by Baxter Black

‘Twas the night before Christmas and Rudolph was lame!
The vet from the North Pole said, “Foot-rot’s to blame,
I’ll give him some sulfa, it’s the best I can do
But stall rest is needed the next week or two.”

“Great Scott!” cried old Santy, he turned with a jerk.
“I won’t git through Pierre if my headlight don’t work!
On Interstate 40 I’ll surely get fined
And lost in Montana if I’m flying blind!”

“No cop in his right mind would give any clout
To a geezer who claimed that his reindeer went out!”
He gathered the others, ol’ Donner and Blitzen.
Were any among ’em whose nose was tranzmitzen?

They grunted and strained and sure made a mess
But no noses glowed brightly or ears luminesced.
“It’s bad luck in bunches,” cried Santy, distressed.
“We’ll fly Continental, the Red-Eye Express!”

“I’ll just check the schedule.” He put on his glasses,
When up stepped ol’ Billy, the goat from Lampasas.
He shivered and shook like a mouse on the Ark,
But his horns were a beacon…They glowed in the dark!

Santy went crazy! He asked “Why?” With a smile
“I just ate a watch with a radium dial!
Where I come from in Texas we don’t have thick hide
So my skin is so thin it shines through from inside.”

“If that’s true then let’s feed him!” cried Santy with glee,
“Gather everything burnin’ and bring it to me!”
So Billy ate flashbulbs and solar collectors,
Electric eels and road sign reflectors,

Firecracker sparklers, a Lady Schick shaver
And Lifesavers, all of ’em wintergreen flavor,
Jelly from phosphorescellous fish,
Day-Glow pizza in a glittering dish,

Fireflies and candles and stuff that ignites,
Then had him a big bowl of Northering Lights!
He danced on the rug and petted the cat,
And after he’d finished and done all of that

To store up the static ‘lectricity better,
They forced him to eat two balloons and a sweater!
Then he opened his mouth, light fell on the floor
Like a fridge light comes on when you open the door!

His Halloween smile couldn’t be better drawn
When he burped accident’ly, his high beams kicked on!
Hitch him up!” cried ol’ Santy, and they went on their way.
I remember that Christmas to this very day.

The sky was ablaze with the stars shining bright.
They were shooting and falling all through the night.
And I realize now, though my fingers are crossed
What I really was seein’… was ol’ Billy’s exhaust!

© 1997, Baxter Black, used with permission

We’re celebrating the 20th annual Christmas at the BAR-D.

Listen to Baxter Black recite his poem on YouTube.

Baxter Black wrote, in Cactus Tracks & Cowboy Philosophy:

It is usually my practice to memorize any poem I write that has “potential.” Potential, to me, means it might work its way into my live program. I did not commit “Rudolph’s Night Off” to memory.

Morning Edition ran the poem in early December on a Tuesday, as I recall. By Friday, we had received over five hundred requests for copies, which means the listeners had to call their local public radio stations, get the number of NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., call them, get my number, and then call me. Matter of fact, I called NPR later that week and the recorded message said, “You have reached National Public Radio, if you want a copy of Baxter’s poem please call…” And they gave my phone number.

I’m not sure of Rudolph’s appeal, but it does go to show you that the poet is often not the best judge of his own work.

Find Baxter Black’s column, books, and more at

A reminder about Baxter’s policies of use for his poetry, from his office: Baxter is busy with many media projects; he has retired from live performances. Since Baxter Black is no longer doing live performances, there are inquiries about others using his material in their performances. His policy is that anyone is welcome use his material in appropriate occasions, including non-profit or paid-for performances. He requests that the poems or stories be performed the way they are written, allowing for editing of length if needed. Please give the author credit.

His office adds that no one, for any reason, has permission to include his work “on cds, books, or dvds…or to try to sell it in any manner, including online.”

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