photo © 2018, Kevin Martini-Fuller
THE NEXT YEAR PEOPLE
by Vess Quinlan
The preacher picked us out of a stream
of National Western Stock Show enthusiasts
walking toward the entrance gates
on the icy sidewalk.
He approached spraying spittle,
pointed with a grimy hand,
and shouted loudly.
“Are you people of faith?
Do you believe Madam?”
Uh-oh, I thought,
nobody, but nobody shouts
Later, over ice cream,
she said, “I’ve been thinking
about that sidewalk preacher
and what he said.
I should have stopped
and told him of our belief.
It is pure faith to turn bulls in with cows
and believe that, come spring, there will be
rambunctious white faced calves bucking
and bawling and butting heads.
When we bury tiny fragile seed
a quarter inch deep in dry soil
we believe a miracle of great lushness
will happen to feed us and our livestock.
Is that not faith?
“When hard times come,
we hang on like leeches
and believe that next year
it won’t hail out our wheat,
or rain on the alfalfa windrows.
Next year the cows will all twin
and we will be able to pay the bank.
Oh yes, I should have told him,
We believe and have great faith
because we are next year people.”
© Vess Quinlan
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission
Vess Quinlan, respected poet and storyteller, rancher and truck driver, includes this poem in “Letters from Leo” (2014), a limited-edition chapbook of poems and stories.
He told us that the poem contains many direct quotes from his grandmother. The idea of “next year people” was an expression that sprang from the Great Depression; Ken Burns mentions it in his documentary, The Dust Bowl. Vess Quinlan has written other poems about and inspired by his grandmother.
In the landmark book, Between Earth and Sky (1995), author Anne Heath Widmark writes, “The history of Vess’s family, on both sides, reflects the hardships small ranchers have endured in the this century in the West—the subject of some of the poems in Vess’s book, The Trouble with Dreams. During a cowboy poetry gathering in Grand Junction, Colorado, Vess told me that in the 1930s his grandparents on his mother’s side were driven off their land near Pueblo when became overextended buying breeding stock in the good-times twenties…”
Later she quotes him, “Once you destroy a culture, you can never get it back…The sense of place, the sacred, is where a people have lived and worked. Go back to where you lived as a child. What’s happening there is what’s happening to the sacred all over the world.”
That book also contains some of Vess Quinlan’s poetry and excellent photographs by Kent Reeves.
Last July Andy Hedges recorded an engaging interview with Vess Quinlan on his Cowboy Crossroads podcast.
Vess Quinlan has contributed over two dozen stories to RANGE magazine, where his work is featured frequently.
The above 2018 photograph of Vess Quinlan is by Kevin Martini-Fuller, who has photographed participants of the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades. In 2019, an exhibit of his photographs was mounted at the gathering and throughout the town of Elko, Nevada, home of the gathering.
Now those portraits have been collected in a beautifully designed book, which includes four poems and more than 75 photographs, Portraits of the Gathering.
See the “Portraits of the Gathering” exhibit site, which also includes poetry by the included poets.
Find more of Kevin Martini-Fuller’s works at his site.
Thanks to Kevin Martin-Fuller for his generous permissions.
(Request permission for use of this poem or photograph.)