photo © Kent Reeves, request permission for any use
THE MEN WHO RIDE NO MORE
by Joel Nelson
“Bronc to Breakfast” calendars hang fading on the walls
There’s a lost and aimless wandering through the corridors and halls
Of slippered feet that shuffle on a waxed and polished floor
And vacant stares of emptiness from the men who ride no more
Men who once rode proudly—men with long straight backs
Men who covered hill and plain with steel shod horses’ tracks
Now pass their idle days in rooms with numbers on the door
With orderlies and nurses for men who ride no more
Time was when spur rowels jingled when boot heels bumped the floor
Dawns with hot black coffee and saddling up at four
With feet in tapaderos and broncs between their knees
And silken neck scarves snapping as they turned into the breeze
From full-blown living legends true to riding for the brand
To the scarcely mediocre who could hardly make a hand
They would gather for the branding or the shipping in the Fall
Now it’s walker, cane, and wheelchair in the antiseptic hall
And they all have their mementos on the table by their side
Like a cracked and fading snapshot of a horse they usta ride
Or standing with the wife beside a thirty-seven Ford
A high-heeled boot hooked nonchalant on a muddy running board
Just instants frozen from the past that somehow give a clue
To who and what they were before their riding days were through
Horseback men with horseback rules from horseback days of yore
Their one and only wish would be to somehow ride once more
To once more rope a soggy calf and drag it to the fire
To long-trot for a half a day and see no post or wire
To ride a morning circle—catch a fresh one out at noon
And trot him in when the day was done to the rising of the moon
To put in one more horseback day and have just one more chance
To ride home to a pretty wife and drive her to the dance
To take her hand and hold her close and waltz across a floor
Before the time to join the ranks of men who ride no more.
© 1997, Joel Nelson, used with permission
Texas rancher Joel Nelson is highly respected as a poet, reciter, and horseman.
This poem appears on Joel Nelson’s CD, The Breaker in the Pen, the only cowboy poetry recording ever nominated for a Grammy Award. Baxter Black has commented that the recording “raised the bar for cowboy poetry for 1000 years.” The poem is also on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Four.
Joel Nelson was named a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow in 2009.
Read an excellent 2010 profile of Joel Nelson by Ryan T. Bell, “Joel Nelson, The Horses and the Words.”
Find a number of video performances on YouTube, including a video from a 2012 appearance at the Blanton Museum.
Find Joel Nelson at the Texas Hill Country Cowboy Gathering, which was started last year and is already making its mark as a don’t-miss event. The second annual gathering is November 8-9, 2019, in Fredericksburg. The lineup includes Mike Beck, Andy Hedges, Brigid and Johnny Reedy, Joel Nelson, Krystin Harris, Pipp Gilette, Sourdough Slim, Rodney Nelson, Mike Blakely, and Stephanie Davis (just announced, replacing Cowboy Celtic).
He returns to the Western Folklife Center’s 36th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, January 2-February 1, 2020. Find more about performers, workshops, shows and sessions, and more at nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org.
Joel Nelson will give the keynote speech at the new Lone Star Cowboy Gathering in Alpine, Texas, formed by an energetic group of people, including co-chair and poet Kay Nowell, in response to this year’s retirement of the venerable Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The event is scheduled for February 21-22, 2020. Find a recent press release here. Visit the Lone Star Cowboy Gathering site for more information and sign up for their news at lonestarcowboypoetry.com.
Find more about Joel Nelson, including this poem and others, at CowboyPoetry.com.
This c. 1993 photograph of Joel Nelson is by Kent Reeves, Cowboy Conservationist, from the landmark book Between Earth and Sky: Poets of the Cowboy West, by Anne Heath Widmark, with photographs by Kent Reeves.
Kent Reeves writes in the book’s Acknowledgments, “…I owe my work in this book to all the poets who allowed me to interrupt their lives and who took me in for a few days. I do not feel that I ‘took’ these photographs; I believe that each poet gave them to me.” In addition to Joel Nelson, the book includes chapters with Buck Ramsey, Wallace McRae, Rod McQueary, Linda Hussa, John Dofflemyer, Shadd Piehl, Paul Zarzyski, Sue Wallis, Vess Quinlan, Henry Real Bird, and Drummond Hadley.
See a gallery of photos from the book on Facebook.
(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but please seek permission for any other uses.)