in a new handmade rig
And the creak of the well tooled leather.
It’s the antiquated wage he draws
Despite the Hollywood label,
It’s puttin’ life and limb on the line
To put a tasty beef steak on the table.
It’s the Sevier River Valley and the Wasatch Front,
The Muggyown Rim in the spring.
The Canadian River breaks, the Chisos and the Davis
And a thousand other places I’ve never seen.
It’s the labor of love you choose for life
Workin’ from can ’til can’t.
Maam, I could go on for days ’bout what it is
And probably a lot of things it ain’t.
So in short, ma’am, what I’m sayin’ is this
Cowboy poetry ain’t jist in the words you read,
The poetry of the cowboy
Is in the life he leads.
© Jack “Trey” Allen
It is hard to top what the late Trey Allen, popular award-winning poet, reciter, cowboy, and Kansas ranch manager had to say in his poem. He is greatly missed by his many friends and family. We’re grateful for his poetry and recordings.
A 2014 bio he supplied gave a bit of background, “For some twenty years and change now, Jack Trey Allen has been writing and reciting cowboy poetry. He started out gathering intel early in life as a bullrider/bullfighter and graduated to shoeing horses and starting colts, to those ‘to those in the know’ this should explain a great deal. At the point he began his family however, the conclusion was reached that three meals a week and Copenhagen made less than desirable home conditions and he settled into a real job…
“While earning a regular paycheck, he kept his hand turned at colts and shoeing, dayworking, etc. It was during this time he became intimate with a little known group called ‘Corporate America.’ Thirteen years of that and he packed his family up, headed for the mountains of south central Colorado, near Canon City and has been full time cowboy every since. For nine years Trey has managed the Moyer Ranch in the northern Flints Hills of Kansas, south of Manhattan. When asked about the possibility of ‘lightin’ a shuck,’ he said ‘Pack rats set up shop in my tipi and cut my bedroll up into little tiny ones. Sure hate to disturb their little enterprise…’ Reckon he’ll stay put.”
A painting of Trey Allen by Don Dane was featured on the 2015 Cowboy Poetry Week poster.
Find more about Trey Allen at CowboyPoetry.com.
Thanks to Janice Hannagan-Allen for this photograph and her generous permissions.
(Please respect copyright: You can share this poem and photograph with this post, but should request permission for any other uses.)