OUTRIDERS AT THE END OF THE TRAIL, by Wallace McRae

wallyjbl.jpgphoto © 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 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 and he is a recipient of the Montana Governor’s Award for 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.”

Find more about Wally McRae at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photograph of Wally McRae is by popular photojournalist Jessica Lifland (jessicalifland.smugmug.comInstagram) as a part of her Cowboy Poetry Project. Other subjects to date include Sean Sexton, Andy Hedges, Jerry Brooks, Waddie Mitchell, Amy Steiger and Gail Steiger, Rodney Nelson, DW Groethe, Elizabeth Ebert, Henry Real Bird,
Doris Daley, Bimbo Cheney, Jack Walther, and Bill Lowman.

Jessica Lifland is one of the official photographers for the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Find her gathering photos and her Cowboy Poetry Project photos here.

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

TWO VIEWPOINTS AT WEANING TIME, by Elizabeth Ebert

Elizabeth Ebert

photo © 2009, Jessica Lifland; request permission for use

TWO VIEWPOINTS AT WEANING TIME
by Elizabeth Ebert (1925-2018)

We weaned the calves today, and we
Sat long upon the fence to see,
Could we discover mid the fuss
Just what the future held for us.

I didn’t hear their plaintive bawl,
I didn’t see weaning calves at all.
Saw steers and heifers grown and plump
Standing at feed bunks, rump to rump,
Gaining seven pounds a day
On scarcely any grain or hay,
While prices rose so fast, by heck,
We’d be ashamed to cash the check.

But he saw veterinary bills
From calfdom’s constant scourge of ills,
Like diarrhea and runny nose,
And he saw waterers that froze,
Tractors broke down from pushing snow
In weather forty-five below,
And silage piles and stacks of hay
That dwindled faster every day;
While prices took a downward slide
‘Til calves were scarcely worth their hide.

We sat upon that fence, we two,
Each with a different point of view.
And this will be my prayer each night,
“Oh Lord, just ONCE let me be right!”

© 1997, Elizabeth Ebert, used with permission of the Ebert family, from Crazy Quilt

South Dakota’s much-loved poet, retired ranch wife Elizabeth Ebert, delighted audiences across the West. She was married to her rancher huband S.J. Ebert for 62 years, until his death in 2008. She died March 20, 2018, leaving countless friends and fans, a loving family, and a great body of work.

Elizabeth Ebert created memorable poems, both serious and humorous. Baxter Black has said of her, “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…”

Read Carson Vaughan’s obituary in the New York Times, “Elizabeth Ebert, ‘Grand Dame of Cowboy Poetry,’ Dies at 93,” and find more in this blog and at cowboypoetry.com.

This 2009 photo of Elizabeth Ebert 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.

Find photographs of Elizabeth Ebert from that project and those for many others, including DW Groethe, Andy Hedges, Amy Hale Steiger and Gail Steiger, Rodney Nelson, Wally McRae, Waddie Mitchell, Jerry Brooks, Doris Daley, and others, along with National Cowboy Poetry Gathering Images from 2004-2019 here.

Thanks to Jessica Lifland and the Ebert family for their generous permissions.

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

YEARLIN’ HEIFERS—PART I, by DW Groethe

dwjblyearlin.png

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

dwjbl.png

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

wallyjbl_091607_Wally_0040lo

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.