photo © Kevin Martini-Fuller
by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)
We swaller our breakfast and saddle our mounts
By the light of the Milky Way’s glow,
Exuberance drawn from unquenchable founts
In the wake of the season’s first snow.
Cold wind fiercely tugs at my hat’s weathered brim
As we head where the blizzards are birthed,
Faint stars givin’ ground to the east’s glowin’ rim
As we ride saddles now loosely-girthed.
The hooraw subsides as the boss eases up
And we wait the words known from our youth,
Though protocol deems that we’ll not interrupt
Homage earned by those long in the tooth.
We start the day’s drive for the nine jillionth time,
Newly born as them calves ever’spring,
A delicate dance to the spur rowel’s chime
And the drum of the sage chicken’s wing.
That grouchy ol’ cook is a plumb-welcome sight
As dusk draws its cloak ’round the camp,
While the boss sets the guard for the crisp autumn night
By the light of that battered old lamp.
The night’s mighty short when you pull second guard,
Seems you barely git forty-odd winks
Till the wrangler’s a-bringin’ the hosses in hard
And you’re stretchin’ to work out the kinks.
The cycle continues as years slip away
Till we fin’lly let age take a hold,
Content with rememberin’ some near perfect day
And the horses that never git old.
It wasn’t a question of money to burn
Or livin’ on silk-stockin’ row,
Fer choices that’s made in yore heart won’t discern
What the bankers and businessmen know.
The hot summer days and the cold winter nights
Weave a web few attempt to explain,
Fer though some’ll stray t’wards the bright city lights,
Still the code and the feelin’ remain.
© 1997, J.B. Allen, used with permission from The Medicine Keepers (1997)
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without 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. The late Buck Ramsey, in his introduction to the book, wrote of J.B. Allen, “More than most cowboys, he held to the ways and memories…thought and talked the old lingo” and states, “…in my opinion he is the best living writer of traditional cowboy verse.”
“Habitat” is the first poem in The Medicine Keepers. It was shared widely during Cowboy Poetry Week, with this 1994 video from the Western Folklife Center.
There’s another good audio recording at portraitsofthegathering.org. That site has audio poems and photographs of the poets. It is an outgrowth of an exhibit of noted photographer Kevin Martini-Fuller’s photographs that was mounted at the 2019 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and throughout the town of Elko, Nevada, home of the gathering.
This photo of J.B. Allen is in that exhibit, used here with the photographer’s permission. Kevin Martini-Fuller has photographed participants of the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades.
Find more of Kevin Martini-Fuller’s photos at his site.
J.B. Allen’s poetry is featured in a CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS, along with the work of Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens. The compilation includes recorded poems, “live” performances, and their recitations of other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs), with an introduction by Jay Snider.
Find more about J.B. Allen at cowboypoetry.com.
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