photo by Carol Highsmith
THE MARRIED MAN
by Charles Badger Clark (1883-1957)
There’s an old pard of mine that sits by his door
And watches the evenin’ skies.
He’s sat there a thousand evenin’s before
And I reckon he will till he dies.
El pobre!* I reckon he will till he dies,
And hear through the dim, quiet air
Far cattle that call and the crickets that cheep
And his woman a-singin’ a kid to sleep
And the creak of her rockabye chair.
Once we made camp where the last light would fail
And the east wasn’t white till we’d start,
But now he is deaf to the call of the trail
And the song of the restless heart.
El pobre! the song of the restless heart
That you hear in the wind from the dawn!
He’s left it, with all the good, free-footed things,
For a slow little song that a tired woman sings
And a smoke when his dry day is gone.
I’ve rode in and told him of lands that were strange,
Where I’d drifted from glory to dread.
He’d tell me the news of his little old range
And the cute things his kid had said!
El pobre! the cute things his kid had said!
And the way six-year Billy could ride!
And the dark would creep in from the gray chaparral
And the woman would hum, while I pitied my pal
And thought of him like he had died.
He rides in old circles and looks at old sights
And his life is as flat as a pond.
He loves the old skyline he watches of nights
And he don’t seem to care for beyond.
El pobre! he don’t seem to dream of beyond,
Nor the room he could find, there, for joy.
“Ain’t you ever oneasy?” says I one day.
But he only just smiled in a pityin’ way
While he braided a quirt for his boy.
He preaches that I orter fold up my wings
And that even wild geese find a nest
That “woman” and “wimmen” are different things
And a saddle nap isn’t a rest.
El pobre! he’s more for the shade and the rest
And he’s less for the wind and the fight,
Yet out in strange hills, when the blue shadows rise
And I’m tired from the wind and the sun in my eyes,
I wonder, sometimes, if he’s right.
I’ve courted the wind and I’ve followed her free
From the snows that the low stars have kissed
To the heave and the dip of the wavy old sea,
Yet I reckon there’s somethin’ I’ve missed.
El pobre! Yes, mebbe there’s somethin’ I’ve missed,
And it mebbe is more than I’ve won—
Just a door that’s my own, while the cool shadows creep,
And a woman a-singin’ my kid to sleep
When I’m tired from the wind and the sun.
…by Badger Clark from “Sun and Saddle Leather,” 1922
* “El pobre,” Spanish, “Poor fellow.”
At the 20013 Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, top reciters and singers (Jerry Brooks, Elizabeth Ebert, Don Edwards, Dick Gibford, DW Groethe, Wylie Gustafson, Gary McMahan, Waddie Mitchell, Joel Nelson, Kay Kelley Nowell, Randy Rieman, Dave Stamey, and Gail Steiger) took part in a tribute to Badger Clark. In it, Randy Rieman recites “A Married Man.” Watch at youtube.com.
For another excellent recitation of this poem, tune into Andy Hedges Cowboy Crossroads podcast, episode 14, part two of an interview with Randy Rieman. Andy recites this poem as an introduction. The poem is also included on Andy Hedges’ recent Cowboy Recitations CD.
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 some found their way into song, including “The Old Cow Man,” “Ridin’,” “Spanish is a Loving Tongue” and “To Her.”
He never married. He was engaged to Helen Fowler of Deadwood before he contracted tuberculosis and went to Arizona for its cure. Greg Scott tells in his book, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark, that while Clark was in Arizona, “He wrote lengthy letters to his family and friends and Helen, his fiancee…He wrote poems about his longing for the Black Hills and home. These were poems that were never published. At some point, he must have known that his relationship with Helen would never end in marriage. Each day he became more accustomed to living alone. He enjoyed courting the eligible women in the area when opportunity presented itself. He kept his father apprised of his activities, including his periodic infatuations. Eventually, the formality of his engagement to Helen was ended by mutual consent.”
The South Dakota Historical Society Foundation holds Badger Clark’s papers and offers his books for sale.
Find poetry and more in our features about Badger Clark.
This photograph is by contemporary photographer, author, and publisher Carol M. Highsmith, titled, “Coats and a cowboy hat at the ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ Cabin at Old Trail Town, a historic museum complex in Cody, Wyoming.” Find more about it here. It is included in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive at The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
The collection description notes that, “Highsmith, a distinguished and richly-published American photographer, has donated her work to the Library of Congress since 1992. Starting in 2002, Highsmith provided scans or photographs she shot digitally with new donations to allow rapid online access throughout the world. Her generosity in dedicating the rights to the American people for copyright free access also makes this Archive a very special visual resource.”
Find more about Carol Highsmith and her work at carolhighsmith.com.
(This poem and photograph are in the public domain.)