Bill Jones: Three poems

billjonesloc.jpgBill Jones at the Library of Congress, 2018



Answered Prayer
Roundup at the Bar B Bar




by Bill Jones

Jake, the rancher, went one day to fix a distant fence.
The wind was cold and gusty and the clouds rolled gray and dense.
As he pounded the last staple and gathered tools to go,
The temperature had fallen and the snow began to blow.
When he finally reached his pickup, he felt a heaviness of heart,
From the sound that the ignition made he knew it wouldn’t start.

So Jake did what most of us would do if we’d have been there
He humbly bowed his balding head and sent aloft a prayer.
As he turned the key for the last time he softly cursed his luck,
They found him three days later, froze, in the cab of that old truck.

Jake had been around in his younger days and done his share of roamin’
But when he seen Heaven, he was shocked—Hell, it look just like Wyomin’.
Oh, they was some differences of course, but just some minor things,
One place had simply disappeared—the town they called Rock Springs.

The BLM had been shut down, and there weren’t no grazin’ fees,
And the wind in Rawlins and Cheyenne was now a gentle breeze.
All them Park and Forest Service folks—they didn’t fare so well,
They’d all been sent to fight some fire, in a wilderness in Hell.

Though Heaven was a real nice place, Jake had no peace of mind,
So he saddled up and lit a shuck, not known what he’d find.
Then one day up in Cody, one October afternoon,
He seen St. Peter at the bar of the Old Proud Cut Saloon.
Of all the saints Jake knew in Heaven, his favorite was Peter,
(This line ain’t really necessary but it makes good rhyme and meter.

So they shared a frosty mug or two, or maybe it was three,
Nobody there was keepin’ score—in Heaven beer is free.
“I’ve always heard,” Jake said to Pete, “that God will answer prayer,
But the one time that I asked for help, well, He jest plain wasn’t there.
Does God answer prayers of some and ignore the prayers of others?
That don’t seem exactly square, I know all men are brothers.
Or does He reply randomly, without good rhyme or reason?
Maybe it’s the time of day, the weather or the season?
I ain’t tryin’ to act smart, it’s juset the way I feel,
And I was wonderin’, could you tell, Pete, what the heck’s the deal?

Pete listened very patiently and when ol’ Jake was done,
There was a smile of recognition and he said, “Oh, you’re the one.
That day your truck it wouldn’t start, and you sent your prayer adrift,
You caught us at a real bad time—the end of the day shift.
And 10,000 Angels rushed to check the status of your file,
But you know, Jake, we hadn’t heard from you in more than jest awhile.
And though all prayers are answered—God ain’t got no quota—
He didn’t recognize your voice, and cranked some guy’s a truck in North Dakota!”

© Bill Jones, from There Ain’t Much Romance in the Life of us Cows, 1989
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission


by Bill Jones

Every year about this time
I get a welcome call
It’s Ol’ Dick, my rancher friend
“Would you help us out this fall?”

His place is just outside of town
From home it ain’t that far
I always like to lend a hand
Down at the Bar B Bar

The wages they are kinda low
To tell the truth there’s none
Except a real good home cooked meal
And a “thank you” when you’re done

This fall Ol’ Dick was troubled
He’s short about nine pair
They could be strayed or rustled
Or layin’ dead somewhere

Now to a small time rancher
Nine pair ain’t quite forgot
Your guts they burn with worry
And your banker calls a lot

To Dick there might be somethin’ worse
Than not gettin’ them cows back
But the only thing that comes to mind
Is a fatal heat attack

We rode up the mountain
And crossed the sagebrush flat
‘A tryin’ to solve the mystery
Of where them cows was at

We spent two weeks on horseback
And searched out every draw
But much to Dick’s misfortune
Them cows we never saw

Dick talked to all his neighbors
And called some on the phone
The whole deal started lookin’ like
A plot from the “Twilight Zone”

Saddlin up one mornin’
To go out once again
Ol’ Dick he was real quiet
And wore a big strange grin

“Bill,” he finally blurted out
“No use you bein’ here
I checked my books real close last night
And I sold them cows last year”

© Bill Jones, from There Ain’t Much Romance in the Life of us Cows, 1989
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission


by Bill Jones

The fiery crash growls
Low and evil sounds
Rattle the earth
A fighter plane
Follows tracer round
Into a red hillside.

Later, a pilot tells what happens
“You get tunnel vision, ” he says
“Become obsessed with the target
Forget to pull up.”
We sit silent
In sandbagged reflection
Chavez makes the sign of the cross
“At least,” he says
“He has on dry sox.”

It is an omen
Dark and subtle
Of our own Nam madness
Mission successful—target destroyed
But in the end
We kill ourselves.

© 1993, Bill Jones, included in Blood Trails; this version from The Body Burning Detail
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission



Chances are you’ve seen a version of “Answered Prayer” with “author unknown.” It has been printed in many places and recorded. Bill Jones comments, “‘Answered Prayer’ is based on an old joke I heard as a kid. I put its story line along with the rancher Jake…Bill Clinton used the story in a speech years ago—my version.”

Bill Jones has several books of his humorous poetry and prose (including The Pretzel Hold, The Dude from Hell, and There Ain’t Much Romance in the Life of us Cows). Some of his long-running Lander Wyoming State Journal columns are also found in the books.

Many will know another side of Bill Jones’ writing and poetry, which draws on his combat experience as a Marine in Vietnam. Blood Trails, with his poetry and that of the late Rod McQueary, was a groundbreaking book, bravely published in 1993 by John Dofflemeyer of Dry Crik Press. At the time, there was some controversy about the inclusion of such poems (and most were in free verse) in the world of cowboy poetry. The book has withstood the test of time.

Find one of Rod McQueary’s poems from the book at Read more at Dry Crik Journal,  where Blood Trails remains available from Dry Crik Press.

Earlier this year, McFarland & Company published Bill Jones’ book, The Body Burning Detail; a memoir of a Marine Artilleryman in Vietnam. His talents are on impressive display, with prose and poetry that is close to the bone, unforgettable work that is by turns disturbing, irreverent, diverting and insightful. John Dofflemyer characterizes it as “real, honest and profane.” Fellow veteran, writer, poet and filmmaker Ken Rodgers of Bravo! the Project calls it “incisive and illuminative writing.

Colorado poet, writer, and rancher Vess Quinlan first put Bill Jones and Rod McQueary together, after each had sent him one of their Vietnam poems. Times change and veterans’ issues are embraced today. Vess and Bill, with others, continue to offer workshops to veterans during the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Recently Vess Quinlan commented that for him, the veterans workshops are the most valuable thing to have come out of the gathering.

Last year, Vess and Bill, along with Patrick Sullivan and others, took part in presentations at the The Library of Congress, lending their talents to a program recognizing the anniversary of WWI, through the Library of Congress American Folklife Center’s  Veterans History Project. The mission of the Veterans History Project is “…to collect, preserve, and make accessible the personal accounts of American wartime veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and understand the realities of War.”

This November, they, along with Jerry Brooks and others, will participate in an “occupational poetry” program from the American Folklife Center.

(Please respect copyright. You can share these poems and photos with this post, but for other uses, request permission.)