YEARLIN’ HEIFERS—PART I, by DW Groethe

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photo © 2009, Jessica Lifland

YEARLIN’ HEIFERS—PART I
by DW Groethe

How they love to go a neighborin’
and seek more scenic bits of range.
I think, perhaps, they’ve joined
some kind of herbivore exchange.
No matter—
Every clip had better be in place
and hangin’ tight and true.
Best tap them staples exter good
so the girls ain’t slippin’ thru.

Their whole reason for existence,
till you get that yearlin’ bull,
is to poke an’ test and stretch your wire
an’ patience to the full.
I beat ’em once to a saggin’ line
before they made their break,
I know, that sounds outrageous
but it’s the truth for heaven’s sake.

I was snuggin’ up the wire
’bout to tie that little loop
when I gets this eerie feelin’
I just joined a bigger group.
So, I kinda ease my eyes around
to get a better glance
and what I see are strainin’necks and heads
all in a bovine trance.
Starin’ like no tomorrow
their mouths a slowly chewin’
and I swear a listenin’ close
I heard a voice say, “Whatcha doin’?”

“Hah,” I cried “Get outa here!
Yer givin’ me the willies!”
And “Poof!” recedin’ heifer butts,
I’m feelin’ pretty silly.
‘Cause here I’m thinkin’ “holy moly”
“Where’ve they got to now?”
There’s nothin’ worse on this whole earth
than tendin’ future cows.

Houdini in his prime could never
disappear as swift
as a herd of yearlin’ heifers
who decide it’s time to drift.
Vacatin’ pens you got ’em in
for places quite unknown
to themselves, or even heaven,
when they get that urge to roam.
I do not know exactly why
they’re made that way, but lord,
I do know this, if you keep heifers,
you are never, ever bored.

© 2004, DW Groethe
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Eastern Montana ranch hand, poet, and picker DW Groethe performs at venues small (his favorite) and large. He’s appeared many times at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and has been invited to the National Traditional Council for the Arts’ National Folk Festival, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Library of Congress, and other places.

Find more about DW Groethe and more of his poetry and lyrics at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 2009 photo of DW Groethe is by photojournalist and teacher Jessica Lifland, an official photographer for the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. It is from her project documenting the lives of cowboy poets. Her photoblog includes a slide show of her photographs of DW Groethe, accompanied by his recitation of “Yearlin’ Heifers” from the first volume of The BAR-D Roundup.

Find that slide show and those for many others, including Andy Hedges, Amy Hale Steiger and Gail Steiger, Rodney Nelson, Wally McRaie, Waddie Mitchell, Jerry Brooks, Doris Daley, and others, along with National Cowboy Poetry Gathering Images from 2004-2019 at her photo site.

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

THE FENCE, by DW Groethe

35th Annual National Cowboy Poetry GatheringBrigid Reedy and DW Groethe, © 2019, Jessica Lifland

THE FENCE
by DW Groethe

When it comes to vexation and ire
Nothin’ gets my dander higher
Than bein’ in the sticks
Tryin’ to fix
Hun’erd year old strands a wire.
They criss cross in jumbles an’ knots
In places God’s all but forgot
Hangin’ from posts
That gave up the ghost
Way back when Valentino was hot!

You can randomly pick any stretch
Of thirty odd feet an’ you’ll fetch
Ten distinct types of wire
Twelve knots and a choir
Of whatever the wind lets it ketch.
As a functionin’ tool—it’s a bust.
There’s no metal in here — it’s all rust
That with one careless stare
Will drop from the air
To the gumbo’s gray mud cracklin’ crust.

A tradition out here every spring,
Says you light out an’ fix the damn thing—
Tho’ any ol’ dope
Can see it’s past hope—
You still go and give ‘er a fling.
Soon you’ll hitch up two loose ends that’s fell
An’ click that ol’ stretcher until
It’s snug tight an’ fit
Ah — You know you should quit
But a little voice says—”What the hell!”—
So you give it just one tiny squeeze
The whole time yer sayin’—”Lord please—
If I can just click one more
You’ll see me Sunday for sure—
Heck!—I’m already down on my knees!”—

But a fool and his wire are soon parted
So yer settin’ right back where you started—
With a mouth full of cuss
An’ words blasphemous—
It’s no place fer them that’s weak hearted.

And rocks?—
The rocks here a thicker ‘n sin
So there’s posts that ‘r barely sunk in—
The fact that they’re there
Proves the power of prayer
Answers many a shaky Amen.
There’s willow an’ cedar an’ steel—
Stone Johnnies—But hey let’s git real
In this fencin’ game
Findin’ two posts the same
In a row—now that’s a big deal!

An’ when it comes to ranklin’ yer craw
Nothin’ beats coulees an’ draws
When it’s hot’r ‘n blazes
An’ there’s nothin’ that fazes
The bugs as they chew yer hide raw.
There’s no such a thing as just one—
They’re like clouds that blot out the sun—
Moskeeters an’ gnats
Flies—big as small cats—
That nothin’ on earth can outrun.

Eventu’ly you’ve had enuf fun
An’ you end up—back where you begun—
With fingers well crossed
You lie to the boss
“She’s like new—I got ‘er all done!”
Til next spring when it’s time to commence
This time honored ritual nonsense—
What strikes me as odd
Is that cows us an’ God
All pretend that the damn thing’s a fence!

© 2001, DW Groethe
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.

Eastern Montana ranch hand DW Groethe performs his poetry and music at venues small (which he really likes) and large. He’s appeared many times at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and has been invited to the the National Traditional Council for the Arts’ National Folk Festival, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Library of Congress, and other places.

Find more about DW Groethe and his books and recordings at cowboypoetry.com. Follow him on Instagram.

This photograph of DW Groethe with the multi-talented Brigid Reedy  is by photojournalist Jessica Lifland, from earlier this year at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Find more of Jessica Lifland’s photographs at her site, including photos from the 2019 gathering here.

Don’t miss the photos from her Cowboy Poetry Project, with galleries of photographs of DW Groethe, Wallace McRae, Jerry Brooks, Waddie Mitchell, Andy Hedges, Rodney Nelson, Doris Daley, Amy Hale Auker and Gail Steiger, Bimbo Cheney, the late Elizabeth Ebert, and many others.

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

YEARLIN’ HEIFERS—PART I by DW Groethe

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photo © 2009, Jessica Brandi Lifland

 

YEARLIN’ HEIFERS—PART I
by DW Groethe

How they love to go a neighborin’
and seek more scenic bits of range.
I think, perhaps, they’ve joined
some kind of herbivore exchange.
No matter—
Every clip had better be in place
and hangin’ tight and true.
Best tap them staples exter good
so the girls ain’t slippin’ thru.

Their whole reason for existence,
till you get that yearlin’ bull,
is to poke an’ test and stretch your wire
an’ patience to the full.
I beat ’em once to a saggin’ line
before they made their break,
I know, that sounds outrageous
but it’s the truth for heaven’s sake.

I was snuggin’ up the wire
’bout to tie that little loop
when I gets this eerie feelin’
I just joined a bigger group.
So, I kinda ease my eyes around
to get a better glance
and what I see are strainin’necks and heads
all in a bovine trance.
Starin’ like no tomorrow
their mouths a slowly chewin’
and I swear a listenin’ close
I heard a voice say, “Whatcha doin’?”

“Hah,” I cried “Get outa here!
Yer givin’ me the willies!”
And “Poof!” recedin’ heifer butts,
I’m feelin’ pretty silly.
‘Cause here I’m thinkin’ “holy moly”
“Where’ve they got to now?”
There’s nothin’ worse on this whole earth
than tendin’ future cows.

Houdini in his prime could never
disappear as swift
as a herd of yearlin’ heifers
who decide it’s time to drift.
Vacatin’ pens you got ’em in
for places quite unknown
to themselves, or even heaven,
when they get that urge to roam.
I do not know exactly why
they’re made that way, but lord,
I do know this, if you keep heifers,
you are never, ever bored.

© 2004, DW Groethe
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Eastern Montana ranch hand, poet, and picker DW Groethe performs at venues small (his favorite) and large. He’s appeared many times at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and has been invited to the National Traditional Council for the Arts’ National Folk Festival, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Library of Congress, and other places.

Find more about DW Groethe and more of his poetry and lyrics at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 2009 photo of DW Groethe is by photographer, photojournalist and teacher Jessica Brandi Lifland, an official photographer for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. It is from her project documenting the lives of cowboy poets. Her photoblog includes a slide show of her photographs of DW Groethe, accompanied by his recitation of “Yearlin’ Heifers” from the first volume of The BAR-D Roundup.

Find more about Jessica Brandi Lifland at her web site and on Instagram. Find her National Cowboy Poetry gathering photos at her photo blog.

>>>We’ll be on a (rare) break, May 8-23. There will be scheduled posts, but we won’t be able to fill orders or to respond quickly to email.<<<

LET’S FREE UP OUR VERSE by Wallace McRae

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LET’S FREE UP OUR VERSE
by Wallace McRae

Critics claim we write doggerel. To them that’s a curse
As we whittle our ditties in tired meter and
——————————————-……rhyme
Rhyming’s old fashioned—we’re stuck in the past.
Gotta strike for new heights to make our craft
——————————————-……survive

Besides.

How many rhymes can you unearth for “horse”?
We must find fresh pathways—carve out a new
——————————————-……route
Forego out worn metaphors—retire tired cliches
As unnumb cerebrums will uncover fresh
——————————————-……methods

Of retelling the tales of our untrampled West
Like Ves, Paul, and Linda we’ll leave all the
——————————————-……others
In the dust of the drags in their quest of the muse
We’ll ride at the point and no longer
——————————————-……employ

Those sound-alike words at the end of the line.
Our poems will sparkle, shimmer and
——————————————-……glitter
Ah! The critics will love us. We’ll be the rage
Academics will praise us as we mount a new
——————————————-……campaign

To convert the whole West to the joys of free verse
Oh, some will resist. They’ll grumble and
——————————————-……swear
As they cling to tradition, bog down in the mire,
Get rimrocked, rough locked, or caught in the
——————————————-……Gallagher electric fence.

But it’s “Root hog or die,” as the old-timers said
As reps with credentials sort the quick from
——————————————-……those who gather celestial ranges
——————————————- and are now gone but not forgotten.
Yes! Convert! You wranglers who once tangled with rhyme
‘Cause rhyming ain’t worth a tin Roosevelt
——————————————-……social program.

© Wallace McRae, used with permission

In a recent conversation with Wallace McRae, he mentioned that he thought this poem—which takes on free verse—was one of his best poems, and he gave us permission to share it.

Wally McRae is a third-generation rancher, with a 30,000 acre cow-calf ranch in Forsyth, Montana. He was the first cowboy poet to be awarded the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is a recipient of the Montana Governor’s Award for the Arts, and has served on the National Council of the Arts.

He’s probably best known for his own least-favorite poem, “Reincarnation.”

Wally McRae has a poetry collection, “Cowboy Curmudgeon and other poems, and a collection of stories, Stick Horses and Other Stories of Ranch Life. This poem, “Let’s Free Up Our Verse,” appears in The Anthology; Celebrating 30 Years of Wrangling Words from the Western Folklife Center, published in 2014 in celebration of the 30th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Find more about Wally McRae at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photograph of Wally McRae is by popular photojournalist Jessica Brandi Lifland (Instagram). It is from her Cowboy Poetry Project with subjects to date who also include Waddie Mitchell, Amy Steiger and Gail Steiger, Rodney Nelson, DW Groethe, Elizabeth Ebert, Henry Real Bird, Doris Daley, Bimbo Cheney, and others.

Jessica Lifland is one of the official photographers for the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Find her gathering photos at her photo blog.

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

WHEN I LEAVE THIS LIFE by Elizabeth Ebert (1925-2018)

National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
photo © 2015,  Jessica Lifland

 

WHEN I LEAVE THIS LIFE
by Elizabeth Ebert 1925-2018

When I leave this life as we all must do
…..And this prairie I’ve loved through the long, long years

There’s a single boon that I ask of you,
…..Don’t waste one precious day in tears.
Have a funeral if you feel you must
…..With the usual rituals for the dead,
A plain pine box, not satin-lined
…..But with a blanket, preferably in red.

No cloying masses of hothouse flowers,
…..Just a cluster of bright balloons, and then
No extolling of virtues I never had,
…..Just a simple prayer and a soft “A-men.”
Let the memories be of the happy times,
…..Let the sound of laughter grace the day.
Find an old cowhand with an old guitar
…..To yodel me joyfully on my way.

And later, whenever the time seems right,
…..On a sunny day from a greening hill,
Scatter my ashes into the wind.
…..Then I shall be part of the prairie still.

© 2006, Elizabeth Ebert, from Prairie Wife
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

There’s an empty place in the cowboy poetry world that won’t ever be filled: Yvonne Hollenbeck shared the sad news of the passing of beloved South Dakota poet and ranchwoman Elizabeth Ebert, 93, on March 20, 2018.

A Celebration of Life Service for Elizabeth Ebert will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 24, 2018 at the Calvary Lutheran Church in Lemmon, South Dakota. Find an obituary here.

Elizabeth Ebert introduced this poem in her book, Prairie Wife, writing, “Our youngest daughter has promised that when we die our ashes will be mixed together and scattered on this land that we love so well.” She reminded her family that yesterday would have been her 72nd wedding anniversary. Her husband S.J., about whom she wrote many great and varied poems, died in 2008.

Find some of her poetry at CowboyPoetry.com. Seek out her books and recordings.

Journalist Carson Vaughan wrote about Elizabeth Ebert in a February, 2017 American Cowboy profile, “The Grande Dame of Cowboy Poetry.” He quotes her devoted friend Baxter Black about the first time her heard her perform her poetry, “You could just see a flower growing there out of the rest of us standing around like weeds.”

This photograph by photojournalist Jessica Lifland was taken at the 2015 Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. See more of her photos of Elizabeth Ebert in a wonderful collection from a forthcoming project here.

OUTRIDERS AT THE END OF THE TRAIL by Wallace McRae

wallyjbl_091707_Wally_0074lophoto of Wallace McRae © 2015, Jessica Lifland, request permission for any use

OUTRIDERS AT THE END OF THE TRAIL
by Wallace McRae

They contemplate their town-boot toes
As they stand around and mill.
They check the south horizon,
‘Cross the tracks above the hill.

Their suitcoats hint of mothballs,
Their Levis are clean and creased.
They speak of grass or cattle
But never the deceased.

Some have shook the Gov’ner’s hand,
And one’s been in the pen.
Crooked legs define the bronc hands,
Cropped-off thumbs the dally men.

Their spring-toothed necks are throttled up
In silky black wild rags.
Their faces scored like flower-stamps
On well-worn saddle bags.

They’ve come early to the funeral home,
Yet don’t want to go inside.
There’s no comfort in a breathless room
Or words of “eventide.”

They somehow share a secret bond
As each one recollects:
Together. Separate. Silently.
Each pays his last respects.

You’ll hear no keening to the vaulted skies,
But the good hands know when a good hand dies.

© Wallace McRae
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without the author’s permission

Wally McRae is a third-generation rancher, with a 30,000 acre cow-calf ranch in Forsyth, Montana. He was the first cowboy poet to be awarded the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is a recipient of the Montana Governor’s Award for the Arts, and has served on the National Council of the Arts.

He’s probably best known for his own least-favorite poem, “Reincarnation.”

In his book, “Cowboy Curmudgeon and other poems,” Wally McRae notes this poem is “Dedicated to the memory of my uncle Evan D. McRae.”

This photograph of Wally McRae is by popular photojournalist Jessica Lifland (http://jessicalifland.smugmug.comInstagram) as a part of her Cowboy Poetry Project. Her subjects to date include Waddie Mitchell, Amy and Gail Steiger , Rodney Nelson, DW Groethe, Elizabeth Ebert, Henry Real Bird, Doris Daley, Bimbo Cheney, and others.

Jessica Lifland is one of the official photographers for the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Find her gathering photos at her photo blog.

 

HE TALKED ABOUT MONTANA, by Elizabeth Ebert

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photo © 2015, Jessica Brandi Lifland

 

HE TALKED ABOUT MONTANA
by Elizabeth Ebert

He talked about Montana
For he’d worked there in his youth,
And you somehow got the feeling
That most of it was truth.
Talked about the things he’d done there,
Memories from a happy past.
Talked about Montana rivers
Running cold, and deep and fast,
About pines upon a hillside
And mountains rising high,
About the endless reaches
Of a blue Montana sky.

Said he left there at the war’s start,
Went to tell his folks good-bye.
Then there was a wartime wedding
To a girl who got his eye.
Said she’d keep the home fires burning,
‘Til the war was past and won,
Wrote her love to him in letters,
Sent him pictures of their son.
And the letters and the pictures
Helped him bear the death and blood.
And he’d dream about Montana
As he slogged through foreign mud.

They would buy a little ranch there,
And he’d teach the boy to ride.
It would be a bit of heaven,
With his family at his side.
But he came home to discover
Someone else was in his place.
She had found another lover.
It was more than he could face
For he was tired of fighting,
So he merely let them go.
It was then he started drinking,
Just to ease the pain, you know.

He’d work a month cold sober,
And then he’d draw his pay,
He was headed for Montana;
But the booze got in his way,
And he never made it out of town,
‘Fore the money all was spent
And he was busted flat again,
And he didn’t know where it went.
So he’d come back asking for his job.
And he’d hope you’d understand.
And you always hired him on again
For he was a darned good hand.

And he’d talk about Montana.
And you’d get a glimmer then,
Of the cowboy that he used to be,
And the man he might have been
Before the war and wife and whiskey
Had bent him out of shape.
Now the war and wife were history
And the whiskey was escape.
But he swore that he was going back
And he’d do most anything
For Montana sure was pretty
When it greened up in the spring.

Then he finally got an offer
To tend a band of sheep.
It was just for winter wages,
Barely paid his board and keep.
But it was in Montana,
So he was on his way,
He could stand to winter woollies,
He would work for little pay,
For he’d be there in the springtime
When the sky turned clear and blue,
And he’d go back to punching cattle
When his winter job was through.

Don’t know why he left the sheep camp,
Started walking into town,
Maybe he just needed whiskey
To wash the lonely down.
Quick come Montana’s blizzards.
Deep falls Montana’s snow.
And unforgiving are the winds
When they once begin to blow.
He’d come looking for his Paradise,
He hadn’t come to die.
But he froze upon a lonely road
‘Neath a cold Montana sky.

© 1997, Elizabeth Ebert
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

South Dakota’s much-loved poet Elizabeth Ebert, who turns 93 this month, is celebrated for her powerful writing as well as her quick wit and humor.

Baxter Black has said of her (and referring to this poem): “To say that I admire Elizabeth’s writing seems meager comment on her talent. She writes from inspiration with such graceful force it’s like her pen has power steering. There are so many first class pieces in her books, most contemporary cowboy poets would covet even just one so good in their armory. If her poems were mountains and the verses peaks, this would be the eagle soaring over all: ‘Before war and wife and whiskey/ Had bent him out of shape/ Now the war and wife were history/ And the whiskey was escape.'”

Journalist Carson Vaughan wrote about her in a February, 2017 American Cowboy profile, “The Grande Dame of Cowboy Poetry.”

Find more about Elizabeth Ebert at CowboyPoetry.com.

This beautiful photograph of Elizabeth Ebert was taken in 2015 photojournalist Jessica Brandi Lifland (jessicalifland.smugmug.com; jblifon Instagram) at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Find more of her gathering photos at her photo blog and see her Cowboy Poetry Project images and gathering archives here.