wallyjbl.jpgphoto © Jessica Lifland; request permission for any use

by Wallace McRae

They contemplate their town-boot toes
As they stand around and mill.
They check the south horizon,
‘Cross the tracks above the hill.

Their suitcoats hint of mothballs,
Their Levis are clean and creased.
They speak of grass or cattle
But never the deceased.

Some have shook the Gov’ner’s hand,
And one’s been in the pen.
Crooked legs define the bronc hands,
Cropped-off thumbs the dally men.

Their spring-toothed necks are throttled up
In silky black wild rags.
Their faces scored like flower-stamps
On well-worn saddle bags.

They’ve come early to the funeral home,
Yet don’t want to go inside.
There’s no comfort in a breathless room
Or words of “eventide.”

They somehow share a secret bond
As each one recollects:
Together. Separate. Silently.
Each pays his last respects.

You’ll hear no keening to the vaulted skies,
But the good hands know when a good hand dies.

© Wallace McRae
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Wally McRae is a third-generation rancher, with a 30,000 acre cow-calf ranch in Forsyth, Montana. He was the first cowboy poet to be awarded the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts and he is a recipient of the Montana Governor’s Award for the Arts.

He’s probably best known for his own least-favorite poem, “Reincarnation.”

In his book, Cowboy Curmudgeon and other poems, Wally McRae notes this poem is “Dedicated to the memory of my uncle Evan D. McRae.”

Find more about Wally McRae at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photograph of Wally McRae is by popular photojournalist Jessica Lifland (jessicalifland.smugmug.comInstagram) as a part of her Cowboy Poetry Project. Other subjects to date include Sean Sexton, Andy Hedges, Jerry Brooks, Waddie Mitchell, Amy Steiger and Gail Steiger, Rodney Nelson, DW Groethe, Elizabeth Ebert, Henry Real Bird,
Doris Daley, Bimbo Cheney, Jack Walther, and Bill Lowman.

Jessica Lifland is one of the official photographers for the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Find her gathering photos and her Cowboy Poetry Project photos here.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photograph with this post, but any other uses require permission.)