THE MEDICINE KEEPERS
by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)
A man might live and work beside
The fellers ’round the wagon
And never say two words unless
It’s just hooraw and braggin’.
But sometimes in the solitude
Of some ol’ line camp shack
He smooths a fruit can label out
And writes there on its back
A group of words redeemed from time
To last when he moves on,
Set down with hurried flourish
‘Fore his mem’ry of ’em’s gone.
The spellin’ may not be exact
Or commas where they ought,
But there within those rugged lines
A mood is somehow caught.
It might be full of sadness
From a death or crippled friend,
To just the mournful yearnin’
For a way that’s bound to end.
Some others could be bawdy
While full of life and mirth
Or stories ’bout some saddle horse
That has no peers on earth.
There’s many through the years been lost
Or burned or throwed away,
But others yet survive
To give us views of yesterday.
And still amongst the workin’ hands
The words come now and then
To write a livin’ history
Of the stock, and earth, and men.
© 1997, J.B. Allen; used with permission
Texan J.B. Allen was a working cowboy for over three decades. 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.
Buck Ramsey (1938-1998), in his introduction to The Medicine Keepers, wrote of J.B. Allen, “More than most cowboys, he held to the ways and memories…thought and talked the old lingo” and stated, “…in my opinion he is the best living writer of traditional cowboy verse.”
Listen to an outstanding recitation of “The Medicine Keepers” on Andy Hedges’ COWBOY CROSSROADS podcast, Episode 24 from 2017, in his introduction to an interview with cowboy and songwriter Rod Taylor. Among other captivating stories, Rod Taylor reminisces about J.B. Allen in the interview.
“The Medicine Keepers” is just one of J.B. Allen’s poems on the recent MASTERS: VOLUME ONE CD from CowboyPoetry.com. The recording also includes J.B.’s recitation of Buck Ramsey’s “Anthem.”
We look forward to including J.B. Allen’s recitation of Bruce Kiskaddon’s “The Little Blue Roan” on the forthcoming MASTERS: VOLUME THREE.
Find more about J.B. Allen at CowboyPoetry.com.
Top Texas artist Duward Campbell created this painting of his good friend J.B. Allen and his horse, Pilgrim, in 2005. We were proud to have it as the art for the 2011 Cowboy Poetry Week poster from CowboyPoetry.com. Find more about it at Cowboypoetry.com.
Thanks to Margaret Allen for her generous permissions.
(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but any other use requires permission.)