THE OLD NIGHT HAWK, by Bruce Kiskaddon

nighthawk2

 

THE OLD NIGHT HAWK
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

I am up tonight in the pinnacles bold
Where the rim towers high.
Where the air is clear and the wind blows cold,
And there’s only the horses and I.
The valley swims like a silver sea
In the light of the big full moon,
And strong and clear there comes to me
The lilt of the first guard’s tune.

The fire at camp is burning bright,
Cook’s got more wood than he needs.
They’ll be telling some windy tales tonight
Of races and big stampedes.
I’m gettin’ too old fer that line of talk:
The desperaders they’ve knowed,
Their wonderful methods of handling stock
And the fellers they’ve seen get throwed.

I guess I’m a dog that’s had his day,
Though I still am quick and strong.
My hair and my beard have both turned gray,
And I reckon I’ve lived too long.
None of ’em know me but that old cook, Ed,
And never a word he’ll say.
My story will stick in his old gray head
Till the break of the Judgment Day.

What’s that I see a walkin’ fast?
It’s a hoss a’ slippin’ through.
He was tryin’ to make it out through the pass;
Come mighty near doin’ it too.
Get back there! What are you tryin’ to do?
You hadn’t a chance to bolt.
Old boy I was wranglin’ a bunch like you
Before you was even a colt.

It’s later now. The guard has changed.
One voice is clear and strong.
He’s singin’ a tune of the old time range —
I always did like that song.
It takes me back to when I was young
And the memories come through my head,
Of the times I have heard that old song sung
By voices now long since dead.

I have traveled better than half my trail.
I am well down the further slope.
I have seen my dreams and ambitions fail,
And memory replaces hope.
It must be true, fer I’ve heard it said,
That only the good die young.
The tough old cusses like me and Ed
Must stay still the last dog’s hung.

I used to shrink when I thought of the past
And some of the things I have known.
I took to drink, but now at last,
I’d far rather be alone.
It’s strange how quick that a night goes by,
Fir I live in the days of old.
Up here where there’s only the hosses and I;
Up in the pinnacles bold.

The two short years that I ceased to roam,
And I led a contented life.
Then trouble came and I left my home,
And I never have heard of my wife.
The years that I spent in a prison cell
When I went by another name;
For life is a mixture of Heaven and Hell
To a feller that plays the game.

They’d better lay off that wrangler kid.
They’ve give him about enough.
He looks like a pardner of mine once did.
He’s the kind that a man can’t bluff.
They’ll find that they are making a big mistake
If they once get him overhet;
And they’ll give him as good as an even break,
Or I’m takin’ a hand, you bet.

Look, there in the East is the Mornin’ Star.
It shines with a firy glow,
Till it looks like the end of a big cigar,
But it hasn’t got far to go.
Just like the people that make a flash.
They don’t stand much of a run.
Come bustin’ in with a sweep and a dash
When most of the work is done.

I can see the East is gettin’ gray.
I’ll gather the hosses soon;
And faint from the valley far away
Comes the drone of the last guard’s tune.
Yes, life is just like the night-herd’s song,
As the long years come and go.
You start with a swing that is free and strong,
And finish up tired and slow.

I reckon the hosses all are here.
I can see that T-bar blue,
And the buckskin hoss with the one split ear;
I’ve got ’em all. Ninety two.
Just listen to how they roll the rocks —
These sure are rough old trails.
But then, if they can’t slide down on their hocks,
They can coast along on their tails.

The Wrangler Kid is out with his rope,
He seldom misses a throw.
Will he make a cow hand? Well I hope,
If they give him half a show.
They are throwin’ the rope corral around,
The hosses crowd in like sheep.
I reckon I’ll swaller my breakfast down
And try to furgit and sleep.

Yes, I’ve lived my life and I’ve took a chance,
Regardless of law or vow.
I’ve played the game and I’ve had my dance,
And I’m payin’ the fiddler now.

…Bruce Kiskaddon

This poem appeared in Bruce Kiskaddon’s 1924 book, and was revised for his 1947 book. The 45 variants are included in Bill Siems’ Open Range, which includes almost all of Kiskaddon’s nearly 500 poems. The above poem is the 1947 version.

Bill Siems writes, in another of his books, Shorty’s Yarns (the collected stories of Kiskaddon), about how this poem inspired him. His eloquent comments include how city people and ranchers might see each other, and, he comments on ranch people:

“…Besides feeding us, they are the stewards of our land and keepers of our connection with the natural world. They have come closest, after the Native Americans, to harmony with a landscape that is both beautiful and harsh. This harmony is a significant and difficult achievement, essentially in opposition to our romantic notions that are driven by need but not grounded in reality. It is one thing to love the land from a climate-controlled vehicle, but it is another to love it in the wind and sleet on horseback. Cattle as a backdrop for western entertainment are a world apart from cattle as living creatures that must be cared for and slaughtered. Standing with honesty and humility on such bedrock facts of life gives a person authority, however gently it may be asserted…this is the poem that first caught me up in Bruce Kiskaddon’s words…”

Find more about Kiskaddon, Open Range, and Shorty’s Yarns at CowboyPoetry.com.

In the new triple-CD set from cowboypoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, Bill Siems offers an introduction to Bruce Kiskaddon and top poets and reciters present over 60 Kiskaddon poems.

Chris Isaacs, cowboy, packer, poet, and humorist, recites “The Old Night Hawk” on MASTERS: VOLUME THREE.

Chris headlines at the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, August 8-10, 2019 in Prescott. Other announced performers are headliners Trinity Seely and The Cowboy Way Trio (Doug Figgs, Jim Jones and Mariam Funke). Tickets are available now.

This stunning photograph is by cowboy, writer, and poet Amy Hale Steiger, who cowboys with her husband Gail Steiger in rugged country at Arizona’s Spider ranch. She comments, “We often make camp below this butte when we are working our Cottonwood Pasture. Late evening and early morning highlights the rock faces, and I can’t help but stand in awe.”

For a fine piece of writing about her cowboying life, don’t miss her recent “Feet to the Fire,” in the current issue of Contra Viento Journal.

Amy Steiger has acclaimed books: two novels, two essay collections, and a book of poetry.

Find more about her at her web site, amyhaleauker.com; on CowboyPoetry.com; on Instagram; and follow her on Facebook.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this photograph with this post, but for other uses, seek permission. The poem is in the public domain.)

MICHAEL BIA, by Chris Isaacs

Vietnam Memorial on Memorial Day

MICHAEL BIA
by Chris Isaacs

You spent your childhood wild and free,
And none of us could then foresee
How you’d touch our lives, or to what degree.
We never knew you, Michael Bia.

You life was in the land and sky;
Vermillion cliffs and mesas high.
These were yours to occupy.
You were of Diné, Michael Bia.

You rode the bulls and rode them well,
But you wouldn’t leave the reservation’s Citadel
Though it was known you could excel.
Ah, you could ride ’em Michael Bia.

The White House called; you left your land,
And off you went to Viet Nam,
To a war you did not understand.
You did your duty, Michael Bia.

You fought with honor and with pride,
But before the fighting could subside
In that far off land, you died.
You gave the ultimate, Michael Bia.

At Window Rock in sixty-eight
They turned a bull out of the gate,
And his bell rang loud to reiterate
Our thank you, Michael Bia.

Diné, and white men, too
Stood and shed a tear for you;
And though your time on earth is through
May God keep you, Michael Bia.

Now often when I think of the past
Or cross that reservation vast,
Or see Old Glory at half-mast,
I think of Michael Bia.

Ya’at’eeh, Hastiin! (Ya-ta-hey, Has-teen!)

© 2001, Chris Isaacs
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.
(Chris notes: Diné is what the Navajos call themselves; it means “The People.”)

Arizona packer, cowboy, poet and humorist Chris Isaacs writes about this poem in his award-winning book, Rhymes, Reasons and Pack Saddle Proverbs:

There are things that happen in our lives that we have absolutely no control over, which become a part of us forever. Such was the case with the poem about Michael Bia.

I got out of the U. S. Marine Corps in January of 1967 just as things were really starting to heat up in Vietnam. Michael Bia was leading the bull riding standings for the AIRCA when he was drafted and sent to Viet Nam just about the time I was discharged. He never came home.

In 1968 my wife Helena and I were at the Fourth of July rodeo in Window Rock, Arizona, where I was entered when something happened that haunted me for years. The Navajo tribe paid tribute to Michael Bia at that rodeo by taking his chaps and spurs and attaching them to a bull with Michael’s bull rope and then turning the bull loose in the arena during a moment of silence. Nothing has ever affected me quite like that short moment of tribute to a fellow cowboy/comrade-in-arms, and I have thought of it many, many times over the years…The first time that I tried to recite it, I broke down and cried, which kept me from trying it again for quite a while. Then in 1997 at the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering I was on the Veterans’ Session with Joel Nelson, Rod McQueary, and some others, and managed to get through the entire thing…I have had many Vets thank me for the poem, which means a great deal to me…I did a show near Washington, D. C. a few years ago, and made it to the Wall (the Vietnam Memorial) where I found Michael’s name…”

See a post from Chris’s post with photos of Michael Bia on Facebook.

Chris headlines at the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, August 8-10, 2019 in Prescott. Other announced performers are headliners Trinity Seely and The Cowboy Way (Doug Figgs, Jim Jones and Mariam Funke). Tickets are available June 3, 2019.

Find more about Chris Isaacs at CowboyPoetry.com and visit chrisisaacs.com for his books, cds, and complete schedule.

This 2006 photo of the Vietnam Memorial is by contemporary photographer, author, and publisher Carol M. Highsmith and included in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive at The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. The accompanying note tells, “Deliberately setting aside the controversies of the war, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors the men and women who served when their Nation called upon them. The designer, Maya Lin, felt that the politics had eclipsed the veterans, their service and their lives. She kept the design elegantly simple to allow everyone to respond and remember.”

The Highsmith Archive  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 and on Facebook at Carol M. Highsmith’s America.

Find a selection of Memorial Day poems at CowboyPoetry.com.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but please obtain permission for any other use; the photo has no restrictions on its use.)

TO THE OLD TIMES, by Chris Isaacs

cioldtimes

 

TO THE OLD TIMES
by Chris Isaacs

Me and my pards, Bud and Beaver
Were havin’ a cold one down at the Pines.
We’d been to the show and watched the short go
We were just catchin’ up on old times

When this kid walked in with a swagger
That told the whole bar he was there.
Hat cocked to one side, he was plum full of pride;
Just let all of the gunsels beware.

His thumbs slid back behind his new buckle
As he hollered, “The drinks are on me.
I rode a bad one tonight, removed all of his fight
And I’m startin’ right now on a spree.”

We just looked at each other and grinned
As we remembered those days gone by
When we were the ones who were having the fun;
“Let er’ buck” was our standard war cry.

But I think that the grins were a cover.
A mask that could hide something more;
So no one could see that these old devotees
Were wishin’ time hadn’t shuttered the door.

‘Cuz it’s a door that cannot be left gaping.
Once it’s closed it won’t open again.
It’s forever shut tight tho’ you try with your might
The trying could just drive you insane.

But there’s one saving grace; a solution!
It’s a way to help ease the despair.
It’s those old “memories” that help us to see
The good times that are no longer there.

And I looked at Bud and ol’ Beaver
And they were both smiling thru tears
Thinkin’ back when we did the same as that kid,
As we remembered back thru the years.

So pards, let’s raise a glass to old memories,
To the good times and all the old friends.
And though those days are gone, the memories live on;
In our dreams those days never end.

© 2016, Chris Isaacs
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

As we approach the new year thoughts often go to “auld lang syne” (times gone by), cowboy, packer, and popular poet and humorist Chris Isaacs has a fitting poem. He also shares this photo of himself with “Ol’ Cowboy,” which he says was “taken somewhere between Yarnell and Skull Valley, Arizona in March 1977.”

Chris returns as a headliner to the 33rd annual Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Alpine, February 22-23, 2019.

The Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering lineup includes Apache Adams, Gary Allegretto, Amy Hale Auker, Eli Barsi, Floyd Beard, “Straw” Berry, Mike Blakely, Dale Burson, Don Cadden, Bob Campbell, Craig Carter, Zack Casey, Allan Chapman & Rodeo Kate, Justin Cole, High Country Cowboys, Doris Daley, Mikki Daniel, John Davis, Kevin Davis, Doug Figgs, Ray Fitzgerald, Rolf Flake, Ryan & Hoss Fritz, Belinda Gail, Pipp Gillette, Jeff Gore, Kristyn Harris, Andy Hedges, High Country Cowboys, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Randy & Hanna Huston, Chris Isaacs, Jill Jones & Three Hands High, Jim Jones, Linda Kirkpatrick, Ross Knox, Daron Little, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Pat Meade, Glenn Moreland, Terry Nash, Joel Nelson, Sam Noble, Kay Nowell, Jean Prescott, Gary Prescott, Mike Querner, Luke Reed, Randy Rieman, Gary Robertson, Trinity Seely, R.P. Smith, Jay Snider, Gail Steiger, Michael Stevens, Caitlyn Taussig, Rod Taylor, Doug Tolleson, Keith Ward, and Jim Wilson.

Chris Isaacs has a recent book, Scattered Memories: Cowboy Wit and Wisdom. In her foreword to the book, Shannon Keller Rollins (of the Red River Ranch Chuck Wagon along with Kent Rollins) calls it, “your feel-good pocket guide to life.” Find more about Chris Isaacs in a feature at cowboypoetry.com, and find all of his books and recordings at his site, chrisisaacs.com.

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

WAITIN’ FOR SOME RAIN by Chris Isaacs

chrisfeb

WAITIN’ FOR SOME RAIN
by Chris Isaacs

The coolness of the morning air hides well the bitter fact
That temperature means little when the ground is dry and cracked.
Aspen leaves on Escudilla show their green against the sky,
But its only natures apparition ’cause the stock tanks are all dry.

The older cows they know its time to move to summer range;
To green grass and easy livin’, they don’t understand the change
That Mother Natures dealt to us these past six or seven years,
So we push them back to winter ground and try to stifle fears.

Here it is the first of June and we’re still out here feedin’ hay
And hopin’ for a red sky every morning as we start another day.
Saw cattle trucks pull into the Nine Cross, our nearest neighbors place.
Guess they had all that they could take of this droughts dry embrace.

The radio said there’s a chance for rain in another week or two.
Guess we’ll say a prayer, cross our fingers and hope that that is true.
We’ll bear down a little harder, do the work and bear the pain,
Watch for clouds and haul more water while we’re waitin’ for some rain.

© 2018, Chris Isaacs, used with permission

Cowboy, packer, and popular poet and humorist Chris Isaacs comments, “The drought in the Southwest part of the US is serious folks and Arizona is being hit especially hard. We live about 10 miles from the head waters of the Little Colorado River and it has quit running for only the second time in the last 100 years. It is a serious situation friends and we are praying hard for some rain!”

Chris shared this photo, which was taken earlier this year.

You’ll find Chris next 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.

Chris Isaacs collects stories in his recent book, An Element of Truth. Red Steagall​ writes, ” …Chris Isaacs is a master storyteller and poet. He will take you on some incredible journeys….” If you follow Chris on Facebook, you’ll see he’s been in a storytelling mode. Find more about Chris Isaacs in a feature at CowboyPoetry.com and at his site, chrisisaacs.com.

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

 

MICHAEL BIA by Chris Isaacs

memday

photo by Carol M. Highsmith

 

MICHAEL BIA
by Chris Isaacs

You spent your childhood wild and free,
And none of us could then foresee
How you’d touch our lives, or to what degree.
We never knew you, Michael Bia.

You life was in the land and sky;
Vermillion cliffs and mesas high.
These were yours to occupy.
You were of Diné, Michael Bia.

You rode the bulls and rode them well,
But you wouldn’t leave the reservation’s Citadel
Though it was known you could excel.
Ah, you could ride ’em Michael Bia.

The White House called; you left your land,
And off you went to Viet Nam,
To a war you did not understand.
You did your duty, Michael Bia.

You fought with honor and with pride,
But before the fighting could subside
In that far off land, you died.
You gave the ultimate, Michael Bia.

At Window Rock in sixty-eight
They turned a bull out of the gate,
And his bell rang loud to reiterate
Our thank you, Michael Bia.

Diné, and white men, too
Stood and shed a tear for you;
And though your time on earth is through
May God keep you, Michael Bia.

Now often when I think of the past
Or cross that reservation vast,
Or see Old Glory at half-mast,
I think of Michael Bia.

Ya’at’eeh, Hastiin! (Ya-ta-hey, Has-teen!)

© 2001, Chris Isaacs
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.
(Chris notes: Diné is what the Navajos call themselves; it means “The People.”)

Chris Isaacs writes about this poem in his award-winning book, Rhymes, Reasons and Pack Saddle Proverbs:

There are things that happen in our lives that we have absolutely no control over, which become a part of us forever. Such was the case with the poem about Michael Bia.

I got out of the U. S. Marine Corps in January of 1967 just as things were really starting to heat up in Vietnam. Michael Bia was leading the bull riding standings for the AIRCA when he was drafted and sent to Viet Nam just about the time I was discharged. He never came home.

In 1968 my wife Helena and I were at the Fourth of July rodeo in Window Rock, Arizona, where I was entered when something happened that haunted me for years. The Navajo tribe paid tribute to Michael Bia at that rodeo by taking his chaps and spurs and attaching them to a bull with Michael’s bull rope and then turning the bull loose in the arena during a moment of silence. Nothing has ever affected me quite like that short moment of tribute to a fellow cowboy/comrade-in-arms, and I have thought of it many, many times over the years…The first time that I tried to recite it, I broke down and cried, which kept me from trying it again for quite a while. Then in 1997 at the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering I was on the Veterans’ Session with Joel Nelson, Rod McQueary, and some others, and managed to get through the entire thing…I have had many Vets thank me for the poem, which means a great deal to me…I did a show near Washington, D. C. a few years ago, and made it to the Wall (the Vietnam Memorial) where I found Michael’s name…

See Chris’s recent post with photos of Michael Bia on Facebook.

Find more about Chris Isaacs at CowboyPoetry.com and visit chrisisaacs.com.

This 2006 photo of the Vietnam Memorial is by contemporary photographer, author, and publisher Carol M. Highsmith and included in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive at The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.The accompanying note tells, “Deliberately setting aside the controversies of the war, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors the men and women who served when their Nation called upon them. The designer, Maya Lin, felt that the politics had eclipsed the veterans, their service and their lives. She kept the design elegantly simple to allow everyone to respond and remember.”

Find more about the photo here.

The Highsmith Archive 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 and on Facebook at Carol M. Highsmith’s America. Find a selection of Memorial Day poems at CowboyPoetry.com.

 

BILL BURK’S Rx by Chris Isaacs

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BILL BURK’S Rx
by Chris Isaacs

I saw Bill Burk the other day
And we stopped a while to visit.
He says, “I see you’re still packin’ them mules.
Your life’s ambition, is it?

I said, Bill, I think it’s a curse,
These cowboy boots and hats.
You try it once, you’re hooked for life,
And I really think that’s

“Kinda like a vow of poverty
Them monks and friars kae.
It sounds OK a-goin’ in,
But the rewards are all just fake.

“I day-work every spring and fall.
I feed some when it snows.
Then wrangle dudes all summer long,
And pack hunters till that slows.

“Shoe horses for everyone in town,
Till I can’t straighten up my back,
And still when tax time comes around
I’ve gotta go and hock my kack.

“There ain’t no money in it,
That’s for certain and for true,
But I just can’t seem to give it up.
There ain’t nothing else I want to do.”

Now, ol’ Bill, he mulled a bit
On this “condition” we both had.
He shook his head and then he said,
“I know the feeling, lad.

“It’s a sickness lad, that’s for sure;
You’ll have to wait till you die.
It’s worse than whiskey, weed, or dope,
And that’s the reason I

“Think they ought to make a vaccine for it;
Just give you a shot to keep you pure.
‘Cause once you get that ‘cowboyitis’
There dang sure ain’t no cure.”

© 2001, Chris Isaacs
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Cowboy, packer, and popular poet and humorist Chris Isaacs tells, in his book, Rhymes, Reasons, and Pack Saddle Proverbs, that, “I wrote this poem after a visit I had with my neighbor, Bill Burk. I had my horses and mules loaded and was at the Circle K gassing up when Bill pulled up and this conversation took place.”

Chris also shared this photo, and commented, “In some of the steep sided mesas and canyons we have sometimes found this is a good way to go up, easy on the horses and cowboys too. We always called it ‘tailin’ out.'”

See Chris next at the Spirit of West Cowboy Gathering in Ellensburg, Washington, February 16-18, 2018. Chris joins featured performers Wylie and Wild West, Trinity Seely, Lauralee Northcott, Thatch Elmer, Panhandle Cowboys, and Paul Wilson. Daytime performers include Tom Swearingen, Andy Bales, Duane Nelson, Barbara Nelson, Jane Bailey, Kathy Moss, David Anderson and Jenny Lynn, Joe Sartin, Rocking RW, Stan Kvistad, and TR Stewart. Find more at ellensburgcowboygathering.com.

Chris will also be a part of the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Alpine, March 2-3, 2018.

Chris Isaacs collects stories in his new book, An Element of Truth. Red Steagall writes, “…Chris Isaacs is a master storyteller and poet. He will take you on some incredible journeys….” If you follow Chris on Facebook, you’ll see he’s been in a storytelling mode. Find more about Chris Isaacs in a feature at CowboyPoetry.com and at his site, chrisisaacs.com.

MICHAEL BIA by Chris Isaacs

memday

photo by Carol M. Highsmith

 

MICHAEL BIA
by Chris Isaacs

You spent your childhood wild and free,
And none of us could then foresee
How you’d touch our lives, or to what degree.
We never knew you, Michael Bia.

You life was in the land and sky;
Vermillion cliffs and mesas high.
These were yours to occupy.
You were of Diné, Michael Bia.

You rode the bulls and rode them well,
But you wouldn’t leave the reservation’s Citadel
Though it was known you could excel.
Ah, you could ride ’em Michael Bia.

The White House called; you left your land,
And off you went to Viet Nam,
To a war you did not understand.
You did your duty, Michael Bia.

You fought with honor and with pride,
But before the fighting could subside
In that far off land, you died.
You gave the ultimate, Michael Bia.

At Window Rock in sixty-eight
They turned a bull out of the gate,
And his bell rang loud to reiterate
Our thank you, Michael Bia.

Diné, and white men, too
Stood and shed a tear for you;
And though your time on earth is through
May God keep you, Michael Bia.

Now often when I think of the past
Or cross that reservation vast,
Or see Old Glory at half-mast,
I think of Michael Bia.

Ya’at’eeh, Hastiin! (Ya-ta-hey, Has-teen!)

© 2001, Chris Isaacs
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.
(Chris notes: Diné is what the Navajos call themselves; it means “The People.”)

Chris Isaacs writes about this poem in his award-winning book, Rhymes, Reasons and Pack Saddle Proverbs:

There are things that happen in our lives that we have absolutely no control over, which become a part of us forever. Such was the case with the poem about Michael Bia.

I got out of the U. S. Marine Corps in January of 1967 just as things were really starting to heat up in Vietnam. Michael Bia was leading the bull riding standings for the AIRCA when he was drafted and sent to Viet Nam just about the time I was discharged. He never came home.

In 1968 my wife Helena and I were at the Fourth of July rodeo in Window Rock, Arizona, where I was entered when something happened that haunted me for years. The Navajo tribe paid tribute to Michael Bia at that rodeo by taking his chaps and spurs and attaching them to a bull with Michael’s bull rope and then turning the bull loose in the arena during a moment of silence. Nothing has ever affected me quite like that short moment of tribute to a fellow cowboy/comrade-in-arms, and I have thought of it many, many times over the years…The first time that I tried to recite it, I broke down and cried, which kept me from trying it again for quite a while. Then in 1997 at the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering I was on the Veterans’ Session with Joel Nelson, Rod McQueary, and some others, and managed to get through the entire thing…I have had many Vets thank me for the poem, which means a great deal to me…I did a show near Washington, D. C. a few years ago, and made it to the Wall (the Vietnam Memorial) where I found Michael’s name…

Find more about Chris Isaacs at CowboyPoetry.com and visit chrisisaacs.com.

This 2006 photo of the Vietnam Memorial is by contemporary photographer, author, and publisher Carol M. Highsmith and included in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive at The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.The accompanying note tells, “Deliberately setting aside the controversies of the war, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors the men and women who served when their Nation called upon them. The designer, Maya Lin, felt that the politics had eclipsed the veterans, their service and their lives. She kept the design elegantly simple to allow everyone to respond and remember.”

Find more about the photo here.

The Highsmith Archive 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 and on Facebook at Carol M. Highsmith’s America. Find a selection of Memorial Day poems at CowboyPoetry.com.