by Bill Jones
Jake, the rancher, went one day
to fix a distant fence.
The wind was cold and gusty
and the clouds rolled gray and dense.
As he pounded the last staple
and gathered tools to go,
The temperature had fallen
and the snow began to blow.
When he finally reached his pickup,
he felt a heaviness of heart,
From the sound that the ignition made
he knew it wouldn’t start.
So Jake did what most of us
would do if we’d have been there
He humbly bowed his balding head
and sent aloft a prayer.
As he turned the key for the last time
he softly cursed his luck,
They found him three days later, froze,
in the cab of that old truck.
Jake had been around in his younger days
and done his share of roamin’
But when he seen Heaven, he was shocked—
Hell, it look just like Wyomin’.
Oh, they was some differences of course,
but just some minor things,
One place had simply disappeared—
the town they called Rock Springs.
The BLM had been shut down,
and there weren’t no grazin’ fees,
And the wind in Rawlins and Cheyenne
was now a gentle breeze.
All them Park and Forest Service folks—
they didn’t fare so well,
They’d all been sent to fight some fire,
in a wilderness in Hell.
Though Heaven was a real nice place,
Jake had no peace of mind,
So he saddled up and lit a shuck,
not known what he’d find.
Then one day up in Cody,
one October afternoon,
He seen St. Peter at the bar
of the Old Proud Cut Saloon.
Of all the saints Jake knew in Heaven,
his favorite was Peter,
(This line ain’t really necessary
but it makes good rhyme and meter.
So they shared a frosty mug or two,
or maybe it was three,
Nobody there was keepin’ score—
in Heaven beer is free.
“I’ve always heard,” Jake said to Pete,
“that God will answer prayer,
But the one time that I asked for help,
well, He jest plain wasn’t there.
Does God answer prayers of some
and ignore the prayers of others?
That don’t seem exactly square,
I know all men are brothers.
Or does He reply randomly,
without good rhyme or reason?
Maybe it’s the time of day,
the weather or the season?
I ain’t tryin’ to act smart,
it’s juset the way I feel,
And I was wonderin’, could you tell, Pete,
what the heck’s the deal?
Pete listened very patiently
and when ol’ Jake was done,
There was a smile of recognition
and he said, “Oh, you’re the one.
That day your truck it wouldn’t start,
and you sent your prayer adrift,
You caught us at a real bad time—
the end of the day shift.
And 10,000 Angels rushed to check
the status of your file,
But you know, Jake, we hadn’t heard from you
in more than jest awhile.
And though all prayers are answered—
God ain’t got no quota—
He didn’t recognize your voice,
and cranked some guy’s a truck in North Dakota!”
© Bill Jones, from There Ain’t Much Romance in the Life of us Cows
This poem should not be re-posted or reprinted without the author’s permission
Chances are you’ve seen a version of this poem with “author unknown.” It has been printed in many places and recorded. Bill Jones comments, “‘Answered Prayer’ is based on an old joke I heard as a kid. I put its story line along with the rancher Jake…Bill Clinton used the story in a speech years ago—my version.”
Bill Jones has several books of his humorous poetry and prose (including The Pretzel Hold, The Dude from Hell, and There Ain’t Much Romance in the Life of us Cows). Some of his long-running Lander Wyoming State Journal columns are also found in the books. Read another of his humorous poems, “Roundup at the Bar B Bar,” in our feature.
Many will know another side of Bill Jones’ writing and poetry, which draws on his combat experience as a Marine in Vietnam. See our feature for more about that work, including his new book, The Body Burning Detail; a memoir of a Marine Artilleryman in Vietnam.
The feature also mentions his involvement with veteran workshops at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center, and more.
The photo above is of Bill Jones at the Library of Congress in 2018.
(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but for other uses, request permission.)