FILL ‘ER UP TO OVERFLOWIN’, by Ken Cook

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FILL ‘ER UP TO OVERFLOWIN’
by Ken Cook

There’s nothin’ forged by mortal man,
Can measure full the gain,

When God swings wide ol’ heaven’s gate,
And sorts a day of rain.

No vessel on a sun-baked ranch,
Not dog dish, gauge or pail,

Can hold the flow and endless worth,
A soaker can unveil.

You’d barter with the devil sure,
If rain ‘gainst soul was bet,

‘Cause on both knees you’ve prayed for months,
With not an answer yet.

More natural than breathin’ air,
See every drop’s a gift,

All creatures livin’ feel the change,
When clouds begin to shift,

And thunderheads show in the west,
The breeze turns damp, not burned.

Your soul might be the devil’s toy,
But for now the sky has turned,

As lightning flashes, thunder screams,
Most cattle bunch to hide.

The horses race the barbed wire south,
They feel it deep inside.

Anticipation, same as you,
Heaven’s gate blows back,

A gully washer’s on its way,
The drought’s under attack.

So fill ’em up to overflowin’,
Each gauge and pail and dish,

The devil may have gained a soul,
But cowboy, you got your wish.

© 2007, Ken Cook, used with permission

We’re devoting this week to rain themes, a sort of cowboy poetry rain dance.

Third-generation South Dakota cowboy and rancher Ken Cook comments, “We are good for moisture, unlike so many others.” When we shared this poem last year, his area was in a severe drought. He wrote, in part, “Sakes alive she’s dry in parts of our country. Got our first good summer rain a week or so ago. Half a dog dish! I measure by the dish. Saves any lengthy discussions pertaining to who got a half, three quarters or ninety five hundredths. Come to think of it, that last one is close enough to an inch to call it an inch right? The dish also keeps me from exaggerating, as long as I beat the dog to the dish.”

Ken says, “This poem began on a humorous path but took a turn the longer I traveled with it. It suits me.

“Fill ‘er Up to Overflowing” is included on Ken Cook’s CD, Cowboys Are Like That.

Ken Cook comes from a long line of respected South Dakota cowboys and he and wife Nancy have perpetuated that line with their offspring. They also have some irresistible grandchildren. This 2013 photograph, courtesy of Ken Cook, includes Ken, his son, and son-in-law.

Find more about Ken Cook and more of his poetry in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com.

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

WHAT IT IS, by Trey Allen (1971-2016)

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WHAT IT IS
by Trey Allen (1971-2016)

“What is this cowboy poetry?”
the lady asked of me.
“It must be more than stories
Whether rhymed or free.”

“What makes it so intriguing,
reels you in and gets you hooked,
it must be something simple.”
I jist give a sideways look.

“You’re right, ma’am, it’s kinda simple
but it’s complicated too,
but if you’ve got time to lend an ear
I’ll share some thoughts with you.”

You see the written word is simple
But the complicated thing
Is understanding the life behind the words
So I’ll tell you what I mean.

It’s the greenin’ of the grass in spring,
The first frost in the fall,
The dreary doldrums winter morns,
The summer shadows tall.

It’s the smell of mornin’ coffee
‘fore ol’ Sol has blinked an eye
and the million twinklin’ star aglow
in the pitch black predawn sky.

It’s the jingle of a much-worn spur
Upon a rundown handmade boot,
The snort of a cold-backed cayuse
And the silent prayer he don’t leave you afoot.

It’s the catch rope hangin’ inside the door
Of a rickety ol’ saddle shed
And the wariness of the pony
Who knows jist when to drop his head.

It’s the colt you traded for last fall
And started late this spring
That’s proved to you he’s worth his salt
And you wouldn’t trade him for anything.

It’s that motley face calf there on the scale,
He don’t look half as big as when
You had to flank him solo
Last spring in the brandin’ pen.

It’s the tangy scent of wood smoke,
The washtub by the wagon wheel,
The patched and worn out cookfly
And all the stories it could tell.

It’s a herd of unbroken saddle mounts
Strung out steppin’ single file
Through a sage covered Utah mountain pass
For near three quarters and a mile.

It’s the old man outside the brandin’ pen
Watchin’ the goings on
And the look in his eye that says loud and clear
“I’d like to see one more ‘fore I’m gone.”

It’s an old cow sucklin’ a newborn calf,
A foal on wobbly legs.
It’s a seventeen hour day with nothin’ on your stomach
But bitter coffee dregs.

It’s the old kack you use to start a young colt,
Holds in for the bad storms you weather.
It’s the pride displayed in a new handmade rig
And the creak of the well tooled leather.

It’s the antiquated wage he draws
Despite the Hollywood label,
It’s puttin’ life and limb on the line
To put a tasty beef steak on the table.

It’s the Sevier River Valley and the Wasatch Front,
The Muggyown Rim in the spring.
The Canadian River breaks, the Chisos and the Davis
And a thousand other places I’ve never seen.

It’s the labor of love you choose for life
Workin’ from can ’til can’t.
Maam, I could go on for days ’bout what it is
And probably a lot of things it ain’t.

So in short, ma’am, what I’m sayin’ is this
Cowboy poetry ain’t jist in the words you read,
The poetry of the cowboy
Is in the life he leads.

© Jack “Trey” Allen

It is hard to top what the late Trey Allen, popular award-winning poet, reciter, cowboy, and Kansas ranch manager had to say in his poem. He is greatly missed by his many friends and family. We’re grateful for his poetry and recordings.

A 2014 bio he supplied gave a bit of background, “For some twenty years and change now, Jack Trey Allen has been writing and reciting cowboy poetry. He started out gathering intel early in life as a bullrider/bullfighter and graduated to shoeing horses and starting colts, to those ‘to those in the know’ this should explain a great deal. At the point he began his family however, the conclusion was reached that three meals a week and Copenhagen made less than desirable home conditions and he settled into a real job…

“While earning a regular paycheck, he kept his hand turned at colts and shoeing, dayworking, etc. It was during this time he became intimate with a little known group called ‘Corporate America.’ Thirteen years of that and he packed his family up, headed for the mountains of south central Colorado, near Canon City and has been full time cowboy every since. For nine years Trey has managed the Moyer Ranch in the northern Flints Hills of Kansas, south of Manhattan. When asked about the possibility of ‘lightin’ a shuck,’ he said ‘Pack rats set up shop in my tipi and cut my bedroll up into little tiny ones. Sure hate to disturb their little enterprise…’ Reckon he’ll stay put.”

A painting of Trey Allen by Don Dane was featured on the 2015 Cowboy Poetry Week poster.

Find more about Trey Allen at CowboyPoetry.com.

Thanks to Janice Hannagan-Allen for this photograph and her generous permissions.

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

 

THE OLD COW MEN’S PARADE, by Sharlot Mabridth Hall (1870-1943)

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THE OLD COW MEN’S PARADE
by Sharlot Mabridth Hall (1870-1943)

The flags are flying, the bands are playing,
And there, down Gurley street
The big parade is coming —
Hark to the trampling feet!
Two hundred cow men riding,
Dressed out for holiday;
Ten-gallon hats and fancy shirts
And ‘kerchiefs bright and gay.

Two hundred horses prancing
As the riders whoop and yell;
And jingle of spurs and bridle chains
The noise and music swell.
There’s Ruffner on the sorrel,
His silver bridle shines;
And Doc Pardee comes riding
Down from the Munds Park pines.

And there’s the Beloat of Buckeye
Who twirls a winning rope;
Loge Morris and his juniors,
All on a swinging lope.
The Champies and Ed Bowman,
And all the medalled train
Come back to lift more honors
At Prescott once again.

They pass with jokes and laughter,
And shouting clear and loud,
Out to the big arena
To face the cheering crowd.
And some will rope for glory
And some will ride for gold;
And some will grappled bull-dogged steers
And win on a strangle-hold.

Down sweep the big sombreros
As the bow to the grandstand’s cheer;
But, look, as they ride to their places—
God! Look what’s coming here!
A long, long train of horsemen,
Yet never a hoof-beat sounds;
And never a dust-spurt rises
From the trampled sporting grounds.

A-breast, in martial order
They wheel and swing to place;
But their forms are thin and misty
And a shadow dims each face;
A pale and still battalion
In Stetsons, chaps, and spurs;
And they, too, bow to the grandstand—
But the picture swims and blurs.

Here are the men of Texas
Who made the Chisholm Trail,
Pointing their herds of long-horns
To the track of a steel-shod rail,
Heading their leaders northward
By a puff of engine smoke;
Betting their all on a market chance—
Thousands–or down, and broke.

Men who trailed the Long Trail
With steers for Idaho;
Men who drove their beef herds
To feed Geronimo.
Men who could buck a Norther,
Men who could fight a drouth;
Sitting their lean trail-horses,
Keen-eyed, and grim of mouth.

There’s Jim O’Neal from Date Creek
With his riders, dark and trim;
And close at this knee Juan Leyvas,
A stripling lithe and slim.
And Stuart Knight comes riding
With his smile and careless grace—
But a whirlwind whips down the beaten track
And a dust-cloud blurs each face.

Gone are the silent riders,
And only the sun beats down
On the trampled, barren arena
And the chute gates weathered brown:
They’ve ridden back to the Days That Were;
But before a play is made—
Three cheers for the unseen men who passed
In the old cow men’s parade.

…by Sharlot Hall, from her 1953 book, Poems of a Ranch Woman

Sharlot Mabridth Hall (1870-1943) wrote about a Fourth of July event that still continues today, the Frontier Days Parade that takes place in conjunction with Arizona’s World’s Oldest Prescott Rodeo. The rodeo celebrates its 131st anniversary this year and is through today, July 4, 2018.

Families of many of those mentioned in the poem still live in the Prescott area today.

Sharlot Hall arrived in the Arizona Territory as a young girl. She wrote about those early days and continued to document her life and the stories and histories of Arizona in wrote essays, short stories, articles, and poetry.

Fiercely independent, she was the first Arizona woman to hold public office, serving as Territorial Historian of Arizona. In 1924, shortly after women won the right to vote, she was selected to take the state’s vote to Washington, D. C. Find more about her and more poetry in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com.

With luck, you can hear Tom Weathers recite this poem at the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering. This year’s event is its 31st anniversary, August 9-11, 2018, in Prescott. Performers include Gary Allegretto, Sally Bates, Floyd Beard, Valerie Beard, Broken Chair Band, Dale Burson, Marleen Bussma, Don Cadden, Dean Cook, Doris Daley, Kevin Davis, Sam DeLeeuw, Mike Dunn, Thatch Elmer, Don Fernwalt, Linda Lee Filener, Pipp Gillette, Amy Hale Auker, Randy Huston, Chris Isaacs, Gary Kirkman, Suzi Killman, Steve Lindsey, Mary Matli, Dave McCall, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Al “Doc” Mehl, Mike Moutoux, Mark Munzert, Old Time Fiddlers, Jay Parson, Jean Prescott & Gary Prescott, Dennis Russell, Rusty Pistols Reloaded, Buck Ryberg, Jim & Nancy Sober, Jay Snider, Gail Steiger, and Barry Ward. Find more at azcowboypoets.org.

Find poems and more for Independence Day at CowboyPoetry.com.

This is image is by Seita, licensed from Shutterstock.com.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this photo with this post, but it must be licensed for any other use. The poem is in the public domain.)

 

A WET ROPE, by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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A WET ROPE
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

I will bet all your life you will never forget
The trouble you’ve had with a rope that was wet.
One day when your hoss was rode down to a walk
You cornered a gentle hoss close to a rock.

You throwed, but your rope was as stiff as a hoop.
So he just downed his head and backed out of the loop.
He was foxy. As soon as he saw the rope fall,
He just pulled out from there and he left you. That’s all.

That time you run onto an old moss horn steer
You’d been aimin’ to lead out fer over a year.
He was in some rough country just close to the valley,
You throwed and you ketched him and tried for a dally.

But the saddle and rope was both wet and you missed.
You blistered your fingers and battered your fist.
There was no chance. The ground was all muddy and slick,
And a wet muddy rope doesn’t tangle so quick.

Yes I reckon that you can remember a lot,
But it makes you so mad that it’s better forgot.

…Bruce Kiskaddon

Things have changed a bit in the 65 years since Bruce Kiskaddon’s poem was printed in the Los Angeles Union Stock Yards calendar, but it’s easy to imagine the scene.

Bruce Kiskaddon worked for ten years as a cowboy, starting in 1898 in southeastern Colorado’s Picketwire area. He published short stories and nearly 500 poems. His poems are among the most admired and the most recited in the “classic” cowboy poetry canon.

A 2017 article in a Western Horseman blog by William Reynolds focuses on Kiskaddon, and describes Kiskaddon’s style as, “…uniquely unromantic and undoubtedly authentic.”

Much of what is known about Kiskaddon and his work comes from Open Range, Bill Siems’ monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry. Bill Siems also collected Bruce Kiskaddon’s short stories in a book called Shorty’s Yarns. Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

(This poem is in the public domain.)

THE MEN WHO DON’T FIT IN by Robert Service (1874-1958)

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THE MEN WHO DON’T FIT IN
by Robert Service (1874-1958)

There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.

They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.

They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.

And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.

Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.

…by Robert Service from The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses

Robert Service, an inveterate traveler and adventure seeker, was born in England and grew up in Scotland.

Service yearned to be a cowboy. He arrived in Canada the same year that gold was found in the Klondike, and did hire on as a cowboy for a bit on Vancouver Island. But soon he returned to the job he had trained for—banking— and that work led him eventually to the Yukon, when his bank transferred him there.

There he wrote stories of the prospectors and poems such as “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” His work met with immediate acclaim and his poetry remains widely read and performed.

Some of the tales he told were colored by his life in the West among cowboys, and the strong rhyme and meter of his work have inspired many cowboy poets.

Find more about him at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1939 photo by Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985), titled “Cowboy in front of bunkhouse, Quarter Circle U Ranch, Big Horn County, Montana,” is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Rothstein was a student of Roy Styker, who conceived the documentary photography project for the FSA. Find more about Arthur Rothstein here.

(This poem and photo are in the public domain.)

 

 

PROLAPSE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON by Baxter Black

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PROLAPSE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
by Baxter Black

It came from outta nowhere,
like a prolapse in the night.
Which, in fact is what it was, my friends,
the cow vet’s scourge and plight.
That pudgy pink projectile
from those monster movie scenes
Like some whopping giant burrito
filled with attitude and beans.

I was soon laid down behind it
on a hillside in the muck
While the cowboy shined his high beams
from his perch there in the truck.
His rope stretched from the bumper
to her front legs tied in haste.
As I wallowed in the darkness
like a frog, stripped to the waist.

It was bigger than a tree trunk.
It was slick as old chow mein.
It was heavy as a carpet
someone left out in the rain.
I tried to gain some purchase
as I pressed my fist in tight,
It was thrashing like a porpoise
and was putting up a fight.

I got it in a hammerlock.
It was like a rabid dog.
I wrapped my legs around it
like a monkey on a log.
I pushed until my shoulder
disappeared inside the mass
As I scrambled for a foothold
in the mud and frozen grass.

But alas, with one huge effort
she expelled me from her grip.
I shot out like a cannon,
rolled and did a double flip.
But I grabbed her tail in passing
and with strength born out of war,
I dove at the appendage
like some punch drunk matador.

I lifted her hind quarters,
and I swung her side to side,
Then, like smart men do,
I used my head to push it back inside!
It was dark there for a second,
it was hard to catch my breath
But there she lay, my patient
I had saved from certain death.

The cowboy rolled his window down, said,
“Doc, are you alright?”
He gunned the engine several times.
The headlights got real bright.
“I’ve seen a prolapse done before
but never quite like that!”
“Oh, they taught us that in vet school…
But I think it ate my hat.”

© Baxter Black, used with permission

You must watch Baxter Black performing this poem. Here’s one video from the Heber Valley Western Music and Cowboy Poetry Gathering and here is another.

Poet and writer Rod Miller, in “Fine Lines and Wrinkles,” an essay at CowboyPoetry.com, writes, “Alliteration, assonance, consonance, and a completely off-kilter view of the world are apparent in these fine, wrinkled lines from ‘Prolapse from the Black Lagoon’ by Baxter Black. (Note that even his name uses alliteration and assonance.)”

In his official bio, where he is described as “a cowboy poet, former large animal veterinarian and entertainer of the agricultural masses,” Baxter Black comments, “My audience is my inspiration. Every cowboy, rancher, vet, farmer, feed salesman, ag teacher, cowman and rodeo hand has a story to tell, and they tell it to me. I Baxterize it and tell it back to ‘em! It doesn’t seem fair, does it?”

He recites S. Omar Barker’s “Cowboy Saying” on the new MASTERS: VOLUME TWO CD from CowboyPoetry.com.

Some months ago, Baxter asked us to relay this message, a policy announcement: “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.”

This version of “Prolapse from the Black Lagoon” comes from “Poems Worth Saving,” Baxter Black’s 2013 collection of 164 poems and stories.

Find more about Baxter Black at CowboyPoetry.com and find much more, including a weekly column, at BaxterBlack.com.

This photograph is courtesy of Baxter Black.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but request permission for any other use—except recitation.)

THE BORDER AFFAIR by Charles Badger Clark (1883-1957)

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THE BORDER AFFAIR
by Charles Badger Clark (1883-1957)

Spanish is the lovin’ tongue,
Soft as music, light as spray.
‘Twas a girl I learnt it from,
Livin’ down Sonora way.
I don’t look much like a lover,
Yet I say her love words over
Often when I’m all alone—
“Mi amor, mi corazon.”

Nights when she knew where I’d ride
She would listen for my spurs,
Fling the big door open wide,
Raise them laughin’ eyes of hers
And my heart would nigh stop beatin’
When I heard her tender greetin’,
Whispered soft for me alone
“Mi amor! mi corazon!”

Moonlight in the patio,
Old Señora noddin’ near,
Me and Juana talkin’ low
So the Madre couldn’t hear—
How those hours would go a-flyin;!
And too soon I’d hear her sighin’
In her little sorry tone—
“Adios, mi corazon!”

But one time I had to fly
For a foolish gamlin’ fight,
And we said a swift goodbye
In that black, unlucky night.
When I’d loosed her arms from clingin’
With her words the hoofs kep’ ringin’
As I galloped north alone—
“Adios, mi corazon”

Never seen her since that night,
I kain’t cross the Line, you know.
She was Mex and I was white;
Like as not it’s better so.
Yet I’ve always sort of missed her
Since that last wild night I kissed her,
Left her heart and lost my own—
“Adios, mi corazon!”

…Charles Badger Clark, 1907

Badger Clark’s poem has been sung by many, from Ian Tyson to Bob Dylan, best known as “Spanish is the Loving Tongue.” In Git Along, Little Dogies (1975) John I. White tells that Prescott, Arizona cowboy singer Bill Simon put it to music in 1925, a few years after he did the same for Gail I. Gardner’s “The Sierry Petes.”

Badger Clark got his cowboying experience in Arizona. He became the Poet Laureate of South Dakota, where he was born and lived for most of his life. He wrote many lasting poems, and others that found their way into song include “The Old Cow Man,” “Riding’,” and “To Her.”

Find much more poetry and more about Badger Clark in features at CowboyPoetry.com.

Enjoy Dave Stamey’s great rendition of “Spanish is the Loving Tongue” from a 2013 Western Folklife Center National Cowboy Poetry Gathering performance.

Michael Martin Murphey has a likewise outstanding recording.

Michael Martin Murphey is featured on the current episode of Andy Hedges’ Cowboy Crossroads podcast. He talks about his influences and his influence on cowboy poets through his WestFest event and much about Buffalo Bill Cody. Find it here.

Michael Martin Murphey brings back his popular American WestFest, July 4-8, 2018 in Red River, New Mexico. Performers include R.W. Hampton, Kristyn Harris, Andy Hedges, Michael Hearne, Mikki Daniel, Gary Roller, Carin Mari, Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison, Robert Mirabal, Max Gomez, Gareth, Shake Russell, Clint Chartier, Brennan Murphey, and Ryan Murphey. Find more, including artist bios here.

This 1936 photograph by noted Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange seemed to fit the mood. It’s from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. See more here.

(This poem and photo are in the public domain.)