photo by Kevin Martini-Fuller
THE MEDICINE KEEPERS
by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)
A man might live and work beside
The fellers ’round the wagon
And never say two words unless
It’s just hooraw and braggin’.
But sometimes in the solitude
Of some ol’ line camp shack
He smooths a fruit can label out
And writes there on its back
A group of words redeemed from time
To last when he moves on,
Set down with hurried flourish
‘Fore his mem’ry of ’em’s gone.
The spellin’ may not be exact
Or commas where they ought,
But there within those rugged lines
A mood is somehow caught.
It might be full of sadness
From a death or crippled friend,
To just the mournful yearnin’
For a way that’s bound to end.
Some others could be bawdy
While full of life and mirth
Or stories ’bout some saddle horse
That has no peers on earth.
There’s many through the years been lost
Or burned or throwed away,
But others yet survive
To give us views of yesterday.
And still amongst the workin’ hands
The words come now and then
To write a livin’ history
Of the stock, and earth, and men.
© 1997, J.B. Allen; used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission
Texan J.B. Allen was a working cowboy for over three decades. He was a frequent performer at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and also at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Nara Visa, the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, and other events. His poetry is included in many anthologies and in his own books and recordings. His book, The Medicine Keepers, received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the @National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1998.
Buck Ramsey (1938-1998), in his introduction to The Medicine Keepers, wrote of J.B. Allen, “More than most cowboys, he held to the ways and memories…thought and talked the old lingo” and stated, “…in my opinion he is the best living writer of traditional cowboy verse.”
“The Medicine Keepers” is just one of J.B. Allen’s poems on MASTERS: VOLUME ONE CD from CowboyPoetry.com, which include his poetry and that of Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens. The recording also includes J.B.’s recitation of Buck Ramsey’s “Anthem.”
RANGE magazine includes “The Medicine Keepers” in the latest of its impressive hardcover volumes, Tales from Out There, a collection of poetry, stories, and photography. Also included in the book are works by Elizabeth Ebert, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Carolyn Duffurena, Vess Quinlan, Waddie Mitchell, Peggy Godfrey, Joel Nelson, Maria Lisa Eastman, Bill Jones, Larry McWhorter, late Buck Ramsey, Lyn Messersmith, Banjo Paterson, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Bruce Kiskaddon, and many more.
RANGE describes the book, “Tales is a satisfying page-turner about another America. It’s been there all along, full of long horizons and endless sky and the silence that still exists far from the frenetic cities. There are folks out there, living and working in that rough and beautiful world. Through 64 stories and an array of 143 incredible photos, you will be on a journey to the middle of nowhere told in prose and cowboy poetry from the West’s best award-winning writers and photographers. Brought together in 160 pages of soulful beauty, the volume is dedicated to those we care about.”
The cover photo and many others are by Larry Angier. Find more about the book at rangemagazine.com.
This portrait of J.B. Allen is by Kevin Martini-Fuller.
Find more about J.B. Allen at cowboypoetry.com .
Thanks to Margaret Allen for her generous permissions.
(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but any other use requires permission.)